Updated: Jan 18, 2022
I’m going to be honest, this is a big one. I am sure if you are like me then whenever you browse Dribbble/Behance you get a sense that everyone is a great designer except you. You marvel at the creations which seem out of this world and curse yourself when you are going to reach that level.
Imposter syndrome seems to be a trendy term I see these days and it’s something that I go back and forth in-between, especially when I encounter new situations.
The truth is, designers often can feel like an imposter much of the time. Everyone seems to be an expert besides you. Dr Valerie Young, has classified imposter syndrome into five types: the Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert.
In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr Young shares her decades of research studying phony feelings among high achievers.
If you’re just starting out as a new designer, chances are you’re probably feeling some type of imposter syndrome. Beginning any new career is scary, and there’s always a learning curve, but it can be especially nerve-wracking for those in creative fields where there isn’t really a right answer to anything.
Read through these five categories to see which type of imposter syndrome resonates most with you, and then read on for some tips about how to overcome imposter syndrome.
5 Types of Imposter Syndrome
1. The Perfectionist
The Perfectionist is focused primarily on the “how.” How something gets done and how it turns out can cause major hangups for the perfectionist. This type of imposter syndrome often causes excessively high goal setting that is simply unattainable.
For the perfectionist, 99/100, an A-, or a near-perfect performance report with one slight critique, is a failure. To use another colloquialism, this type can usually be classified (often by themselves) as a control freak. They have a tendency to ruminate on feedback, and even once they feel that success has been achieved, it’s rarely satisfying.
As a designer, the only way to improve the effectiveness of your designs is to always be seeking quality design feedback. So if you identify as a Perfectionist, it’s time to take action.
2. The Superwoman/man
The Superwoman or Superman focuses on “how many.” How many roles, relationships, and projects they can juggle is directly tied to their self-worth. This can be harmful—both to themselves, and to the people around them.
Superbeings tend to think of themselves as phonies standing next to the real deal. They often focus on quantity over quality, and eventually that comes to light, hurting their cause in the long run. These people tend to be addicted to the external validation that work provides, and not actually to the work itself.
3. The Natural Genius
The Natural Genius is inclined to spotlight the “how and when”. This type of person tends to think that everything should be handled with ease and speed, and if it’s not, then they’re not talented.
If a product is not perfect on the first try, the Natural Genius will likely toss it aside in favor of something that comes to them much more easily. These people don’t value the struggle of mastering a new skill.
Design is all about failing: testing, learning, and iterating. So if you’re a Natural Genius type trying to become a designer, it’s important to realize that early on, and work to overcome it.
4. The Soloist
The Soloist cares mostly about the “who.” And the who, is almost always, them. Often considering themselves to be a lone wolf, the Soloist has a hard time asking for help.
These types of people often reject the mentor/mentee relationship dynamic, which can be detrimental to their learning journey. Because of the Soloist’s need to always do things on their own, they tend to neglect their own needs in favor of taking on too much at work or home.
Soloist types should remember that no man is an island when it comes to learning and growing, especially in the design field, where collaboration is key.
5. The Expert
The Expert’s main focus is on “what and how much” one can know or do. Their biggest fear is being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. The Expert is like the knowledge version of a perfectionist where even a minor lack of knowledge means failure.
In a field like design, where tools are constantly changing and improving, Expert types should take note and be kind to themselves when they don’t (yet) know something.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Always strive for small increments of improvement.
The next step is owning your successes and take them in stride. We are always going to need to improve somewhere, but if something awesome happens like a presentation went well overall, don’t just think about the downfalls and what you could have done better. Celebrate those small wins and be more aware of them so you can leverage them in future presentations.
The reason why imposter syndrome happens is because we downplay these moments with what we could have done better. This feeling can hinder you from improving yourself or it causes you to work overwhelmingly hard without giving yourself time to ruminate on what happened and be intentional with how you want to improve.