Comparisonitis: my familiar companion

Creative business

31 July 2018
standing out

When I started writing this I was sat in a cafe just staring at a blank page for 10 minutes wondering how to begin. Ironically, what was holding me back from starting was the very thing I intend to write about today: comparisonitis.

Never heard of it? My computer dictionary certainly doesn’t recognise it, but I imagine many of you reading this will have experienced it at one time or another. Ever compared yourself to someone else or their work, and felt you didn’t measure up? You’ve had comparisonitis. For me trying to write this blog post it was the voice saying “I have nothing worth adding to this topic; other people’s blogs are better so why would anyone want to read this?”, and it was holding me back from even picking up my pen.

Last week I was reading Cerries Mooney’s new blog post on how to run your business into the ground fast, and her first point on comparisonitis got me musing on how much it has held me back both in work and life.

I can be happily minding my own business and it will pop its head up with a soft but brutally well-placed comment, designed to knock my confidence. As a creative, for me it regularly turns up when I’m looking at other people’s art work. I might be admiring someone else’s beautiful illustration whilst simultaneously telling myself that I’ll never be as good as that, and not to even bother trying (which in the past I often didn’t).

Imagine if rather than beating the motivation out of ourselves with unkind words, we spent that time actually doing something, actually trying. If we try, if we practice, we might find out what we really are capable of. Recognising comparisonitis and choosing not to believe it is a helpful step towards this, although I’m not sure the judgement ever completely goes away. I’ve been a freelance designer for a year and a half now, I was designing for years before that, I’ve taken many art and craft classes and workshops and actively practice some form or art or craft every day… and yet I still have trouble actually calling myself creative or a designer because I compare myself to my peers and think they are ‘better’ and ‘do more’. Learning to recognise and accept this judgement when it does appear has helped lessen its impact on me though, and I hope that in time my comparisonitis will fade into the background.

Something I have been learning over the years is that looking at other people’s work without any comparison and judgement is enjoyable, enriching, and an opportunity for self-expansion. The people in my life who I most admire are those who never stop looking to expand their horizons. They are successful and knowledgeable in their careers, and they continue to grow by looking to their peers to discover new or different ways of doing things. I know from conversations we’ve had that these people also suffer from comparisonitis, but they don’t let it stagnate them and they blossom for it. Forget Neil Armstrong, these guys are my heroes.

Comparison and websites

I’m not convinced comparison in web design is ever a helpful thing.

Don’t get this confused with looking at other people’s websites, which I think can be really helpful in the right circumstances. In my experience, most people when looking to create or redesign their website will have a look around at what their peers have done on their websites, and I encourage this when it is being done for inspiration not guidance.

Looking around at other websites can help us get an understanding of website ‘norms’ which will help our users navigate our website easily. For example, the ‘normal’ location of a Privacy Policy is in the website footer; most websites have it there, so users will expect to find it there. Unless you have a very good reason for putting it somewhere else, it’s best not to. This isn’t to say you can’t ever go against norms, but it helps to keep to them for a good user experience.

It can also be helpful to look around at websites during the design process, when you are forming your idea of what kind of styles you do and don’t like on a website. This is especially handy if you are working with a web designer, as being able to say, e.g. “I like the way the pictures stretch across the whole screen in this website, but it feels too clinical…” can be helpful for a web designer to figure out the look and feel of your site. Don’t get too bogged down in the minor design elements when you do this though, and consider the way the websites make you feel.

Comparison on the other hand, I think often inspires judgement. We can end up searching for similarities or differences between someone else’s website and our own, rather than simply appreciating that our website will be unique to us. No-one has the exact same brand, website purpose and website requirements as us, so why compare ourselves? When we compare, and find ourselves lacking, it can be a slippery slope to copying other people. When we don’t have clarity of purpose, or confidence in our own vision, it’s very easy to hide behind someone else’s work. The websites we are most happy with though, will come from our own needs first and foremost – not by comparing ourselves to what other people are doing.

It is through our originality that we shine.


Do you suffer from comparisonitis too? Or don’t know what on earth I’m going on about? I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment below!


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