A List Apart

Laura Kalbag on Freelance Design

Me and My Big Fat Ego

Designers are renowned for having egos. But we’re really not all big-headed prima donnas. It’s just that we can devote so much of our time and care to our work that it becomes entangled with our self-esteem.

Article Continues Below

We’d all love our work to be perfect at the first draft. If we could solve all the potential problems in the project in one pass, without anybody else’s intervention, wouldn’t that make us perfect designers?

Our desire for perfection sets us up for that crushing feeling when a client doesn’t love our work the first time. It creates anger, tears, condescension, bitterness: all the ugly things. Our ego doesn’t want us to see ourselves as flawed, so we’re tempted to see the client as foolish in order to have something to blame the flaws in the work on. That’s how this big fat fragile ego can really get in the way of a good client relationship.

As with any working relationship, we need to be able to empathize with the other party, and understand the position that they’re coming from with their opinions. Design is nuanced; there’s far more to it than finding that one right way to solve a problem and rejecting all the “wrong” ways. Our ideas and the client’s are as likely to be conflicting as they are to be complementary. We can’t let ego get in the way of compromise.

But ego also gives us confidence

Bravado is ego’s younger, stupider brother. Most days I feel in control of my bravado, but sometimes I’m a little too vocal and critical of the work and actions of others. By showing off my supposed knowledge, I’m trying to mask my insecurity when my work doesn’t feel good enough. That pretty much explains my general attitude at art college and university… (Hey fellow RSAD and Bath Spa students and tutors, I’m sorry you had to put up with that!).

But we need that spike of confidence that ego brings. How could we ever share our work if we didn’t think it was any good? We could spend forever revising our ideas until our designs feel “good enough.” We need a little bit of ego so we can share with others.

Let’s not let ego get the better of us

Striving for perfection without the input of others doesn’t just put pressure on our self-esteem, it also restricts the scope for a solution. Every time I get that downhearted feeling over client feedback, I remind myself of other projects where I felt that way. In the end, the solution on those projects was always far stronger after multiple iterations. Feedback from clients brought in valuable constraints and thoughtful ideas from someone who understands their context and goals far better than I do.

Sometimes I just need to remind myself that I’m working on a solution with the client: we are both invested. And what we create together may be my adopted project for a few months, but it’s their product to own for many months or years to come.

8 Reader Comments

Load Comments