How to Design Confidently Without Ever Being the Expert

Published June 2, 2021

Early in my career as a UX Designer, I thought it was my job to know the answers. I assumed I was hired to be the expert in every problem my designs were meant to solve. This led me to years of designing in a silo. I never asked for input because I thought it would expose me as a fraud.

You can imagine how well that went.

My designs were flawed and people would continuously point out that I had missed something, or didn’t consider other scenarios. To make it worse, receiving this feedback challenged my ego and I would resort to being closed off and defensive.

I’ve come a long way since those days of letting my ego take the driver’s seat.

Back then, I didn’t lack the expertise to be a great designer. What I lacked was a solid process in facilitating insights that would lead me to the answers I needed. Now I approach each project not as the expert in the problem itself, but as an expert in going out and finding the solution.

Here’s how you can do it too:

Approach every problem with a beginner’s mentality

Your ego is going to absolutely hate this. But hear me out.

When I first get started with a new client, I tell them point-blank that I don’t know the solution to the problem, but that I have a foolproof process that will ensure I find it.

The reason is, the less you pretend to know about the problem the better you will be at asking the right questions to uncover the right solution. Be the facilitator that collects as many different insights as possible. Position yourself as open and be accessible for people to come to with their ideas so that you foster solid working relationships built on trust and empathy.

Remember that as a Designer, it is never your job to know the right solution from the get-go. Rather, it is your job to discard your assumptions and look for all the ways that you might be wrong. Then it’s your job to gather all the information you need to build the right thing first.

Always be asking for input

Just because there’s an ‘I’ in ‘Design’ doesn’t mean you should go it solo. Working in a Silo won’t lead you to the insights you need to design great products because you alone can’t see past your blind spots. You will always miss something. In the best-case scenario, you’ll miss a great solution. In the worst, you’ll miss an important constraint that can ruin the entire project.

While collaboration is a skill that will never be perfected, you still reap the benefits whenever it’s practiced. Establish trust and empathy by encouraging stakeholders, intended users, and the entire product team to share their vision of the problem and solution.

Use all this input to create a single source of truth that everyone can come back to.

Be ok with being wrong

Let your ego take the backseat when someone comes to you with feedback. Be open to all opinions and above all else, never take it personally. This is hard, it takes time, and don’t be shocked when your ego grabs the reins when you least expect it.

Yes, I still struggle with this. Not long ago I asked a coworker what it was like working with me.

Oh, boy did I ever gain some insight.

They told me that it was hard to know when it was ok to give me feedback since it seemed like sometimes I wasn’t interested in what they had to say.

Talk about a humbling moment.

It is uncomfortable when someone points out something you missed or had not considered. To this day, I still feel a little twinge whenever this happens (and it happens often) because it makes me question myself as a Designer.

But this is the whole point of collaboration. After all, it’s impossible to cover every single base on your own, and no one else expects you to.

Remember, you can be passionate about and proud of your work but don’t be attached to it. Don’t shy away from feedback at the chance that you might be wrong. In fact, assume that you’re always wrong and look for the insights that can prove it. The less you identify with your work and the more open you are to the perspectives and direct feedback from others the better your work becomes.

The Takeaway

The power of great design comes from being the person who has the courage to put their work under the microscope and have it examined by your peers in order to find the best possible solution.

Building this mindset doesn’t happen overnight. Being confident in not having the answers is an endless fight with your ego. And no matter how experienced you are, you are bound to deal with it at some time.

By approaching each new project as a beginner and staying focused on facilitating the conversations and collaboration to uncover the right solutions for your users, you will not only become known as a Designer who people rave about working with but one that always produces great outcomes.

Nick Foster is the founder of Sixzero, an agency that helps companies design apps and software with impact.