The Difference Between You and the Design Gods

April 14, 2009

Posted in Design and Web Industry.

Why aren’t you invited as a keynote speaker at the top design conferences? Why aren’t the biggest design firms falling all over themselves to hire you at exorbitant prices? Why don’t you charge $500/hour for your time? How many interview requests do you get each week?

There’s only one “best in the world” and you’re probably not it. So where do you fall? On a scale from zero to 100:



No talent, not even an ounce of ability. Couldn’t draw a pixel except by sneezing and a fortunate click of the mouse in MS Paint. Let’s assume that you’re well beyond this level. It takes all of an hour to move out of this level.


These are the starters. Maybe self-taught, maybe a student or an intern or just lucky to get a job in the field. Chances are, a novice isn’t doing this full time yet. This level can take days, weeks, or years depending on how much effort one puts in before moving up.


On a normal curve, most fall in this range. But the range is wide, and the prices are all over the place. You can pay $150/hour for a poor professional, or you can find a good pro for $30/hour. It’s amazing. Within this range, it’s also very difficult to identify a good designer from a bad one. This is a good area to find yourself, but it takes some serious work to move up: find a mentor, start a blog, collaborate on projects, and seek out projects that will let you do them well.


What makes an expert? Attention to detail. Ability to understand the meaning behind the pretty pictures: marketing, communications, user experience, etc. It takes a lot of work and experience to get to this level. And that commands a price. But be careful about judging skill solely on price – business acumen also helps drive price up, so a talented businessman with professional design skills can look a lot like an expert.

Design Gods

These are the select few that will be remembered by the rest. There are no corners cut. Decisions are backed up not by force of personality but by research, experience, and measurement. But it’s hard to know whether this status comes from celebrity – blogging, public speaking, high profile projects – or talent. I believe that great ability should be judged by achievements, not promotion or branding. We may not know the names of the brilliant designers behind some of the products we use, but we’ll remember their work for many years to come.

Where are you?

Which of these are you? Where do you fall on the scale?

Recently, oAk, Jim Gosz, and I were discussing our weekly usability testing program. Someone made the comment that this is the kind of thing that separates the top designers from the rest. Why is this placed here? What makes this more effective? Do we know or are we just guessing? It’s an important step: are you humble enough to admit that you don’t really know the answer and look for ways to find the best solution?