You know your design skills are up to par. From web layouts to UIs, you consistently impress teammates and clients alike. You’re a true web design maverick. But in the modern work environment, you also have to be a manager – regardless whether you’re responsible for anyone else or not.
Even if you aren’t your own boss, chances are, you’re one of just a few designers in your office – many firms only employ a single designer, or a small team of them. And while it’s nice that you can work your way up the ranks relatively quickly, your forward progress also depends on how well you can manage your own career development. Prove your work has value, and it’s more likely that employers and clients will recognize your overall worth. That means, however, that you may need to have to examine yourself more closely than you have in the past.
In short? It pays to be self-critical. To help you get started, we’ve developed a few tips on how designers can provide their own year-end performance reviews at the end of the year. We’ll cover some common self-review standards, and discuss how designers can use self-assessments to further their personal and professional development.
Why Do A Self-Assessment?
Self-reviewing can do a lot for web designers. All great artists, engineers and makers critique themselves, and improving on past mistakes is a major component of successful training. By examining what you’ve been doing well and what you could have done better during the past year, you gain insight into how you can improve and grow.
It builds your skill set
After you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, you can afford to be selective about the skills you choose to develop. If you’re completely unaware of what you need to do to develop, however, you’ll never know what kind of training and improvement you should undertake – and you’ll waste time and money trying things that don’t really work. Self-reviewing gives you a rudder for steering your career forward, and promotes more intelligent professional development.
You might learn something about communication
The jobs you completearen’t just exchanges of your work in return for compensation. They’re relationships created – between you and a client, or a supervisor, or a team. Use your self-assessment to learn more about these relationships and interactions, so they don’t act as roadblocks in the future.
Designers often overlook the communicative, interactive aspects of their profession. But being able to guide a client or work with a team is an art form in itself, and it impacts how successful you can ultimately be. You need to know how to help those you work with develop ideas, help clients make concepts more concrete, and inject your own design sense into projects, among other things. If you’re not already evaluating yourself on communication skills, you’re way behind the curve.
Self-assessment teaches us how to work more efficiently
Time isn’t always money. Designers can’t simply log hours to get paid – they have to produce greatprojects, respond to feedback, and grow along with their work. The problem? You can only do so much in the time you have.
It earns you leverage
Self-reviews aren’t just good for personal development. You can also use them to justify career advancements, from promotions to raises. Say your direct supervisor knows absolutely nothing about the PHP code that ensures your company’s shopping cart works. Those subtle coding tweaks you’ve been making to cut down on wait times and deliver a more positive user experience aren’t going to be worth much if you can’t prove that they actually resulted in profitability gains.
If, however, you include verifiable statistics in your self-reviews, you’ll find that it gets you bargaining power. When you can demonstrate that the work you do generates actual returns, it’s a lot easier to prove your worth – especially when it comes to getting a promotion or upping your salary.
Choose Legitimate Criteria
Your review won’t mean much if you don’t go about it in a legitimate way. Choose self-review criteria that give the process authenticity and legitimacy.
Remember that your code, layouts and typography have artistic merit and intellectual worth apart from their commercial value. And while you should definitely evaluate what you do based on the joy it brings you, this is completely separate from the compensation, references or other career effects it affords.
Choose evaluation criteria with a focus on:
- Things you can numerically quantify, like the number of client projects you oversaw or the changes in web sales following an idea you implemented.
- Profits you contributed to, such as paid project fees. Don’t be afraid to crack open a spreadsheet.
- Twitter followers, Facebook likes, or other social contributions, including mentions in professional communities or design blogs, that attract attention and buzz for your company.
- Projects or initiatives that helped enact real change in your organization.
- Feedback from clients, team members, and other peers. Consider both written reviews and informal comments.
- Time you lost, misused or wasted, or projects that missed the mark. Be honest about your shortcomings – assessments that leave them out aren’t effective.
