Complacency in Design

The Cause

At some point, we land that job. The job. Years of building our portfolio and work experience have led us all to this one career that will propel us into greatness. Not only that, but you’ve been working there for more than a year now, becoming an established part of the company and team. You feel awesome. You feel indestructible. You feel like the f%cking Hulk, and all you want to do is hulk smash.

Then it happens—we get comfortable. Not only do we get snug in our new position, but after several successful projects, and gaining a reputation of quality and productivity, we become confident; some would even say cocky.

We start to do things like find little loopholes in our new position. We discover how long it actually takes for product owners to give us feedback on our work. We find out how long we can go without doing any actual work, and we start to take advantage, even if it’s just little by little.

There is something else you start to notice, too. That fire you once had—the one thing that made you hungry, has now turned into an ember. It’s there, just miniscule. You don’t have the motivation anymore to even do design for fun.

What used to motivate and inspire you, has now turned into a some-what laborious and tedious task. When we take our first steps out of the university (or community collage, like me… I don’t judge. hah!) and into the real world, we are hungry. Nay, we’re starving. We’d do anything to start designing anything for anybody. Late nights were something to look forward to, and seeing the sun rise after an all nighter was a sort of a weird badge of honor. We constantly looked to improve our quality of work, and fed off of our peers for inspiration.

Now you struggle to design simple things. Of course, some days are better than others, but the fire you once had is now a low, steady burning ember.

You’ve become complacent.

“But, but I’m not complacent! I kick ass! Everyone says designers start fires and shake things up. Surely, I’m a doer!” You say.

That’s the problem, I think. We as designers are known as shakers and disrupters. People expect us to shake things up, and the farthest thing anyone expects is a complacent designer.

Designers are people. Being a person means you get the variable of human error! Congratulations human!

Sure, you can still turn in your work, technically, on time. And sure, you can still reply to emails and show up to all your meetings on time.

But you know.

You know you are not the designer you used to be. Something happened. Somewhere, at some point, you let your guard down—now you feel more like a cog in the wheel than a disrupter in the company.

Everybody always talks about how to land that dream job, or how to create awesome projects using all sorts of new tools and processes, but no one talks about actually keeping that job.

The Effect

There is a thing that happens when a designer becomes complacent. This is especially applicable if you are a part of a very small design team, even more so if you’re the only designer. Since having the title of designer, people assume that you are the shaker in the the company—you get the wheels turning in everyone’s head, giving visions of how things could be.

When the person in the company that has a title that is meant to turn stones is somewhat slacking, it affects absolutely everyone around them.

All of the sudden, if the developers are seeing that you are regularly late delivering them your designs, they feel like it’s okay to do the same delivering their code. The product manager now has to compensate the late designs AND late code into extended deadlines, which affect their senior management. Also, since you’ve decided you’re not going to disrupt expectations, and deliver thought provoking designs that ultimately make their product easier and more efficient to use for their customers, now they’re going to be delivering a lackluster product to the market.

Customers are disappointed, your manager is now on the chopping block, and the department suffers.

Despite what people say, shit actually rolls uphill. Better yet, shit doesn’t roll anywhere, it always hits that fan.

Shit hits everything.

Shit is one of those mystical magical properties that actually defies logic and gravity.

Designers becoming complacent doesn’t just risk our jobs, or even affect the quality of the product from our immediate perspective—but it affects all of your peers as well.

The Solution

I can sit here and say, yeah, get your work done early and often. Make sure that you take your daily vitamins. Do about twenty push ups a day. Daily high fives to your boss and superiors should be administered.

Blah blah blah, I’m not going to sit here and do that.

Instead, I’m going to say that your complacency is a result of something. You’re not being lazy for no reason—and it usually isn’t a result of a lack of job satisfaction, especially if you’re doing the kind of design you love.

You’re bored.

You are where you’re at because you’re good, but now that you’ve become good at what you do, you’ve run out of challenges.

What I would suggest—and what has worked for me—is when you’re starting to feel extra complacent: You’ve lost time surfing reddit, or you’ve had the same design file open for over an hour, with little to no progress being done. Talk to your team. Ask them what they’re working on, because chances are, they would love some help.

Your team is there for you, and you guys make up a unit. If you are feeling unchallenged at the moment, ask to listen in on one of their, let’s say, user interviews. Take some notes. Form a discussion around the interview with your teammate and have a sketch session on what would solve their current problem.

Sketching is a great way to communicate with your team to formulate perfect world scenarios. Also, with sketching, anything is possible. You’re not limited by the capacity of your design program, nor are you constrained by code limitations with a prototype—but sketching is a conduit for your collective imagination.

Also, talk to your boss! Be honest. Say something like; hey, I’ve got nothing really going on right now, is there something I can do to assist anyone on the team with their project? Where do you need me?

There is always something to do.

Another way to rekindle those creative juices again to get re-inspired is launch a simple blog! It doesn’t even need to be, necessarily, custom designed by you. It’s super easy to create a blog using tumblr or wordpress, and start talking about your interests apart from work. You’ll find yourself designing little things related to your interests that aren’t even work related.

In conclusion, everyone becomes complacent at some point—don’t feel bad. If you’ve reached the conclusion that you’ve become too comfortable for your own good, you’ve already taken steps to better yourself for both you and your team. Always challenge yourself. Talk to the community. Use your design powers to help a charity or community outreach. Find something that rekindles your love for design, and it’ll reflect on your work.