Personal review: 2014 highlights & lessons learned

Indeed, 2014 yielded another awesome year of insightful conversations and productive engagements. I’m truly grateful to my friends & colleagues and peers within the broader UX/Design community. It is only through such relationships that I’ve made it this far ;-) With that, I want to briefly highlight top personal accomplishments and valuable lessons learned for 2014, to serve as inspiration for others in this field.


Top Accomplishments
What did I do this year? A few items of note:

* Left Citrix after nearly 5 years as Principal Designer, on perhaps the highest and sincerest of notes, having fulfilled almost everything I sought to accomplish: shaping design vision, affecting process & strategy, as well as influencing the emergence of a true design-driven culture, by partnering with some of the smartest executives in Silicon Valley I ever met. It was truly an honor and a privilege, with a lifetime of memories created. I couldn’t have asked for a better exit!

* Joined an enterprise startup as Director of UX, and rapidly accelerated the company into becoming a design-oriented place. In just over 6 months (with backing from VP of Engineering and the CEO) I helped define a visual design language, instill design rigor with principles and methods, and inspire a bold “Next Gen” vision for 2015. We also amplified our UX “intelligence” with critical hires, both contractors and full-time! The best is yet to come ;-)

* Got involved with Women’s Startup Lab, a fantastic organization dedicated to providing rigorous resources and training for women entrepreneurs aiming to make significant impacts in a variety of industries, not just “hi-tech”. Very honored to run a half-day UX Workshop and begin serving as a mentor/advisor via “office hours” on UX issues, for these amazing women!

* More engagement with Kleiner Perkins Design Council, via John Maeda and his periodic “Dim Sum” gatherings locally and online. This has led to publishing articles on Medium as well as participating on short panels, which has been fascinating to hear a variety of perspectives from several new design friends!

<< Big thanks to my friends & colleagues at Citrix, CloudPhysics, Women’s Startup Lab, and John Maeda himself for enabling such great stuff this year! Truly a collaborative effort. >>


Valuable Lessons
So, what did I learn from all that? Just a few things:

* Being an authentic designer takes conviction and enduring the “risk” of being true to yourself. Forming your own evolved design philosophy & approach after years of experience is a natural & necessary step into “going on your own” apart from a sheltered or academic context. However, staying true to what you believe in takes a degree of confidence with conviction that frankly may not sit well with others. Stakeholders or audiences will disagree, resist, challenge, criticize, or even shut you out/down–out of fear, anxiety, inferiority, who knows. Yet that’s simply part of the path of becoming an authentic designer–bearing that risk of nonconformity & authenticity. You gotta trust it will all work out in the end.

* “Design Thinking” is not a panacea. Often, you need to let the domain experts work their methods and you just might learn something! Not all problems (particularly those of software engineering or business strategy or sales forecasting) can be solved by sticky notes and brainstorming—nor should they be! Every discipline has their own kinds of tools & methods, which are valuable in their way, so it’s often best to let them be applied and watch and learn. Gently suggest areas to improve using typical “designerly” approaches, if appropriate. For many cases it’s better to use “design thinking” as a tuning fork, not a sledgehammer!

* Leadership is a team sport, not a solo act. We have these romantic, popular notions of the strong, triumphant, confident leader directing where to go, what to do, etc. The fact is, being a “leader” requires a committed team to make things happen. I don’t mean delegation of assignments, but rather through inspiration of resolve, persuading folks to take up efforts and willing themselves to want to help and improve things, thus enabling a strategy to become realized. It takes collaboration and constant dialogue for leadership to be effective.

* Always ask dumb, naive questions, to ensure everyone is on the same page! Unspoken assumptions can evolve into difficult tensions later. Everyone holds unstated opinions & assumptions for whatever reason. It’s best to just air them out, write them down, or discuss to ensure clarity. Clear communications enable productive collaboration and resourcefulness of energy applied correctly to the right things. Miscommunications & misunderstandings are inherently wasteful or (at worst) can be toxic to a team.

* You don’t need to have all the answers all the time. This is the hardest lesson of any leader, I think. You’re not paid to have all the answers. You’re paid to facilitate, enable, guide, support, inspire, and ultimately “connect the dots” in a way that only a leader can. And, truly, in this sense anyone can be a “leader”—it’s all a matter of frame of reference or point of view. How are you helping to make forward progress for the team? That’s the bigger question to be answered.

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