Implement Performance Metrics
Take your criteria, and create a numerical scale to evaluate how you’ve done over the past 12 months. You don’t have to take up accounting or linear algebra, but make it easy to chart your progress visually using a spreadsheet or similar application.
If you’re having trouble getting your bearings with time tracking or spreadsheets, there are plenty of options available. Microsoft Office, Asana, Trello and a host of other paid, free and mobile-ready apps make it easy to get started.
Remember that simplicity is your overall goal. If you have to do a lot of work to track your performance, it will be much harder to keep up the habit. No matter what kind of planner you feel comfortable using, simply integrate it into your routine to get a better, more objective read on your productivity and performance.
Gauge the Quality of What You Produce
Take into account feedback from supervisors and clients about final products. If you don’t already, send out follow-up emails after projects or keep track of the customer satisfaction surveys your company already performs. When working for supervisors who have a lot on their plates, it may be helpful to document their informal responses to your output.
Another way to assess client satisfaction and the quality of your work? Noting how long it lasted after you created it. We’ve all toiled over a project only to have a client decide they wanted a completely different design after only a few weeks. Could the way you did the work have something to do with its lifespan? As a professional, it’s important to assess the long-term utility of your work as well as its short-term impact.
Solicit Unbiased Critiques
Design forums, online magazines and other community resources are all valuable sources of information and assessment. You don’t have to completely change your technique to satisfy the whims of someone on the Internet, of course, but you can learn something positive by posting your content and asking for feedback oncommunities like Behance, Cargo Collective, Dribbble and Coroflot.
Asking people to critique your work can be an ordeal, especially if you’re not prepared for the responses you receive. While it’s usually fine to post a design to a forum like Reddit’s /r/web_design with a general critique tag and a brief note introducing the project, you may find it helpful to solicit a more focused response.
For example, if you’ve created a functional web portal UI, you can specifically ask people to comment on that aspect of the design. Letting people know what the original project goals or terms were is a good way to gain an objective perspective on whether or not you hit the mark. Actively seeking out critique of your own work will also be a selling point for managers and employers.
Plumb the Depths of the Zeitgeist
If you haven’t been keeping up with recenttrends in the design world, taking a moment to catch up may help provide context for your work. Again, you don’t need to sacrifice your personal style for the sake of trends, but it can help to learn where your creations stand in comparison to what else is out there. This can also provide you with valuable inspiration. Be sure to check out blogs like but does it float?, Design Work Life, it’s designed, The Ministry of Type, Little Big Details, ux movement, Smashing Magazine, and, of course, Instant Shift.
The Actual Evaluation
Now that you’ve come up with criteria and some kind of grading system, put them to good use. Evaluate your performance in each area, making sure to note how different jobs, tasks or projects you undertook had an impact on your performance.
Remember to formalize your review process by keeping records. While you may be the only person who ever sees this documentation, it can serve as a vital reference later on. Review records are especially important for those whose career paths eventually change or follow unconventional courses. Say you end up becoming a freelancer while you’re between jobs. Although keeping an eye on the money you make is a smart way to track your productivity, having a formal self-review record to reference can also help. Designers often juggle more than one duty, handling code, visual web layouts, logos and other branding elements interchangeably. Keep review records that let you determine which of your many career responsibilities are the most lucrative.
Finally, when creating records, always include comprehensive notes.Be certain to annotate references to supervisor reviews, live projects and other examples of your work. These links can give your review more weight, should you need to pass it on to an employer. And, if you’ve got them all in one place, they’re easier to insert into a resume or portfolio.
The Final Hurdle
Evaluating yourself critically and impartially is tough for anyone – designers included. Maintaining an impersonal attitude is the only way to get over your apprehension about reviewing your work and actually start evaluating yourself constructively.
Find a dispassionate middle ground, and judge yourself as accurately as possible – without ignoring problems or beating yourself up over past errors. Remember that mistakes are only mistakes until you correct them. Biting the bullet and assessing yourself accurately and effectively is the best way to start.
Already performing your own year-end reviews? Let us know about your techniques in the comments.
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