For writers, first drafts are celebrated. In theory, they present opportunity and promise with none of the pressure. They say a wastepaper basket is a writer’s best friend.
Writers are encouraged to bang out the first draft, throw it away and make the next one better. It’s part of the process. A place where judgment is reserved, where even constructive criticism is not welcome, where the fragile first steps of an idea are respected.
Design, like any other creative practice, also starts with a first draft. But it is not held in such a reverent light. Design as a profession is increasingly a non-isolated activity. A first draft is often confined by a wireframe. It involves creative directors standing over shoulders. It’s made with business goals in mind. For product designers, design decisions are based on data analytics or user research. There are best practices and trends and design patterns and systems to consider. Technical restrictions apply. Generally speaking, the first draft is defined in some way for a designer from the beginning.
The writer’s approach would benefit designers, especially young designers. Early in their career, a designer will frantically create their first draft and turn it in immediately. The goal in their eyes is completion, following the rules they learned in school, checking the item off their to-do list. Instead of exploring and trying as many drafts and angles as possible without the fear of being wrong, they do what they believe is expected of them.
When a young designer shares their first draft, senior designers are tempted to turn it into a teaching moment: This isn’t working because X. Try something more along this angle. A writer rarely receives feedback this early. It would kill their creative process.
Of course, writers have restrictions too, depending on the type of work they do. And the solitary nature of writing is inherently different than the more collaborative nature of today’s design. But to writers as a whole (at least to my understanding), first drafts are considered a sacred space. A writer may explore dozens of different approaches, adding something here, cutting something there, restructuring and researching until the semblance of a story appears. Then it grows, potentially becoming something else entirely from draft to draft.
Instead of approaching your first draft with outside forces, deadlines and fear in mind, make a safe space for it. Tell yourself this is only the start. That it’s OK if it’s imperfect, even flat out bad. Protect your first draft and keep it for yourself. Let your idea stand on its wobbly legs and watch where it leads you – before anyone else takes the leash and points it in another direction.
And instead of giving immediate direction to a young designer, or to any designer, give them this space to explore their first draft. Instead of pointing out what they did wrong or where they should go, our first response should be, “Thank you. Keep exploring. I can’t wait to see more.”