Losing my ego to the team
On how giving up pride made me a better designer
I never went to university, and I’m happy about it. I know many people my age who have complained about how much time and money they wasted in university, and how worthless it was. I went to the only art school in my hometown of Terrassa, Spain. It was a public school, and I paid only 80 euros (around 100 dollars) for the entire first year. I studied two years in total, and spent another one in a “Post Grade” which helped me complete a final project before graduating. I got a 6 out of 10, because I didn’t put too much effort into it. I already had a job — I was working part time as a designer and going to classes at night.
I was learning more at the office than at school, and in more realistic, practical ways. I was learning how to code using Action Script (if you can call that coding). I was designing web pages using Freehand and turning them into Flash to make rich, animated websites. I was good at it. And I loved it.
I knew I was good. I became cocky. During my time at design school, I transformed from a shy teenager to a narcissistic designer who thought he knew better than everyone else.
I thought that if people didn’t like my work, it was their fault. “It’s so obvious! How can they not get it?”. I would take feedback as criticism and defend my work no matter what, thinking that those giving feedback were just trying to destroy my creation, take credit for what I did, or push me down. Now that I think of it, it’s silly.
I was finally part of a team with a collective mission. At Asana, we’re a group of peers. There are no assumptions here. Everyone’s opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.
I’d worked with other designers before, but I had been a lone wolf for a long time. Being part of such a close-knit team was new for me so I went to a couple of extracurricular workshops to learn how to communicate better with people. I learned to not take sides if it wasn’t for a clear, rational reason I could explain. I started happily absorbing all feedback. The most ironic thing about this shift in my mentality is that I now have more power of decision than anywhere I’ve previously worked. It’s ultimately up to me to make design decisions.
I now have a team that supports me, and we all have the same goal. When I talk to designers, managers or engineers at work, I look for an aligning point: the truth behind what we need to do, what we can do, and what has been done in the past (and why). This helps me make design decisions based on facts, and not let my ego affect my work.
That’s not to say I’m not bold or don’t have my own opinions. But I believe it’s important to always be pushing the envelope; striving for the next best thing. Make mistakes. Take steps you aren’t sure about. Iterate. If you’re stuck on something, try many things. You’ll learn lessons and move forward.
What I learned
My advice for the brand-new, clever, smart, fresh-from-school designer on how to lose that ego to become your best self (and also feel happier and more satisfied):
- Don’t defend your designs and ideas, especially face to face, in the moment you receive feedback. Even if you think you are 100% sure that their argument is incorrect or makes wrong assumptions, note it. Chances are there are good suggestions for you to incorporate into your next iteration. Embrace their feedback. Try it out and see where it takes you. More on this: Design Process at Asana Vol 1
- Fight for your ideas. When you believe in their value. Don’t be mindless and irrational. But…
- Follow your gut. And talk to your colleagues to wage if those choices are correct, and why.
- Get to know the strengths of your peers. Then you’ll know who to ask the right questions to, like having a specialized brain dedicated to each category of knowledge.
- Build trust. Make the team part of your decisions. Then you’ll be able to…
- Share your victories. Be humble and acknowledge the work that preceded yours.
- Admit defeat. Build upon it.
- Be bold, and brave. Make mistakes. Fix them.
Being modest has made me a more effective worker, and a better designer. At some points I noticed I had gone too far, confidence is crucial, but I like to have an informed confidence.