Overcoming Imposter Syndrome for UX/UI Designers
I want to stamp out UX/UI designer imposter syndrome once and for all.
If you don’t know what imposter syndrome is, a loose definition by Healthline says that it’s “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud,” leading you to question whether you’re deserving of accolades.
It’s that little voice that says: you’re not good at this, you shouldn’t be here, and everyone is going to find out!
There’s conflict in your mind between your self-perception and how you see yourself, and the way other people may perceive you. You might have people praising your UX/UI design work on a project. But for some reason, you anxiously writhe your hands together waiting for them to realise that it wasn’t hard work or talent. You tell yourself you’re not as good as they think you are. It was all dumb luck.
If this sounds like you, then you’re not alone. If I had a dollar for UX/UI designer that told me they had suffered from imposter syndrome at one point in their lives, I’d have a solid gold mouse pad.
Let’s first start with this testimonial that was left by Alex G, the co-founder of Shinehub. Shinehub is a 51-person startup that’s currently doing some cool work in the solar space (solar panel space, that is. They haven’t started working in outer space, yet.)
“I worked with Michael a number of years ago on a big project, and it’s the funniest thing. There were around a dozen key debates we had on product design that we disagreed on, but I made the decision to do anyway. As we built the product and rolled it out to market, I realized, one by one, that everything Michael stood up for in our debates actually came true. It gave me a newfound respect for his perspective, and is one of the reasons why I look forward to working with him again in the future.”
Keep that review in mind, it’ll be important later.
My Imposter Syndrome
I wish I could say that my foray into becoming a product designer 14 years ago was a cakewalk. But, like most good origin stories, it was one challenge after another.
I struggled with every challenge under the sun ranging from lack of guidance to pressure from my family.
Without sounding too old-fashion, back then, UX/UI design was a whole different game. It was just called “web design”, and we pretty much just building websites in tables. This was the time when CSS2 was cutting edge technology. Remember that this was a time before iPhones were in everyone’s pockets, and social media was just slowly getting its legs.
You know, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
When I started in design, there was no curriculum or course. There were a few tutorials on Smashing Magazine, but that was it. Design processes didn’t even exist, yet.
Now, we are lucky enough to have a library of available courses to learn from, just like my very own Ultimate Figma & UI Design Masterclass course with over 900+ students now!
There was no place to learn. You had to figure it out as you went along, and the rest was up to you.
My early training and formative years in the UX/UI design world were pretty much just me swinging in the dark, and so early on, I decided that I didn’t want to add to my existing stress with unconstructive self-doubt.
Learning the ropes on my own took a lot of brainpower, and I made the conscious decision to focus on what I could do, rather than what I couldn’t do.
Let me explain.
Shift Your Focus
Time Magazine has stated that “the only difference between someone who experiences impostor syndrome and someone who does not is how they respond to challenges.”
I decided that I would face mistakes, challenges, and problems in a constructive way. Instead of lamenting and wasting energy worrying about not being good enough, I focussed on identifying which skills I needed to improve and how.
In fact, over the years, some areas of skills that I’ve had to work incredibly hard on include:
- A more refined eye for UI design
- Better communication skills
- Understanding how to “empathise” as a designer
The list goes on and on.
I like to think that everyone is a work in progress, and there’s always something we can work to improve on. Even to this day, I have skills I’m working on getting better at.
It’s a small narrative change, and it may take practice, but for me, changing my challenges into opportunities helped to silence that self-doubting voice, once and for all.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a UX/UI Designer:
If you’re familiar with my journey, you’ll know that I sort of fell into the industry. I entered the ‘web design’ industry through affiliate marketing at the age of 16. I was designing landing pages, building little apps, driving traffic, and making sales.
It was a little different to the regular 16-year old McDonald’s job, I can tell you that.
Throughout this process, I was continuously told to find new ways to “convert more customers”. I would literally sit there and experiment with different ideas and concepts, seeing what I could work on.
I had no idea what I was doing, but it was interesting work and I was curious.
Within a few years of experimenting, my designs generated me over $300,000 USD at the age of 18.
This meant that from day one of working in UX/UI design, I was subconsciously starting to associate “the value of design” with outcomes.
