It's hard to own and take responsibility for something that isn't yours. The more experience I get in this industry, the more I run into this truth. And the more I struggle with it. It's a hard reality, but young designers rarely get to design anything of their own, unless you work in an extremely small office. The larger the firm and project size, the smaller your chances are of having independent work. On massive, multi million dollar projects with multiple project team members...adult supervision is obviously necessary. For the most part, this is a good thing. It fosters a mentoring relationship and acts as a safety net to catch the mistakes that inexperience can let slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, sometimes this relationship can turn sour. It usually happens around the first deadline when everyone is scrambling and quick decisions have to be made. At this point, what was once a collaboration becomes a dictatorship. Depending on the senior designer, it is no longer your job to help make decisions, it is your job to do what you're told. Most managers feel that this is far more efficient...and I kind of agree, but only up to a point.
I recognize this experience might not apply to all designers, but for those who are in this position every day...this is for you.
It's a hard and frustrating place to be. I have sat through meetings, done the research, brainstormed, and drafted designs that I think will meet the client's needs just to have them shut down by someone who has barely dipped their toes in the project. I have felt passionately about a project direction, and been told it is not what the client wants, even though I was on the same conference call and heard each request directly. The thing is, there are a lot of ways to interpret a list of needs, and there are a lot of good solutions to the same problem. Some people remember this, and some think that their personal preference is universal design truth. It's tricky.
When you are told "no" over and over again, it's really easy to throw your hands up and say "Fine, have it your way" and shut down. When you have no idea why decisions are being made it's so tempting to just do what you're told and nothing more. But this is absolutely the wrong attitude to have. I know, because I have fallen into it before, and that's when I make the most mistakes. In times where you feel strongly that a project is headed in a bad direction, you have two options: 1) You can speak up and run the risk of being rejected again, or 2) You can go down with the ship. Either way, jumping ship is not an option.
And that's why project ownership so hard. The people who are good at what they do give 100% no matter what. Even when they think they completely disagree with a design choice made by someone else. I have found that when I feel like my voice isn't being heard, I am more likely to stop caring as much and miss details because I don't feel like I have a stake in the outcome. This is completely unacceptable. Especially when you consider that lousy work will only make a bad design worse...and make the whole company look bad.
My light bulb moment came when I was marking up a presentation with a senior designer and found several mistakes that I should have caught on my own. While she was graciously explaining to me how it fix it I was sitting there thinking "Come on Claire, you know better than this. Get your act together." I wish I could say that from that moment on, I never fell into old habits, but I would be lying. It has been a constant battle between doing what I want to do, and what is right ever since.
So this is my advice to young designers who struggle with this too: detach yourself from emotions enough to do your best work, but don't forget your convictions completely. If you have put a lot of thought into a design solution and have the reasoning to back it up, never let someone who dismisses your work at a glance make you question your worth as a designer. You know why you made the choices you did, so hold on to that. Their personal preferences are not universal design truth.
However, at the end of the day, you are still going to have to do what they say and figure out a way to be passionate about it. Try to appreciate that there are a lot of good ways to do things, and learn what you can from their design solution. Set aside the pride you didn't realize you had. Catch yourself when you feel like throwing your hands up and saying "Fine, have it your way." When you feel like shutting off the idea generating part of your brain and going into "bare minimum" mode, try to view your part of the project as your main objective. You might have lost the ability to shape the design, but you are still in control of how it is presented. Make it your goal to produce quality work, even if the design being presented isn't your favorite.
I'm not saying it's easy. Remember, we are paying our dues just like our boss did, and if we do good work now, we will be able to call the shots someday. And when we do, we will be able to remember what it's like to be at the beginning, and give grace to the young designers that are in the same place.