Question of the Week: My non-designer boss thinks I suck!

This question of the week by reader Jane is delayed, in fact much delayed. Apologies as I have been caught up with work! She writes:

I’ve been working at a product design company for almost a year and a half. Meeting new friends, colleagues, clients, manufacturer and people from different walks of life has been so fun and it has certainly kept me going for so long. Notice I did not mention my boss at all, well he does not have a design background.
Recently he seems to be learning more about design, as a result he starts getting all philosophical on me. Saying things like with a great concept, the design will follow. But still he knows nothing about design and worst he is demoralizing, saying that my work is ugly or Ii do not have any design sense. With him constantly criticizing my work, I am slowly losing passion in what I love and feel like quiting this job.
This is a complete opposite of what my lecturers say about me in my current design school. The lecturers mostly love my work. I’m currently taking a one year degree course and I’m still in the midst of my studies.
I don’t know how to confront my boss regarding this issue and he is a typical egoist who always thinks he is right. He takes design lightly and is always negative about the work i do. Even if i do my work well he doesn’t give me credit for it. Sigh.

First off, I like to thank Jane for letting me share her story with all of us. I think it is very relevant as many industrial designers do not have an opportunity to work in studio environments. Many of us will find ourselves one time or another working in marketing and engineering departments or businesses.
There are two ways of looking at this situation. On one hand you could adopt the position that anybody can become a “manager” if you work in a place long enough. This implies that there is very little merit required in getting into a managerial position. Another way you can look at this is designers are often too quick to blame other people for not “getting” what they do.
Jane, I can’t really comment on your design capability or ability, but I will assume you have got what it takes. So if your manager is truly a jackass then there is not much you can do except plan your exit strategy. However do consider this; have you done everything in your role as a designer to communicate the benefits of your design or your design intent in a language your manager can understand?
Sorry for being cliché but it does “take two hands to clap”. The biggest problem for industrial designers working in non-design environments is bridging this “language gap”. Once you can do it, it gets a lot easier. How to do it is worthy of a book that I am planning to write, and my best advice is for you at this time is to subscribe to Design Sojourn!

  • Marya

    October 1, 2010 at 7:54 pm Reply

    as a non-designer interacting with designers I’d like to add some notes on the very imprtant aspect of communication.
    I’ve met designers who are excellent communicators – they have the ability to explain the thinking behind their designs in a way understandable to professionals of other disciplines. They also have the ability to listen to and respect reasoning suggested by other disiplines, and thus engage in an appreciative dialogue.
    And then I’ve met designers whose main messages are in the lines of “This is good because I am a designer and I know how to do it”, or “You are wrong because that is not design thinking…”, and even “…because you are not a designer”. I am sorry to say they make design sound another consultancy fad or cult, without actual substance and content. And what damage they do to the reputation of all the good and skilled designers’ too.
    Actually, design is no different from other disciplines in this sense – you find both examples from any profession. And guess which ones get their work appreciated!

  • Paul

    January 28, 2009 at 4:20 pm Reply

    Yeah tough situation..
    I myself came from a consultancy background always working with like minded people. It was quite a shock when I moved into an in-house role and started working with people whose interests and paths have taken them to different disciplines. Design thinking and processes that I had taken for granted were totally new concepts for many of these people and trying to convince them/educate them can be very difficult task. Reading alot and building up a vocablulary to articulate some of these concepts and looking at the reasons behind them will help and the insights you gain from this in terms of design process/thinking will make you a better designer.
    I would say keep believing in yourself, work hard, keep learning, let your work do the talking and you will get noticed.

  • raghuraj ananthoj

    January 16, 2009 at 12:06 pm Reply

    Hi guys,
    I acknowledge all the things mentioned above by Rashid, Rutiso.
    Few tips for Jane:
    a small story again, I know this guy who was in a design school, none in the class would like him so much, so as to many different reasons he had during his school days possibly not financially strong as others, new place completely, unknown language,so he couldn’t mix with them. He went to school in the morning and worked in the evening at a place, did his homework in the night. This was his usual routine.
    The homework he did was not quite appreciated by the teachers, everyday he would make it and the teacher would say its JUST OK. But, deep inside this guy knew that he did the best among all( akinda my baby syndrome? may not be), but he believed his work was true and original. He didn’t try to convince his teacher and others. And the days passed still same critics he faced. finally during the exams, the teacher came to him and said,” you did the best among all, you really kept the things right all the time, you’re the best”.This guys today is doing good.
    the moral: Its a simple story i wrote above. there is one thing i want to mention always believe the work you do, do it with passion. The results would come when they would have to.
    and about the boss, leave him alone.u’re best judge for yourself, you know what to do.
    all d best ,

  • jane

    January 16, 2009 at 12:06 am Reply

    thanks guys for the great advice. I definitely agree with what you guys mentioned. Its about the presentation to convince others, it has been tedious and somewhat painful, but i guess eventually i did come out as a stronger person.

  • Rutiso

    January 15, 2009 at 6:53 pm Reply

    Like Rashid, I also know this situation. My old boss did almost the same. By the way, he assigned me … so there must have been a reason why. Never the less, sometimes he was asking me if I ever had studied or if I would know anything about design. That sucks and does not lead to a good product afterwards.
    I learned two things from it:
    a) I wasn’t that good I assumed I was … and reminded me of “learning” more on different topics to advance myself.
    b) You have to learn the language of presentation. If you present your work bad and without self confident you will alway loose the fight. Even if taste is nothing you can fight for.
    But there are possible solutions for it without leaving the job.
    Negotiation: Give a little – Take a little. If you offer to change here a bit and there a bit you might not have to kill your darlings.
    Explanation: Try to convice with the right arguments. If you can explain you design and the benefits of it … that’s half the rent.
    Knowing: Your work and your person are two different things. Sometimes you find yourself beeing attacked. Your work is a part of you. But you have to be able to stand back and look at it as if you are the client. That makes it easier for you and your boss more comprehensible.
    Everything takes time Jane. Don’t loose the fun and passion for your work. It won’t kill you, it just makes you stronger. Cheer up.

  • Rashid

    January 14, 2009 at 6:10 pm Reply

    Hi. Long time reader, first time poster.
    In response to Jace’s question, I think i do believe I have been in an almost similar situation. But i don’t think I’ll go as far saying that my boss suck. I think that with a lot managers that do not come from a design background, what they are probably are unaware of is the process that we as designers go through. It was quite frustrating to have to be able to explain everything that they don’t understand. What is worst is that it could just turn into plain nit-picking. And it wasn’t just my boss, sometimes the whole marketing department just don’t get it.
    What dawned on me was when my boss just decided to peer over my shoulder and asked what I was doing. It was then that I realized that it was easier to convince when that had seen some of the process such as paper mock ups, moodbaording or even just plain observational photos that would give insight.
    From then on, whenever I had to do a proposal, I would request for a bit of time to throw in some extras that would show them part of the process. And it worked like a charm after that. Though only they have the final say, at least they did not go about questioning my design ability. And all of these happened while I was just an intern. I hope you could imagine what it felt like to be presenting when you know that you’re only a small fry in the company.

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