Web Designers, Don’t Do It Alone

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Whether freelancers, small agency founders or website owners, too many of us work alone. The downside of the digital revolution is isolation. The Web allows us to do alone what previously would have required a team of people. It also frees us from the constraints of geography, allowing us to work from home. But while these are benefits, they also leave us isolated.

The Dangers Of Isolation

Over time, working in isolation (even if you function as part of a team) can prove harmful to your mental health, business and website. In fact, even if other people are working on a project of yours, if they are junior to you, you can still feel isolated.

Depressed dog
lifeandlove, Shutterstock1

If you don’t find a peer with whom you can share ideas and discuss your business or project, you face a number of dangers:

  • Dry up creatively
    Creativity is born of interaction. Being consistently creative on your own is hard. The best ideas come from people brainstorming together and from one great idea leading to another. Without someone to bounce ideas around with, your business or project will lack a creative spark.
  • Lose confidence
    Over time we can lose confidence in our abilities or our business. This is especially true when we make mistakes and things go wrong. Without someone to encourage and reassure us, we can begin to second-guess our decisions.
  • Become over-confident
    While some suffer from a lack of confidence, others are over-confident and need to be challenged and questioned. This is a trait I suffer from; I would happily dive headlong into disaster if my fellow directors did not constantly question my ideas. Without people like this, moving your business in entirely the wrong direction would be too easy.
  • Reach the limit of your knowledge
    We can’t all be experts at everything, and yet running a website and a business requires a broad range of skills. When working in isolation and tackling problems beyond your comfort zone, you can easily reach the limit of your expertise and flounder.
  • Have a blinkered perspective
    Another problem with working alone is that you have only a single perspective on your work. By adding another set of eyes to your problems, you gain a broader vision and can approach your challenges from a different angle.
  • Feel overwhelmed
    Running a business or a business-critical website can feel like a burden. You are often required to make big decisions, particularly with hiring and expenditures. Making these decisions alone is a big responsibility and can be really scary. Having someone to share that with would make a big difference.

So, can you identify with any of these traps? If not, then I suggest you read the one about over-confidence again! I don’t believe a single website owner or entrepreneur couldn’t benefit from an outside perspective.

The question, then, is how do you find someone?

Getting An Outside Perspective

The most obvious solution is to partner with somebody at the outset. Whether you work with someone on a website or form a business with an associate, partnerships can be very beneficial. This is what I did with our company, and I haven’t regretted it for a minute. I would be lost without my two co-founders, Chris and Marcus.

That said, I know that not everyone’s experiences with partners have been rosy. Also, by the time you read this, the opportunity for this kind of partnership may have already passed.

What can you do then? What other options are available to those seeking an outside perspective and someone to bounce ideas around with?

Here are some options:

  • Sleeping partner
    This is the approach we took. We have a non-executive director named Brian who works with a number of companies and keeps us on our toes. He has a radically different view of business and constantly challenges us. In return, he has a small stake in the business. He is worth every penny.
  • Paid consultant
    If you don’t fancy having someone so entrenched in your business, why not consider an external consultant with whom you could speak on an ongoing basis? Admittedly, this kind of consultant can be pricey, but they do bring an outside perspective to the table.
  • Mentor
    Another option is to approach a Web designer or website owner you admire and ask them to mentor you. Obviously, these people are probably busy with their own work, but if you are willing to pay for their time, you might get some valuable advice. You’ll usually need only an hour per month to stay on the right track.
  • Buddy
    A buddy would be a cheaper option, someone in a situation similar to yours. The two of you could agree to chat regularly and share the challenges you face as business or website owners, discussing different approaches and ideas.
  • Community
    Yet another option would be to look not for a consultant, mentor or buddy, but for a supportive online community. Loads are around, but make sure the one you join is not too big. You want people to remember you and your circumstances.

Whatever you decide is entirely up to you. The point is, if you want to realize the potential of your website or business, you need the help and encouragement of others. Humans by nature work best in groups, and you are no exception. We are not meant to do it alone!

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.shutterstock.com/

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Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation and a leader in digital strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.

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  1. 1

    Siddharth Patel

    June 28, 2010 7:26 am

    Holy True!
    certainly everybody faces this who’s working via internet specially.
    Great post Paul!

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  2. 52

    Very nice article. Absolutely true.

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  3. 103

    Very true! Thank you for the article.

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  4. 154

    Great post! Sometimes I’ve felt so isolated that I wonder if my feelings are “normal”. It’s good to see that this is common. Of course, there’s still the issue of what to do about it.

    I have a couple other web designer aquaintances that I occassionally commiserate with via email. But it would be great to have someone to toss some ideas back and forth with. Guess I’d better work on developing that.

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  5. 205

    Thats the main reason why i’m quiting my current job. As a web designer you really have to work in a team, with at leat 1other designer to give you feedback. Otherwise you just do the same old thing. It might be clean, profesionnal and clients may be happy but its amost impossible to reinvent yourself and get new ideas and improve if you are alone.

