Call me a designer, front end developer/designer, hybrid, design technologist, product designer, unicorn, anarchist…just don’t call me ridiculous. Things I’ve learned as a [insert title].
1) Titles are/aren’t meaningless
Titles in the design/technology industry are incredibly nebulous, misleading if not well-meaning, and ultimately up to the person with the title. My title doesn’t neatly encompass everything I do in my role. I believe titles to be important to a certain degree, only if it makes sense in your organization setup though. For instance, my current title at Aspire Ventures is “Interaction Designer”. I do a fair amount of interaction design for our web apps, but I do a sizable amount of front-end development to create production-ready code for our engineers. On top of that, our team is made up several other multi-disciplinary designers who all take part in developing brand identities and develop collateral for marketing strategies. We work closely with our engineering team to create code-first reusable design components to consistently deliver user interfaces that are built off of our established design principles. Furthermore…we do a ton of qualitative research and create personas and user stories to create better user experiences.
So… what the Hell do you call a person like this? Something as simple as “Designer” or something else? I don’t really have an answer. This is where the murky waters of titles become difficult to tread.
I believe titles are meaningless when you assign non-sensical experience levels to a title…like “Junior Designer” and “Mid Level Developer”. The only experience level title I would suggest would be using “Senior” or “Lead” as that denotes more of a leadership role than just the length of your tenure. I think for new people joining in this industry don’t need the title of “Junior” or “Mid Level”. Either you are a “Designer”, “Product Manager”, “Developer” or you are a “Senior” version of any title where it differentiates you as part of the management.
The most annoying and industry-sabotaging titles are the fanciful ones that use “Guru”, “Ninja”, “Sherpa”, “Master”, “Wizard” or the like. This is ridiculous and whoever thinks these are fun and meaningful are children. You don’t see companies listing opening for “Ninja CEO”.
2) Don’t assume anything
Ask questions about everything in any situation. The old adage “Assuming makes and ass out of you and me” is incredibly true. Whether you are creating a brand identity or working through user workflow, question and document everything that will help you achieve the goal, even if the item is common knowledge or seems trivial. It’s imperative that everyone involved is on the same page understanding the goals of what needs to be created. Without communication, everyone on the team will have a slightly different idea of what it is the team is trying to achieve. And when one person’s slightly different understanding is compared to other persons slightly different understanding, then you get confusion, wasted time, and the project can get off track.
Asking questions and documenting everything is the best way to help everyone involved accomplish the goal.
3) Don’t use ten words when five words would suffice.
Simplicity is key in everything we do. Whether it’s copywriting, marketing strategy, user workflows…you name it. Our minds are geared towards simple solutions, so it’s our job to distill down the massive amount of information and ideas to deliver an optimal solution. Recently, I went through a logo design review with another designer and the group of stakeholders. We presented two logo ideas to the group and the question was asked “What was the inspiration for this logo?” My colleague launched into a long diatribe of inspirations, marketing strategy, personality archetypes and random feedback from outside testing. Instantly, he overwhelmed the room and it all flew over their heads. Nothing of what he said made sense to the stakeholders. I jumped in quickly and gave them a thirty second backstory of what inspired us for our design direction and it made more sense. My colleague isn’t dumb by any means. He is incredibly intelligent and is a gifted designer who knows how to work. It was only his inexperience in dealing with people outside of the creative field that stopped him. I was just like this when I was coming up in the field and I learned some tried and tested methods that get my point across and get the action I need to move forward.
– Know your audience
– Understand their needs
– Balance giving enough information without overdoing it
– Have clear objectives to move things forward
This simple outline helps me with every instance where I need feedback.
4) Don’t follow your passion
It’s been said a million times. “Don’t work a day in your life if you follow your passion”. That’s bullshit. At the end of the day, work is work and work is hard at times. And it should be and that’s OK. I am not passionate about design. I love this kind of work and I am lucky to work in this field, but I am not passionate about design. Passion is personal and doesn’t always lead to a fruitful, success laden career. Find work you love doing and can continue to do. For me, it’s working in design and technology. But you know what I am passionate about? Role Playing Games, brewing, conservation, and Star Trek. I know that if I was to take my passion for brewing into a business, it would become work and that’s work I don’t necessarily want to do because work is different from passion. I would have to worry about all of the things that take me away from brewing like inventory, product supply, marketing, positioning….and all I want to do is fucking brew beer.
I fell into that whole movement of “follow your passion” and I stupidly lapped it up. I kept telling myself that design is a passion of mine and kept trying to ingrain that in me. What happened was I kind of lost my sight of what I really enjoyed and what were my real passions. After rethinking everything, I came to the conclusion that passion doesn’t always equal something that you’re good at or can turn into a career. Passion is like beliefs; inherently private matters. There are those people who can turn a passion into a career, but understand that they are no longer following a passion…they have turned a passion into something they can love doing while dealing with all of the ancillary issues that come with doing work. That’s a transformation and I believe that to be key in the whole follow your passion mantra that has been overlooked.
Design and technology is a love of mine. I want to further my education and acumen in my field and I am inspired and present in discussions about this field of work. The key thing is I can do the work associated with it (meetings, invoices, documentation, etc). When I am brewing beer…I’m in my garage, listening to metal and hanging with friends. Passions are self-serving, work is serving others.
I think another thing about passions is that you don’t even have to be any good at them either. Star Trek is a passion of mine, I really enjoy the stories and universe behind the TV shows, books and movies. Could I write a good Star Trek book? Maybe? Who knows? Do I want to? No. I am super passionate about art, specifically movie poster art. I can’t illustrate for beans. I can’t turn that passion into work, mostly because I don’t want to.
If you can turn a passion into work, understand that it has transformed into work you love and doesn’t fall back into the passion category.
5) Patience and Consistency are key
We all want recognition for our contributions and we want to move fast. There’s nothing wrong with wanting these things, it’s human nature. It’s part of our social structure to want success and recognition. The pursuit of those goals can be dangerous though. When you seek praise and look for status, it’s a self-serving goal that is at odds with how society works. We all know someone who out for themselves to be the best and let others know it. We all know someone who’s goal is to climb the ladder of recognition to reach new heights. These people have a self-sabotaging demeanor and fail to understand that praise and recognition are byproducts of your work. I knew this woman once who was new the design field and she was focused on becoming really good at her job. She sacrificed a lot of things in her social life to spend time at home working on herself and putting out great work. People recognized that and more opportunities were coming her way; be it job offers, freelance gigs or people talking about her and sharing that she was a great professional. When that recognition was attained, she switched gears and pursued greater and greater attention. That change in her focus was recognized by her peers and she was relegated off. She forgot what got her the recognition in the first place.
Consistency is important. It establishes your work ethic and your integrity. It shows you’re reliable and it helps to build your character. Patience can be seen as a tool. Patience serves you well by allowing you to think about what you want to do and aiming for it. You use your consistency towards that goal and you use your patience to your advantage to make your move. Say you’re looking for a promotion or eyeing a different opportunity that is a step up from your current role. Continue to build your skills and knowledge while still putting out the best work you can. Use your patience to your advantage the new skills and acumen that will aid you in asking for that promotion or opportunity and act. Patience doesn’t mean to take things slow and let life happen to you. Patience is the tool that allows you work towards something and allowing you to act at the most opportune time.