Overcoming Imposter Syndrome By Developing Your Own Guiding Principles

Design is one of those disciplines that has a very low barrier to entry, and this is amazing! What isn’t so easy is acquiring the softer skills that you’ll need when entering this job market.

Working on designs is just so much fun! But to become better designers, it’s also crucial to understand what makes a great team member and how to present your work to colleagues. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a mentor, guide, or whatever word you’d like to use to describe advice from a more senior person in the design industry, which is why we often have to rely on “working it out” by ourselves.

This may be intimidating at first, but I firmly believe that if we take a step back from the pixels on the screen and reflect on who we want to be and what our core principles are, we can walk into these design critique meetings with more confidence and really deliver the best possible representation of our ideas.

“Yes, I’d Love To Present My Work At The Next Meeting!” #

“Yes, I’d love to present my work at the next meeting!” This has probably been you at some point during the past few months. Your boss has praised your design work, and you’ve been asked to share your design with the wider team. The thing is, you’re really not sure if you even like your work. You can see the inconsistent padding between the labels and the icons, the misalignment of the chevron, the lack of canvas organization, a glaring omission of meaningful layer names, and more.

Unfortunately, we’re raised in a world where seniority demands respect regardless of whether that is justified, and we need to be seen to grow within an organization. This means that we need to be able to present for the job we want in most cases, which is a fair ask for progression and, ultimately, also… money.

You know what? What you’re experiencing is within us all. The unfortunate side effect of being a creative is that you will never be satisfied with what you’ve produced and you’re not alone.

“It’s not uncommon for me to love the direction a design is going at the start of a project, but by the time it’s complete, I’m cringing and wishing I’d done so many little things better. And it’s not just imposter syndrome, it’s also that you have a gap between your vision and your skills. You can picture something in your mind — or you see inspiration elsewhere that you know you can match — but when it comes down to executing that vision, your skills and experience fall short of what you were aiming for.”

— Benek Lisefski, “Why Good Designers Can Never Do Their Best Work”

“I’ve been designing for almost two decades, and I can tell you that I feel like a total amateur at least once a day.”

— Daryl Ginn

Unless, like I have tried to force myself to do, you’ve resigned to the fact that 80% done is more often than not good enough to convince those at the table you’ve been desperate to sit at that we can produce good work and, ultimately, sell our product.

Presenting your work is fundamental to career growth, at least on every career ladder I’ve seen. This means we need to either become excellent actors or learn some coping mechanisms to handle that pressure. Weirdly enough, presenting work to your team should — and is often — the least pressured environment we will find ourselves in at work. Still, because we know each other and are unfortunately in competition with one another, it can feel like the most daunting task of them all.

This is where I can try to offer some help! Over the past many years, I’ve landed on a formula that works for me, and I’m happy to share what I have learned. Creating your own goals, rituals, and methods will help you succeed, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.

The Experience Paradox #

You may be looking at your more experienced colleagues in awe, wondering how they present so well and seemingly without a bead of sweat. The funny thing, though, is that as your experience level increases, so does your self-doubt.

This oxymoron keeps us all sprinting along in blind panic, not stopping for air, burning out, and wondering what went wrong. But as Car Seat Headrest’s lead singer Will Toledo sings, “It doesn’t have to be like this”.

A second side effect of being a creative is that we get kicks out of focusing on the wrongs in the world, rather than appreciating what we have or what’s going well. This means that as we progress, become more successful, earn more money, buy that new iPhone, or spend $500 on some digital art, we will always fall into a slump at the first sniff of negative feedback. It’s in this slump that we are the most vulnerable, and here is where we need to rely on our personal values to keep our chins up and our spirits high.