Navigating Impostor Syndrome as a Newbie Designer

Being a designer at Automattic is pretty great. We have some of the best designers in the world building things that help millions of people build and publish on the web. It’s inspiring to work alongside some of my design heroes on a daily basis, but like many other designers, I battle Impostor Syndrome while trying to find my place in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re not familiar with the term Impostor Syndrome, it is typically defined as something along the lines of:

“Originally called impostor phenomenon, impostor syndrome, as it’s now usually called, is commonly understood as a false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill.”

Merriam-Webster

For designers, this usually translates to:

  • Doubting the deservedness of success/position
  • Constant procrastination
  • Intentionally isolation during the design process
  • Fear of failure

It might seem silly on the surface, but it can be very real and very frustrating.

Fresh Perspectives

Being surrounded by such talented folks often makes my brain wonder if I truly deserve a place alongside them. If you let this dwell, it can really get to you. I’ve found the key to powering through this is to try and flip the intimidation factor on its head.

In a conversation with our head of Design, John Maeda, I had voiced a level of uncertainty about my place on a team filled with such seasoned designers. During our conversation, he said something that I found quite profound (and I’m paraphrasing):

Remember, you know more than they do. You offer a perspective that nobody else has, especially being a newer designer at the company.

John’s words really stuck with me and have provided me with new perspective during my day-to-day work. He was so right! If you really think about it, every person – especially those new to a company and its products – has a unique and valuable perspective that nobody else can offer. In other words, as a “newbie” designer, I might offer a fresh opinion or point-of-view that an a8c veteran designer might not see because they’ve been embedded in the products for so long.

Share Early & Often

As designers, our instinct is to usually isolate and hesitate before sharing work until it’s buttoned up or feels completed. We’ve all had an experience where we share something, only to realize we completely missed something or didn’t think of an edge case that seemed obvious in hindsight. While it seems counter-intuitive at first, I have found that sharing work early and often can help to alleviate this anxiety.

For example, we share our work to internal blogs/sites called P2s. The idea is to share your work in a way that encourages open dialog. This helps to:

  • Open up communication for many in order to have healthy conversations around what we’re working on
  • Unlock options or paths you could’ve never considered
  • Over time, document your projects and processes so you have more chances to improve in the future

Since I’ve started to share work in this way, I’ve found that it feels impossible to do great work without working this way. Collaboration is the life-blood of a great design process. This doesn’t mean just designers, either!

Just Ship It™

I’m not saying ship final products without thinking something through completely, but I am saying try your best to set aside the fear of temporary failure to get ideas out into the open. You never know what a crazy or “wrong” idea can turn into during conversation!

It’s *almost* never too late to pivot or learn from something. If you’ve shipped something, however minor or major, you can always learn from it and make a better decision. Keep this in mind when you catch yourself isolating or being too hesitant on something. However, when in doubt…

Test it!

I can’t stress this enough: when in doubt, test it! Use all of the resources around you to make your best judgement, but when you’re unsure about a design or approach, try running a test something with real users to give yourself a gut check.

For example, you could use UserTesting.com to run an unmoderated user test to figure out how users perform a certain task, or run a survey, or even test two options against each other (aka an A/B test).

Testing will help you to understand things you didn’t foresee, and will allow you to detach yourself from the problem you’re working on. At the end of the day, the insight you’ve gained will give you more confidence and rationale moving forward.

Be Yourself

You might feel like a phony sometimes, but you’ve obviously done something right in order to get where you are (and believe it or not, you know more about something than every other person on your team). The very best thing you can do is approach every challenge with your mind open to new perspectives and most importantly, be yourself!

2 thoughts on “Navigating Impostor Syndrome as a Newbie Designer

  1. Pingback: Navigating Impostor Syndrome as a Newbie Designer – Thomas Bishop

  2. Pingback: Blogging Is Hard / We’re All Imposters! – A8C DESIGN 🔨😍

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