I recently attended the fourth installment of Women in Design, an event hosted by Dropbox in collaboration with Designer Fund’s Bridge program. The theme was creative confidence through honest conversations about what it takes to lead as a designer.
The panelists shared stories about creative confidence and tips for boosting it. They also discussed challenges they’ve faced as women in design today—and how they overcame them.
- Kate Aronowitz, VP of Design at Wealthfront
- Dana Cho, Partner and Director at IDEO
- Amanda Linden, Head of Design at Asana
- Kristen Spilman, Head of Brand Design at Dropbox
Maria Molfino, Women’s Leadership Coach and Women in Design coordinator, moderated the panel. She began the discussion with a quote from Tom and David Kelley’s best-selling book, Creative Confidence:
Creative confidence is an attitude that’s experimental, embraces mistakes, and focuses on small iterative successes. A person with creative confidence isn’t afraid to break the rules or tackle an obstacle head-on, and they’re motivated by the belief that they have a reasonable hope of success.
Key takeaways from the event:
Break the rules
Keeping inspiration alive often involves breaking the rules.
While working on a pitch for a luxury hotel chain, Dana Cho and her team transformed one of the hotel’s rooms into an immersive pitch concept.
It was risky—they weren’t sure how the client would react. They could’ve been fined, or it may have just felt awkward. But it wound up winning them the client and fostered the creation of a new service program called Scenography that went on to mobilize a new approach to service design and delivery in hotels worldwide.
Do things that scare you
Kate urged us to take on projects that might seem too complex, too difficult, or too challenging. Taking on tough projects earns you recognition and respect from your peers. Accepting opportunities that scare you can open doors and help you reach new achievements.
Kate talked about a time she turned down a job offer because she didn’t think she could do the job. But after some self-reflection, she realized she needed to shift her thinking from “I’m not qualified to do that” to “I want to do that, and I’ll learn by doing it.”
Accept challenging work, learn on the go, and push yourself to the next level.
It’s okay to say no
Saying no can make us feel selfish, guilty, and even embarrassed. We don’t want upset anyone or cause people to think badly of us, so sometimes it’s easier to just avoid all that and say yes.
But as Kristen Spilman explained, saying yes to everything can lead to a great deal of stress. And when you’re stressed, it’s hard to be confident. It may feel like the easier option, but always saying yes can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction.
By saying no to others, you’re preventing them from making decisions for you. This in turn gives us confidence because we’re standing firm and honoring our boundaries. To help, Kristen said she’s been empowering her team to make decisions without her.
Challenge the status quo
Amanda Linden attributes her creative confidence to growing up in a family that blurred the lines of gender roles. Her parents separated when she was a young girl so they each played the role of mom and dad in their respective households. She’s never questioned her ability to do anything because she’s a woman, and she encouraged us to adopt this attitude.
The discussion was honest, authentic, and relatable. It was inspiring to see a panel of women who are challenging the status quo, leading teams, and contributing innovative solutions to our industry and beyond. I learned that creative confidence is strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience, and it was particularly interesting to hear how the panelists’ creative confidence has helped them achieve their professional success.
As women, we tend to overlook our own brilliance. The panelists’ accomplishments were a reminder of why we should own our brilliance and bring it to the world. A big thanks to Designer Fund and Dropbox for putting together such a great event.
Header photo by Cory Maryott.