Taking off the “good designer” costume
Ostensibly, I’m a good designer—good enough to make a living doing it, at least. Still, every time I see something I’ve designed, be it an app or a website, I feel like if only I had tried a little bit harder, I could have made something actually worthwhile. What makes it worse is everyone telling me I’m a great designer, because if that’s the case, imagine how *actually* great I could be if I really put myself into my work!
Does every designer feel this way? Is it possible to be fully content with your design work and think that there’s nothing you would change in it? Am I just a Type-A perfectionist?
–Trapped in Expectation Station
You’re totally normal. And your worries? They’re totally justified.
Every creative person working in a creative field feels this way. And if they deny it, they’re either lying or a narcissist.
Related: How to overcome imposter syndrome
Creativity is like Maybelline: Maybe you’re born with it, but you’re probably actually working really hard to get there. We, the creatives of the world, like to talk about creative work like we were born with pens or Wacoms in our hands, but that’s a total, complete, utter lie.
Like pretty much any other thing, creativity is a learned skill, and it only improves over time—meaning your creative potential is unlimited, which is terrifying.“Seeing room for improvement in your designs will keep pushing you forward.”
When you look at something you’ve built, you’re seeing it in hindsight. Even if you finished your project yesterday, since then maybe you’ve seen something or read something or even processed something that changed your perspective on the project just enough to make you think you didn’t do enough, your work could be more nuanced, or you missed an important point.
But that’s not true, because when you were doing the work, you were doing the best you could do.
Seeing room for improvement is what makes you a great designer—and what will keep pushing you forward. As your brain eats more of the outside world and digests it as future ideas, you’ll be able to create work that’s stronger and more unique.
Feelings like this are part of the creative person special, imposter syndrome.
When someone tells you you’re great, and you think to yourself No, I could have been great if I had only done one more draft/stayed up later/gotten a design degree (see below), you’re suffering from that imposter syndrome rap.
Listen up: If someone who’s not your mom tells you that you’re great, especially if they’re paying you to be great, then they probably mean it. Take the compliment, give a gracious thank you, and push yourself to be better.
You’re great now, but you can always do more.
Formal education woes
I’m a professional designer, but everything I know about design I’ve learned on the job: meaning, I’m a damn good designer, but I don’t have a degree and I don’t *speak* design. In conversations with colleagues, I feel totally unqualified because I can’t throw around fancy jargon or play the design school name-drop game. How do I overcome this in a professional environment?
–A Doer, Not a Talker
Not always, but often, multi-syllabic professional words are a really nice way to cover up lack of concrete knowledge. Good work speaks for itself; you don’t have to throw words on, at, and around it to make it sound better.
The other night, my friend told me the story of how he got to design an album cover for a pretty famous musician before he started school.
He had just finished an online Illustrator course when he saw a Facebook event for his favorite singer’s new tour, and the photo was an old concert photo. I know Illustrator!, he said to himself. I should make them a tour poster!
He sent a Facebook message to the band’s page, they gave him the okay (and some cash), and he got the job.
A few months later, the summer before he started design school, the singer called my friend and asked if he wanted to design their album cover. They wanted custom typography, a photo shoot, the whole thing.“Good design speaks for itself.”
My friend, at this point, was pretty good at Illustrator—and that was it.
Uh, sure? Totally?
He spent probably 94 hours straight in front of his computer learning how to use InDesign and Photoshop, and that was enough. In the 4 years since, he’s one of Israel’s best-known young designers in the music niche—and he’s only going to finish design school next week.
Hombre didn’t know fancy words or fancy people; he knew he liked things that looked good, he knew he wanted to figure out how to make them on his own, and that was it.
Related: Can UX design be taught?
Without a design degree, all of this learning has to come from you—and it’s not easy to trust yourself. The way you feel makes sense.
But it’s not accurate.
Simplicity is an art. Chances are, your explanation of theory and principle and actual work is far more eloquent than your coworkers’.
So just as you’re intimidated by your coworkers’ designspeak, they might be intimidated by how well you talk about your designs in civilian language.
Your designs don’t rely upon fanfare or name-dropping; you’ve just got that talent and that drive.
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