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How Uncertainty Dares Designers to Find Inspiration

"Truth or dare?"

I looked up at my laptop screen, which was divided into four sections. My friends and I had scheduled a happy hour over Zoom and we were catching up on everyone's lives.

All eyes were pointed at me.


My friend cracked a smile. "Do you think you've finally gotten your foot into the design door?"

I laughed. Then he laughed. Then all my friends laughed... And then I muted him for the rest of the conversation because I was the call host.

My pal was referring to a post I had written for DesignerUp on my insecurities within the design space. My relationship with design has been fulfilling, if not also rocky. In that post, I documented my reckoning with the all-time classic designer doubt: if I can't draw, can I really be a good designer?

Could I really get my foot into the design door?

My friends were all poking fun but the question is something I grappled with, and it's a point of stress in a lot of early designers' minds.

The truth? I still deal with overwhelming uncertainty every day. It's called imposter's syndrome for a reason.

But here's the challenge. Here's the dare.

Don't let that uncertainty hold you back. Take that as a sign to keep moving forward. Quarantine is one big game of truth or dare! Let me show you what I mean.

The Truth

If you felt uncertain before COVID-19 — whether about grades, or job prospects, or the NBA playoffs — then there's no doubt that you're facing some extreme uncertainty right now.

It's been just over two months since stay-at-home advisories and social distancing upended life as we know it. Meetings have gone virtual, arenas have gone silent, and the new work uniform is a pair of sweats and a cotton t-shirt (at least for me...). Everything we expected for the future two months ago is now up in the air.

That's a reality we have to face as students, people, and designers. That's just the truth.

If you had a job offer or summer internship lined up before quarantine, chances are your program is now cancelled or virtual. If you're a graduating senior, the reality is that you're entering the workforce in a moment of flux. If you're a designer, the truth is that uncertainty can, and will, aggravate insecurity.

It's the cold, hard truth. We're living in an uncertain moment.

But here's the catch — uncertainty can lead to insecurity.

That doesn't mean it has to.

The Dare

Gilda Radner, one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, once said:

"I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity."

Uncertainty is a word that comes with a bad rep. When people think of uncertainty, they also think of instability, and change, and insecurity.

Most people often overlook that uncertainty is also a hub for potential and a space for growth. Most people don't realize that uncertainty doesn't have to beget insecurity.

When I first started out as a designer, I couldn't rid myself of the unshakeable feeling that I didn't belong. That I was not creative or good enough for the design world.

But all it took was a single leap of faith — and Elizabeth Alli's guiding hand (pen?) — to show me that uncertainty doesn't have to be a negative. It has all the right conditions for being a positive!

Let's think about it through an example.

Are you looking to upskill and grow as a graphic designer? Maybe you're interested in developing your portfolio and finding ways to reach your audience. But perhaps quarantine has thrown a wrench in your plans, and forced you to rethink your options.

Have you heard of Jure Tovrljan? When quarantine started to lock down communities across the globe, Jure took to the internet and reimagined some of the world's most recognizable logos for the new age of social distancing.

Just take a look at his simple, yet powerful conversions of the MasterCard, LinkedIn, and Starbucks logos:

Starbucks siren wearing personal protective face mask
A nod to social distancing, the Mastercard logo circles no longer touching,
Stay Linked in to your network while staying Locked into your house
The iconic rings of the Olympic flag are reimagined safely distanced apart
Reversing the battle cry to remind us to not go outside and keep physically distanced

Jure didn't let quarantine restrict his imagination or constrain his artistic flow. On the contrary!

He found inspiration in the uncertainty around him.

There's the challenge. I dare you — whether you're a student, a designer, both, or neither — to embrace the uncertainty that we're in as a challenge that will help you grow and move forward.

"Life is about not knowing," says Gilda, "taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next." Uncertainty is scary. I don't blame you for huddling in bed with Netflix or wallowing on Instagram. I did the same. That's all a natural part of the process of existing.

Take your time to heal, breathe, and come back stronger.

And when you do, I dare you to look at quarantine as a challenge, and not an insurmountable wall.

It's just another hackathon, or design sprint, or last-minute investment pitch. Derive inspiration from quarantine, rather than letting it dominate your psyche.

The truth? Uncertainty is hard, scary, and often also inhibiting.

But the truth is that life is also meant to be ambiguous, uncertain, and imperfect.

The dare? Take a breath, acknowledge that uncertainty, and move forward. We're going to come out of it with awesome designs, a killer mindset, and powerful affirmation in ourselves.

Quarantine is one big game of truth or dare. The truth is that it shows us just how unpredictable life can be — but also how meaningful those challenges often are. The dare is to recognize that truth and push past any setbacks or challenges that come your way.

One day, I'll walk confidently right through that design door. At times, it can feel like I'm trying to push the door open with a ten-ton safe plopped on the other side. But I know that the value I get from that journey will be all the more fruitful down the line.

Just take it one, uncertain step at a time. You're right where you should be.