Last night I was at a life drawing class, sketching away, when the girl next to me began to erase a portion of her drawing. It baffled me: one of my favourite things when drawing is to incorporate my mistakes. My sketches from last night is littered with accidental lines that I’ve worked into the drawings.
I watched her erase to make the work perfect and I thought to myself, “silly girl; don’t erase that, embrace it.”
That seems stuck-up of me, but it’s something I’ve learned to do in the last few years. I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. Someone tweets something controversial and they erase the tweet before the potential Twitter shitstorm. They create a bad design and backtrack before anyone notices. A politician says something and within a day they’re apologising and insisting they “didn’t mean it that way”.
But why try to backtrack? Why not say, “yes, I made a mistake; I am admitting it, and I will move on”?
I’m a firm believer in being open about what I say on the internet. I never say something anonymously. If someone takes offence, I defend myself appropriately. I don’t delete or backtrack: I stick to my guns, and I embrace my position, my beliefs, and stand by them.
If I’m writing something that could be controversial, I do think twice about it. “Should I post this? How will people react if they see it?” If the answer is unfavourable, I delete the text and don’t post it. That’s not erasing a mistake: that’s never making it because I’ve embraced past mistakes and learned from them.
When I do make a mistake, I immediately own up to it. That’s the important thing. Admit your mistake, apologise for it, but don’t try and erase the evidence. In my experience, people respect me more for being honest about making a mistake. When I was a child, my dad told me, “If you tell the truth, you won’t get into trouble, even if you’ve done something wrong” – so I always tell the truth. I embrace the mistakes I’ve made, I own up to them, and carry on.
After all, it’s easy to stop responding on the internet. In the middle of a pointless Twitter argument, you can simply say, “I’m not going to continue this discussion here” and stop replying. It’s infuriating, but you know you’ve overstepped the mark, and you’re taking an appropriate action.
And you might think bad design is different and difficult to get away from. All I’m going to say to that is “London 2012 Olympics logo“. Many people said Wolff Olins messed up that logo, but they refused to back down, and embraced it instead – and what came out? A strong brand for the 2012 Olympics. It may not have been beautiful, but it made an impact, and people recognised it the world over. It did what it set out to do, even though everyone said it was a mistake.
Same with iOS 7. Dribbble was awash with designers recreating the icons and the typography for Apple; their work was a mistake! But the designers stuck to their guns, defended their positions, and iOS 7 is now being billed as a “notable leap forward” – and if that doesn’t suggest success, what does?
Defend yourself, by all means – you should, especially if you believe in what you said. Apologise and step down when appropriate. But don’t try to erase the mistakes. Make them part of your workflow and learn from them. Embrace them.