3 things I learned at ND2C

We struggle, we are lucky, and we have work to do.

I was fortunate enough to attend the recently held National Digital Design Conference in Islamabad. This event was the first of its kind, featuring a great ensemble of speakers and designers from all over and outside of Pakistan.

This post is a reflection on some of the things I learned at the conference:

1. Impostor Syndrome is real.

Fast Company describes this as,

This psychological phenomenon, known as impostor syndrome, reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.

A few days before the event, I was going through the community conference page and couldn’t help but be amazed by the incredible work by fellow designers. I also couldn’t help but compare my work with theirs and wonder if it’s even in the same league as theirs.

Being a UX Designer, a lot of the work I do is behind-the-screens. (Clap for this pun, come on!). Hours are spent researching, interviewing, synthesizing, hypothesizing, and testing. More often than not, this work only results in very small changes on screen. Besides this, I run a creative studio where the pressure is always on to produce original, experimental art and design work. And if you’re on Instagram, you’ll know there’s no shortage of original, experimental art and design work. So it’s fair to say that I’ve had more than a few run-ins with impostor syndrome.

I learned that most of the accomplished designers at the conference have felt this way at some point in their careers. Saba Zaidi (Sr. Interaction Designer at Google) described the self-doubt that came with starting to work at Google, Ammara Gul Aga (Illustrator, CEO, Mother, Badass) described feelings of inadequacy when joining a design studio, even after effectively establishing a business, and being a phenomenal illustrator.

If you’re a designer struggling with impostor syndrome, know that it’s okay and almost every designer you look up to has dealt with it. Here’s a few resources:

2. We are lucky to be designers.

Being at the conference, listening to the speakers, and talking to fellow attendees, it was very clear that no two individuals became designers the same way. Some of us were doodling before we could talk, others were telling stories before we knew what they could do, others were taught as technologists, still others were craftsmen.

I learned that you could get a group of designers in a room and they will almost certainly have different journeys of how they came to call themselves ‘designers’. We are lucky to have such diversity of journeys and crafts in our profession, and Saima Zaidi (Designer, Author, Educator) put it best when she asked us to ‘cross-pollinate’ to become better designers.

On that note, here’s Guy Litgerwood’s excellent resources on learning something new:

3. Designers have work to do.

I was so pleasantly surprised to see the amount of great design coming out of Pakistan! Ali Rez showed us the power of advertising for good, Shehzil Malik told us how her personal struggle and the resulting artwork resonated with women across the world, and Samya Arif showed us how she designed for happiness across hateful borders.

Listening to these speakers and experiencing their art and design work reminded me that we, designers, still have a lot of work to do. The world, or even just Pakistan, hasn’t been rid of wicked problems just yet.

I learned that nothing gives me more joy than designing for social impact, and watching other designers and artists do the same made me feel like a part of a team.

If you’re a designer, you may not necessarily set out to save the world, but know that whatever you create has the power to impact people’s lives, and the responsibility to impact it for the better.

Call to Action

If you liked this article, send a few claps my way so that others may find it too. If you’d like to collaborate on a project, I want to revamp Pakistan’s TV News Media and create art to deal with trauma.

Looking forward to hearing from you. Find me on Twitter and Instagram.