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How to grow your creative confidence as a UX designer

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The most important part of my job as a UX designer has nothing to do with wireframing, sketching, or prototyping. I bring the most value when I’m interfacing with others—reviewing work with developers, presenting to key stakeholders, discussing the right approach to a component.

When you’re working with others, creative confidence becomes your most important indicator of success. Designers who are creatively confident:

  • Look forward to sharing their work
  • Relish the chance to discuss and debate
  • Love to see alternative ways of thinking and doing
  • Aren’t threatened by failure
  • Aren’t afraid to say “I don’t know”
  • Don’t care about things not being perfect
  • Believe in their capability to get to somewhere great in the end

The problem is that so many of us struggle with self-confidence at work—it’s why we see imposter syndrome written about so frequently. Building up your creative confidence is something you’ve got to work at, and it’ll help three specific things:

  • Your ability to work on your own
  • Your ability to work with other designers
  • Your ability to work with other disciplines

Related: How a Facebook designer overcame imposter syndrome

Working on your own

Collaboration is awesome, but there are lots of times designers have to work solo. You’ve got to be confident to know when to stop—not get stuck doubting your choices and spending too long designing and redesigning.

It also means that you’ll be excited to get that vital input from others at the right time, whether that’s fellow designers, colleagues, or your users. You’ll know that your outputs don’t have to be perfect to share them.

“When you’re confident, you feel empowered by your design colleagues, not threatened.”

Working with other designers

Working with other designers can bring a whole world of imposter syndrome crashing down at your feet. It’s easy to be intimidated when you’re working with smart designers—it can seem like they know way more than you. In situations like this, lacking in creative confidence might manifest in a few ways:

  • It makes you go into your shell. Nobody hears from you, and your ideas and your contributions get smothered by the louder voices in the room.
  • It makes you aggressive with your ideas to mask your lack of confidence. You risk alienating and aggravating your colleagues with how your present your work, and dismiss their feedback.
  • It makes you disappear. I once worked with a designer who was suddenly absent every time there was a design critique with the rest of the design team.

When you’re confident, you feel empowered by your design colleagues, not threatened. You won’t be precious about holding to your solution against all odds and you’ll welcome the contributions and feedback of others.

Working with other disciplines

This can be the toughest area of creative confidence to master. Designers should exude confidence with other disciplines because it’s our role to provide design expertise. You need to be confident in providing that expert eye and rationale, otherwise people can sense weakness and use it to their advantage.

This will help with running through design rationale, pushing back on ideas that don’t consider the user, and taking feedback onboard.

Strategies for bolstering creative confidence

The good news is that creative confidence is a skill that can and should be nurtured and learned, by anyone. I’m going to share three strategies that I’ve noticed people deploying time and time again to bolster their confidence:

  • Deception
  • Misdirection
  • Camouflage

Deception

Deception is straight up lying about your self doubt, to both yourself and to others. A good example is saying: “Yes, I’m actually amazing at presentations and I’m going to smash this!”, even when you feel like you’re about to pass out.

Or, when you tell your boss “Of course I’d love to run that workshop!” when your brain is actually telling you to run as fast as possible in the other direction.

Tip: Create a work persona

A work persona is the version of you at work who is everything you wished you were. For example, if real you is nervous about doing a presentation, your work persona loves doing them.

Think about the areas of your work performance that make you feel the most doubtful and imagine that your work persona has no such doubts. When you feel self-doubt creep in, think about how your work persona would react in this situation—how would you act, what would you say, what would you believe was going to happen?

Channel your work persona when you’re starting to feel low on confidence.

“Creatively confident designers look forward to sharing their work.”

Misdirection

Misdirection is emphasizing the parts of yourself that you’re confident about so people will focus on those. You’re deflecting and redirecting their attention for your benefit. This works on yourself too—“I’m great at talking to people, so I’m sure I’ll be fine at running the usability testing!”

Tip: Figure out what you’re actually good at!

We can all rattle off a million things that we are apparently terrible at. However, when it comes to listing out positive work attributes, you might find that list a little harder to compile.

Do yourself a favor and take the time to identify your strengths. This will not only serve as a reminder about your own negative bias towards yourself, but will also give you a handy list of things you know you’re good at. This can offset some of the low confidence you might feel in other areas.

To identify your strengths, use your own powers of self-perception, ask trusted colleagues, or review past performance feedback (ignoring any negatives!) to identify what others think you’re great at. Once you have this list, keep it somewhere where it can be easily reviewed.

Camouflage

Camouflage is when you’re able to mask your low confidence or nerves as something else so that to an onlooker, you don’t appear to be nervous at all.

This could be suppressing nervous behaviors manifesting in your face, voice, or body, or substituting typical nervous behaviors for positive ones. This strategy takes time to practice, but after repeated use it can successfully turn into a new habit.

Image from our story on the Simple design team

Tip: Get knowledgeable on body language

Your body language affects how others perceive you. Every unconscious pose you do reveals a myriad of things to your coworkers, even if subconsciously.

Bearing this in mind, the first step is to become aware of what your typical body language poses are. Observe yourself: How are you sitting during those design critiques that you dread? How are you standing when delivering that nerve-wracking presentation?

When you aren’t confident, you’ll radiate off cues that scream to everybody there that you’re not feeling comfortable. In turn, this will make them feel uncomfortable.

Once you’ve observed your body language in anxious situations, start to think about what poses you can consciously do instead. Cast your mind back to someone you’ve seen that you’ve been sure was supremely confident in themselves—how did they move, sit, talk? A former colleague of mine began to steeple her hands when feeling nervous in meetings, hoping she’d seem instantly more confident to her coworkers, after she noticed her boss doing the same thing. Another colleague who enjoyed playing poker in his spare time told me that his poker face came in more handy at work than it did at the poker table.

Give it a go

Using and combining these 3 strategies gives you the illusion of creative confidence. It’s an illusion because you know on the inside that it’s all a big fat lie. But the best thing about this illusion is that after deploying it for a while, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The more you act with creative confidence, the more you’ll actually start to feel creatively confident.

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Author

Yael Levey
Yael Levey is Creative Director of BBC Weather, working on some exciting design and UX challenges that impact millions of people worldwide. She also runs I Am Not My Pixels, a UX and design blog focused on empowering designers to grow the softer skills of being a practicing designer.

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