Accepting Your Limitations as a Web Designer


With the sometimes-overwhelming number of tools, libraries and technologies out there, it’s impossible to know it all. Yet it also seems like those of us in the web design industry place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to keep up. It can lead to a feeling of being burned out and hopelessly behind.

The truth is that there’s only so much you can know. After all, you have clients to serve and a limited amount of time to dedicate to learning. Therefore, there are going to be some skills where you’re either not proficient or simply lacking.

This is one of the hardest things for many of us to accept. If you look around, you’re being bombarded with messages that you should know JavaScript like the back of your hand or how to crank out sites with a static CMS. If not, your career is apparently doomed.

Every one of us has our own limitations. So, how do we learn to accept it? How can we still thrive as designers and developers?

A Common Scenario

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in this situation. You’re working on a project and your client requests a new feature (never mind the scope creep for the moment). The feature requires a skill you aren’t so adept at – let’s say it’s writing some custom PHP.

Sure, you can do a little bit of coding here and there – but you’ve never taken on something this dense. You’re a little bit wary of saying yes, but you agree to do it.

You begin building the must-have feature and hope that you can learn as you go. While you do pick up on some of the concepts involved, you quickly realize that you are running into some roadblocks.

You’re spending precious time and resources trying to piece things together from tutorials and support sites. Meanwhile, your deadline is approaching. This is not a good feeling.

A woman hiding her face with her hands.

Finding a Better Approach

It’s likely that some version of this scenario has happened to most of us at one time or another. At first glance, it may seem like our lacking of a certain skill (PHP, in this case) is the culprit. But that’s not the whole story.

Sure, it would be nice to have a Jedi-like mastery of the language. But in our made-up plot, it’s just not in our skillset at this point in time. And by refusing to accept that fact, we put ourselves (and our client) into a tough spot.

If you’re a fan of sports or action movies, you know the narrative of the brave soul who takes a hit but comes back stronger. However, web design is neither of these things. While star athletes and action heroes can afford to spend endless amounts of time fighting their battles, we have other things to do.

So, while attempting to wing your way through this type of project sounds noble, it’s also counter-productive. Instead, there are a few things you can do that will be more effective in the long run:

Explain the Reality to Your Client

When it comes to client relations, honesty is the best policy. As such, having a frank discussion about your own limitations can be a bit freeing. Plus, it sets a realistic level of expectation with your client.

For the most part, clients tend to appreciate having some guidelines regarding what can and perhaps can’t be done (at least, not without some extra steps).

Make a Plan

Now, this doesn’t mean that your client doesn’t get what they want/need. That still has to happen. So, in your discussion, it’s important to have a plan for how that new feature gets implemented and what it will take to get there.

This could mean pushing the deadline back. The advantage here is that you have enough time to work through all of the potential roadblocks. Or, it might require hiring on an expert to help out (and bumping up the budget accordingly). That will save you the burden of having to figure it all out on your own.

Follow Through

As far our fictional client is concerned, the most important part of this whole scenario is the end result. How it happens is of little consequence.

So, by following through with the above process, we can satisfy their needs while avoiding a negative experience ourselves.

Instead, we’ve taken the step to acknowledge our limits and still found a way to facilitate a positive outcome. Even better, the world didn’t end just because there was something we didn’t quite know. Pretty cool, huh?

A woman breathing a sigh of relief.

It’s All About Perspective

The web design industry, and society itself, often look at limitations as some sort of massive flaw. As if to say, because we can’t do absolutely everything, that maybe we’re not worthy of an opportunity.

Both freelancers and agencies tend to perpetuate this myth by promising everything under the sun. The whole “we can do it all” narrative is great for marketing, but little else.

The reality is far different. Accepting it is the first step towards breaking free of the impossible standards placed upon us.