    I’m beginning a new job in 2 week with a Creative Art Director whose work has won prizes, and i can’t wait to start!

    Isabelle

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  6. 256

    Thanks for this great insight. I was being weirdly over-confident and having lots of negative preconceptions about a partnership but your article showed me the light- so to speak.

    It actually is true. Im not really productive when working alone.

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  7. 307

    So true. I lost so of my buddies when I first started working alone. Later on I acknowledge I have no good friends at all.

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  8. 358

    Co-working can help with these issues, but if your co-working colleagues are also competitors, there can be additional issues which can make it hard for sharing to be established. Such as if your co-working colleagues are bidding on the same jobs you are, or are in the same market niche.

    In these situations it takes trust of each other, open communication and remembering that there is enough for all, for this to work. Ultimately I think it works better if your colleagues are actually working on the same paid project as you.

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  9. 409

    The article definitely has some merit. But if you work alone are you really totally isolated. Most projects consist of a client and a target market. Meeting the needs of both are critical to any successful project which means that there is always some feedback, community, or paid consultant which assists in the process.

    In all honesty, I think for the right-minded person, it’s possible to to go at it alone and isolate yourself from influences that may interfere with the goal at hand.

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  10. 460

    I am also on the lookout for a partner to outsource css and coding works, but don’t know where to look..

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  11. 511

    Great article. We are, in the final analysis, social animals. The benefits of bouncing ideas off one another are huge and inspirational, no matter what some may say about preferring to work alone. There is ALWAYS someone who knows more, or has a more creative solution than mine.

    Collaboration makes me better — and the key to that is in finding the right collaborators. Can’t do that if you don’t actively seek them out. I’m involved in a local web developers network. We meet monthly just to toss ideas around and share tools and insights. Sometimes the meetings are utterly useless to me, but more often I come away with my perspective refreshed and improved.

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  12. 562

    Sad but true! Me looking for partner/team to work with too… :-)

    -1
  13. 613

    Yeah, that will be hard for me. I need to find a company to work with. Working alone is boring.

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  14. 664

    Great point and well taken….

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  15. 715

    Great advices ,
    It’s been a year since i started working as a freelance form home, and lately i find it quite depressing.
    I really need someone to show my work and to talk about design with.
    Home can be a really unconfortable place sometime.

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  16. 766

    All too true. I have been maintaining a regional web site since 1994 and while I have made attempts to make it a group supported site it has felt on deaf ears, while visits have continued to be robust if not overwhelming. I continue and will, but am happy to hear that my thoughts are echoed by others.

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  17. 817

    How sad but true!
    Just talking to a friend on how I can get a partner. For me designing/programming is fun but doing all alone in a project is very tedious. Come to think of it. Here you are with a project at hand.
    For design part, all the issues of typography,colors,imagery, layout,etc must be dealt with and ahead to photoshop/fireworks/illustrator for comps and revisions.
    After approval with designs, you then come to html/css coding (fixing browser bugs alone is enough to grow cold).

    Oh! and to the daunting programming aspect ( I love OOP) of all business logic and stuff.
    While at all these, you have to combine IA, Web Standards, Accessibility, etc. If you want it like the pro.
    And in between you are handling some live site updates and fixing some reported bugs/issues,etc.

    All these is hard work and I do well at that. I just can’t imagine sometimes how to fit with someone working on a project yet its damn lonely and tedious doing it alone.

    Want to partner lemme know.

    Nice article but show us how to get someone(finding partners) next time.
    Thanks Paul.

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  18. 868

    For those of you looking for community and a place to brainstorm design related ideas and concepts, you can try out http://www.ConceptFeedback.com. Nice article Paul, thanks!

    1
  19. 919

    Paul, I hate to admit it but I love everything you write. That was typed through gritted teeth after listening to over 200 podcasts since episode 21…………

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  20. 970

    Everyone I know who has “gone freelance” or worse yet began their careers as freelancers and not looked back become depressed & tense, producing tired work and projecting negativity constantly.

    The solution is to work at an agency / company, accept collaboration as not just necessity, but a privilege, embrace responsibility and discard the illusion of freedom or flexibility in favor of an honest day’s work.

    1
  21. 1021

    This article seems timely for a lot of people, including myself. I can definitely relate to each of the dangers mentioned.

    The buddy option is ideal, but the ideal buddy (trustworthy, motivated, skilled, etc.) can be hard to come by.

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  22. 1072

    Often times I find myself in the same situation.

    With a friend to bounce ideas off of is always ideal.

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  23. 1123

    Another inspiring and yet informative post, reading articles here in Smashing Magazine is a joy galore indeed!

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  24. 1174

    You’ve good post here..

    i have realized the isolated-problem here but i didn’t realize yet what is it before i read your post! thanks for your enlightenment!

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  25. 1225

    The article was a nice read thanks. I also enjoyed reading some of the comments.

