Original image by JC Dela Cuesta

You’re probably a better designer than you think

Back in 2010 I fell in love with CSS and decided that I wanted to be a web designer. The web industry felt vast. Everybody in it seemed to know so much more than me. I knew that I’d need to study hard if I wanted to join them.

There was so much to learn. The trouble was, I didn’t know how much.

I was working as a mechanical engineer at the time — my first job out of university. I spent any spare moment after work reading Smashing Magazine and A List Apart. I set myself personal projects and knocked on doors, offering to make websites for fifty quid. I had a chart on my wall where I’d log the hours I spent learning in the evenings and at weekends. I’d be distraught if I only logged five hours during a week and only marginally more content if I logged twenty. There was always more to learn. I didn’t know enough. If I applied for a web design job I’d be laughed at… surely.

Two years later, some guy found my portfolio online. He ran a little web agency near my home town. He invited me for a coffee and a chat about my work. That gave me the confidence to apply for another role, which I was offered after an interview. But I went back to that agency, because it felt right. I was offered a job and I’m still there now, happily working with that same guy (although we’ve moved locations). So I think it was the right choice.

But that’s not my point. My point is; I reckon I could have got that job at least a year earlier, if I’d only tried. I’m not suggesting that I was especially ‘good’ (I wasn’t, and still aren’t). I was just a bit better than I thought.

Original image by Georgie Cobbs

We’re fortunate that the design and tech community is incredibly open and sharing. We can learn, simply by going online. But it can be hard to establish how you compare to all of the other wannabes out there. It’s impossible to know whether you’re ‘good enough’ if you don’t already have a job in the industry.

Back in 2010–2011, I assumed that I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t know as much CSS as Chris Coyier. But nobody does! That shouldn’t put you off applying for jobs. I’m not suggesting that you’ll necessarily walk into a job at Google. But there are plenty of other great little companies out there that might find that your ability level is just right for them. And you can grow from there.

A young designer said to me recently “I really want to get a job in UX design but I don’t know enough about user research”. I thought “hmm… user research… is that the thing where I talk to a client for an hour and then do a bit of googling?”. There are plenty of long articles online detailing every aspect of product design. They usually make it sound far more complex and scientific than it often is. Not everybody is operating on Facebook budgets devoted to minute iterations.

It’s easy to look at portfolios and blog posts by “rockstar” designers and developers and be overwhelmed. They seem so knowledgeable. But we don’t see the hours searching Stack Overflow for answers to elementary coding questions. We don’t see the artboards full of junk and the six other designs that they basically copied.

We’re all blagging it. Nobody actually knows what this industry is all about. But if you’re passionate and committed to learning, I reckon you’ll do just fine.

You’re probably better than you think.