The more experienced a designer becomes, the more their preferences are based on the problem, rather than personal opinions. Senior designers have already gone through that shift, and it makes certain behavior by other designers more transparent.
There is probably a version of this list for any profession, because the more you do something, the less amazing it feels to do it, and the more amazing it feels to do it well.
Each of the things below will make you feel more important, more persuasive, or more senior, but by doing them you actually achieve the opposite effect in the eyes of everybody else.
If you want to look like you don’t know what you’re doing, here are some tips:
1) Ask for a long job title.
Young designers want all the fancy words on their business card (and they are excited about having a business card). They prefer UX/UI Interaction & Delight Designer instead of just Designer.
But think about it: a Designer could be designing cars or chairs or wireframes or hobbit costumes. You ONLY design UX/UI interaction, apparently. Sounds pretty narrow to me. When you add more words to your job title, you are reducing your responsibility, not increasing it.
Nobody gives a shit about your job title. Pick something simple and focus on your work.
2) “I worked on this for so long, it’s awesome!”
Would you say that you did a great job in high school because it took you 5 years to finish? Would you say that you had an amazing visit to the toilet because you needed 45 minutes to push it out?
Time isn’t always an indicator of quality.
It’s totally ok to take your time! Work on things. Improve them. Learn stuff. Practice! It’s a good thing. Skills take time to build, and it’s always good to build more.
But remember that the person you’re bragging to might be able to make the same thing better and faster than you can. Instead, just say you’re proud of what you have done, and ask for feedback to make it better. You can always make your work better.
3) Call yourself an expert.
There is a 99% chance that someone sucks if they introduce themselves as an expert. The job title of “UX Expert” makes me nauseous. And yes, it exists.
None of the best people I know call themselves an expert. And ironically, the reason is something you can only understand when you are really an expert: the amount of knowledge needed to be an “expert” compared to the average person is not that much information.
Einstein didn’t walk around telling everybody that he was a "physics expert”, because all the people he respected were also physics experts. Compared to them, he was normal. He just worked on hard things, like real experts do. If you spend all your time with non-designers, you’ll seem like a design genius. But if you are in a room full of design experts, do you want to talk about how much expertise you all have, or do you want to talk about something hard, that none of you really understand yet?
Other people should call you an expert. Just do what you do, well enough to deserve it.
4) Argue over little details.
Caring about details is a good thing. Arguing about small details that won’t really change the big picture is a waste of time.
I was once asked which traits set a senior UX designer apart from a junior designer. My answer is here. The short answer: junior designers can’t really see the big picture, so they obsess over the details. If small things seem really important to you and you can’t connect them to a brand thing, or a strategy thing, or a psychology thing, or a scalability thing, then you probably don’t understand how those details fit into the master plan.
They are just your favorites.
Personal favorites are boring when you see the big picture. Master craftspeople understand details as part of the whole. When you see design as a system, your random favorite details might seem out of place, so they lose their “magic”. In a good way. You will also understand that there are 4 or 5 ways to do everything, and all of them might achieve your goal. Instead of arguing, ask questions about the different options that exist, so you learn the ups and downs of each one.
5) Feel validated by famous clients.
Every few years I will end up in a conversation about design awards or designing for famous brands. It is true that famous clients only work with good agencies, so in that sense it’s ok to have those brands on your LinkedIn profile or whatever. Some agencies only want to hire people that have worked at that level before. That’s not what I am talking about here.
I’m talking about designers who think everything they do is good, because they worked with a famous brand. That’s bullshit.
Feeling talented because your clients are successful is like feeling important because your parents are rich. You’re drinking someone else’s Kool-Aid.
I worked at an agency with a hallway that was just for displaying awards. We literally had conversations about where to put new plaques and trophies because the walls were “full”.
Lots of our projects won something, because we had big budgets and skilled people. I couldn’t even tell you how many times my work (as part of talented teams) has won awards, or been a “Top 10 something something”. That agency worked with Swedish House Mafia, created real lightning (Nikola Tesla style), and spent three days throwing flower petals in the air to get a really great photo of a cocktail, which was designed by a professional cocktail stylist. And that was for one client.
