Want Great UX Design? Drop Your Ego.
Cameron comes from a design background and is the author of two web design books: Color for Web Design and The Smashing Idea Book.
Great UX design is always the goal for any designer—or at least should be. No designer wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to design something really terrible today.”
The best UX designers do the work they do because they’re passionate about it. But their passion for the work can sometimes lead to an inflated sense of their skills and expertise. It can get in the way of effective collaboration and set them up for failure. When their egos really get out of hand, designers can even go as far as to become design divas.
“There is no such thing as a bad client. Part of our job is to do good work and get the client to accept it.” – Bob Gill
What Is Ego?
While ego can undoubtedly get in the way of a designer’s ability to create good work, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ego can help designers overcome impostor syndrome and recognize where their strengths lie. But unless it’s coupled with a healthy dose of self-awareness, ego can lead designers to think they’re more skilled than they really are.
Most designers will have to deal with their ego at some point. An exciting new project will come along, one they’re genuinely passionate about, and they’ll agree to take it on whether or not they have the skills to do the work effectively.
That can lead to several outcomes. The designer can level up their skills and learn what they need to complete the project; a solid option, but one that can be time-consuming. They can be in denial about not having the necessary skills, and the project will likely crash and burn—a very negative impact on an inflated ego. Or in order to complete the project successfully, they can bring on collaborators who have the skills they lack—often the best option, but the one that can be hardest on the designer’s ego.
Why Ego Gets in the Way of Great UX Design
Besides ego sometimes causing designers to take on larger projects than they can handle, there are several other ways ego can interfere with a designer’s success.
Problems with Creative Collaboration
One of ego’s most damaging characteristics is its tendency to interfere with productive collaboration. That includes collaboration with other designers on a team as well as with clients or stakeholders. When a designer’s ego has convinced them they have the best ideas, they know the most, or their way is best, it stops them from hearing feedback from others.
A designer refusing to listen to feedback will have a particularly hard time working with clients. When a client wants to make a change, it’s up to the designer to either figure out how to effectively incorporate that change or to effectively convince the client why the change isn’t a good idea.
Whether the goal is to change the client’s mind or make a change as requested, the designer must be willing to at least entertain the idea that they’re wrong and the client is right. This is particularly important when the client also has an ego, which sets the stage for potentially serious disagreements.
If a designer wants to convince the client that a change is necessary, they can research use cases and data to find the best way to overcome the problem the client has presented. Ego doesn’t allow the designer to consider they may be wrong, which cuts them off from coming up with innovative solutions.
The refusal to consider input from others can also carry over into effectively incorporating feedback from actual users. Sometimes, it even prevents them from collecting user feedback. After all, if they know best, what could users possibly contribute?
Human-centered design is one of the most essential tenets of great UX design. It involves communicating with people from the outset of a project to understand their needs, and revolves around collaboration. When a designer’s ego gets in the way of that collaboration, it sets the project up for failure.
Collecting feedback and creating new, improved iterations of a design is one of the backbones of excellent UX design. Without iterations that aim to please the people who use the design, the product will never be as good as it could be. In some cases, it means a design that’s visually attractive but doesn’t function as well as it could. In other cases, the design itself may have serious faults. Ego can get in the way of the designer recognizing that either of these is the case.
Ego Causes Designers to Become Isolated
Ego can also cause designers to isolate themselves. If they’re so sure of their abilities and feel that they have nothing left to learn, why bother fostering professional relationships? This isolation creates an echo chamber for the designer, who never gets feedback that could allow them to improve.
Even if a designer doesn’t purposely isolate themselves, an inflated ego can alienate other team members. No one wants to work with someone who insists on always being right. Designers who refuse to truly collaborate and are instead only looking for minions to serve them will quickly find no one willing to work with them.
Ego Stunts a Designer’s Growth
When a designer thinks they know everything there is to know about their particular specialty, it prevents them from advancing their skills. And even the most expert designers are continually learning, improving, and experimenting with new ideas and skills.
Great UX design is not a constant. As devices, user behavior, and technology in general change, what makes a great UX design this year might not be so great in the future. Take screen resolutions, for example. In the early days of the internet, 800 pixel-wide screens were still fairly common, and resolutions rarely exceeded 1024 pixels wide.
Because of this, there were too many visual limitations imposed on designs for them to be considered user-friendly. Icons were usually simple, text couldn’t be too small, and visual nuance was often lost. But with HD and retina displays becoming the norm, designers can use more intricate icons, smaller text (particularly for things like meta-information or image captions), and more nuanced visual cues.
