The Emotional Rollercoaster of Being a Web Designer


There are a ton of resources out there to help us learn web design. Whether you want to code like a master or create stunning graphics, the opportunity to sharpen your skills is just a few clicks away.

But being a web designer is so much more than just the technical side of things. Depending on your particular situation, it also requires business sense and the ability to work with others.

A career in web design can also be a serious challenge emotionally as well. It’s something we don’t really talk about, but maybe it’s time to start.

There Is No Shield

For many web designers (myself included), their interest in the field starts as a hobby. It’s about learning something new, experimenting and having fun. Maybe a few people see what you’ve created, or perhaps it’s strictly a personal project.

Making it a career out of it, however, takes things to a different level. Once you start putting your design and development work out into the world, any barriers to criticism suddenly go away.

Why? Because it’s no longer a hobby. You’re now being paid for your talents and are working with real-world clients (not to mention bosses). They’re apt to share constructive criticism and request changes – sometimes major ones. And, due to human nature, some people are much more skilled in this area than others.

This can act as a very rude wakeup call for a new designer. You’ve gone from creating something for the joy of it to now having your every choice closely scrutinized.

The result can be a feeling of frustration and a sinking confidence. It’s something that can take a toll on both your enjoyment and belief in what you’re doing.

A toy positioned under a shoe.

Project Peaks and Valleys

Finding a steady workload is a goal for many designers. But it can be hard to attain. What’s more likely are alternating cycles of feast and famine. In other words, you’re either too busy to sleep or bored out of your mind.

Both of these situations have their own emotional baggage. Being too busy is stressful and can feel overwhelming. Having too few projects in your queue can be scary in its own right. You may start to wonder if your business will survive.

Then there are the projects themselves. A highly-complex gig, or one that turns out to be completely different than you expected, brings its own rollercoaster of feelings.

In my experience, it only takes one of these to completely disrupt your carefully thought out plans. It can feel like you have a total lack of control. Then, there’s a mad rush to just get things done in order to move on to the next thing.

There’s a hard lesson to be learned. It turns out that, despite a lot of due diligence, projects often have a mind of their own. They aren’t nearly as predictable as we’d like and that can be difficult to deal with. That goes for procurement, scheduling and doing the actual work.

A rollercoaster.

The Weight of Being Responsible

Some web designers care for each site they manage like a baby. If that’s the case, then some of us could have dozens or even hundreds of “kids” to look after.

With this comes a great deal of responsibility. Keeping things running smoothly, ensuring accessibility, staying compatible with new technologies, training clients and managing content are just a few of the things we’re tasked with.

This can be a lot to put on a solo freelancer or even a small agency. Much like a doctor, it requires being on call at all odd hours. And not every client will be satisfied with waiting until the next day to fix a broken website.

Beyond that, great care has to be taken every step of the way. It feels bad enough when something beyond our control happens, but even worse when we’re the cause.

This is a burden that we don’t often think about when going into this business. But it is a challenge we’ll have to face at some point.

A large rock on a beach.

Learning to Deal

So, we’ve established that being a web designer can be a real nerve-wrecking experience. But the good news is that, over time, you can learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs. Here are a few tips for keeping your cool:

Plan Ahead…Even If It Doesn’t Always Work

Yes, plans tend to change. But the act of planning is still a worthwhile endeavor. The key is to prepare yourself while staying flexible.

When discussing project benchmarks and deadlines with clients, try not to speak in absolutes. Instead, start with a time range and a friendly reminder that there are some variables involved. Then, as you make progress, the picture may become that much clearer.

This won’t suit every client, but most should be willing to work with you on it. After all, it’s a bit more realistic than setting hard deadlines without knowing what the future holds.

Let Go of What You Can’t Control

Along with planning is the understanding that some things are just beyond your control. Sometimes, a client fails to hold up their end of the bargain. A trusted plugin could become a buggy nightmare. Aliens could steal your hard drive. Stuff happens.

Hopefully, experience will teach us that we can either grumble about the situation or move on to Plan B. Doing the latter is ultimately the more productive way to go.

Put the Project Ahead of the Personal

This may be the hardest thing of all. Why? Because it’s a bummer when a client or colleague doesn’t like something you’ve poured your heart and soul into. It’s difficult to not take that as a personal slight.

But it’s important to keep things in perspective. When you put your projects first, then criticism becomes a means to the desired end: success. If changing a font, color or even a whole layout is what it takes to make things work, then so be it.

That doesn’t mean you give up your right to make a valid argument in defense of your work. It’s just that the ultimate result is what you’re fighting for – not your ego.

Person balancing on a stone.

An Education in Emotions

Every job provides plenty of emotional experiences. Web design may be unique in that it can require us to both deal with the emotions of working on our own (like debugging code) and that of dealing with others (like providing customer support). You’re both in and out of a bubble.

Yet, it’s something that can take us by surprise. It’s a reality that forces us to adapt in order to stick around for the long term.

So, if you’re new to the industry, it’s worth taking a little time to consider the types of situations you might face and how they’ll make you feel. If you’ve been around for a while, think back to the emotional ups and downs and how they affected you.

Most importantly, realize that these emotions are all part of the experience. Learning to deal with them is just as vital as writing great code or crafting beautiful designs. They can all help to put you on the path to success.

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