Design Ego: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The Design Ego Paradox

What sets a Christopher Nolan film apart? Is it the sophisticated cameras he employs? His aversion to leaning on fancy effects, or maybe the generous budgets he receives from major studios? Countless Hollywood directors have comparable resources, yet few can match his caliber. My theory? It’s Mr. Nolan’s ego that propels him to unparalleled heights, specifically his design ego. This concept isn’t just about his artistic vision but also his drive to execute it. This blend of conviction and determination has led to his signature style – one that transcends technicalities and resonates with audiences worldwide.

However, design ego is like walking a tightrope. When we cast our attention on figures like Elon Musk, it’s clear that not every step is a breeze. A creative virtuoso in his own right, Musk isn’t immune to being both an inspiration and a “what-not-to-do” manual. His design ego has driven him to envision not only a world with electric vehicles but life on a different planet! Yet, his recent foray into acquiring Twitter – currently known as ‘X’ – has fallen squarely into the “what-not-to-do” column.

Design ego is the delicate interplay of a designer’s confidence, self-assurance, and attachment to their creative vision that shapes their approach to innovation and collaboration. This article delves into its multifaceted nature, showcasing how design ego can either elevate creativity’s course, or make a designer swerve off track.

Creative vision is not just dreaming; it’s the courage to bring those dreams to life.

The Power of Design Ego

A designer’s confident belief in their distinctive ideas fuels innovation, empowering them to push boundaries and challenge norms. This self-assured mindset proves particularly advantageous across various industries, including the highly competitive sectors of technology, entertainment, clothing and food. In environments saturated with choices, creating a lasting impact is a strategic advantage.

There’s examples of positive design ego all around us! When I reflect on my time in high school, I remember enjoying biology class simply because of my teacher’s personalized teaching style and his contagious passion for cells. Speaking of which, my experience in history class is on par with what I imagine being in a prison cell is like. I was convinced history could never be fun or interesting until I watched “Hamilton”.

The combination of hip hop and historical storytelling resembles the odd pairing of pineapple and pizza. Unconventional, yet so good! (Yes, I’m a pineapple on pizza advocate) This innovative blend used by Hamilton’s creators helped charge a resurgence in musical theater. The very same production which was rejected in its infancy grew into a genre-defying piece of art!

Here’s a great picture of a Hawaiian pizza instead of Hamilton (thanks copyright!)

The Pitfalls of Design Ego

Self-centered work can disconnect designs from their intended audience. When driven by their personal bias, designers might disregard the needs, preferences, and behaviors of users. This can make their solutions muddled, ineffective and unsuitable for user pain points – and then, would they even be solutions at all?

An unchecked design ego can blind designers to the value of empathetic design thinking and user research.

Take the launch of Windows 8 for example. Microsoft introduced a touch-optimized start screen with colorful tiles, which was meant to offer some competition to Android and IOS devices.

Some designers’ strong attachment to touch-controls left desktop users frustrated and isolated. On top of this, the $500 to $1200 price tags of Windows 8 hardware made it unattractive for Windows 7 users as it didn’t offer any significant improvements. Enterprises were hesitant to upgrade to Windows 8 as well due to its drastic changes and concerns about compatibility with existing software and systems. Microsoft later heeded feedback and reinstated the start menu in their next update.

While it’s simple to highlight Microsoft’s mistakes here, it’s worth recognizing their willingness to listen and adapt. It’s far more commonplace for corporations to stubbornly stick to their guns when things clearly aren’t working. Following the on-again, off-again nature of Windows rollouts, Microsoft fired back with Windows 10, bearing a design that removed most of the faults of Windows 8 and addressed the concerns of desktop users.

Unchecked design ego can also lead to a hoard of defense mechanisms as designers become overly attached to their own ideas and perspectives. These thought patterns can hinder innovation by preventing the exchange of diverse viewpoints and ideas within a design team.

Designers with overblown egos often miss out on the chance to tap into collective expertise by resisting input from colleagues. Thereby undermining the potential for refining and enhancing their work through collaborative brainstorming and problem-solving.

This kind of “Us” vs “Them” mentality, which is widespread in corporations, can create a rift. In this scenario, designers rejecting feedback become isolated from other teams, resulting in internal conflicts. Additionally, prioritizing subjective design conflicts over objective product improvements can impede the user-centric enhancements a product needs. Excessive resistance to constructive feedback further disrupts product cycles and leads to unnecessary delays.

Collaboration allows us to know more than we are capable of knowing by ourselves.

Striking a Balance

Trying to juggle both sides of design ego can feel like a circus act. One of the main keys to balancing the force is having a firm emotional foundation. Designers need the assurance that their self-worth is not determined by their last project’s success or failure – regardless of what they feel at the time. It’s more reliable and healthy to build designers up through continuous improvement of skills and knowledge. Proactively pushing for feedback bolsters the entire team, and leads to constructive avenues for growth.

Collaboration tactics, such as anonymous brainstorming add depth to the design process. By removing personal biases, we create a level playing field where ideas shine based on their merit and the best concepts take center stage. This gives room for a strong design ego to form through productive collaboration, but also allows for open idea sharing, and informed decision-making. A well balanced creative mindset reduces conflicts, cultivates trust, encourages innovation, and nurtures a harmonious environment for diverse perspectives.

“Design should never say, ‘Look at me.’ It should always say, ‘Look at this.'”
— David Craib

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Gcinizwi Dlamini Avatar

Gcinizwi Dlamini / Content Writing Intern @ Phase

Writer, part time super-hero and mint chocolate ice cream advocate.