I feel mediocre.

Hey guys, I am currently going into my second year as a Industrial Design student, 3rd as a design student overall (my school has a core program to get in), so I have two years left to go.

I have a few projects I’m proud of, but overall, I always feel for the amount of hours I put in working compared to everyone else is either about the same or more, and compared to other students, my work is always mediocre. While working, whenever there is a guest coming in, my work is never talked about much. They will either look at it or move on, or say a sentence or two and move on and then proceed to talk to others and give them feedback. It sucks when I work on a project for days on end and the teacher or guest looks at my work unexcited and says something like,“Good job.” or just moves on.

Are some people just not as good as others at design? Or is it possible to get better at design, design taste, etc.?

Any books you guys can recommend that can maybe help inspire me and make me a better designer or a new way to look at design? Advice?

  1. If you didn’t feel mediocre, it would be a bigger problem.

  2. It’s hard to give you advice without seeing your work. Maybe it’s your presentation technique, maybe it’s that your designs are too safe, maybe they are too out there.

The best generic advice I can give is to copy and to examine.

Grab some hot sketches and trace them. Then try to copy them from eye. Repeat as much as you can. You will improve your technique, but also improve your eye for design.

Take everything that you can apart and reassemble. It helps if you are taking things that you like apart (iPhone?), but everything helps. If you are thorough, you’ll begin to understand how to make difficult design decisions and you’ll find solutions to apply to other problems. It helps if you sketch the parts that you find and the assembly techniques you believe were being used.

  1. I think everyone feels like that. I know I do. No matter what level of success or acclaim you achieve, there’s always something you didn’t achieve. I think dissatisfaction with the way things are is a pretty common trait among designers.

  2. Let’s assume for now that your work is, in fact, mediocre. The good news is everything (everything!) is a learnable skill that can be made better with practice. There may be people with latent talent (or more likely, who have been at it longer than you) who will have an easier go of things than you, but hard work beats lazy talent every single time. You’ll get there.

Best thing I read in this, is that you are self-aware. Better to feel mediocre and be in a position to do something about it, than feeling you are awesome if you aren’t, or feeling fine and being mediocre.

Advice above is good.

First step I would suggest is to post some work here and I can guarantee that you’ll get good feedback.

Also, in some situations I have found that good work gets less comments. No need for praise or comment if the work is obviously great, while weak work will often get a lot of attention. So maybe you work isn’t so bad after all…

Of course some people are not as good as others, some people are easy at being great, some need a lot of work, some will never be at the same level as others, no matter how much work is involved.

As well, not everyone is equally good at all things. Some people may be hot sketchers, but sketch weak design. Some may have great designs, but poor presentations, etc.

You’ve made a good observation. Now time to further analyze the issue and then make a plan to do something about it.


In addition to everyone’s feedback above. I’m curious in what area you feel most mediocre in? I’ve come to realize that not everyone is good in the whole process. Some people excel in ideation, others in research. Being self-aware is great because you will know where your skills lie. Use that awareness to keep your existing skills continuously sharp and sharpen up your dull ones. Likewise, when presenting use the sharp skills you have and bring it to the front, if you are a good speaker, speak with confidence, tell a story to engage the audience. If you are good at ideation, show storyboards, ideas, callouts, make the killer ideas pop! If you are good at technical things like modeling or rendering, do a page that is just a sexy render of your product and maybe even make that page bigger than the rest of your supporting pages. Get people’s attention and then once you have their attention, go into the details of your work.

With the last thing in mind, one little advice I can give you is “don’t wait” for people to come to you. Take the initiative to talk with your classmates and teachers. Get your work into their faces, make them know you exist. Also, its easier for someone to talk about your work if you give them something to talk about. Share about the problem you are trying to solve, the roadblocks you are hitting, where you got your inspiration, what worked vs what failed miserably… think conversation topics.

