How to "create" frequently without burning out? (with Deniz Aktay)
Have you ever felt like you're constantly lacking behind, not enough to compete with all those designers you see on social media? I'm talking about the ones who always come up with fresh and unique ideas so frequently that you start to question yourself: "Am I not adequate to continue doing this job?" or "Am I a bad designer?".
Deniz is one of those designers for sure, he posts a new design with stunning visuals, a witty name that is so simple yet so clever, and the design itself is so well executed that you wonder if he spent the last couple of weeks to come up with that... But he does that multiple times a week!
I've been wanting to write about "creating" frequently for a while, since this is something I want to do for years, and wanted to learn more to write an article. And I thought, who is better than Deniz to help me write this?
Deniz Aktay is a designer based in Stuttgart, Germany and it is guaranteed you've come across at least one of his designs. On his website he says:
"During my studies of architecture and urban planning at the University of Stuttgart and for my perennial work experience as an architect, the aspects of creating, forming, and designing always have been important in my creative work.
Following this passion also in my free time, I could successfully participate in several furniture design contests. Additionally, the more I focused on designing furniture and objects, the more my enthusiasm grew. Over time I figured out that good design means for me finding the right harmony between proportion, material, and functionality. This goes with my demand for simplicity, originality, proper element joining, detailing, and appropriate use of the materials involved. Considering all these aspects, designing a new piece is an interesting challenge every time."
I asked Deniz 6 questions about how he started designing with this tempo, how he perceives the world, and digging deeper into his thought process. In this article, you'll see our little interview and some thought on it. Even though we talked mainly revolving around design, I believe his wise words can influence many people coming from different backgrounds.
Q1: You practically took over the furniture design category in every possible platform and built a style from scratch. I remember seeing your name back in December 2021 when you got featured for the first time on Behance and one whole year later, you have many celebrated works. Even though I absolutely love everything you create, I think your consistency and devotion are one of the most important things everybody should take as an example. Could you walk me through how did you start creating so frequently - with every one of your work exceptionally well thought out? What made you start doing this, if I may?
Deniz: I wanted to create uncommon furniture pieces. There are great designs on the market and I know furniture has to be simple and clean to get sold these days. But most of the current designs are also kind of tedious these days, which I absolutely understand because the furniture market is challenging, and launching new products is very expensive and always a risk. But I thought, why not approach furniture design more playful and not necessarily with the aim to produce them, which also gives me a lot of freedom of course. So most of the designs I create I know they are maybe impossible or inefficient to produce or sell for the mass market but I always liked to create something extraordinary.
"Why not approach furniture design more playful and not necessarily with the aim to produce them?" To me, this was such a powerful statement and a great advice. Even though we are trained to design products with hopes of launching on the market as much as we can, at the end of the day creativity is our fuel. And I'd like to think of creativity as a sprout, waiting to be nourished as we grow as a designer. If you know a little bit about gardening, some trees never reach their full potential without grafting. So what you have to do is, graft your creativity without worrying too much about realism and producibility. If you don't unleash your creative freedom, how are you going to land it somewhere unique?
Q2: Stephen King says “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”. Do you agree with him? Do you wait for inspiration to come every day to start creating? Can you explain your relationship with creating?
Deniz: I love this question and haven’t known King’s quote yet but I absolutely agree with him. For me, the key for new concepts is work, work, work. I use every free time I have for designing. Finding new ideas can be a tough challenge. Sometimes I sketch hundreds of papers in a week. I usually don’t show them because I am not really a good sketcher. But this is my favorite way to come up with new ideas and shapes. I guess it is some kind of dreamy imagination that ideas suddenly appear under the shower.
To be honest, I wanted to learn how impossibly talented Deniz was when I sent the questions. Because after I verify that, I'd feel more relaxed - since talent is always taught to be unreachable without an insane amount of work. That meant, I could've just said "Oh, he's good because he's talented so I don't have to work tirelessly to be just as successful, I simply can't achieve that." But after I read his answers, my respect for him increased incredibly. He is not "just talented" or someone who waits for inspiration every single day, we can see that he works hard to achieve what we see. I want to evoke a phrase I mentioned in one of my earlier posts: "design dysmorphia". I explained the phrase as "fatigue caused by being exposed to too many exceptional designs and eventually beginning to dislike your own work and developing a design dysmorphia.". We often forget how much those exceptional designers work to come up with them, including Deniz. Working hard is not a talent, and the results we see and adore are just a tiny display of a ton of experience and "failure" behind it. And even though you may tend to compare your current level with their current level might be highly intimidating, I think it's calming to acknowledge that they were once in our position!
