As a young designer, it is difficult not to feel deep ownership to your work. In general, ownership is good. It makes us take initiative, move forward, and take pride for our work. In design, however, this concept can get tricky. Unless you are a fine artist or create designs just for yourself, your designs are never really yours. Yes, you made them. But someone else is going to have to use them. Unless you are your own audience, which is rather rare in design work, you create designs for someone else. This also means your success depends on whether or not this someone else, your audience or the user of your product, likes what they are getting.
Regardless of the length of your design experience, it is hard to hear your design sucks. You may have created the most beautiful thing, but maybe you misunderstood something in the brief or it failed the usability tests. In any case, it sucks to miss the mark. The difference between a rookie and a leader in this situation is that a leader is ready to “kill her baby” and go back to the drawing board without having her feelings hurt. A rookie might feel offended, become defensive, and pushes back to the idea of having to start again. The truth is: no one cares how hard you worked on it, except maybe your mom. So, you will always need to be ready to do it again.
Tips for not feeling possessive about your designs
1. Redefine what “success” means to you
When this happens — and it will happen — it may help to redefine what “success” means to your design. If you keep in mind that you are creating something usable and delightful for a target audience (not for yourself), it is easier to accept that their experience defines whether your designs are successful or not.
2. Feedback is part of your journey
Understand that reviewing and testing designs are essential steps on the journey to a good product/design. The earlier you start testing and getting feedback, the likelier it is that you will be creating something successful and useful. It is expected that you’re going to have to change many things along the way, so accept that right from the start. And the earlier and rougher designs you test, it is much easier to accept the failure and start again because you haven’t yet invested too much time and (your heart and soul) in getting the details just right.
3. Take a deep breath
When you receive constructive feedback, from stakeholders, peers, or your target audience, your first reaction might be to immediately explain yourself and defend your design. First, take a breath and keep listening. Sometimes, it is essential you explain why you did what you did so that people can react and apply their approach accordingly. This is especially applicable when you’re in a design review with your peers or manager. But when you’re dealing with your customer or other stakeholders, it might be better to just listen.
4. Ask questions
I cannot bring this one up often enough. When faced with negative or constructive feedback that was unexpected ja you feel stunned, ask questions. Ask if they can give you more details on what they just said. Ask if there was anything they’d have any ideas or recommendations on how to solve the issue. For one, this changes the dynamic to more conversational and reminds everyone that you are on the same side trying to create something together, rather than opposing parties. Secondly, it gives you the details you need to adjust your designs to become successful. And thirdly, it gives you more time to adjust, steers attention away from you and towards your designs, and portrays you as a leader who is interested in getting things right.
5. Focus in the learnings
Before each feedback and review session, remind yourself that part of the design process is continuous improvement — of yourself and your designs. You need to find out what is working, because only that way you can improve it. Hearing how great your designs are does not help you improve them, only the criticism does. So, focus on finding out what you can improve. And remember, each review will teach you something valuable that you can add to your design toolbox. So, tell yourself that it is not only an opportunity to improve your designs, but your design skills, as well.
6. Focus on your portfolio
As a designer, your portfolio is your biggest calling card. It is the single most important tool you have for finding work and new opportunities. Designers of all age and experience should be updating, fine-tuning, and improving their portfolio continuously. So, whenever you are designing something, the NDA permitting, it may end up in your portfolio. And your goal as a designer should always be to have the best projects in there. Take every design review and test as an opportunity to get the feedback you need in order to create something you can be proud of and include in your showcase.