How your THREE egos can help you design better

You’ve just bought a Billy Bookcase from Ikea and you think “Yeah, this is adulting. I’ve made it.”

You heroically take your trophy home and insist on putting it together. Your partner tries to help. You shout “Clockwise! CLOCKWISE!” at them until they can’t take it anymore. You throw your alan key across the room and insist you never had enough Bronte sisters to warrant a bookshelf anyway.


Our old friend, Freud pointed out that our personalities are multi-faceted. Eric Berne, psychiatrist and author of Games People Play elaborated on this with the rather grown-up sounding theory of transactional analysis.

Berne suggested we are in fact a sum of three egos; adult, parent and child — all of which happen in quick succession after an Ikea trip. The decision (adult) the supervision (parent) down to the tantrum (you guessed it).

Your inner child

We are at our most creative as children and sadly, it has been proven that creativity starts to decline as we age. In the initial discovery stage, stay curious and ask those “silly” questions. Push the boundaries and be okay to fail, learning from your mistakes.

Your inner adult

Be prepared to make some grown-up decisions. Hold off that big idea– build a minimal viable product instead and iterate, iterate, iterate. Don’t give up on your inner child’s creation, just slow down and consider long-term strategy.

Your inner parent

Self-discipline and time management will help you get the most value out of your work. Break up projects into smaller, manageable chunks and timebox tasks to help plan your day better. Recognise dependencies and find areas you can progress with to ensure you’re always one step ahead.

How might we interact with other team members’ egos?

Adult–Adult

According to Dr. Berne, the simplest transactions are between Adults ego states. This might be you telling the Product Owner about some data you found that backs up their decision for the next sprint. Everyone’s a winner.

Parent–Child

However, things get a little trickier between parent and child. We’ve all been in that awkward position where we don’t agree with someone. Your child is saying “but you’re not listening to me!” and their parent responds with the disciplinery “come along now, this is not the time.” Not in those words exactly, but you understand.

However, a parent–child interaction can also be one of nurture. Maybe you’re struggling with Sketch and you admit to a fellow designer you need help. Their support is a manifestation of their parental ego.


Listen to your egos and understand how they come into play in your working environment– for better and for worse. Understanding how you can balance them will help you make creative yet logical design decisions and build stable working relationships within your team. Just never throw an alan key when your inner child takes hold.

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