Every time I updated my designs, I would see if the changes had a positive or negative impact on sales. I would be able to see metrics that helped to confirm if my work was successful or not. Simply put, I was looking at numbers, not vibes.
Focussing on the impact of my designs has affected how I do work. I am fixated on driving outcomes with everything I do in design.
When I led the product design for Freelancer.com, every project I worked on followed the same pattern. I was fixated on the metrics and the end results; how can we increase the likelihood of an employer hiring a freelancer?
It was the same when I led product design for HiPages. I was always rechecking and asking how can we 10x the number of homeowners hire a local tradesperson?
Even when we launched a messaging platform within the app, I was determined to deliver an experience that encouraged 100,000+ messages a month.
We hit that target, easily.
Everything I have done has been either quantitatively or qualitatively measured to an extent. That means that I could literally see how projects were being received by looking at the:
- Conversion rates
- Engagement rates
- Customer feedback
- Sales and revenue targets
Over the last 14 years, every success and failure I’ve encountered in my design journey has loaded more ammunition into my arsenal.
I honestly believe that this approach to UX/UI design is what has helped me build confidence in what I do. Being able to track and measure my own personal growth is the big secret to overcoming imposter syndrome.
It’s not about what others think, and It’s not about what I think.
It’s about how my designs have performed over the years, and it’s about the results my client’s gain through my work.
Reduce your doubt by measuring your performance.
So, why did I share the testimonial with you at the start? After reading through and discovering my whole journey, jump back up to the start of this article and re-read it if you need to.
My goal has always been to learn, be curious, and improve on who I was yesterday. I refuse to be disheartened by failure or let a mistake bring me down.
If something goes wrong, I don’t beat myself up. I just double down to see what we can do to make it work. Honestly, I just want to solve the damn problem.
When a client shares a testimonial like that with me, it validates that the many years I have tracked and measured my performance has paid in long term dividends.
At the end of the day, product and UX/UI design is all about delivering value to both businesses and customers.
You can spin it however you want. Even if your designs are award-winning and awe-inspiring, if they don’t convert, they’re not product design. They’re art.
Takeaways And Next Steps
If you want to overcome UX/UI designer imposter syndrome, then you need to start tracking and measuring your work.
Put a number on it, and study the metrics. Watching the numbers on your designs is a great indicator of whether or not your work is moving in the right direction.
As a full-proof imposter-syndrome-be-gone plan, always start every project by:
Be Outcomes, not Emotionally Driven
Is it more customers? Higher engagement? CTRs? Sales? In other words, try to define what success looks like – measurably define success. Stay focused on the mission and less on the emotions.
Work Closely With Product Managers
The product managers are the most important stakeholders for a designer. They are the ones who are in charge of these metrics and outcomes. Learn from them, and always, always, always get updates on how a feature is performing.
Become Friends with Data & Analytics
Mastering Figma is great but don’t stay siloed in a designer’s bubble. Broaden your horizons and befriend data and analytics tools like, Google Analyics, Hotjar and Fullstory. Try to understand how to navigate the tools and how to read the numbers. Be curious and ask questions. You don’t need to become a master overnight, but you should consider dabbling in it whenever you have the chance.
Don’t Have Access To Quantitative Results?
For any quantitative results you can’t get your hands on, leverage qualitative. It’s the next best thing. See what other people have to say about it. If you have enough people to ask, then you can quantify the results as well.
For example, you can determine something like “on average, this is the general consensus for the new feature…”
If you are looking to level up your skills and help boost your confidence in design, make sure you check out my own Figma & UI Design Masterclass Course. As someone who knows how overwhelming new tools can be, I take you can learn how to go from absolute beginner to Figma Pro in one of the world’s leading UI design tools. k
Make Your Workspace an Imposter-Free Zone
Above, remember that, like anything in life, overcoming imposter syndrome, even the dreaded UX/UI designer imposter syndrome, takes time. It’s a slow-burn process that doesn’t happen overnight.
As you continue to design and create, tracking your progress and compounding your learnings will help eliminate doubts and fears.
But you gotta start doing it, today. Just by reading this article, you’re already taking another step away from imposter syndrome, and a step towards being a more confident UX/UI designer.