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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Designer

Creative industries are very broad and extend to many fields. They’re also known for cultivating an environment that breeds insecurities, whether you’re a veteran in the field or you’ve just accepted your dream job in design. Working in such a competitive industry can often lead to feelings of doubt, incompetence, or discouragement. 

If you relate to these feelings in your work life, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome in design. Throughout this article, you’ll learn about what imposter syndrome is, why it occurs, and how you can overcome it.  

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a feeling of not being as competent as others see you. It refers to moments when you experience a cycle of fear of being called out for having a lack of knowledge or ability. You believe that you got your accomplishments through sheer luck, rather than hard work and skill. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) states that imposter syndrome is not an official diagnosis listed in the DSM. However, psychologists acknowledge it as a real fear and sense of insecurity. Imposter syndrome affects people regardless of social status, work background, skill level, or educational level. However, as stated by the APA, there are various factors that increase the likelihood of suffering from it. 

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Is Imposter Syndrome Common in Design?

Imposter syndrome is common in the design industry. Even the most talented designers can experience this at some point, although they rarely discuss it. Creative people are more prone to imposter syndrome because of the constant challenge to keep up with the demands of the job and get positive design reviews. Designers are often judged based on their most recent work leading to a constant fear of failure to deliver.

How Imposter Syndrome Affects Designers

You Feel Pressured

Pressure occurs within a variety of contexts, although it’s most common with big or significant projects. The struggle comes from wanting to deliver the best results, while fighting an internal voice that’s constantly trying to nurture doubt. It often leads to weak output and burnout. 

You’re a Perfectionist

Imposter syndrome affects how designers view and judge their own skills. Senior designers with decades of experience tend to become perfectionists and set unrealistic goals. Perfectionists are one of the common types of people who suffer from imposter syndrome. 

You Doubt Yourself

People in the design community who struggle with imposter syndrome are usually high achievers with extensive skills. If you struggle with imposter syndrome, you might view the challenges you encounter as failures. You might also beat yourself up when you experience setbacks because you feel your ability is lacking. 

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

Family Dynamics

Based on research published in the Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, family dynamics and relationships are linked to imposter syndrome. Many people who experience imposter syndrome grew up with parents who alternated between over-praising and over-criticizing their children, increasing the risk of future fraudulent feelings. 

It is especially true with designers or other art-leaning professions. As art and design are not quantifiable, designers have a much harder time proving themselves capable to society and their families, despite having extensive skills. 

Being a New Designer

Imposter syndrome is more prevalent in new designers who are starting their careers. Due to the opportunities for artists in the tech industry, there is a lot of competition for jobs. This can lead you to begin questioning your talent and skills.

You Are a Design Leader

The American Psychological Association states that imposter syndrome occurs among high achievers as they are more prone to experience a fear of failure. A recently promoted design leader will feel a strong need to prove that they deserve to lead a design team.

You Are Surrounded by Talented Designers

One of the symptoms of impostor syndrome is feeling like you do not belong in the environment you’re in. Designers work in a design team with a medley of skills and talent, which can trigger an internal dialogue that you do not belong because you lack talent. 

You Struggle with Your Ego 

Talented designers who have always received positive design feedback usually feel deflated at the first sign of criticism. They struggle when they can’t get something right or learn a new skill right away, so they begin to question their ability and right to be a designer.

What Imposter Syndrome Looks Like in the Workplace

Dr. Valerie Young, in her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, says imposter syndrome is classified into five types. Below illustrates how they manifest in the workplace within the design industry. 

  • The Natural Genius: Natural geniuses cower at the first sign of a challenge. They tend to give up easily once faced with something they think they cannot overcome. 
  • The Perfectionist: Perfectionists in the workplace set unrealistic and overly high goals for themselves, but because of self-doubt, they also fear achieving them. Perfectionist designers have difficulty delegating tasks and taking risks because they feel frustrated and disappointed if the results are less-than-perfect. 
  • The Superhero: Superheroes push themselves to work extra hard because they fear that slacking off will expose that they don’t measure up to the rest of the design team. 
  • The Individualist: Individualists or soloists feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness and will expose them as frauds. They turn down assistance because they feel it lessens their worth to the team.
  • The Expert: Experts think they tricked their employer into hiring them. They feel they lack the necessary skills and engage in negative self-talk about being inexperienced and unknowledgeable. 

Can Imposter Syndrome Be Cured?

