The creative world is full of dilemmas. One big one is centered around this question: who is your creative work for—yourself, or others? Knowing your audience can shape your entire creative process, including your end product. As someone with decades of experience in creative spaces, I’ve come to think of the dilemma as this: creating for yourself vs. designing for others.
Creating for yourself
Even though there is not one “right” way to be creative, creatives sure do get a lot of advice. One piece of advice commonly offered to creatives is the idea that you should create for yourself.
People who create for themselves don’t care about trends, popularity, or “what the market demands.” They are concerned with one thing and one thing only: using their creative energy to create something meaningful and fulfilling to them, personally.
To these people, it doesn’t matter if their book or painting never sells. It doesn’t matter if critics rip their work apart. All that matters is that they are able to create whatever they feel the need to create.
In a lot of ways, the “creating for yourself” mindset is very valuable. People who create for themselves are more likely to:
- Take creative risks
- Try new things
- Create emotionally charged work
- Find a deep sense of contentment in creating
- Be happier with their work
- Be less discouraged by negative feedback
- Keep creating
In essence, creating for yourself feeds an artist’s soul.
Of course, there are downsides to creating only for yourself as well. These might include:
- Not making money from your work
- Inability to accept feedback (too much pride in your work)
- More independence than interdependence
- Frustration with people who don’t “get it”
Not to mention, sometimes there are times when the task at hand requires you to think about what other people need or want. This is when you have to shift your mindset from “creating for yourself” to “designing for others.”
Designing for others
My house is in the middle of a pretty extensive remodel right now. We’re working with contractors to make decisions about the smallest details around the house: outlet placement, how high the top shelves should be, where the bathtub faucet should go, etc.
If these contractors were creating for themselves, they would put everything where they think it should go, whether they made their choices based on aesthetics, function, or their own personal preference. As it is, however, they aren’t creating a house that will just act as a piece of art to be looked at. They’re creating a home for me and my family.
As such, the design is more intentional. It requires conversations between us, deciding what works best for my family—our preferences, lifestyle, and habits. Our contractors are designing, for us.
This kind of design reflects an understanding of what the end user is looking for, and that often results in a better experience for that end user.
That’s not to say that intentional design isn’t creative. It often does take creative thinking to break free from the status quo and create the perfect design, even if it isn’t typical or traditional.
The real difference lies in the motivation. It’s not “art for art’s sake.” It’s designing something purposeful, and for the person who will be using it.
Just as there is value to creating for yourself, there is also value in designing for others. People who design for others are likely to:
- End up with a sellable/marketable design
- Solve problems with their designs
- Stretch their creative thinking skills (working with constraints can lead to its own kind of innovation)
- Develop more interdependence
- Be better collaborators
- Incorporate feedback to finetune their craft
Designing for others requires leveraging your creativity to create something that has a place in the world at large, not just in your world.
Designing for others has its potential for drawbacks too, including:
- Less personal fulfillment
- Less opportunity to use your creative voice
- Chance of burnout
- Greater susceptibility to negative feedback
- Less control over the final product
- Chance of getting “stuck” doing work you don’t truly love
Creating for yourself vs. designing for others
Like I said earlier, there is no one “right” way to create. It all depends on what your objective is.
When the objective is art and pure creativity, trying to find your creative voice, or expressing yourself through your work, then create for yourself. This can be a great way to infuse joy into creating and help keep your creativity burning bright.
If you are working for someone else or trying to solve a problem, you are designing for others. Put aside your own preferences and your artist’s ego and design something that works for the audience it needs to work for.
Both approaches require creativity, talent, and hard work. But you’ll get something different out of each process. Knowing what you want and what your project demands will help you keep your creative work on the right track.
A more creative life is waiting.
Whether you are creating for yourself or designing for others, Design.org can help guide your creative process to make sure your life is what you want it to be. Get started today by taking our free assessment.