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Five Words To Build Your Design Credibility


Four of those five words compose a sentence. It was the most difficult thing I learned to say in my design & consulting career. As any creative designer or strategist will confirm, credibility matters. We’re in a profession where other professionals turn to you to have answers. If not ‘the’ answer. And yet, as I have only recently come to understand, when it comes to defending and building your credibility, the most powerful – and difficult – lesson is defined in four words: “I do not know”.


It feels contradictory. For me, and for the longest time, my concern was that I would lose credibility if I had no answer about something that I was perceived to know. When in truth, the exact opposite is happening. Forcing answers would actually undermine your credibility. Admitting to have no notion at that time will establish you as a person who is not afraid to speak the truth – even if that moment may reflect badly on you. It underscores the care you hold in the partnerships you manage with clients or colleagues, because you sacrifice ego over value. Coming up short with immediate, half-formed answers is the actual shortcut to loosing footing with peers and partners. Obviously, this “I do not know” needs to be completed with a plan and commitment to uncover the information or insights that are required. It is on that delivery that the chance is offered to hit the proverbial home run.

That one remaining word announces itself as an equally bad idea to the “I do not know” answer. But the strategic and timed use of it is very powerful. That one word is “No”.  Simply put, if you hold back on using your “No”, your “Yes” will never have power. A “No” will get more out of your time, out of your work and out of your professional life. I am not saying to be mean, rude nor lazy or ignorant. It is about devoting your talent and time to people, activities and feedback you truly care about. That should be people and activities that respect you. You do not want to be the guy or gal that does anything for anyone at anytime. It may elude you with the thought that people like you when you jump in. But that is only because they can get what they want for themselves out of you. You will be liked, sure, but not respected. The reality is that your “yes” here is taken for granted. It’s an after thought, a given. So much so, you lose position. In a way it is a twist in the rule of scarcity; you get appreciated – and listened to – more if your approval is that much harder to secure. An honest “No” will take you further than a willingly offered “Yes” ever will.

Using “I do not know” and “No” with value, honesty and respect in mind means you do not place yourself, or your project or talent, second by catering to things that are not in line with goals or happiness. It’s the only way to stay excited about your work, your job, your industry. Using it appropriately takes about the stress of having to deal with whatever it is you know does not ‘fit’ you. You will be a better and more credible designer, colleague, manager and friend for it.

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