So when a young designer thinks they are hot shit because they did a 3 month internship at Spotify, it doesn’t go well. It is very possible to do shitty work or be a shitty designer while working for a great client/company with a big budget. It happens every day.
On the other hand, if you re-designed a website for a company I have never heard of, and you can prove that your design sold twice as much as the old site, I will be listening carefully, and I will have questions.
6) Force your ideas into the project. Repeatedly.
Ok, so here’s the scenario. You have this great idea, and you present it to the team. The team shuts down your idea because it is unrealistic, technically. You fight for a bit and then let it go. But you don’t understand why it is technically unrealistic.
A week later, the conversation is about the same topic, and you see it as an opportunity to mention your idea again. Maybe they will like it more now that they have had time to consider it. Nope. Still unrealistic, but slightly more annoying this time.
A week later it happens again. Now it’s worse than annoying. Now they’re realizing that you have no idea why they’re not doing it, and you’re not trying to understand, because your main goal is to get one of your ideas into the design.
Everybody knows what you’re trying to do, and it doesn’t look smarter the fourth time.
7) Ignore the brand, the business, and the paperwork.
When you start designing, it takes a few years just to start designing nice things. There is nothing wrong with that, and it’s normal. There is honor in being a beginner. But part of being a good designer is understanding why you’re designing something, who you’re designing it for, and what your designs are supposed to solve.
Always look for ways to design the right thing, for the right audience, in the most effective way. And understand that you will probably have to create boring documentation for your wireframes, name and organize your layers just to make the developer’s life easier, follow brand guidelines that could look better if you broke a few rules, and create presentations that ignore your best work, just to make it understandable for people who don’t have your skills. It will be boring sometimes. It will be painful sometimes. You will feel unmotivated sometimes.
And you’re not a professional designer unless you do it anyway.
8) Say you have “a lot of experience” when you don’t.
This one is hilarious to me. Every time someone tells me they have “a lot of experience” with something because they worked on it for a year, the interview is over.
Remember that you might be talking to someone who has been designing since you were 8, so relative to that, you don’t have a lot of experience with anything. Instead, talk about what you have spent your time on and what you want to learn in your next project/job. It will give the other person an idea of what you know and what you will need help with. And there is nothing wrong with that! It’s not bad advice for senior designers either!
9) Treat trends as rules.
This one is a little more subtle, but it’s important. When you don’t have a lot of experience, it means that current trends have existed during a major part of your career. If you don’t realize that — and trust me, senior designers always realize that — then it means you haven’t spent any time learning about other styles of design.
Did you know that flat, geometric design featuring Helvetica used to be called “Swiss Design” like, 70 years ago? Did you know that art and design tend to happen in cycles, so one trend is like a reaction to the trends before it? Did you know that UI “rules” like Apple’s iOS guidelines and Material Design are something that every mature brand has? (And it’s alot more than colors and logo downloads.)
Would it concern you to know that VR interfaces will probably go through a skeuomorphic phase first, and then change into something else? So next time you see an Android app that “isn’t doing Material Design right”, take a moment to realize that you might be the one without all the information.
10) Get defensive when you’re not perfect.
One of my favorite quotes is: “A beginner gets excited when they know the answer. A master gets excited when they don’t.” It’s very true.
The other side of this is also true: a beginner feels insecure when they don’t know the answer and a master doesn’t feel much at all when they do. A master has seen a lot of shit, so it’s not interesting to understand normal things. They want to learn more about the parts they don’t understand. They want to experiment. It’s interesting to be wrong!
Senior designers expect junior designers to make some mistakes.
So when you miss something, or when your design loses the A/B test, or when your idea doesn’t work, relax! Learn something from it! Get more information. And when you don’t know stuff, just say that! When you’re experimenting for a client, tell them why you’re experimenting, and what the possible results are. And try again!
Most of things on this list are simply a matter of ego over results. Instead of acting like it is an achievement to be a designer, start achieving things with design. If you focus your time, effort, and energy on making your work good, instead of making yourself look good, everything else will fall into place. Over a whole career, that’s the difference between great designers and everybody else.