How do you know if your work is good enough? DixonBaxi on self-doubt, feedback and the creative process
The process of taking an idea from a thought to a finished project isn’t always a smooth one. And when you’re starting out, it’s easy to think that other people have got that all sorted. You can’t imagine that creative director ever doubting their ideas, or that award-winning illustrator suffering from creative block. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In their latest video series, The DixonBaxi Way, the team at branding agency DixonBaxi lift the lid to show that we all face the same hurdles during the creative process – before sharing their advice on overcoming them.
London-based DixonBaxi are experts at picking apart and finessing the creative process. Founded in 2001 by Simon Dixon and Aporva Baxi, the global branding agency has worked with the likes of Hulu, Audible, AT&T, V&A, Premier League, Channel 4 and Netflix. With what they describe as an “always-in-beta” mentality, the team believes that great design is born from trying new things and bringing together diverse perspectives.
Alongside their client work, the team has produced The DixonBaxi Way – a video series about harnessing the power of creativity both individually and as a team. Now in its second season, the team are back to explore some of the key challenges that come with a creative career. Packed full of advice across three sections – Creative Principles, Creative Process and Creative Lives – the team share what agency life is really like, while answering questions on everything from creative risk-taking, collaboration and much more.
Here, we take a deep dive into the “Creative Process” section, extracting some key insights and advice from the team that are sure help you smash your next creative project – from tips on getting unstuck and managing self-doubt and feedback, to knowing how your work is good enough.
💡 Coming up with ideas: How do you get unstuck?
So you’re at the start of a new project. You’ve read the brief, done your research and are now waiting for inspiration to strike. You keep turning the same questions over and over in your head, but nothing seems quite right. Soon your optimism fades and the glaringly blank screen starts to fill you with terror.
Don’t panic – getting stuck is often just another part of the creative process. “Everyone gets creative block,” says Harry Ead, creative director at DixonBaxi. “I think it's a natural part of almost every day.” Here are a few things to keep in mind:
💬 Talk it out
Whether you grab a friend for a one-on-one, or gather your team to touch base, talking about the problem at hand can help free up your thinking. It might be tempting to pretend that you’re always smashing it, but it’s far better to be open and ask for help when you need it. No one will think less of you for it.
🗓️ Know your schedule
Are you a morning person? Are afternoons best spent doing something non-creative, like admin? Knowing the times of day when you’re most productive can empower you to work with your brain, not against it. “Creativity isn’t a 9am to 6pm job, you cannot keep it alive at the same level five days a week,” says Marta Szymanska, head of production at DixonBaxi.
⏸️ Stop and reset
If you feel like you’re going round in circles – stop! Take a breath, shut your laptop, maybe even leave the studio for an hour or two. Make a cup of tea, take a shower, have an ice cream – do whatever will help you decompress. You’ll likely find creativity flows much more easily after a break.
😰 How do you overcome self-doubt?
Now you’ve got some ideas in front of you, but you’re not sure any of them are good enough. Before long, you’re not sure anything you’ve ever done is good enough, and you keep nervously looking around you at your super-skilled colleagues. They wouldn’t struggle with this brief, right?
The first thing to know is that self-doubt is totally normal: it definitely isn’t a sign that you’re not up to the job. Even creative leaders doubt themselves sometimes. “We all experience doubt, even decades into my career, you question yourself,” says Aporva Baxi, co-founder of DixonBaxi. Here are some pointers to help keep self-doubt in check:
🥸 Fake it ‘till you make it
Try to flip that voice in your head around by practising self-praise. Telling yourself positive affirmations about your skills can help to boost your confidence in the moment. After all, you wouldn’t be in this job if you didn’t have what it takes.
🙅 Don’t compare yourself to others
Try to be mindful of not comparing yourself to other people – something that is so easy to do early on in your career. Especially when it comes to creativity, everyone’s talents are unique. If you find yourself looking around at what other people are doing, try to refocus on your own path.
➡️ Accept the doubt and move on
There will be ups and downs during your creative career – no one is constantly thriving or flourishing. Sometimes the best thing to do is accept this fact and allow yourself to process your negative feelings. “[Self-doubt] is not this big thing you have to attack, it’s a valid feeling,” says Karun Agimal, design director at DixonBaxi. “Accept that you’re feeling it and try to concentrate on something else. Sometimes the best way to deal with doubt is just by doing.”