    For me, my work leads me into different environments. Sometimes a collaboration, sometimes in isolation. For some projects it works, and for other it doesn’t. I do like the balance of both and try to experience it in short bursts.

    I believe that everyone has their own work ethic and is welcome to work as they see fit. If I was working in isolation, the most important thing to me would be to identify when it is being a problem. Identify the signs when it starts to affect business. Identify the drop in quality of work.

    Then, taking all those into account, doing something about it before it gets much worse.

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  26. 1276

    My best job was at a really good national newspaper. All the designers and art directors I worked with were amazingly good. It was magical being able to have each other to bounce ideas around and critique each others work. My whole life felt like it was enriched from the experience. It was just so lovely to be able to talk to someone else who totally got where I was coming from.

    Last job was at a web dev company where I was the only front end developer, only web designer and it was the worst working experience I’ve had to date.

    I’m now going freelance but am regularly linking up with my ex colleagues from the newspaper and old friends from art college. Also use twitter to keep hooked up daily with what illustrator and film maker friends are watching, liking, making etc. Gradually am building up an online network too and my boyfriend is a musician and we collaborate to create stuff together.

    I think I would honestly need the men with white coats if I didn’t have anyone around who I could be creative with.

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  27. 1327

    Thijs Van Damme

    July 9, 2010 4:47 am

    So true, working from home brought me a lot of benefits but the truth is that I really start missing the social interactions I had at previous jobs.
    Does anyone have any good suggestion on how to overcome this?

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  28. 1378

    I wish that there was at least 3 or more FIFA WORLD CUP wallpapers for this month or June even. It’s too bad.
    What’s worse is I never had the time to create one..

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  29. 1429

    thanks paul this topic is 100% real world.

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  30. 1480

    Hate working with other designers – they are so full of shit

    1
  31. 1531

    Bravo!

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  32. 1582

    The post is all good however i have some mix feeling maybe we should keep some limits to the interactions between our coworkers as well as sometimes it becomes difficult to tolerate incoming messages on IMs and results too much distractions from work…

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  33. 1633

    Thank you very much for a Great Article! well I’m working as a freelance front-end developer sometime it feels isolated but sharing ideas with friends helps very much.

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  34. 1684
  35. 1735

    Nice :)

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  36. 1786

    Great article! Some really useful points that I’ll certainly be bearing in mins for the future.

    Thanks

    Jerky Oats –

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  37. 1837

    I totally mis-interpreted the “Sleeping Partner” title.

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  38. 1888

    Alexander Stanuga

    July 6, 2011 4:21 pm

    Too true! Isolation, especially during the early years of freelancing or starting a business can make things more difficult than they need to be. Join an association and get out of your studio for events, when you meet people at these events try and maintain professional contact through things like LinkedIn or twitter. It’s not as personal or invasive as facebook, and usually it’s a good way of developing your networks.

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  39. 1939

    I love this article, but I also loved everybody’s responses.

    I’m totally surprised that I could relate to some of the things people have said. Reading user comments are also a very valuable to gain insight to how everyone feels for freelancing and group work for a company or business. It flattens out or puts into perspective all the underlying feelings which you don’t think about and only till you hear or read something you realise that this is a small or big habit or part of life which others also share, and makes you think how you could do better.

    I’m glad i have been reading these types of articles and bumping into the comments sections.

    Even before having read this, I am totally motivated to design and learn all aspects of multimedia, finding the right balance in life when doing freelance work is an issue at this time. I think trying to get this all balanced out and organizing yourself is crucial to learning new things, but also starting and and then finishing something and having the sense of accomplishment of projects and tasks etc. when you actually have put in detail. At times you could have produced something but it wasn’t like a lot of detail or mind frame was used – if this makes sense. I always feel as though a lot has to go into producing something creative and a well detail product and then the sense of achievement sets in.

    Some people work better in a group, other on their own, some people both, i think you have to learn to manage your time and be adaptable to whatever life throws at you for the time being.

    This is something i really like and have printed off and glaring right in front of me – I thought i would share – for the ones which haven’t seen it before.
    http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/33-ways-to-stay-creative

    Anyway, good luck to all the graphic and web designers / developers out there who may be doing it tough! Keep on designing and developing!

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  40. 1990

    absolutely true…

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  41. 2041

    I think what’s important is to have a group of friends say graphic designers, programmers and even business people that share similar values and constantly get together to talk and discuss what’s the latest trend, what’s a popular fonts or some technology people should be aware of. I think it benefits the most when everyone has something different to offer..if you have such friends from school or previous work place, don’t ever let them slip away in your life!

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  42. 2092

    SLEEPING partner? Um, I don’t know about where you’re from, but around here (Australia) my sleeping partner is my husband. A SILENT partner would be a business partner who is involved financially in the business but not in the management of it.

    If my sleeping partner was a bit more silent, his snoring wouldn’t keep me awake so much…

    Maybe you’re thinking of a sleeper – an agent of a terrorist organization who is currently inactive… Or maybe not.

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