Your Baby is Ugly

“What did he just say?” Your baby is ugly?! Here comes the hate.

And by baby, I don’t mean your offspring. I mean your t-shirt design, embroidery idea or product plan for your new apparel line. Look out. Are you sure you are going with that?

Be careful.

Confirmation Bias
What we want to talk about today is what’s called “Confirmation Bias”. This is when you are so invested in your idea that you don’t really go out of your way to find out the real truth about how others may view it.

Think I might be a little off-base? Consider these and see if they match your experience:

Limited discussions with only people that agree with you. This means when you showed your business plan or line of shirt designs to your Mom and she said, “Hey, that’s nice honey.”, that counted as confirmation bias. You never took the time to get the contrarian point of view, so now you are stuck with a pile of boxes of shirts nobody wants. Not even your mother.

You phrase the questions so the answers only agree with you. When you ask, “Which of these designs are better?”, you are failing to ask if either are awesome to begin with. It could be that both babies are ugly. Ewww.

Writing off people that don’t agree with your ideas as haters or idiots. Been online lately? It’s troll-city. Either people will flame you for just posting something or worse, sanitize their true comment because just being polite is a survival skill online. Experience has shown that if they wrote what their honest opinion may be, they will get labeled as a hater or idiot. Who wants that? Better to take the safe road and serve up a big bowl of vanilla. Enjoy!

So what’s a better way? You really need to hear that you baby isn’t as pretty as you think. Start with asking people to give you a critical critique without fear of repercussion. Be prepared and have a thick skin. It’s not a personal attack on your very soul if someone wants to change the typestyle (Bleeding Cowboys, really?) or make that thing in the corner blue.

Lighten up. This is what you crave, right? Honest feedback?

Maybe you could rephrase your questions to elicit more helpful answers:

“What’s wrong with this design?”

“What’s the one thing that you would make you NOT buy this shirt?”

“What would you change to make this better?”

“Does this fit in with our brand?”

Ask a good number of people independently of each other. Pay attention and take good notes. Don’t argue with anyone. It’s not a debate. If you ask enough people and they keep telling you the same thing, you’ll know what to do.

Supportive Bias
Supportive bias is about defending your idea to the death because you have spent a huge chunk of time developing it. This happens constantly with creative folks that present their idea to a client and the client hates it.

Has this happened to you? You present your ugly baby idea to a customer and they hate it, and then you spend an insane amount of energy trying to convince the client that the baby is gorgeous. It doesn’t work and you throw a profanity laced fit about how stupid the client is when you get back to your office. This is a huge waste of time, because the client still wants a pretty baby.

If you design idea doesn’t work, the amount of time spent on it is irrelevant. You still need to make the customer happy. Don’t get caught in the “time spent” trap. Make the changes needed, but maybe you need to reassess how you arrived at the ugly baby creative concept initially.

Pretty Baby Creative DNA
So how do you get to the point where the design will win a pretty baby contest, and you can high five everyone you know?

First, be honest with yourself.

Do you really have the creative chops for designing? Sure, you might have a great idea, but your execution of it just won’t measure up. Trust me, it is perfectly ok to bring in someone with talent. And by talent, I mean a real professional. Not your goofy cousin that just finished an art class. Does “good enough” ever work?

Secondly, nail down your concept the old fashioned way. Research. Maybe some thumbnails for a layout. Hammer down the exact specifications for the print job. Shirt color. Number of colors. Even the expect price point for the job. Get is all organized before you start designing, as these details can influence the final aesthetic choices.

Everything matters. For example, using the garment color in the design to help modulate the ink color on the shirt is a wonderful strategy for a long list of reasons. If you haven’t decided on the shirt color, how can you make that choice?

Pro-tip: use Post-It-Notes to doodle up some quick design layouts and rough sketches. They are cheap and disposable, and if you have one that works you can stick it to the side of your computer monitor to help guide you when you are constructing the file. Remember, there isn’t an idea button on the keyboard. This is how great ideas are developed.

Loaded Baby Diapers
Another great trick is to ask the client what shouldn’t be included in the design. This is an incredible time saving idea, and in keeping with our baby theme, these are the loaded baby diapers. Nobody wants them and they just stink. Use the answers to help guide your energy the right way.

“I want a dragon, but not a fire breathing dragon.”

“The St. Paddy’s Day shirt should include a shamrock, but not a leprechaun.”

“I like a vintage look, but I don’t want a distressed texture.”

Can you imagine your frustration if you spent hours creating that awesome looking fire from the dragon, a cheerful and fun leprechaun or a creative new vintage texture for the file?

It doesn’t matter how good it looks if you have to erase it. At the end of the day if you hear, “That looks awesome, but not what I wanted.”, that’s the ugly baby’s crap filled diaper.

You’ll need to change it.

Do Something Cool
So when the customer (or your boss) gives you those “do something cool” instructions, it is crucial that you drag out what exactly will meet their expectations. Experience has shown that what customers think is cool is often vastly different than what artists think is cool.

The secret to a pretty baby DNA will always be made with sound decisions, good information, a solid concept, some creative sparkle, and skill in construction. Get these handled and all you have to do is birth the baby!

Congratulations!

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