The Three Stages of a Designer

Photo by Louis Blythe on Unsplash

As I talk to many of my fellow designers, I get the sense that we all feel like we have a case of Imposter Syndrome.

Even though some may be high achievers and well accomplished, we live with a subtle but persistent fear that we will be exposed as a fraud.

The design field is often full of subjectivity; there’s no real life test you can take to say, “See? I’m a good designer. I got a 96% on this exam.” Furthermore, people’s perception of what “good design” is changes over time.

Despite the ambiguity, I’ve observed an evolution of my design ability and process. I call these the three stages of being a designer. I’m confident that any aspiring designer who follows this evolution will grow and also be able to hush that nagging Imposter Syndrome feeling.

1. Ability to see

Design by Jay Fletcher

Before you can start designing like a boss, you have to know what makes a particular design jive. many people can recognize good design, but they can’t necessarily explain what makes it good design.

As a designer, you not only need to know what looks good but why something looks good.

Start to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does this design make me feel?
  • What problems does this design fix?
  • Who is this for and why?
  • Where does this design draw my eye?
  • What’s the intended action after viewing this design?
  • How can you interact with the design?
  • Why do these color work together?

Being able to identify and answer these types of questions will help you develop your eye and explain why certain designs work and others don’t.

2. Ability to replicate

Design by Brian Douglas Hayes

Don’t think of this as stealing design concepts for personal gain, but as a tool to advance your technical skill set. Remember in Kindergarten when you would trace letters as you learned to write the alphabet? This is the same idea but grown up.

As I started to enjoy design I would think through the steps to recreate designs that I would see throughout my day (flyers, buttons, forms, logos, banners, etc.) This helped me think through my process for creating designs from a technical perspective.

One of the best things I’ve done to help push my skill set is to find designers that I admire, and try to recreate pieces of their best work.

This showed me what I was capable of and helped me round out areas that I needed improvement on. Furthermore, I was able to add design patterns to my skill set that I could recall when working on future projects.

Next time you’re stuck between a starting point and your end goal, copy someone. Often as I’m struggling with a design concept I’ll start to copy a design I like and at some point I’ll start to branch off and repurpose it for my intended use.

Don’t be afraid to copy; there’s no shame in that. Just always be sure to give credit where credit is due. If you create something inspired by someone else’s work let your audience know where you found your inspiration.

3. Ability to create

Design by Eddie Lobanovskiy

One of the best ways to build confidence as a designer is to start depending on your skill set and creativity to address client needs, goals, and issues.

Clients bring conceptual ideas to the table and rely on you to be able to translate them into a design. My primary value as a UI/UX designer is not to make things pretty but to problem-solve for the user at the other end of the screen.

If you having the ability to take words, data, and abstract concepts and formulate them into a design that makes sense for the user, you can dismiss your Imposter Syndrome fears.

You might not be the flashiest or the most experienced designer (you don’t need to be). Businesses aren’t concerned with those things.

They are concerned with how you will add value. If you can identify, replicate and create the right designs you will be incredibly valuable wherever you go.


Seth Coelen is a freelance UI/UX designer living in Cleveland, Ohio. You can check out his work at SethCoelen.com