Dear New Designer
Starting a new career is hard. You walk into a new company, surrounded by new people, and you have so many new things to learn. It can be overwhelming and it is very easy to slip into the imposter syndrome mindset. But, over time, I promise it gets better. Looking back on my journey, I was able to see some interesting things. Even if I wasn’t always confident in myself, people whose opinions I trusted said I was on track and doing great. That was the turning point for me. If those experienced people could believe in me, then why shouldn’t I believe in myself too?
I wrote this letter to my past self to document the reflections I had on my personal growth. I hope by sharing my experiences, I can help the next new person feel a little more comfortable with all the uncertainty that comes with starting a career.
Dear New Designer,
I’m writing this as I am just under a year into my first ever position as a UX designer right out of college. Hopefully hearing a little about my journey will help make yours that much easier.
First off, congratulations on your position! It is a very exciting time and it may feel like you have a long road ahead of you. I felt that too. Design can be a little terrifying. One of my college professors told me that starting a new project feels like you’re standing at the edge of a cliff looking into a void. Honestly, it does feel like that sometimes. The good news is you can tackle this void one bit at a time and you don’t have to tackle it alone. There are always other designers around to ask for help. We’ve all gone through that initial shock of standing on the cliff, and we may be able to give you a few pointers on where to start.
If you’re like me, you may be feeling some imposter syndrome, like you don’t know anything or you don’t belong. I will let you know we’ve all felt it and it does get better. When I first started, I felt very out of place and lost. I couldn’t start tasks on my own, and I didn’t know what I could do to help my team. Over the past almost-year, those feelings have been evolving. After a few months, I started to have some shaky confidence about the general direction I could start in. If one of my teammates could get me started on things, I could run with it for a little bit. I was able to do little design explorations where I worked on how specific controls would look. I could take a feature idea and come up with diverging ideas on how it could fit into what we already had.
Fast forward a few more months, I started to experience little pockets of feeling like I was a “Real Designer.” I was able to articulate why I chose the designs I did and why an interaction was a good user experience. I started to understand screens as a part of the flow instead of a screen in isolation. These pockets always surprised me, and I still wasn’t super confident in my design decisions.
Right now, I’m at an interesting point. People I trust are telling me I’m doing well and I often find myself thinking “wow, I sound like I know what I’m talking about!” That little imposter syndrome voice has gotten drowned out and I’ve stopped listening to it. You may not always feel 100% confident in yourself, but do your best. With time, that voice saying you don’t belong will get outweighed by the fact that you are doing great things.
Another big lesson I’ve learned as a fresh-out-of-college new hire is that the first year is all about learning. My project manager told me early on that they weren’t expecting greatness right out of the gate. My job right now was to learn. Being given the freedom to learn and not know everything has been a big help. I started by learning as much as I could. I learned the tools I needed to use, how my team works, and general important things about being a SEP employee. After I got the basics down I began contributing to my team more and more. Production work will come in time. No one is going to fault you for finding your footing first. You gotta start somewhere, right?
Starting a career is hard. It is intimidating to come to a new company with new people and projects and feel like you’re contributing to your team. Remember to give yourself grace and time to grow your skills. Observe other designers and ask them how they do those effortless design things. I’m sure they’ll be happy to teach you. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Instead say “I don’t know, but I can find someone who does.” Becoming an amazing designer doesn’t happen overnight. For me, it snuck up on me while I wasn’t looking. I know I have a long way to go, but this is a place full of others who will support each other on their journeys together. So roll up your sleeves and jump on in! I have no doubt you’re going to be amazing in no time.
Your fellow new(ish) designer,