Little Lessons #1: Go With Your Gut

Nubby Twiglet | Little Lessons: Go With Your Gut

This is the first installment of a new column, Little Lessons which will be centered around tidbits I’m learning as I move along through life and business.


By nature, I’m a planner. And if I’m being honest, I plan a little too much. This mindset definitely spills over into my client work big time. While it’s important to be prepared so you can carry out your best work (that’s what you’re being paid to do, after all), sometimes, there just isn’t time for that.

Two weeks ago, a surprise project from a long-time client popped up on my radar. It involved branding, packaging and the potential opportunity to land on the shelves of one of my favorite national retailers. The problem was, time was almost nonexistent and if we wanted to make it happen, we had to make a move immediately.

I sat at my desk early the next morning as a wave of fear slowly boiled to the surface. What had I just committed myself to?! I had a good idea but just that one. I tried a few other things, but nothing felt quite right. As I moved along, staring at the screen, I kept going back to the first. My gut had told me that it was the right direction all along but I was afraid to present just one solid idea.

With little time to do much more, I sent off the presentation with some quick notes:
This direction just felt right. I feel that it’s very on-brand for you and very now. And yes, that’s my handwriting. I hope you like it!

Within about 10 minutes, the client had responded — she agreed. We got the packaging done and off to the printer the next morning, just in time to hit the deadline.

A few days later, another deadline was on the horizon, this time for a workshop. Once again, one direction felt perfect and nothing else I tried was working. “This is it. This has to be it,” I kept telling myself. “I hope she likes it because my gut says this is perfect for her.” I once again felt an internal tug-of war about presenting just one idea but I sucked it up and fired off an in-process screenshot anyway. A few minutes later, I had the thumbs-up to build out the rest of the assets.

In the past, when it came to projects like these, I would keep doubting myself and exploring, pushing out more attempts that never felt quite as perfect as the first. Now, I’m learning that our intuition rarely leads us astray so we should trust it in life, relationships and yes, even design.

Lesson learned: listen to your first instincts. Go with your gut.


Photo: Made U Look.

18 Responses to Little Lessons #1: Go With Your Gut

    • Shauna says:

      Melissa Dominic: Live and learn, right?! And I’m glad to hear that you like the new column — feels good to occasionally switch things up.

  1. Amanda says:

    I have an agency in Upstate New York and I so get this. It can be easy to get tripped up in doubt, but ultimately people come to us for the instinct we have to take them not just from point A to point B, but on over the the zing of Z and the pop of Y. Good for you for pressing through and hitting that deadline with style.

  2. Denise says:

    Hi, Shauna! Great post. I’m always feeling like I need to deliver more than one idea to my clients when I begin a project. Maybe because it’s in the contract. Maybe because I think clients expect to see more than one idea? Sometimes that first idea DOES feel like the right one. So, is this more about the client’s trust because they’ve worked with you before? How do I explain to a new client that I feel “this one” is the right direction without feeling like I need to throw in one or two additional sub-par ideas just because they probably expect it?

    Thanks for all your advice!
    Denise

    • Shauna says:

      Denise: I normally wouldn’t just deliver one option for brand new clients because like yours, my contracts guarantee a specific number of first round options. I would only do this in very specific cases for clients I’ve worked with multiple times and know really well. For new clients, I would include multiple options but go out of my way to explain why the one version is the best choice.

  3. Carrie says:

    This is so refreshing to hear. I have caught myself sending one or two extra designs for the client to choose from, even if I don’t feel like they quite hit the mark, just so they have ‘options’. I feel like that is a rookie mistake I need need to get over and instead own my expertise. Thanks for the reminder/encouragement!

  4. Adri VelBac says:

    Design anecdote-joke :) Sadly happens all the time…

    “The client gave the designer the logo brief, and after 10 minutes, the designer came back with the proposal.
    – ”This is it!” designer said
    – ”Excellent! How much do I owe you?” the client responded
    – ”2k” designer replied, confident
    – ”Are you kidding me? This took you 10 minutes to make!”
    – ”Yeah… tough, it took me 10 years to get to do it in 10 minutes”

    Amazing post,
    Thanks Shauna!

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  6. Man… It’s true, I agree with @Adri!
    How far we’ve come in over ten years of designing! Back in my freshman year of college, I really benefitted from exercises pushing me, like brain-maps and improv, or exercises to develop literally 100 logo sketches at 1-inch thumbnails with lists of 200+ adjectives and narrow it down to the best & most unique. And senior year, and even now, I love playful/brainstorm exercises and design thinking exercises that open my eyes to more options than I originally thought —- but that’s only if I can afford the time to really push the envelope. Unfortunately that’s not always within a client’s budget – either with tight deadlines or with small-scale financial budgets. I’m in a similar stage of growth, where I’m learning to trust and go with my gut, moving things faster and I love it. But, I wouldn’t be able to know whats right in a time pinch without all those years of practice, failed-and-fixed client experiences, and amazing teachers and friends to learn from.

    Congrats Shauna! Awesome project, I cannot wait to see it because I know you nailed it!!! I’m excited to read your new series here on your blog.

    • Shauna says:

      Julia Kostreva: Thanks for stopping by, I’m a HUGE fan of your work! And it’s true that all those years of practice were super important to build the fundamentals because these days, the turns on project rounds are so quick that multiple directions aren’t always possible.

  7. Sara says:

    That is fantastic. I love when things just work out like that. Congrats on a job well done and trusting yourself to know that it was well done in the first place.

  8. Siobhan says:

    YES YES YES! All hail the power of the gut feeling, in my field (I’m a copywriter) I’ve learnt the same. Your instinct are always on point. I do think it is something that does take time to trust though.

  9. Thanks for this brilliant, uncannily timely post! Was mulling over whether to change my blog name back to what it was to begin with (which was my gut feeling but then talked myself out of), came across your post and thought that’s it, I’m going back to what my gut told me! Thanks for confirming that it’s always best to trust your intuition!

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