How do you get better as a designer?

Have you heard the quote “some people work one year twenty times”? It means that you haven’t really grown in that time; your skills have gotten stale and your career hasn’t grown.

There’s a couple things you can tackle right away like learning more technical knowledge and growing relationships

But beyond that, it’s about solving problems that aren’t just yours. Instead of having the mindset of “that’s not my job/role/position,” think about it as an opportunity. If you were working at a startup, you would never say. You would just do it.

Another part of growing a career is continuing to innovate on yourself. Fax machine companies were doing pretty well for a long time and saw no reason to switch their business because they were basing what they were doing on what works “today” (or in their case, what worked twenty years ago.) Today doesn’t last forever. That’s why we need to develop new skills that will be relevant for the future. Can you foresee your job being replaced by something that’s more automated, smart and easy to use?

The way to not become obsolete is to become an active participator in the next generation of your industry. Don’t just be a subject matter expert on a product that exists today. Proactively develop the next wave of that product or idea or thinking. Be the advisor, the coach, the creator. 

Lastly, what are the things you’re telling yourself that are holding you back from doing these things? Is it “I don’t have time?” Nobody has time. You have to make it happen. Or “I’ve always hated group work, therefore I’m not good at it?” Be aware of the words you’re telling yourself.

Happy Monday 🙂

 

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HOW Live Conference

Earlier this month, I attended the HOW Live Conference in Boston, MA. It was full of interesting talks. Here are some highlights:

Sagi Haviv: Partner & Designer, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv

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The old State Farm logo was difficult to read and was in need of a modern take on it. However, when the firm proposed simplifying the pictogram, they received significant pushback from the CEO. Haviv was told that they needed to keep the rounded square border.

In order to convince State Farm to ditch the rounded square border altogether, they put together a number of logos that had been redesigned recently. Then, they showed what the halfway point of those logos would be.

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 9.15.40 AM.pngThis convinced State Farm to go with the simplified three-oval approach.


 

Stephen Gates: Head of Design Transformation, LinkedIn; Creator of The Crazy One Podcast

Stephen talked about the importance of design in large companies and how to build trust and confidence in design.

He asked us:

  1. Can you express the value of your team beyond your work?
  2. What is your team’s identity outside of the company.
  3. Create a scalable ecosystem for design: As a design team, what are your set of beliefs?

He also talked about his framework for thinking about design environments inside a company:Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 9.18.02 AM.pngScreen Shot 2018-05-09 at 9.18.35 AM.png

This helped to visualize an idea that I’d been personally trying to capture for a long time. It’s a handy tool to help you think about where your design team is and where it can go.


 

Daniel Pink: #1 New York Times Bestselling author

Daniel Pink spoke about the science of perfect timing. Using big data, he has developed principles for everyone to use for when to accomplish certain kinds of tasks.

Pink talks about how everyone has a chronotype.

15% are early birds, 20% are night owls and the rest are “third birds.” Most people see a peak, a trough and then a recovery in their day to day work performance.  
= People tend to perform better at the beginning of the day.

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He talked about using timing to work better and smarter. If you know that you have more energy at the beginning of the day, use it to do analytical work. Set time aside in the afternoon when you’re more sluggish to do administrative work.

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Product design picks for March

A jar that expands and contracts based on the quantity of food you need it to hold. [Designer: Terence Myers (Botto Design)]

“Just expand the jar, open the lid, and pour your contents in before closing the lid and pressing down on the top. Air releases from the valve on the jar’s lid, packing your food in tightly not only to make the jar more compact but to also remove excess air from inside the container, keeping your food fresher for longer.”

A smart mirror that gives you a weather and calendar preview of the day. [Designers: Hongseok Seo, Minkwan Seo & Jo-Young Choo]

It’s connected to the internet, can play for favorite tunes and helps you get ready for the day.

Bose AR sunglasses. These devices funnel sound towards the wearer’s ears. It could be interesting to combine good graphics with Bose’s sound quality. These look more natural than the AR glasses we usually see. source

 

Focus

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In large organizations, my experience has been that having too many ongoing projects at the same time for the same product leads to a messy outcome. The ideal scenario involves everyone having a single vision and general focus area.

Imagine you’re designing a sushi restaurant. There are 3 different leaders of this sushi restaurant. One of them wants to focus on sashimi, one wants to diversify the palette with western food and one wants to serve regular sushi. While they all have unique strengths that they can bring to the table (no pun intended), the marketing ad and menu for that restaurant will start to get really confusing.

Here’s a real life example. Public transit in the bay area is managed by multiple agencies. CalTrain runs north/south of the peninsula, Muni serves San Francisco and Bart connects the northern half of the peninsula to East Bay. Additionally, VTA serves San Jose and South Bay cities and AC transit serves East Bay towns. I’ve run into more confused tourists in San Francisco than anywhere else, because no one knows which bus/tram/train to take. When I first arrived in the city, I was dumbfounded by how nonsensical the system was. In contrast, Boston’s MBTA is responsible for the commuter rail, subway system and buses.