Yes, much like all negative feelings, imposter syndrome can be cured. You can overcome the psychological experiences of imposter syndrome and begin to appreciate all of your accomplishments healthily. There are various ways to deal with imposter syndrome in design, as listed below.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Designers

Get Feedback

Oftentimes, designers struggle with imposter syndrome because they’re simply unaware of how they’re actually doing, professionally. One of the best ways to relieve yourself of the stress and fear of failing is by asking for feedback from your employer or client. This allows you to gauge how you’re doing and identify where you can improve. 

Know that You’re Not Alone 

According to a 2020 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 82 percent of Americans have experienced some level of imposter syndrome in their lives. As mentioned, high achievers are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. You can reach out to a community or psychological professional for support. 

Have a Positive Mindset

Negative self-talk is one of the symptoms of imposter syndrome. Those who have imposter syndrome deal with an internal dialogue that tries to convince them that they don’t truly deserve their achievements. Reframe your thoughts and remember that it is okay to be imperfect. Also keep in mind that getting feedback or tips from senior designers or employers is not a form of failure, but rather growth. 

Know Your Expertise

Imposter syndrome in design stems from the flexibility and undefined characteristic of the industry. It’s difficult for designers to know whether they have succeeded because of varying subjective outputs in design. Knowing your expertise, whether you are a UX designer or a product designer, can help you accept compliments and achievements. 

Regularly Upskill

Once you have a clear grasp of your expertise, keeping up with the latest tools and skills in design can help you overcome imposter syndrome. A UX Designer can take UX design online courses as a form of professional development. Regardless of the route you choose, make it a priority to regularly upskill.

How a Coding Bootcamp Can Help You Get Over Imposter Syndrome

A coding bootcamp can help you overcome imposter syndrome because you will learn new things and address skill gaps. A coding bootcamp for UI Designers will help you learn skills from industry experts with extensive experience. If you switch to a different sub-discipline, you can learn through university-backed bootcamps and jumpstart your new career with confidence. 

Can Imposter Syndrome Be a Good Thing?

Yes, there are moments when having imposter syndrome can be a good thing. Below are some of the reasons imposter syndrome can work to your benefit or detriment. 

Why Imposter Syndrome Is Good

  • You learn to recognize negative thoughts. Part of the process of becoming a good designer is learning to identify your thoughts. Having imposter syndrome helps you distinguish positive thoughts from negative thoughts and reframe them.
  • You become motivated. Feeling inadequate can inspire you to work harder to prove yourself. It can lead to motivation to get the job done well. 
  • Imposter syndrome indicates that you are successful. You may not feel it, but having imposter syndrome means you are successful. It often occurs when you land a good job or are promoted to a higher position.

Why Imposter Syndrome Is Bad

  • It can cause depression. The feeling of otherness with your team can make you feel on edge about your abilities. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it can also lead to anxiety and depression if it’s not addressed.
  • You don’t take credit for your work. Designers with imposter syndrome rarely take compliments for their designs. Some designs may not even see the light of day because they are not confident that they are good enough to be seen.
  • You might self-sabotage. Designers with imposter syndrome are scared to ask for help from their peers. However, this leads to burnout and unproductive outputs, which may harm your design career.

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back

While imposter syndrome has its drawbacks, there are various ways to overcome the feeling of inadequacy. Continue to upskill through bootcamps and online courses. If you are trying to become a freelance designer and are struggling with self-doubt, training and various learning methods may help you gain more confidence. 

Tech design jobs, such as a UX Designer, are highly recommended because of career satisfaction and high salary. If you’re transitioning to a new career or field, you can overcome imposter syndrome by adequately preparing for the demands of your new position through bootcamps, online courses, books, or educational videos.

Imposter Syndrome in Design FAQ

Is impostor syndrome a mental illness?

No, impostor syndrome is not a mental illness. However, it can increase the likelihood of mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety.

Are women more susceptible to imposter syndrome? 

Women are more susceptible to imposter syndrome. However, men are also prone to experience symptoms of imposter syndrome.

How can a new UX Designer overcome imposter syndrome?

A new UX Designer can overcome imposter syndrome by adequately preparing for the position, remembering that they are not alone, getting feedback from employers or clients, and seeking relational or professional support. 

Will I lose my job if I have imposter syndrome?

No, you will not lose your job if you have imposter syndrome. However, if you consistently deal with self-doubt, you might self-sabotage your career. There are many ways to cope with imposter syndrome in design.

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