Continuous (self) improvement

“Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned.” — Benjamin Franklin

From Ben Franklin to Tony Robbins, it’s no secret that Americans idolize self improvement. Based on the numbered lists floating around for designers to read (I’m looking at you InVision), designers are no exception.

Instead of curating another bunch of articles, I wanted to write, and share with you the one list I’m following, my own.

As a bit of background, I’m about four years into my professional career, and a few years less working in product. I hope that I’ve framed the following as ‘stuff I’m doing’, rather than ‘stuff you should do’, because I am nowhere close to being an expert!

  1. Writing code every day
    Most digital designers are grateful for the developers they work with. Since I expressed interest in building simple web and iOS apps, I’ve had nothing but positive feedback and support from developers, who have been happy to spend time showing me the ropes. I’m constantly motivated by the reminder that “it’s not that hard.” I want to be proficient at prototyping with html/CSS, but I’ve also been dabbling with simple backend stuff and Swift too. It’s all good. Frontend is just one of many skills I need to learn.
  2. Managing product every day
    This is a really painful weakness for me. I’m often overwhelmed by the number of decisions one needs to make to successfully steer a team and continuously improve the product. Without getting into much detail, the core idea for me is to simply step up and take ownership and responsibility of projects. I’m slowly learning, that it’s never somebody else’s problem.
  3. Showing work every day
    In 2014, when I first arrived in the States, I met with a designer who I really admired. During our conversation, she mentioned one small tactic, (also a really great book) that has stuck in my head ever since. The idea was to be as public as you can with your work. As an example, she’d print out all the screens of a current project, and leave them on a board near her desk. Curious employees would stop by and start conversations, often leading to collaboration with other departments. Since our chat, I’ve found that early stage work to be the most important. I believe our value as designers is as leaders, facilitators and we have the power to make the abstract clear and tactile. This doesn’t happen in, it happens in real life.
  4. Public Speaking
    I decided a few months ago to sign up for a Dale Carnegie Course. They’ve been around forever, and have received both criticism and big endorsements. I’m a little cynical, as usual, but I see it as an opportunity to expand a little out of the sphere of design, and I’m excited to see how it plays out. It’s also a reminder that I work for a business that has goals, earnings to report, and lights to keep on, and not in a #design slack channel.
  5. Side Projects
    Another sore spot for me. The designers I admire the most, are the creatives who ship their own work, no matter how small or frivolous the project might seem. They just ship. A fellow Aussie, and incredibly talented designer, summed it up to me, after demonstrating a simple app he’d built on weekends. “Just build stuff.” I see side projects as the glue that seals up and solidifies your identity as a designer. These little projects are where you can truly express yourself, experiment, earn a positive reputation, meet and collaborate with peers, and also just have fun. The challenge for me is overcoming the usual hurdles, whether it be technical, creative, or just time based. Do you stay back later and work, or switch off and get drinks? It’s true, ideas are pretty much worthless. A live website isn’t.

This might all sound nice, but to be honest, I often feel like I’m making no progress in these areas. As an Australian, the self-improvement trope “believe it can happen and it will happen”, is almost too cheesy to write with a straight face. But by writing this stuff down, I’m betting I’m more likely to end up doing it.