Designers: Do You have Too Much Ego For Your Own Good?

Ego and design go together like chocolate and chili peppers (seriously, it’s delicious – the Aztecs were really on to something). In moderate amounts, it’s not a bad thing at all. You could even say that a healthy ego is essential for any working designer. After all, you’re solving complex business problems with nothing but your creativity.

However, a lot of designers take it too far, putting off clients and even their fellow designers with their arrogance. How do you know when you’ve crossed the line from confident to conceited? Read on to find out.

Does Your Talent Justify Your Ego?

Have you seen the Pixar film Ratatouille? It’s perhaps my favorite film to come out of that studio. In it, there’s this head chef who compensates for his diminutive height by wearing a gigantic chef’s hat. His arrogance and temper, however, isn’t enough to earn him the respect of, well, anyone who works with him. If you’re amazingly good at what you do, people will often give you a pass with regard to your ego.

When I was in school, there was an instructor who captured this phenomenon perfectly with a graph. Basically, the more talent you have, the more people will put up with you being a jerk. If you’re a super genius, this is good news.

But if you’re like the rest of us, a little humility definitely goes a long way. The head chef in Ratatouille wasn’t quite talented enough to get away with being so egotistical, and in the end, he paid for it.

Keep in mind that people tend to remember bad manners much more than they remember good ones. Even if you’re nice 99% of the time, all most clients and colleagues will remember is that one time you were a jerk.

The Designer’s New Clothes

We designers get into the industry because of our love for beauty and aesthetics. But how much does our obsession with what we do really matter in the “outside” world? Do clients appreciate the intricate beauty of a design as much as we do? I happen to think that, for the most part, clients are grateful for their designers’ services. However, there is a very important balance to maintain, and that is value delivered versus cost.

If a client feels he or she has overpaid for a design, they are going to be extremely unhappy. In the same vein, if the experience of working with you and putting up with your attitude is not worth the final product, you are going to find yourself in some very warm water.

No matter what your opinion of your own work, or your client’s opinion of you, always treat every client as though their project is the most important thing on your schedule. If you do, you won’t have to resort to egotistical displays of your own genius – your clients will do it for you!

Designing With People, Not For Them

Design is something that impacts people’s everyday lives in a profound way. Therefore, it’s important not to exclude users from the design process. Designing with the people you and your clients want to reach, rather than for them, is key.

We are quickly moving past the era where the black turtleneck-wearing solo designer can stand from atop his tower and dictate the design trends of the rest of the world. People want to be a part of the process; in fact, they already are.

No matter how you intend for users to experience your designs, they’re going to find idiosyncratic ways to optimize the standard experience to their own personal preferences. There’s definitely a lot to be said about guiding a user through a design – thinking for them, as many UX experts recommend.

Example – Personalizing Shopping

However, there are always going to be ways that people will personalize what you design for them. A good example would be online shopping. If you buy things regularly on Amazon, you probably have your own configuration of the various list-making and purchasing options that are available to you.

Perhaps you place products in separate wish lists or use the 1-Click option. Other people might prefer to use the regular checkout option and forgo wish lists altogether, preferring to save items for later purchase in their shopping carts.

A smart designer will pay attention to these usage patterns, and, rather than egotistically enforcing one way to do things on everyone, they will choose to give the users the experience they’re looking for.

What Do You Think?

How do you navigate the line between healthy designer’s ego and annoying arrogance? Are there any lessons you’ve learned in your career about how to maintain your individuality as a designer, while still keeping your clients at the center of your professional focus?