Hey designers, they're gaslighting you
Want “a seat at the table”? Then you need to prove your value. Justify your presence. Demonstrate impact.
At least, that’s the advice a lot of designers have received—and tried their best to follow. They’ve flexed their “managing up” muscles. Practiced convincing stakeholders and senior leaders. Created more slide decks than they can count.
Only to be told that they need to demonstrate even more impact for things to change.
This is gaslighting. It convinces designers that they’re the problem—that if they’re not getting the respect and visibility they want, it’s because they haven’t worked hard enough.
But the truth is, there’s no magic framework guaranteed to make your organization understand the value of design. If your organization’s incentives or CEO’s whims don’t align with good UX, then good UX won’t happen. No matter how good your slide decks are.
So instead of burning yourself out trying to win this game, what if you stopped playing? What if you rejected the idea that your job is to “justify” design’s presence or “prove” your value?
That’s what this talk is about. We’ll explore:
- The ways chronic invalidation and gaslighting harm designers—leading to burnout, career malaise, and even leaving the field entirely
- Why and how to stop tying your definition of success to whether your organization changes
- What changes when designers own their value—instead of continually trying to “prove” it
Sara Wachter-Boettcher is a coach, author, and speaker dedicated to changing design and tech for good. She’s the CEO of Active Voice, a leadership and professional development company that helps design and tech professionals step into their power, speak up for justice, and build more courageous leadership practices in their organizations.
Prior to launching Active Voice, Sara was a longtime content and UX consultant focused on responsible, inclusive design practices. She is also the author of three books: Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech, Design for Real Life (with Eric Meyer), and Content Everywhere.