Looking back, for me 2018 — which felt like it lasted a decade! — was a year of transitions and connections, of not knowing and adapting to the unexpected, while seeking out those elusive moments of â€¦ discovery? achievement? fulfillment? Perhaps itâ€™s simply the search for the most mundane thing of all…quite simply progress.
As Mad Men’s Don Draper said often, â€œmove forwardâ€. So I did.
I leaped from the relative safety of a full-time stable corporate job into the volatile, risky frontiers of UX consulting â€” again! As a much wiser friend said, as designers weâ€™re never fully satisfied in our work, instead constantly shifting among various states of want and give, whether itâ€™s projects or clients or companies or tools & skills. And so it was for me, this time trying to â€œdo it allâ€ in this crazy blend of engagements: advising & helping startups, contracting for a newly-found UX agency, my own indie consulting, continuing with UX conferences, and even flirting with a potential full-time teaching role. Throughout I was constantly proving myself, building credibility, developing trust, retelling â€œmy narrativeâ€ â€” itâ€™s a never-ending enterprise, this thing we do as designers. Rather painful, no? I concluded the year by re-affirming my design leadership position joining a startup as their head of UX whereby Iâ€™m shaping a new business strategy via design.
But what did I get out of all that activity in 2018? Iâ€™d like to share aÂ few insights:
1 – You donâ€™t always have to know what you want; sometimes you need to wander through the muck a bit to realize what you need and value. Relatedly, maybe (particularly if youâ€™re stuck in a rut) the better way to know yourself IS actually to dive into something unknown â€” with eyes wide open, of course!
2 – Engaging with ambiguity while knowing that it might fail, thatâ€™s really hard and has a cost / risk factor that only you can reckon with. Everyone will try to pull & push you in different ways but only you should decide whatâ€™s right for you. And maybe, you need to be pressure tested a bit, to sense the edges of your comfort zones. Then, when it gets too much, simply walk away, knowing that you tried and hopefully learned, albeit the â€œlearned lessonâ€ may not present itself until much much later…
3 – You own your time. You always have the right to say â€œnoâ€ and walk away (professionally and gracefully). You are in charge of your narrative â€” both as a self-referential thing to affirm your value to yourself (indeed, in this business weâ€™re often our own toughest critics!) and as a way to build relations with others who donâ€™t know you, but willing to interact and understand what you stand for.
4 – That narrative is iterative and situational, necessarily so, given the context and personality and type of role or position held by that other person. (Note: your “narrative” is not some cynical “spin”, but more of a shaping of messages and how you project your self)
5 – Trust and credibility are multi-faceted concepts that evolve over time with different people, per contexts. Everyone has their own â€œwayâ€ of building that up with you (and vice versa). Getting a coffee or beer usually helps; truly get out of the office to help foster those ties into valuable relationships. And guess what — sometimes it just doesnâ€™t work out; youâ€™re both not seeing eye to eye no matter what. Keep moving forward!
6 – Explaining design and how / why you do what you do as a designer (and as a design leader) â€” that never stops. You will always be doing that! Keep iterating that narrative.
For me, looking ahead to 2019 (and perhaps beyond), Iâ€™m realizing that Iâ€™m moving even more away from traditional â€œUXâ€ and much more into matters of leadership, strategy, even philosophy. So for my annual intentions (as opposed to resolutions, which sound so hard cut), I intend to do the following over time:
1 – Keep pushing on the notion of â€œmeta-designâ€ in my work: literally designing the conditions to enable good design to happen. This also extends the effects of design beyond â€œthe screenâ€ towards the organization and more.
2 – Keep evolving & refining my â€œplaybookâ€ as a design leader per insights from non-UX leaders, from Sales, Engineering, Product, Marketing, etc. What are their perspectives and how can they inform my approaches? There is a vital interdependency to our work that I deeply aim to foster more of.
3 – Keep advocating for a systemic, framework-level point of view to wicked problems, and really dig into that ambiguity in a cross-functional manner. So, this naturally requires helping others get comfortable with being uncomfortable ;-)
And ultimately I intend to keep testing and evolving my own â€œdynamic balanceâ€ (per the classic Eames diagram) of competing yet cooperative aims and situations and opportunities. It will be another interesting and fun year!