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.

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“Focus”

Processed with Rookie

Meaghan Nolan, the founder of UX Lab, said to me this week during a General Assembly event something to the effect of: “For my parents’ generation, the mantra in life was to work hard. You got to where you wanted to be by working hard. In our generation, working hard just ensures that you’ll be overwhelmed. We can’t just work hard, we need to focus.”

We all have many opportunities in life. The hard part is knowing which ones to pick. If we work hard and pick them all, how do we fit sleep in our lives? We can’t. We can only pick the opportunities that we feel most strongly about and focus on those.

Her words really resonated with me, because I work hard on all the things I do – whether it’s design related or not. That hard work brings me many interesting opportunities that appear shiny and wonderful. I always want to jump in and be a part of them.

It’s so easy to become distracted. There’s so much noise around us with people telling us how to best grow our careers, what our next moves should be and where we should go. Many people want to do it all. But doing it all comes with a price. It means that you’re getting pulled in more directions and that you won’t be moving as fast as you want in any one particular direction.

If you have somewhere you want to go, you can’t just hustle. You need to make it your focus to get there.

I see to think.

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I use images to think. I’m not thinking with words and then using images to describe that thought. Images are how I think.

It means that I “see” something first, then that image turns into a thought. And only then does that thought turn into words.

At school, it meant that word problems in math class were the worst things on the planet. I had to process the written words, translate them into images and then think about solving them.

When the English teacher asked us all a question verbally, I had to translate those words into images, answer it with images and spit it back out in words. This generally took me a minute, so by the time I knew what to say, another student’s hand was already chosen.

At work, it means that when people problem solve things in a long email, I diagram their words afterwards. I feel like I have an extreme case of visual thinking, but I’m sure other artists and designers feel similarly.

Having these experiences has made me more empathetic to people who see the world through numbers or tones. It’s made me realize that miscommunication is more than what was perceived incorrectly through someone else’s lens. It’s also what the lens is.

So next time when someone you’re talking you doesn’t get what you’re saying, it might not be because you didn’t explain it well enough. It might just be that you’re not using the way that person thinks to get to the point.