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Employer, self, and industry expectations

I noticed a while ago that I expect more of me than my employer does.

When I noticed this, I was working at a different company than the one I work at now. They had very low expectations about design.

This made it easy to impress people - just produce some nice wireframes and you're done.

It also made me miserable - How can I do the kind of work that proves I am a good designer, if my employer doesn't expect it from me or provide support?

I've moved companies since, and now I'm able to do much better design work. My new employer expects me to do certain things as part of my design process, and this is much closer to the sort of design work that I feel like I should be doing.

But it's still not quite there. I still feel like I'm not reaching the quality of design work that I should be.

These are my expectations of myself, and they're higher than my employer's expectations of me. My new company has literally rewarded me for doing good design work, but I still don't feel like I'm doing enough.

So I got to thinking: Where do I get these high expectations of myself from? How do I know what "great" design is, so that I can try to achieve it?

I think it comes from the industry I'm a part of, and more specifically the communities I have joined that represent that industry.

I follow lots of great designers on Twitter, and I'm part of an excellent Slack group. Because of these two communities, I see a lot of opinions/statements from great designers that give me a sense of what I should be doing. Statements like, "If you're not talking to your users, you're not a user experience designer". I just made that up, but it's not hard to find very similar statements by looking around a bit.

These statements put a flag in the sand that I can try to walk towards. It's not always easy - it might even be impossible depending on your employer/circumstances, but it gives you a direction. It lets me know how I should be improving, and means I can push myself to be a better designer even as my employer seems perfectly happy with my performance.

But there's a darker side here: Even if my employer is very happy with my design work, I'm not. Being consistently unhappy with your own performance is emotionally draining, unless you realise what's happening. I'm not sure how someone can protect themselves from this, but I feel better now that I'm aware it's happening.

This is also something that great designers should be aware of, if other people look up to them: Let those people know that they should improve in a certain way, but reassure them that the things they're doing well are making a positive difference, and that they should be happy with that.

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