Why Are You Waiting To Be Awesome?

Early in my career, I made the switch from a small non-profit organization to a big agency. The opportunity to work on high-profile projects that would be seen and used by millions of people was exciting, but the complexities of corporate culture were a bit… frustrating. I was perplexed by inefficient processes, disappointing design compromises, and confounding organizational decisions.

As a little fish in a very big pond, I felt like I had little power to effect change. I shared my suggestions, as did several other like-minded colleagues, and some ideas even got an enthusiastic response, but then… nothing. The ideas didn’t take hold. No one took the ball and ran with it.

We were doing some great thinking but nothing was actually happening.

Rather than give up, I changed how I looked at the situation. I figured if no one else was going to do what I suggested, then I’d just do it myself. That’ll show ‘em!

I borrowed a motto from our department lead: “don’t ask permission; beg forgiveness.”

Now roughly a decade into agency life, I can say that this switch in mindset was one of the most effective decisions of my career.

MAKE YOUR IDEAS REAL, DON’T JUST TALK ABOUT THEM

A few years ago, one of our clients was pondering creating a tablet-specific version of their site to supplement their existing desktop and mobile sites. We recommended a responsive design instead, but even after we presented our strategy, they remained skeptical.

I knew responsive design was the right move, and I wasn’t ready to give up. So I worked with another designer and developer, and over a couple weeks we quickly concepted, designed, and coded a fully responsive sample page for their site. The next time we met with clients, we shared our work in-browser on a variety of devices, letting them play around with it just as their users would, so they could see what their site could become.

The client’s skepticism evaporated. They were sold.

We had been waiting for permission to do what we thought was an awesome idea, but talking about our idea had led us nowhere. It wasn’t until we moved from talking to doing that we found success.

DON’T STOP UNTIL YOU CROSS THE FINISH LINE

On a different project with another client, we created a beautiful app design that kept getting usability and focus group test scores that were through the roof. We packaged up our design work and delivered it to the tech vendor to build (a fairly common scenario for large clients), and we were confident the end product was going to be great.

We’d handed the baton to the last runner in the race, but it soon became clear that the project was facing some hurdles on its way to the finish line. The tech vendors were running into unforeseen challenges, development was taking more time and money than expected, and our client’s boss was getting antsy. They were having trouble seeing how this design would come to life.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard exasperated designers complain “they built it wrong!” — but a good designer recognizes their work isn’t done until the project is live. So instead of just standing on the sidelines, we asked ourselves: how could we ensure success for our design when we weren’t running the final stretch?

We wanted anyone to see the vision of the project on their own, so we created an animated video that simulated exactly how a consumer would experience the tool. The video made the design and functionality crystal clear, even to someone who knew nothing about the project beforehand. It made the experience feel real, and gave us a way to showcase the design even when we weren’t in the room.

The video immediately started getting circulated client-side, and their internal panic turned to excitement. We made our clients look great to their bosses and gave the tech team a clearer vision to ensure a better end product.

NOBODY IS GOING TO DO IT FOR YOU

The reason I share these stories is not to brag about how awesome my team is (even though they are), but because no one asked us to do these things. There was no line item in a scope document, no message from the client, no demand from a head honcho that said “create a working concept demo” or “make a walkthrough video.” But we saw challenges, came up with solutions, and then we just did them.

People come up with awesome ideas all the time. But they frequently let those ideas wither on the vine. And usually it’s not because the idea wasn’t great, it’s because they just didn’t follow through. If “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” then frankly a lot of people just aren’t sweating enough. So what’s stopping you from executing your awesome idea?

No, seriously — why aren’t you doing it already? Why are you waiting to be awesome?

Do you think design reviews would go better if they were done with interactive prototypes instead of flat screens? Don’t wait for permission, just start prototyping.

Do you think there’s an alternate design direction that would really elevate the work? Don’t just talk about it, show everybody else how it’s done.

Do you think meetings would be faster and more productive if someone would jump in to keep the discussion on track? Don’t wait for someone else to do it, speak up.

This is easier said than done. But that’s the whole point. Making your ideas come to life is difficult, it takes a ton of work, and it requires you to have some “fight” in you to make your ideas real, but you can do it. Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait to be awesome.

Michael Histen_Headshot

Michael Histen, VP/ Director, Experience Design, DigitasLBi

As originally featured on Medium