A great example is new threads here on the forum. When new members post up work and all they write is “check this out” with a seemingly random pages of drawings. They will usually get zero responses, because other members will just come in, take a look, think “cool” and walk away, like at an art gallery museum. But if you setup your thread with the project, the problems, and end with a specific question, then you are more likely to have people come look at your work, compare it with the project and problems you laid out, think to themselves if it is hitting all the right notes, ponder your question, and then give a response.

Lastly, school in my opinion is pretty subjective. There is always the teacher’s favorite students and teachers all have a style they like. When I was in school, all the teachers were obsessed about “sustainability” and all they cared about was projects that used cardboard. Even when the material choice didn’t make any sense for the product, it was always cardboard this cardboard that… So don’t feel too saddened by that, instead focus on making connections and building your network of professional friends in and outside of school. In my opinion, after you graduate, two things will land you a job, your portfolio and your network.

I don’t think there is natural talent in design. Everybody that started off doing great work in uni either had a bachelor’s in art or had spent 4 years of high school drawing shoes rather than (or in addtion to) studying.

Lots of great advice above from an overall strategy perspective. Awareness is the first step in solving any problem.

Post your work and we will give you detailed feedback. Let’s see the goods!

Agreed. I saw this lecture once by a painter whose thesis was that “talent” is the biggest insult in the world to a creative person. It negates all the hours spent practicing, observing the world, thinking, pushing, getting sometimes very personal feedback and synthesizing that into actionable improvements. With one word it takes all that hard work and implies you were born with it, which just isn’t true.

I do believe in aptitude though. Some people may have more ability to learn a particular set of things.

Not to derail the thread, but I personally disagree on the existence of talent. It’s not only hours put in or ability to learn. Case in point, some kids with no practice are just great at certain things, be it drawing, music, etc. Aptitude may help develop those inatr skills as well as conditioning but some have raw talent, others don’t in different areas.

That’s not to say that talent alone is important or that aptitude or practice can overcome talent alone. Talent unnutured is the same as aptitude unfed.

If aptitude invoked the ability to learn or study, talent is the ability to develop those skills without as much learning or studying. Similar but different.


What’s a good way to upload work here? Max file size being 2 MiB is pretty inconvenient.

Thanks for the help thus far guys.

I’d find a way to upload your work online and share a link. Behance, Coroflot or a tumblr style blog. Lots of options.

Besides developing fantastic design skills I’d also advise you to look into developing a unique vision and philosophy on design, related to relevant societal developments. Research some famous designers that speak to you, maybe Loewy, Colani, Buckminster Fuller, Eames, Starck… and see what has driven their work. Reflect on your own work to discover your own philosophy and see if you can distil something, a vision to underlie your own work.

What distinguishes the excellent from the mediocre is in my experience that, a coherent vision and self-directed attitude, but also just tons of practice and an underlying way of life that does not include a lot of ‘nonsense’. Get your apartment organized, start eating great food if you aren’t already, don’t have people suck energy out of you for selfish reasons, live in a beautiful neighborhood with parks etc… it’s incredibly important.

Are they good at it, or did you just not see them putting in those hours.

The most “talented” kid I went to school with could draw circles around all of us. People would literally gather around and just watch him draw. Everyone said he was “just more talented”. Turns out his mom was an art teach and he had been pretty much drawing every day and at a high level since he was a little kid.

I’m not certain one way or the other but I definitely subscribe to the old “the harder I work, the luckier I get” mentality.

Really great advice here!

I’d add one thing, talk to people, whether they are fellow design students, professors, superiors (when you in an internship or regular job) friends, etc. Start design related conversations with them, argument why this new product in the market is that good, what would you change, what are its strengths, why the presented this in such way and not this other, etc. Like that you will build up a better design mindset, be more able to argument and criticize. Uploading projects here is a very good way of getting feedback. Better if you do it in the way Sketchroll said, you have to engage your audience and make them stay and take a second or third look to your project. I’d also encourage you to ask people when they do something you find impressive, just ask them why they did it like that, how did they learn how to do it, etc. Reading books from designers as well as articles and interviews, watch videos and, definitely, dive into this forum, you’ll learn a lot.

