Thank you for the thoughtful response Siebert! And thanks for referencing Tibor Kalman. Always loved that umbrella of his. :)
It also brings up the difference between something like being the creative director for a magazine and doing project-based client work—which with its constantly changing goals, is going to emphasize the need for selflessness in design a little more.
One thing that my be useful to consider is that it’s even possible to create great design work that the designer doesn’t (personally) like.
If we start by acknowledging that any design will be liked and disliked by people, then we can also acknowledge that personal preferences (the designer’s or the clients’) can be set aside. What matters is are we communicating what we want to communicate to the people we want to communicate to? And when we do that does it generate the desired emotional resonance? Or, in other words: audience, content, and tone. These things canbe judged independently of the designer and client.
When I look at my own work from over the years this way, I find that there’s a difference between the designs I like the most (what I’d hang on my wall), and the designs that are most successful (which worked best for the client and their users). And what’s interesting is that this outlook, as I get older and internalize it more, starts to change how I view my work.
I find that my favorite designs are now less about what visual details and elements I enjoy the most, and are more about how successful the design was at solving the project challenges. And when both happen, that’s just cake.
On a personal level, I find the effect even more profound. I’ve noticed that over the years I’ve experienced less and less fear and anxiety as a designer about such things as “will people hate the design?” and “what if I’m a bad designer?” Because the success of the design isn’t about the arbitrary liking of it by someone.
Additionally by taking myself out of the design in this way, the design ceases to be a representation of me, but rather simply the work I do. Maybe it’s a minor distinction, but I find it’s much easier to take criticism and learn from that experience when it’s not me up on the chopping block, but my work. :)