Q3: I love the names you give to your designs, every one of them has a witty feeling to it and makes me think, how do you see the world? The names are often very mundane things that we usually overlook in daily life but it seems like you search for a meaning or want to express the meaning you gather from daily objects or things. What is “seeing” to you?
Deniz: I guess, in an unconscious and subtle way, my designs express how I see the world. Naming my concepts usually comes at the end of the design process, I guess most designers can relate. But at the end of the design process, I also can’t wait to share the visualizations with my community so I always have to find a name quickly. So most of the time I name them based on how I feel they look like, or what first comes to my mind when I look at them. And the names probably also reflect how I see the world around me.
This mindset might be a creative person's biggest strength. When we think about working, a concept as a whole, we think about ourselves chained to our desks with our faces buried in papers and sketches. But Deniz explores the idea of working as an action as simple as "seeing". If you train your eyes to see creative opportunities everywhere you look, you can consider yourself working in every awake hour without feeling burnt out.
Q4: This article’s main subject is about creating on a regular basis, so to go back to that, have you ever felt or feared being burnt out? Have you ever felt any pressure to continue creating after your established your presence / online persona even though you didn’t want to?
Deniz: A good question that is difficult to answer. I don’t feel the pressure of sharing new designs. To be more precise I don’t feel pressure coming from my community but only from myself. I have that inner drive to design very regularly. What sometimes can be a kind of pressure is that I want to answer every comment, question, and message of course, but I am not able to always manage that properly. And I feel sorry for that.
Once you stop enabling outside pressure to affect your creative process, you become free - until you discover your own. One might argue that any kind of pressure directed toward creativity can be the end of it altogether but I think this is something every designer should decide according to their personality. Think of yourself and your work when you were working with and without pressure, which one is superior to you? And does suffering worth the result?
Q5: What do you feel when some of your projects get more attention and some of them disappoint you? Does this discourage you? To word it better: what is failure to you?
Deniz: As simple (and boring) as this may sound but failure is of course also a form of learning. How can I improve? How can the design improve? And of course, failure is also a good actuator for reflecting. Why did the design fail? Bad design? Bad visualization? Bad communication? Wrong time to post? There can be many reasons so it is good to become aware of them from time to time.
But even though feedback and attention are important to me, and sometimes it is very important, if I think I made a good design but it fails online, it doesn’t discourage me at all. Then maybe I didn’t communicate the concept well enough which again could be a learning but not a discouragement.
This answer is the absolute highlight in the whole article in my opinion. Failure is something we all fear and most of the time you won't even hear motivational speakers go beyond "don't worry, everyone fails from time to time.". This mentality is the greatest growth mentality so let's dig deeper! (even though I can't explain better than Deniz!)
It is very humane to seek attention with everything you create. “Attention is one of the most valuable resources in existence for social animals,” says Dr Geoff MacDonald, a psychologist at the University of Toronto with an interest in human connection. “It was literally a matter of life and death. The people who didn’t feel good around others, or didn’t feel bad when they were separated from others, wouldn’t have the motivation to do the things that are required to pass their genes down the generations.” [source]. You can argue this is very close to designing - if some designs didn't attract any attention, we wouldn't have design trends and design evolutions. You of course don't think about all those scientific stuff when you design something - you just want to be seen. But let's think of the other side of the coin. If you don't investigate what led your design to the "failure", you won't be able to learn anything from it - and the worse part is while other designers at your level get better and better, you'll be in the same spot.
Others' failures can be very enlightening and tell you a lot but ultimately your own failure will be the most valuable one.
Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.
- John C Maxwell
Q6: Why do you create?
Deniz: I simply love to be creative.
During my studies of architecture, I got a certain sense of purity, material, and minimalism and I wanted to manifest these characteristics somehow. And for me, the best way to do that is to develop and design furniture and products.
I learned a lot from Deniz while writing this article and I believe I'll carry them throughout my design processes. I'm a perfectionist and failure was always my kryptonite - always preventing me from designing more. But now, I'm thinking to go back to my old projects to investigate what went wrong and they've failed *for me*.
Thanks for reading!