Posted 05 June 2019
Written by Fiona Martin

D’oh! How to laugh at and learn from creative mistakes

While we’ve all been told that there’s an upside to making mistakes, when they actually do happen, most of us would rather the floor swallow us whole than see the positive side of things. But guess what – the likelihood is, your first mistake won’t be your last. Even seasoned pros aren’t protected from the odd blooper. So why not look at the funny side of things?

Fiona Martin is a designer and full-time teacher at Shillington College in London. Last year, she set up the Instagram account Mistakes I’ve Made to capture some of those classic facepalm moments, alongside the learnings that come with them. Collecting anonymous confessions and sharing them in bitesize posts, here, Fiona offers up some of her favourite examples, and what she’s learned from setting up the account.

Let’s face it. Making mistakes is uncomfortable, awkward and downright embarrassing. But what if we could see our mistakes in a new light, and focus on what we can learn from them? The act of making mistakes can generally be the best way for us to learn, experiment and even gain a better understanding of ourselves.

As an educator, I’ve noticed that students tend to dwell on the negatives, or the things that could have been; maybe they missed a deadline or a presentation fell completely flat. I also suffered this as a design student and in my early career – often associating mistakes with my self-worth and ability.

So now, even in what seems like their worst moments, I encourage students to acknowledge what has happened, but then focus on the takeaway from the experience. Mistakes should be viewed as amazing opportunities to grow, rather than overwhelming failures that stand in our way.

“I often associated my own mistakes with my self-worth and ability.”

Finding some comic relief
Mistakes I’ve Made came about after hearing so many ridiculous disaster stories from fellow designers over the years. I wanted to create a place to record and use them for good. For an industry that is riddled with self-deprecation, imposter syndrome and stress, this acts as a source of reassurance and much-needed comic relief for those struggling.

It’s tempting to want to put people in industry up on a pedestal as untouchable models of perfection. But no one’s perfect – even the most experienced of designers – so the project acts as a gentle reminder that we all mess up and that’s okay, especially at the beginning of our careers.

“For an industry riddled with self-deprecation, imposter syndrome, stress and anxiety, this is some much-needed comic relief.”

What’s admirable in these anecdotes is how resourceful and honest people have been when the shit hits the fan. Going that extra mile to rectify a blunder is where a designer’s true character and integrity shine through, and help get a job back on course.

The submissions generally fall into the following categories; technical disasters, unfortunate typos, presentation nightmares, production issues, injuries and the down right bizarre! Here are some of my favourites submissions...

The Spelling Fail

If I’m honest, the majority of submissions have been typo-related. Spelling is not our strong point as designers! Always run a spell-check or get fresh eyes on what you’re working on. This submission is a great example of resourcefulness when things fall apart.

Straight to Trash

A classic example of someone struggling in silence. Always ask questions if you are in doubt. Better safe than sorry!

The Heartbroken Junior

I really admired the honesty of this submission. Backing up work is key… As is not allowing a bad break-up to jeopardise your career.

The Stomach Rumbler

This one was just downright weird. A reminder to keep your snack game on-point.

How do you deal with mistakes in the right way?

The end goal of Mistakes I’ve Made is to create a handbook for students to help them see the funny side when they are doubting themselves. The aim is for it to become a useful aid in navigating the challenging situations you can encounter as an emerging creative.

The beauty of screwing up at school or university is that the consequences aren’t necessarily that serious. But in the real world there’s money involved, expectations to be met, clients to win and reputations to withhold.

Having read so many stories of fails and how they were rectified, here is my advice on the practical steps you can take when you encounter your first professional mistakes:

1. Acknowledge it
Acknowledge what has happened, don’t ignore it!

2. Take ownership and be honest
Don’t fall into the trap of blaming others, don’t struggle in silence and do let someone know.

3. Problem-solve
Ideate to rectify the situation.

4. Implement a solution
Go that extra mile to get things back on track.

5. Reflect on it
The most important step of them all. What was the takeaway from the situation?


You can submit your most embarrassing design mistakes to [email protected] or DM @mistakesivemadee

Written by Fiona Martin