In the same way there are people who is smarter than others, there are designers who are more talented than others. However, hard work fills that gap up to a point most of the times. If you wanna be good at this, you have to be very passionate, work very hard and spend hours and hours reading, sketching, modelling, prototyping, etc. As Yo has said in more than one occasion, the first 1000 sketches are just crap, you have to get rid of them quickly before going for the real thing. The same could apply to first 3D models, foam models or presentation. Experience will help you realize what is good and what’s not, what’s gonna work and what’s gonna fail. Uni is just the first step, if I were you, I’d work hard on having a good portfolio and find some internships, you’ll learn a loot in a real working environment.

@yo @rkuchinsky

I had the exact same discussion with a friend a couple of weeks ago, he said some people just were born with a gift and others didn’t. I’d say some are just more prone to learn things quickly and others, not only because genetically they were built like that but also because the background and the way they were raised and educated.

I totally agree with “the harder you work, the greater are the chances to be successful”

As someone who has an engineering background and no formal design background but still works in the industry I would say that I constantly fight the feeling of inadequacy. For that reason a majority of my work tends to be in the idea creation side of projects. For me it’s easier to design something if I know the story and can see the user experience in my head. That being said I also hate giving advice so how about I just share what has worked for me:

Do it by hand: don’t always use technology to gloss over your weaknesses. Show your dirty work and your process. Figure out a way to communicate your ideas in a unique manner that also reflects the project you are working on.

**Trust in guts:**When you are in creative mode, be confident, when you are in critique mode then you can judge your own work. Get out of your head. Figure out a way to really put some meaning and thought behind your designs and don’t be afraid to kill your babies.

Make believe: Design is essentially communication, if you can’t communicate your idea in a concise and easily digestible manner then you need to keep crunching. Cut the fat and get to the point that you can summarize the idea down to one sentence. Most importantly, you need to believe in the idea by the time you are presenting it. You need to be able to bring your audience into the world you have created that contains your idea and let them see a glimpse of what could be.

Hope this helps. Good luck.

Doubt is fuel. It’s a very good fuel. You can let your doubt just sit there, and look at your doubt and talk about it - or you can light it up and let it burn away your bad habits. Only anger and doubt can make you better.

The very best example I’ve ever seen, for what you’re considering, was done in illustration already, called “Crimson Daggers”. le great deathsentence

Checkout the site, figure out what a deathline is, and make your own deathline for design. If you fail, find a different job. Don’t waste any more of your life.

It helped me to realize that NOBODY “deserves” a creative job. It’s not a reward for hard work. It’s just a beautiful thing, and we all wanted a piece of it, and to get our chunk, some of us had to rip it out of the hands of all the thousands of other kids clawing for it at the same time. Unless you’re fighting for your slice of life with every last bit of strength and effort, you may never grasp even a tiny piece for yourself. Some people get it easy. Most don’t get any at all. That’s life.

You’ve got self-honesty and doubt on your side, and that already puts you very far ahead of most of the kids in design school. If you can find real anger - you’ll grab your best-life.

Got an awesome visual of your entire class standing around this kid cheering as he finished a sketch, like a bunch of kids at an arcade in the 80’s.

“Blue verithin pencil underlay, safe start. Black paper-mate flair to finalize the linework, that’s what I would do. Oh my god, what’s he doing? No he’s not, not the Prismacolor markers, surely not now, no way. It’s way too early. Oh my god, amazing. I can’t believe he pulled it off.”

He would usually start with that super toxic lighter fluid smelling ink and webril pads in a bulldog clip.

From that description, I want to watch him draw. I wanted to experiment with the webril pads and bulldog clip to lay down some color. PS and Wacom came too quickly.

There’s always going to be someone better than you in life, so if you sit around and mop about it, you’ll never get ahead. Yes, practice makes perfect, but there’s also something to be said about self-worth.

Irregardless of others, when you look at your own work, do you feel that you’ve put in a good effort and that your final output is something you’re proud of? If the answer is yes, then the rest is just improvement of skill.