12.18.15
Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Frightened in Fort Lauderdale

Dear Bonnie,

Have you ever been hired for a job that you felt you were underqualified for? What did you do?

Frightened in Fort Lauderdale


Dear F.,

Indubitably. 

First of all, I still feel incredibly lucky that anyone trusts me with any design project. And that feeling of gratefulness provides a constant drive to do better and better work so nobody will ever "find out the truth." Many people (and a disproportionate number of designers and artists) have some kind of imposter syndrome: the condition of not being able to really accept your accomplishments as your own. It’s somehow easier to chalk them up to external circumstances like luck or a really great client or a dream project where the perfect solution was baked in. Yes, we are still able to promote ourselves and sell our work, but it’s there, lurking under the surface.

But I know your question was actually about taking on a project for which you have little experience. And, yes I have done that too. I am a firm believer in the fact that design is a way of thinking. Everything else can be learned, even on the job, if you put your mind to it. I often also feel that it can be an advantage to be somewhat “underqualified,” in that you are going to look at it differently than someone who has done it before, or worse, done it a million times.

Maybe you were even hired for your freshness. You won’t bring the same assumptions to the problem which is a straight line to invention. You also don’t have stock fallback solutions (i.e. “let’s go with idea number 7 this time”). That said, the responsibility does fall on you to read everything you can online, ask everyone you know—and even people you don’t know—to walk you through the process, the pitfalls, and lessons learned in their experience. 

Being challenged and a little bit scared is a wonderful source of inspiration. We do our worst work when we feel like we know exactly what to do before we begin. The result often ends up being ho-hum. Then, if you are fortunate enough to be challenged by a client or forced to explain your thinking explicitly, the world can open up and you can see new opportunities in what you thought you knew. 

I say go for it. 

Just try to trust yourself and your client for hiring you.


Posted in: Dear Bonnie, Design Practice


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Bonnie Siegler Bonnie Siegler is an award-winning graphic designer. She is the founder of Eight and a Half, a multidisciplinary design studio based in New York, and before that, was the co-founder of Number Seventeen. She got her degree at Carnegie Mellon University, has taught in the graduate design programs at Yale University, RISD, and the School of Visual Arts and was the 2014 Koopman Distinguished Chair in the Visual Arts at the University of Hartford.

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