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For the longest time, I felt like I didn’t deserve the title of “Designer.” I’ve been a UX Researcher for almost a decade. I’ve had the title of Product Owner and Product Manager and even Founder of my photography company. As that Founder, I created my company’s websites either by my own hand or working with a small dev team. I constructed photo collages and beautiful wall-sized prints. I designed wedding albums and baby picture books. Yes, I “designed” albums…but I never felt like a “Designer.” And I didn’t know why…until now.

A few days ago I was a a panel meetup and asked our esteemed guests this question:

“I have an analogy for you. I’m a foodie and love watching cooking shows. In that world, there is a big difference between being a cook and being a Chef. It’s more than going to culinary school or even owning your own restaurant. In tech, what do you see is the difference between being a crafter or hobbyist and being a Designer? What does it take to cross over?”

The panel was silent.

The man from Google eventually piped up and said “You just have to give a shit.” Then they were silent again.

As a photographer I could explain the difference between a professional and non-professional photographer was. Part of it was just getting paid for your work. Another part of it was your level of dedication to the craft and to sales. To this extent, “giving a shit” made some sense, but it was entirely unsatisfying.

As the silence built, I had a moment of terror. I had put myself out there and was met with blank stares. “Shit — here we go again,” I thought. But I’ll save the imposter syndrome talk for a different post.

Another panelist, Jules, finally said “As the only non-cis male on this panel, I’d like to add something.”

RELIEF! I’m going to learn something after all!

Jules dropped the wisdom that if I’m so afraid to call myself a designer, then there must be something deeper to it and that I should explore further. He told the audience that design is more than the visual by recounting his own worries about creating pixel perfect images. We were all beautifully reminded that to be a designer means that we solve problems.

Thank goodness for some diversity on panels! The other panelists were now able to echo the ideas that Jules contributed and give some more detail. In the end, the Google guy said he’s going to use my Chef analogy on his teams! Proud moment to feel so Googlie. :)

I’ve been defining and solving problems for a long time. Through those job titles I mentioned, though mentoring startup teams, and by being a friend who genuinely gives a shit.

So what’s the bottom line? Recognizing that I assumed being a Designer was just the visual design part and seeing that I was afraid to put down the shield of my quantitative side, I can see why it was so impossible to call myself a Designer. But here I am, World — Problem Solver, Designer. Let’s go!



Written by

Data Geek, usability researcher, product owner, dev groupie

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