The Grumpy Designer’s Cure for Massive Expectations

Ever since the beginning of time (or the mid-1990s), much has been expected of web designers. In those early days, we were not only focused on learning HTML, but mastering graphic design as well. There weren’t a lot of official learning paths. Thus, our skills were often developed on the job.

What’s changed? Well, we still need to know HTML and graphics. Oh, along with CSS, JavaScript, MySQL, PHP, responsive design, accessibility best practices and how a Tesla works. If there’s time left over, it might also be useful to know SEO and social media, too.

As if that weren’t enough, there’s the whole issue of dealing with clients. We’re expected to soothe the panicky ones, teach the technophobes and resolve issues surrounding design politics. It seems we’re stuck in a dimension somewhere between rocket scientist and United Nations ambassador.

The pressure can be overwhelming – especially for solo freelancers. With limited time and resources, there are only so many fires we can put out and so much knowledge we can inhale.

This grumpy designer has had enough! It’s time for web designers to take back control over these massive (and unrealistic) expectations. The following is my plan to help you do it.

Find Your Niche and Stick with It

Attempting to be a knower of all things is a road to nowhere. Perhaps that’s why web design has become an increasingly specialized field.

However, most of us don’t start out with a niche. It can take years to discover the tools, languages, and market segments that you prefer. Once you find those things, hold onto them and build your career with them in mind.

It sounds simple, but can be a difficult thing to put into practice. Sometimes it’s a matter of a client requesting services you don’t offer. You cave in and manage their Facebook page because you want to please them. Or you take on their side project that utilizes technology you aren’t interested in.

On the other hand, a slow time in your business can tempt you to cross over to the dark side. If you have to suffer through an SEO optimization project to put food on the table, so be it.

Yet, it can also be freeing to tell someone, “Sorry, I don’t do that…”. It lets you focus on the things you do best. Aim for that place if at all possible.

A laptop computer displaying code.

Assemble a List of Expert Colleagues

Sometimes we confuse a willingness to take punishment as strength. But you know what strength really is? Understanding your limitations as a human being and a web designer. The truth is that all of us need some help managing sky-high expectations. A way to lift some of that burden off of our backs.

One of the best ways to do that is by having a network of people you can refer clients to. Trustworthy experts who handle the things you don’t. Whether that’s SEO or logo creation, it saves you from even thinking about dealing with projects you aren’t interested in.

Where do you find such people? It requires a little bit of networking. The good news is that you don’t have to attend in-person events, unless that’s your thing. Getting to know other professionals via social media works just as well.

The point is in accepting that there are some things you don’t know – or don’t want to know. Developing a network of experts in these specialties removes a source of stress. Even better is that there is no guilt associated with leaving a client hanging. Refer them to the right person and it might even strengthen your relationship.

A group of people using computers.

Focus on What Matters to You

Much of the pressure on web designers comes from rapidly changing technologies. Keeping up with the latest JavaScript frameworks alone can drive you crazy. Throw in the constant evolution of tools like WordPress and “headless” configurations and you might as well give up.

It’s a never-ending battle. As soon as you get comfortable with a technology, it morphs into something different. And new tools are being released faster than a Ferrari. Somehow, we’re expected to understand it all and implement it into future projects.

Speaking of Ferrari, there are some things web designers have in common with the roadster. We’re both expected to move at breakneck speed. But we also have the ability to slow down.

We don’t have to obsess over the entire landscape of tech. Instead, maintain focus on items that actually matter. Doing so will narrow things down into a few core technologies. That should be much easier to manage.

In the case of JavaScript libraries, you certainly don’t need to know them all. Determine which one will help you do your job effectively. That’s a good place to focus your energy.

You don’t have to completely forget that a technology exists – but you don’t have to lose sleep over it, either.

A woman views a large selection of shoes.

Define Your Own Expectations

The way this grumpy designer sees it, we have just two choices when it comes to expectations. First, we can overwhelm ourselves by chasing down every buzzword that comes our way.

They’re often put out there by the “experts” who claim that our careers won’t add up to much if we’re not using x, y and z at this very moment. According to them, you may well have fallen behind in the time it takes to read this article.

The other, healthier choice is to think about what you want to achieve. What types of projects do you want to work on? How would you like your business to evolve?

Once you answer these types of questions, you can then define your own expectations. You’ll be instantly shielded from all the noise about what everyone else thinks you should do. The clarity it brings will lead you to make great use of your precious time.

No longer will you worry about the opinions of those who don’t even know you. Instead, you can keep busy while working towards your goals. For instance, I might just start saving up for that Ferrari…or at least a scale model of one.

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