Impostor syndrome & the Dunning-Kruger Effect for Product Designers

October 1, 2021
 Min Read

UX Almusal Episode 3 Recap

Have you ever caught yourself saying any of the following?

"Sooner or later, people are going to find out I’m not as good as they think I am. 😖"
"My design is the best thing in the world!!! 😎"

If you relate with the first, then you must have experienced impostor syndrome, the belief that you’re not as competent as others perceive you to be. If you relate with the second, then you must have had the Dunning-Kruger effect, the belief that you’re smarter or better than you think you are. Both are common things designers encounter over the course of their careers. 

Episode 3 of UX Almusal talks about these two beliefs in depth. It also explains how both affect one’s design career and how both can be combated.

Here are 3 lessons from Episode 3: 

📉 Lesson 1: Not dealing with your impostor syndrome could hinder your growth as a Product Designer.

If you don’t address your impostor syndrome, you’ll miss out on lots of opportunities — opportunities that could’ve been a turning point in your design career.  For example, when your dream company is hiring interns or full-time designers, you don’t apply, because the recruiters might think you’re not a strong candidate. Maybe your dream graduate school just opened applications for this year’s cohort. But because you don’t want your friends to think you’re incompetent when you don’t get admitted, you don’t shoot your shot. By choosing not to pursue these opportunities, you’re limiting your growth as a Product Designer. 

😰 Lesson 2: Everyone experiences impostor syndrome at some point in their careers. Luckily, there are ways to combat this.

You may think you’re the only one suffering from impostor syndrome. But the truth is, you’re not alone. Even the best designers have experienced this at some point in their careers. The design leader who used to build websites for big name brands once believed he got to where he was out of pure luck. The design unicorn who had 5 internships under his belt once felt inadequate when he was in a room of extremely smart people. The junior Product Designer who works at a startup once felt she was less of a designer when she started, because she came from a different background.

Nobody has their careers all figured out. Many are just learning the ropes as they go along. However, when you’re in your own head, you tend to think everybody has it easy — that they’re inherently gifted or born to succeed. At its worst, having these thoughts could lead into a downward spiral, with you constantly wondering whether you’re good enough. 

Instead of living in your head, try this — talk to fellow designers and ask them how they felt when they just started. Seeking out the experiences of others and learning about their journey humbles you, because it contextualizes the feelings you’re already having. 

You can also take a look at your past achievements. While it’s good to focus on what lies ahead, reflecting on your successes makes you realize how far you’ve come — that your actions, choices, and decisions have brought you to where you are right now. 

Finally, adopt a beginner’s mindset and avoid thinking you’ve already “made it”. Always remember that there’s more to learn. Embrace the discomfort because feeling uncomfortable is what makes great designers in the first place. It allows you to seek more than what you currently know.

🔎 Lesson 3: Self-awareness is key to dealing with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

All designers have their blind spots. Sometimes, they don’t know they have gaps in between the skillsets they have. A Product Designer could spend 8 hours on the visual design of a web app and think his or her work is the best thing in the world, when in reality, it’s not. The main culprit? Unconscious incompetence. It’s a stage wherein one doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know. As someone who wants to avoid having the Dunning-Kruger effect, your goal is to stay in the stage of unconscious incompetence in the shortest amount of time. 

To achieve that, you need to be self-aware. There are two ways to cultivate self-awareness. The first way is to reflect more. Every time you work on something, whether it’s running usability tests or designing high-fidelity mockups, think about what else could be improved. Even if you think your work is already good enough, there’s at least one area that needs more work. After all, if your work is already good enough, why not make it better? 

The second way is to seek feedback from mentors and meet people who are more knowledgeable than you. Chances are, these people know what you don’t know. They’re essential in your growth as a designer because they offer a perspective which you might have overlooked in your work. 

While mentors can give you the feedback you need, you’re responsible for giving yourself the permission to learn. You need to be humble and open enough to admit that you don’t know everything, and that’s okay. 

About UX Almusal

Listen in on discussions about UX, product design, and life from two hungry designers cooking their way to make sense of a messy design world.

Conversations over breakfast may include — product design breakdowns, building design organizations, self-improvement as a designer, and stuff you probably should listen in on if you want to level up as a designer.

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