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Thoughts on Measuring Success as a Designer or Developer

posted by Jeremy Carlson on Feb 19, 2011.

How do you measure success as a designer or developer? Is it all about the money, or are the other factors? In this guest post, Jeremy Carlson will consider a number of different factors that can be used to measure our levels of success.

Success—it’s one of those terms that we use all the time, and is something that most people are shooting for. After all, how many people do you know that don’t want to be successful in what they do? Probably very few, if any. But, what exactly is success? That is a more difficult question, and there is probably more than just a single answer! In this post, we’re going to take just a quick look at a few key metrics that could potentially be used to measure success in different ways.

We’ll also save the money question out of the equation until last. While it’s important and relevant, it may be just a bit too easy!

So, then, do you consider yourself successful in your career as a designer or developer? Personally, I could give you a different answer from day to day, and sometimes even from hour to hour! When my title became Senior Web Developer, I thought that marked my clear transition onto the plateau of success. Today, I still tend to think of myself as successful, but now I measure things differently, and it has little, if anything, to do with money.

The amount that I have learned during the past year is my main standard of measurement now. If I can say that I added a skill, or improved greatly in one I already have knowledge of, then I feel I have been successful. In 2009, I taught myself basic jQuery, which helped a great deal in what I was able to accomplish at work, or provide my freelance clients. Last year, it was Sass and Compass, which made me write tighter and better CSS. What I learn or advance in the coming months will determine how I measure my own worth for 2011. What do you use to determine if you are successful? Here are some areas to consider.


Ever have moments where you open a project you worked on a year ago and thought, “I’m such an idiot?!” I certainly have, and I really think that people who don’t have those moments in their day-to-day life make may have chosen to go into the wrong field. I actually start to worry that I’m not learning anything if I don’t have one of those eye rolling days.

This is important because meaningful growth in knowledge is one of them is one of the key ways of measuring your own success!

It doesn’t really matter in what area it is either. It could be realizing you could write some bit of jQuery tighter, or using less lines of CSS, or how to accomplish something in Photoshop better than you did before. Maybe you learned how to cure your case of ‘divititis’ (or at least reduce the symptoms). When you start to add up all the little things you can do more efficiently, you end up with a much bigger chunk than you thought. Measuring success sometimes means realizing you were an idiot before, and have corrected that weakness.

Having those moments of acknowledging the weaknesses of your past work is also an important factor in measuring your success in terms of knowledge, because it means that you have grown and matured. Whether it’s in the details of a design or in the logic of a block of code, the very recognition itself is generally a testament to expanded knowledge and having learned a better way of doing things! So don’t beat yourself up over those feel-like-an-idiot moments. They are markers of success!

Respect From Your Peers

I don’t know about you, but there seems to be a direct correlation between how much I read and how stupid I feel. I know that I will never know as much as I want to, and I imagine that there are plenty of us that probably feel that way. However, there was one simple thing happened not that long ago that changed the way I look at how successful I am in web development and design. I was told by a fellow co-worker that the reason they had learned so much was because of me.

Wow! Besides feeling amazingly awesome, it was a turning point in my own measure of success.

Gaining respect from your peers doesn’t come easy. It is probably one of the hardest things to earn, and when it happens, you will most likely realize you have had it for longer than you thought. Maybe it comes from comments on your blog, or colleagues asking you how to do something or for your opinion, but however you get it, it is the greatest gauge for knowing if you are successful.

And Yes, The Money

Alright, it’s true. Money can also be used as part of how we measure success. I’m not sure what web designers and developers are charging when first starting out these days, because I am at the ripe old age of 36 (older than dirt in this field). It’s still probably extremely low, and you need those projects to build your portfolio and hone your skills. On top of that, no one wants to pay higher prices for someone with little to no experience. It takes a while though to be able to gain the confidence and the skill to be able to demand top dollar.

Unless you need the money, I think it’s fair to say that when you start being able to choose which clients to work with or turn down, you’ve probably reached a certain level of success in this field. It is even easier to judge if you actually have too much work, or are having to turn down projects or direct them to other designers or developers in your network. It means that you’ve built a reputation for excellence at some level, and people really want to work with you!

Of course, if you are working for a company rather than flying freelance, then it’s a little harder to tell. Personally, I have a very tough time using money as a gauge for my own success, as I am salaried and don’t have much of an idea as to what others are making while doing the same thing I do, which is why I go by my knowledge growth and the respect I’ve earned.

Final Thoughts

Just because you think you are successful in the web design or developer field doesn’t mean that you are finished. The great thing about doing what we do is that you are never done. Someone always knows more, designs better, codes better, and that very fact should make you strive to do better yourself. There will never be a point for me where I say I’ve made it, because there is so much more I want to learn.

I think if you love working on the web as much as I do, you’ll feel the same way.

Judging your success by money alone is very hard, sometimes even depressing, and something I struggled with for a long time. Sometimes, it can feel like something as simple as raising rates might just seem like trying to grab more money from clients. However, when we start changing the way we measure success to include things like our level of knowledge and the respect of our peers, I think a funny thing starts to happen. It actually became easier to increase rates, because we’re basing them on the value we see in our own work, rather than on an arbitrary figure that we feel we need to survive.

In a way, then, perhaps the best way to measure success by money is to realize that we reach the more meaningful and profound levels of success when money is no longer the issue. Just something to think about!

There are many ways to judge how well you are in web development and design than I listed here. What gauge do you use to determine if you are successful?

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About the Author

Jeremy Carlson Jeremy Carlson is a developer/designer that started out in print design, but once he made the jump to the web, he never looked back. He loves staying up late learning the latest techniques in CSS, Sass, jQuery, and WordPress.

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Feb 19, 2011

Dave says:

These are all valid point. I totally agree with the knowledge part.

I also measure my success by how much repeat business I get. I think the fact that someone chooses to work with me again and again shows I’m doing something right.

Feb 20, 2011

Usman Bashir says:

One can say a lot but simply put I agree with everything said in this article from my own personal experience but I use one additional measure to judge my success and that is the impact of my work on the world in general be it small or large even though it makes it that much harder to mean anything.

Feb 21, 2011

Daquan Wright says:

When I first started out messing with the web, I was 13/14. I eventually took a HTML class and began learning (I even asked if I could use CSS in my HTML document!).

Knowledge is first and foremost important to me. With it, I have the power to help and teach others (which I plan on doing once my blog is up). But I’ll also use that knowledge to earn revenue.

Knowledge and being successful with clients would be my gauge of success (though I only want to freelance part-time). The web fascinated me and I’ve decided to dedicate my life to learning the web inside and out (primarily front-end/back-end development). I wouldn’t mind writing a notepad one day or a browser even. :)

Feb 21, 2011

Jeremy Carlson says:

“The impact of my work on the world…” is a good one, though mine have been small. I felt I was doing very well with my blog when I received comments from certain people, like Nathan Weizenbaum, the lead designer of Sass. I’m not getting huge recognition, but when someone I respect in the field takes notice, then I really feel like I have done something worthwhile.

Feb 21, 2011

Matthew Croucher says:

That’s it for me too Jeremy. Respect from your peers for me so far at least, has to be the biggest measure of success.
When the director of the 30 something strong agency you work at comes to you and thanks you personally for the good and hard work you’ve been doing, it makes you feel like it was all worth while. Like I said, for me anyway. If you’re passionate about designing or developing, you’re doing it because you love it right? So everything else that comes with it is just a bonus, but a simple thanks lets you know you’re on the right track.

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