🍽️ “It’s good, but…” How to receive and digest feedback
Alright, you’ve got something together you’re happy with, and now it’s time to get some all important feedback. Hearing feedback – if it’s anything but positive – can be tough. But it’s one of the best ways to learn and get better at what you do.
“You want to try to get the most out of more experienced people,” says Lorenzo Eynard, a junior designer at DixonBaxi. “You have to be a bit humble – actually, more than a bit, a lot.” Have a read below for some food for thought on digesting feedback:
👂 Be super-coachable
Being open to feedback will ultimately help you nurture your talents and grow as a creative person. As Eva Munday, senior brand writer at DixonBaxi, puts it: “You have to be super-coachable, because at the end of the day it's just like doing a sport where you've got someone critiquing you and giving you direction to help you perform better.”
💪 Don’t take it personally
Receiving creative criticism can be especially hard to stomach, as we can feel like our work is an expression of ourselves. “When I have a piece of work, I treat it as my baby,” says Sofia Wang, a motion design intern at DixonBaxi. “Even though it might not be the best baby, it's still my baby. And if you criticise my baby you're criticising me. I feel attacked.”
It might take a lifetime of practice, but separating yourself from the work (and the feedback) can make a huge difference. “It's not about taking it personally, which is very, very easy to do, especially early on in your career,” says Matt Caldwell, a senior designer at DixonBaxi. “Being bulletproof to feedback. That's the dream. If you can achieve that, then you're sorted.”
🧠 Make sure you understand
Having said all that, challenging or pushing back on feedback is definitely okay. First up, make sure you understand the feedback. This is especially important when communicating via email, where things can easily get lost in translation. Next, ask the person to explain why they think you should change the work in a certain way. This is the best way to make sure you’re on the same page, and ultimately to learn from the process.
🏁 The finishing line: How do you know if the work’s good enough?
You’ve been tweaking your project for hours, and are starting to wonder if the changes are even needed. Knowing when to stop can be a struggle even for creatives at the top of their game.
“There's never a moment that you “know”, because the nature of being a creative is that you've never satisfied with what you've done,” says Tobi Arawolé, brand strategist at DixonBaxi. There are, however, a few tricks to help you step away from a project with confidence – from returning to the brief to trusting your gut:
🎯 Does it do what you set out to accomplish?
When you’re finishing a project, take time to reflect and think back to your original purpose and goals. “When the team can come together, support the decisions that have been made, debate the creativity on the table and hold it back up to the brief and the strategy,” says Dan Capstick, head of creative at DixonBaxi. “If you're answering your own brief and your own strategy, then that’s a massive step.”
👥 Ask someone else
If someone who is not on the project “gets” the work, it’s probably a sign you’re in a good place. Whether you ask a colleague, housemate, or even your mum, that outside opinion can be a great way to gauge how much work there is left to do. “It’s easy to get trapped in familiarity – when you've been on the journey with everybody, it's easy to think that something's right,” says Ben Wynn-Owen, head of experience design at DixonBaxi. “But if someone gets it with no context, then that's far better.”
💛 Trust when it feels right
Remember: creative work isn’t an exact science. “There's no one answer that we're all trying to find, because that doesn’t exist in our industry,” says Leah Surynt, design director at DixonBaxi. Instead, it’s about listening to your gut and your heart for what “feels right”, she says. Developing that instinct might take practice, but your confidence will build over time. You’ve got this!
The DixonBaxi Way is a video series about harnessing the power of creativity both individually and as a team. The first season sees founders Simon Dixon and Aporva Baxi in conversation, on topics from their creative principles to defining the creative journey.
Now, season two explores some of the key challenges that come with a creative career through interviews with the broader DixonBaxi team. Tune in as interns through to creative leaders share what agency life is really like and the journey of a professional creative.
DixonBaxi is a Creative Lives in Progress brand partner. Every year, we partner with like-minded brands and agencies to support our initiative and keep Creative Lives a free resource for emerging creatives. To find out more about how you can work with us, email [email protected]