Why Bear Grylls Would Make a Better Designer Than You

Bear Grylls, the star of the hit show Man vs. Wild, defines what every man really wants to be.

For the frequent rock dwellers who don’t know Bear or haven’t been able to catch Man vs. Wild on the Discovery Channel, picture a man that you could drop out of a plane anywhere on the planet (literally anywhere) and he would survive.

Now picture that man waiting for you when you got back to the airport, probably with some dirt on him, maybe with a little bit of something else’s blood. Bear Grylls can tackle any environment with his keen resourcefulness, endurance, and testosterone.

While I am not entirely aware of Bear’s computer skill set, I am going to go ahead and bet the house that he is a better web designer than you are. Where does my confidence come from? Well first, I have never seen Bear fail to do anything. This guy kills things that kill people and then he eats them… I am serious. He eats them. So am I going to say that Bear sucks at web design? Heck no, I don’t want to get eaten. Apart from the threat of consumption, Bear employs several survival techniques that act as pretty solid advice in the web design world as well. In this post, I’ll share Bear’s techniques and explain how they apply to web design.

Know Your Surroundings

Before taming any type of harsh terrain, Bear makes sure that he is familiar with his surroundings. Knowing the pitfalls of the environment you are working in will save you a lot of trouble throughout your journey. Think of the Amazon jungle as Bear’s Internet Explorer, the complete lack of any helpful features forces you to make do with the most basic of tools that you have at your disposal and improvise unique solutions to complex problems.

Along the same lines, whether Bear spends the night in a cave, in a tree, or inside of a gutted camel (seriously) often depends on the kinds of visitors he might be expecting in the middle of the night. There is no one size fits all solution for every type of environment just like there is no such solution for every web project. The targeted user base for each site should guide your design and development.

Start Small

Have you ever tried to start a fire with a stick? I would be willing to bet that less than 1% of the people who read this have ever started a fire with a stick. Bear starts fires with sticks in his free time. It’s what he does to relax at night. Apart from showing how much of a complete bad-ass this would make you, it also shows that a little bit of patience can go a long way when it comes to achieving a desired result. Starting a fire with a stick is not a quick process, but if Bear was unable to start a fire before sleeping at night he would be forced to fist fight snakes, wolves, bears, dinosaurs, and all of the other crazy shit that hangs out where he does.

If you are able to watch this fire starting process without feeling incredibly lame about yourself, you will realize that all of this stick business has the single goal of producing one tiny hot ember. So, if you find yourself starting from nothing in the idea department it always helps to get something small going. We all have trouble starting projects from time to time, as if we have no spark to get us going. Rubbing a stick may be a lot more work than we want it to be, but it can build a fire and sure as hell beats sitting in the dark.


Ever wonder how many different uses one climbing rope has? Bear doesn’t. Bear can use one rope to climb a mountain, kill a wild animal, cross a ravine, build a raft, lasso a tornado, start a fire and build a hammock all in one day. When Bear gets his hands on something useful he uses it until it falls apart and then he keeps using the pieces. In Bear’s world, almost nothing he comes across is entirely useless either. Everything can serve some sort of purpose.

So, don’t throw away the work you don’t use right away. Designs that aren’t selected can be reused, either in their current condition for a different project or recycled into something entirely new. Don’t be afraid to use the pieces either. Maybe widget A would look good as a part of this new design or widget B could provide a huge improvement on that design. Using work that you have already done is a huge time saver and a very resourceful way to ensure that a limited amount of the work you do goes to waste.

Rest Is Important

Bear may not take a lot of things lying down, but he knows it’s important not to wear yourself out too much. Sure, tying yourself to the edge of a 50 foot cliff so you don’t fall off in the middle of the night and get killed by coyotes (or the fall) may not result in the best night’s sleep, but it’s better than nothing. Does Bear really need the sleep? It’s hard to say…

In the web design world we may find ourselves buried in loads of work and tempted to run a marathon without stopping. However, taking some time off or getting some rest will keep you from getting burned out on your project and often will result in higher productivity and quicker results anyway. Having 40 energetic hours of work a week is often much more productive than 60 or 70 hours of overworked malaise.

Something else to keep in mind is that you may not be the only one who needs a break from a project. Much like the world needs a break from Bear at night your client may need a break from you. While web design or development projects may be what you do day in and day out, they are what your client does day in and day out. Keep in touch with your clients and make sure they are happy, but be careful that they aren’t overwhelmed with project updates and feedback requests; most of the time 90% of their day is devoted to other tasks.

A Man’s Gotta Eat

By far the best thing about Bear’s adventures into the wild places of our planet is the fact that this guy will kill and eat anything. Actually… I take that back. He doesn’t always kill things. Anything small enough to fit in his mouth like spiders, slugs, insects and deer, he just eats alive. Of course, he can’t eat everything because a lot of the plants and animals he comes across will freaking kill him if he eats them.

So, while it’s important to know which meals are going to be poisonous you also need to have something on your plate. When you are starving for work, it’s important that you are capable of reaching outside of your comfort zone or taking some jobs that wouldn’t always appeal to you. When large projects are scarce, smaller ones can be a life saver. It’s up to you if the work is dead or alive when you get started.

Brand Yourself

In a recent episode, Bear was strolling through the Texas desert and stumbled upon a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Of course he went through this speech about it being one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, but I didn’t listen to any of that because I knew full well that this snake was about to get its ass kicked and of course, be eaten. Bear has built up such a personal brand of bad-ass that I actually feel sorry for all of these terrible creatures that could kill me in their sleep.

Bear builds this brand by walking the walk. So, keep in mind that your personal brand is a representation of who you are and who you are can be made up of what you do. Bear would not be so awesome if he was known as the guy who sometimes kills poisonous snakes and sometimes they kill him. Along the same lines, you can’t build a personal brand of being a good web designer if sometimes you put 100% into a job and sometimes you don’t.

What About You?

We’ve translated the survival principles that Bear Grylls uses in the television show Man vs. Wild into principles for web designers (and by extension, other freelancers as well).

How well does your freelancing business stack up against the principles in this post? Can you think of lessons that freelancers can learn from other celebrities?

Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments.

Image by gregor_y