Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to join Orbital’s very first Design Cohort Program. What is that you ask? A group of NYC-based product designers getting breakfast together every two weeks and discussing all things design. Folks from Adobe, Facebook, Etsy, Skillshare, Meetup, SoundCloud, Squarespace and more. Being new to New York City, I figured it would be a great way for me to make new friends and knowledge share with some of the industry’s best. Plus, breakfast food is life.
I didn’t have any expectations beyond that but not surprisingly, I learnt a lot. A few sessions in, our guards were down and we started talking very openly about the ups and downs of #designerlyf. Turns out, a lot of us feel the same feels. But it wasn’t all group therapy. During our group nerd dates, we discussed past and present projects, how other teams were making it rain as well as the burning/dumb questions for which there is rarely an appropriate forum to ask.
I recently had a colleague comment on a process habit of mine, which is that I export my work on a daily basis. It was a habit I’d picked up from my former Creative Director, Alex Naghavi. The whole team at Josephmark was in on it — it helped her to stay across all of our client projects and gave her visibility into what stage a project was at. Until my colleague pointed it out, I hadn’t really stopped to think about all the additional benefits that came from exporting on the daily. So I posed a question to the group the following week: what habit have you introduced to your routine that you’d recommend to others?
From that discussion, many of us discovered we had habits we weren’t even aware of. Some were directly work related whilst others were more personal, but it was obvious that all of them had a positive effect and benefited our work lives.
Here they are, so you can be all like:
Export your work erryday
Before you leave for the day, export your work and save them in a folder with that day’s date. Do it wherever you are at, however unpolished things are. It gives you a day-by-day record of the different ideas you explored, which can be useful later in a project when you’re asked “have you thought about X, Y, Z?” You can bring up your older designs and you have something visual to speak to.
By documenting the evolution of your design, your project write-ups are going to be a hell of a lot more interesting and insightful. This comes in very handy for putting your portfolio together.
Last but definitely not least, when you’ve been working on the same thing for a while it can feel like you’re moving slowly. This habit gives an end result to every single day, so use it as a check-in point to review what you got done and be aware of your progress. It will either give you a sense of accomplishment or a kick up the butt — whichever one you need.
Share ugly things
Get comfortable with sharing things early and often, even if they are ugly or unsettled. Use it as an opportunity to get alignment within your team and you could potentially save yourself from making changes later on when things are at a higher fidelity.
Do an audit of your work week
Every few months, get a better understanding of how your time is spent by reviewing your work week. Either using a time tracking app or book time in your calendar for everything you are working on. It can help to color code things like meetings, research, testing, etc. At the end of the week, review where you spent your time. You might be surprised by how much time is spent in meetings, which could raise the question — do I need to be at all of these, or is my time spent better elsewhere? It might also highlight some habits that aren’t serving you well, or help you to identify your “prime time” where you are most productive.
Take a support call. Go to the warehouse and pack an order. Interact with your customer from a different area of the business, and you’ll quickly discover things about them and their experience you would otherwise never have known. Make this a regular event on your calendar.
Look beyond the obvious for inspiration
When looking for inspiration, don’t restrict yourself by looking for things in the same vein. It’s important to keep an open mind and remember that inspiration can be found in many different forms.
You can start putting this into practice by observing other areas in your life that interest you. For me, I’m currently into Michelin Star chefs who are changing the way we think about food. I’m inspired by the thoughtfulness and story behind each creation they come up with.
After all, design is about perspective and the more variety we have in that, the more we have to offer as designers.
We’re constantly bombarded with push notifications of likes, tweets and snaps. At times this is an alright thing, but that constant disruption never allows us the ability to sit back and allow our brain to process. Meditation is an amazingly powerful tool to turn away from those everyday distractions and allow your brain to focus on being in the moment, rather than thinking about what’s about to happen or what has just happened.
I’d suggest starting with Headspace. It’s ten minutes a day, super simple and fun to go through.
Make communication fun
Last year, I was fortunate enough to learn a few, fun improv techniques that I’ve incorporated into my every day. Two of my favorite lessons include:
Learn to encourage and foster creativity by answering with “Yes, and…”
When the first thing someone hears after presenting an idea is “no” it can be discouraging. I believe that everyone has great ideas and wants to contribute, and it’s important to create an environment where everyone feels safe to offer suggestions. The next time someone is sharing an idea, encourage your colleagues to give this technique a go: always answer with “Yes, and…” and add something to the discussion, even if the idea is too wild for you. You’ll never know where your next brainstorming session could lead to unless you keep it going.
Active listening is key to building trust in conversation.
If you’re having difficulty being able to do this, you can try this fun exercise. Any time you’re having a conversation, after the end of each sentence the other person says, take the last word they said and use it as the first word in your response. This forces you to pay close attention to what the person is saying. Figure out how to tie that back into the conversation without letting the other person know you’re doing this.
These techniques may sound silly but that’s what improv is all about — having fun while putting yourself out there. We have to communicate, so why not do it well?
Embrace the “mini-getaway”
At least once every day, I set aside some time to close my laptop, walk around and change my perspective. Some of my favorite mini-getaways: talk to coworkers (ideally someone with a different title than me) about the biggest challenges they’re facing, doing some ad-hoc user testing in parks and cafes, taking ideas off-screen onto paper or whiteboards, even just getting out to a public space and people-watching.
Getting different perspectives is one of the most powerful ways I’ve found to feed my creative side, find new ideas and combat burnout. And it’s surprisingly easy to do!
Create a daily do and don’t list
I adopted this habit after listening to Jack Dorsey’s Startup School talk.
Every month I update a list on my Notes app of the habits I believe will create success in my day and the things that will detract from that success. These habits may be specific to a design skill I’m trying to improve, or more personal goals such as ‘always ask why five times to discover root causes’. At the beginning of every work day I try to give myself between 2–5 minutes to think through this list, which lives on the home dock of my phone. I’ve found this practice helps me get into the right frame-of-mind before I jump into my day and as a result I can better focus.
Get an outsider’s opinion
When working through a really tough problem, I like to put my work in front of a co-worker, friend or even a stranger who’s far away from the problem I’m trying to solve. Their lack of context brings an entirely new perspective to the table and allows me to get out of my own head. And considering how difficult it is to capture user attention these days, watching their gut reaction helps me to quickly identify where things could be better.
Define an MVP for your new habit
When it comes to introducing new habits to your routine, start with a small and attainable goal that you can actually achieve. Once you’ve got a handle on that, then you can start to ramp it up.
We wanted to introduce a usability testing process at Skillshare but being a small design team, the time involved with setting up that process was daunting to us. We were concerned that it would significantly slow down our projects. But knowing the importance of qualitative feedback, we were realistic about our schedules and introduced it at a manageable rate and now run testing on Wednesday’s, every other week.
We limit ourselves to spending no more than three hours (including prep, testing and synthesizing) and rather than arranging testing for each individual project, we decide on Tuesday’s what we want to test the following day, sometimes grouping a few together with the same user.
Just like a product, a habit doesn’t have to launch with the ultimate version. Ship something that gets the ball rolling and go from there.
If you’re interested being a part of the next Orbital Design Cohort, Gary Chou is your man.
Like this article? Hit the ❤️ below, and follow me on Twitter for more.