The difference between you and me

I read this quote the other day, and it got me thinking about how we perceive each other as professionals and the authority we concede to some people and not to others.

“Roshi, what is the difference between you and me?” I asked, as we drank tea together.
“I have students and you don’t”, he answered without hesitation. Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Is Right Here

When we are fresh out of school or getting started in our first design job, we are full of confidence, we are excited and ecstatic. We know we are not experts, and because of that, we don’t really know what we don’t know, hence why we are excited to get started.

The more we work on different projects, with different stakeholders and different subjects, the more we start noticing our lack of experience and our unprepared-ness. At the same time, we begin discovering other designers online that share their thoughts, experiences and case studies that we see as experts and aspire to become like.

When you are starting off, your design confidence is inversely proportional to your design knowledge and experience. The more you discover about design and experience real projects, the less confident you get until you reach a breaking point.

This part may not apply to everyone, but I feel this is quite common. Your self-esteem / confidence starts at a nice, moderate level, then falls bit by bit until you reach that breaking point and it starts slowly and steadily growing. This breaking point might be a difficult client, a complex project that you can’t figure out, an outcome you were not expecting.

The curious part is after this click happens in your mind, you realise that everyone is or has gone through something similar, and even those people we put on pedestals are insecure like us sometimes. It’s how you deal with it that matters.
There is a reason why UX designers employ an experimental approach to design. We can’t know how users will utilise our product. Our experience may allow us to make a more educated guess, to prioritise the areas that need to be validated and to better extract insights from the results. But at the end of the day, we are all making experiments, failing and learning.

You can see this method being applied from small studios to big corporations. Google’s Material Design was launched in 2014 and has been updated since then because of the user research and feedback they get on things as elementary as the input field (see The Evolution of Material Design’s Text Fields).

It’s also been great to see that in recent years it has become more accepted in the design community to share our failures alongside our successes. It’s important to have this critical view of the way we work, to see how even famous designers have less stellar work and how they transform their frustrations into learning opportunities.
A good designer understands that having a less successful piece of work does not mean they are bad at design, but that they need to improve their craft in that specific area. This is one of the hardest things to internalise as a design professional: comments and feedback relate to the work you are showing not to you as a person.

I’ve been recently entrusted with a couple more responsibilities of guiding my fellow product designers and frontend devs with their growth paths inside their product teams and the company. Through research and 1on1s, this made me realise that we all have similar concerns and insecurities, what varies is the way we face them. This is where personal experience and mentors come in.

By this point, I hope you’ve realised that there is no difference between you and me apart from the experiences we’ve had and the learnings we have made. At the end of the day, what matters is the pride you take in your work and that you have given your best at that moment; that every project and encounter is an opportunity to fail and to learn.

Next time you see someone sharing their good or bad experiences, say something kind and contribute to the discussion, we are all just people with more or less experience creating new or recycled ideas for other people to enjoy.

I’m thinking about starting to share these brain bites more often, some more philosophical, others more practical. Let me know what you think on twitter @tomasmcm and join the discussion on Designer News.

Cover photo credits: British Library