 

Above: San Francisco transit systems

I feel that the same applies to tech products as well. Vurb was an app that helped you figure out what to do in your spare time. You could plan an event with friends, whether it was concerts, music or theatre. They had a lot of interesting concepts – especially that of collaborating with other folks on getting together, but it was hard to figure out when exactly I would need this app. They couldn’t gain mass traction and sold to Snapchat for $110 million+. However, apps like Instagram have remained resilient in today’s mature app market because it does one thing really, really well. It allows people to share a moment through a photo and for other people to see that photo. Its simplicity is what allows it to work.

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To create a product that people will use, its purpose must be clear and intentional. It seems obvious, but often we try to stack too many features on top of a product, which makes it less desirable in the end.

That’s probably a sign for me to give this blog a focus. Until next time!

 

 

Designing Design

My cousin, currently studying product design at Carnegie Mellon University, told me about Designing Design by Kenya Hara. Hara is a design advisor at MUJI, the Japanese product brand. In his book he writes about Japanese design and thoughtful redesigns of everyday objects. The book is available on amazon (#whysoexpensive), and here’s an excerpt:

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Itsuko Zenitani Ceramics

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Today, I visited the Arts and Crafts Cooperative in Berkeley, CA. Towards the back, I noticed a set of bowls that had really interesting glaze on it. The top was a glossy blue while the bottom had been textured to look like wood. It was one of those rare moments where I immediately felt that I had to tell the artist how awesome I thought this was. So, Itsuko Zenitani – map props. Your ceramics work is stunning.

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Design leadership

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Two weeks ago, I took a Design Leadership course at Cooper. So…what happened next?

  1. A team lunch, because I realized that we’ve never held a team lunch before with everyone (six people, what!)
  2. A calendar on our whiteboard so that everyone could share what they’re working on (easier to read it than remember what people said during standup)
  3. A meeting with engineers so that we could have regular ux and eng syncs (I know, crazy).

I didn’t get better at design and none of these things are uber leadership-y. But what came out of the class was a realization about how much I need to understand my colleagues’ perspectives about their work. I need to understand their problems, their concerns, their thoughts about our process, all of it. It seems obvious, but it’s essential to doing the design stuff.

How to have difficult conversations

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I’ve recently been reading Crucial Conversations (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler), because I wanted to know how to have hard conversations with people. It’s something that everyone struggles with.

Designers at my company can’t be successful if they can’t communicate their ideas to stakeholders, ask for resources or deal well with conflicts. Whether at work or at home, if you can’t talk about the things that matter to you, you’ll end up in less-than-ideal situations. 

I wanted to outline some things from Crucial Conversations that stuck out for me. 


Understand how you got into this particular conflict or issue:

  1. Notice your behavior. Ask: Am I in some form of silence or violence (flight or fight)
  2. Get in touch with your feelings. What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?
  3. Analyze your stories. What story is creating these emotions?
  4. Get back to the facts. What evidence do I have to support this story that I’m telling myself about the situation?

Watch for clever stories that we tell ourselves. 

  1. Victim stories: you intentionally ignore the role you have played in the problem. You tell your story in a way that judiciously avoids whatever you had done that might have contributed to the problem
  2. Villain stories: automatically assuming the worst possible motives or grossest incompetence while ignoring any possible good or neutral intentions or skills a person have have. 
  3. Helpless stories: Making ourselves to be powerless to do anything healthy or helpful. 

These  stories get us off the hook and keep us from acknowledging our own sellouts. When we feel the need to push our ideas on others, it’s generally because we believe we’re right and everyone else is wrong. We exaggerate, lace our language with inflammatory terms and appeal to authority (“everyone knows this is the case, even my boss thinks so”). The harder we try, the greater resistance we create, the worse the results and the more battered our relationships. 

Focus on what you really want 

Focus your brain on the end goal when conversing so that you are responding in a way that will get you there rather than continuing to fuel a fire or comments that lean away from it. “…as the conversation unfolds and you find yourself starting to, say, defer to the boss or give your spouse the cold shoulder, pay attention to what’s happening to your objectives. Are you starting to change your goal to save face, avoid embarrassment, win, be right, or punish others?…Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our part.”

Ask yourself these questions when you find yourself slipping out of dialogue:

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?
  • How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Make it safe.

“The worst at dialogue …totally ignore the crying need for more safety. They say whatever is on their minds – with no regard for how it will be received. Or…they conclude the topic is completely unsafe and move to silence. The good realize that safety is at risk, but they fix it in exactly the wrong way. They try to make the subject more palatable by sugarcoating their message…. They try to make things safer by watering down or dressing up their content. This strategy, of course, avoids the real problem, and it never gets fixed.”

The best do this:

“Can we change gears for a minute? I’d like to talk about what happens when <insert problem>. It would be good if we could both share what’s working and what isn’t. My goal isn’t to make you feel guilty, and I certainly don’t want to become defensive. What’ I’d really love is for us to come up with a solution that makes us both satisfied in <scenario>.”

^ The person is being upfront about the issue rather than avoid it. They create contrasting statements that help to make the situation safe for the other person. And they stated a goal that they wanted to achieve. 

Remember the ABCS

  1. Agree: point out areas of agreement.
  2. Build: add elements that were left out of the discussion
  3. Compare: rather than suggesting that he/she is wrong, suggest that you differ. Rather than saying “wrong!”, try “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”

Document your outcomes. Write down the conclusions and decisions you’ve made. Make sure that there’s a follow-up and that you’re both held accountable. 

Last step: read Crucial Conversations