People have also evolved in the way they interact with websites. It’s rare to find a person who’s completely new to using a computer or the internet, so designers can take some things for granted. For example—that users will know how to click links, scroll pages, or use the search function—without sacrificing the user experience.
When a UX designer thinks they already know the best way to go about any design project they encounter, they’ll stop looking for creative solutions. Creativity and experimentation are the paths to an overall improvement of the UX and design industries. Without those two essential elements, design would stagnate and there would be no innovation.
Creativity often comes from collaboration. And as already mentioned, an inflated ego can prevent designers from effectively collaborating with other designers. If a designer can’t put aside their ego, they’ll be less likely to build on the work of others.
One result of this lack of creativity and innovation is that designers can end up feeling unsatisfied with their work. They end up doing the same things over and over again. The lack of growth in their skills and expertise affects every aspect of their work. Eventually, their knowledge base becomes outdated, and they find that their career is negatively affected.
The only cure for that is to get past their ego and fully re-engage with the design community.
How to Overcome Egos in Design
It’s sometimes too easy for designers to end up with an inflated ego. A few projects go fabulously well, they get a design award or a prominent publication features their work, and suddenly they’ve slipped into the mindset that their way is best and they don’t need input from others.
When that happens, there are a few ways to overcome the ego and get back into a place of collaboration and growth.
Designers should avoid playing the victim. If a wireframe, mockup, or finished design isn’t received well by a client, it pays for the designer to listen to that feedback. In all likelihood, the criticism contains at least some truth. It’s the designer’s job to figure out where that input is coming from and how to best solve the problems that are exposed.
As much as a designer with an inflated ego might want to believe it, they are not the center of the universe (or their current project). The user is. It’s okay for designers to admit they don’t have all the answers and to do the necessary research to find the best solution to suit the end user’s needs.
Sometimes, designers focus too much on the visual aspects of a design and forget about the functionality of those parts. Remember, a designer’s job isn’t to create art. Their job is to create a functional design that meets the user’s needs and looks good. But without the functionality, the aesthetics become pointless.
That doesn’t mean that designers can’t explain the rationale behind design decisions. Not having an inflated ego doesn’t mean that designers can’t still be confident in their design choices—when those choices are backed up by sound design principles and user input.
When receiving negative feedback, it’s useful for designers to keep in mind that the feedback is about the work and not a personal attack. Clients and the people using the end product aren’t trying to hurt the designer’s feelings; they’re trying to get the best final product possible.
In the end, designers should approach every design project as an opportunity for growth and improvement. It’s okay not to have all of the answers. When designers know their strengths and weaknesses, they can either find collaborators to work with or learn new skills to round out their shortcomings.
For the most part, designers are a pretty humble group. But that doesn’t mean inflated egos don’t sometimes rear their ugly heads. Even UX designers who are usually humble may deal with ego if things have been going well for a while.
The biggest hurdle is for a designer to recognize when their ego has started to interfere with the work they’re creating. Sometimes, it ends up being pointed out by a colleague or a client. When that happens, it’s time to get proactive and get the ego in check.
Setting aside the ego can lead designers to listen to users and clients and create truly great UX designs. Designers who get over their egos can grow into better designers through collaborating with others who are more skilled, listening to what people actually want from a product, and working better with clients.
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Further reading on the Toptal Design Blog:
Understanding the basics
What are the six phases of human-centered design?
Human-centered design is a collaborative process that includes six phases: observation, ideation, rapid prototyping, user feedback and testing, iteration, and implementation. The ideation, rapid prototyping, user feedback and testing, and iteration phases are repeated as necessary.
What is the human-centered design process?
The human-centered design process aims to create great UX designs in a collaborative effort with customers by focusing on people’s everyday thinking, emotions, and behavior. This creative collaboration creates designs that better meet the needs of the people they’re designed for.
What is design collaboration?
Collaborative design is a process that involves multiple roles, team members, and ideas to create great UX designs that meet customer needs. The design phase is iterative, with designers making improvements based on feedback from users to create an end product that best meets people’s needs.
What makes a good UX design?
The most important aspect of great UX design is that it meets the needs of the people actually using the product, often through a human-centered design process. Without meeting customer needs, it doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing a design is, it’s not good UX design.
What does it mean to be a great UX designer?
A great UX designer possesses a number of skills beyond strong visual design abilities, including interaction design and information architecture. User research skills are vital to becoming a great UX designer, as is the ability to incorporate user feedback into new iterations until a product is ready for launch.