Design + Dad
Part One: How I’m Better at One Because of the Other
I blurted it out…
Daddy takes the pain away
It was a simple answer — embracing some humor in the moment — to how I tell my 3 kids about what I do as a designer.
The small problem was: I articulated this at a meeting of some the most well-respected design leaders in our business. (Thanks for pulling us together Bureau of Digital!)
There was uncomfortable laughter.
Then alittle bit of silence.
Then it was tweeted. Proof.
Then, my face felt awash with embarrassment. Can’t you just say normal things, Scott?
The truth is: it’s a pretty good answer.
I’m willing to wager that if you’re a designer, you’ve had trouble articulating what you do for a living.
At Christmas gatherings with family, at block parties meeting new neighbors, even at random moments with my mom — I’m dumbfounded on what to tell them about our profession.
If I say “UX” or “Information Architect” or “Product design” or “Affordance” or “White space” or “Sketch app” or “Jared Spool” or anything of the sort… this is what I get:
On the flip side, if I say, “I’m a dad”… instant understanding. The semiotics are pretty sturdy with this concept.
You don’t need a wireframe, a customer journey, or an infographic to explain “a dad.”
But while it’s almost immediately understood, neither being a dad or a designer is very intuitive.
Most think that they can be a great at both, but not everyone is.
It takes a ton of practice to be good at both, but neither are practical to just “practice.”
And just because you can define a dad, what does it REALLY mean to be a dad (let alone a designer)?
The first few days of being a dad are pretty disorienting.
Because dudes don’t read manuals, I never had the courage to read a single parenting book before my son, Chase, was born 11 years ago. I was pretty sure I’d get an instructional video at the hospital while we waited for the valet service to bring the car over.
Sure enough, he was a quiet little guy while in the hospital waiting to get the all-clear to go home. Then the first night happened.
He. Was. A. Holy. Terror.
Ok. I exaggerate-ish. But when you’re finally coming down from the adrenaline high of new-parenthood, you just wanna sleep. Like for a week.
Newborns only know 2 things: pooping and crying (which is like pooping, but less messy — auditory poop just comes out).
Damn. They can cry. And poop. And nearly nothing makes them happy.
So you spend the first couple of days trying different arm-cradling techniques until it satisfies his desires. Then you move .75 degrees to the left, and YOU’VE RUINED IT!
He sounds his barbaric yawp! And you repeat the methodical dance, and sway like a sweaty-tooth madman, and you do advanced geometry (… sine divided by 12 minus the cosine …) until you find the right angle again…and he chills out.
You observe his movements. His squished-up face he makes when he’s about to cry again. You listen for that regular breathing pattern. Everything is bound by the clock and feeding-wake-sleep schedule.
He’s in pain (perceived or real). And something primal and visceral in you wants to take it away.
You observe. And design a plan. And you test it. And then you observe again. And you design another plan. And you test it again.
For me, it’s incredibly hard to extract the dad-life from the design-life. And vice versa.
I think I’m actually better at the one because of the other.
Being a dad is learning how to be unselfish for the first time. And repeat. Forever.
Being a designer is learning how to tame your unconscious biases — over and over.
Being a dad is carefully weighing the risks and rewards for your child.
Being a designer is carefully curating choices for the sake of our customer.
Being a dad is providing amazing experiences instead of piles of things for your child. And watching the joy abound.
Being a designer is providing amazing experiences so our customers barely even realize they’re using “a thing” from us. They just get the joy.
Being a dad is being there when they fall, comforting them through the pain, and wrapping them with arms as they grow from babies to toddlers to teens to adults.
Being a designer is looking at every problem and pain a customer might encounter, making it intuitive by basically giving them compressed experience & knowhow through your design, and delighting them.
Daddy takes away the pain.
That was part 1 of 3 of “Dad + Design: How I’m Better at One Because of the Other.” Next week: “How UX Design Makes Me a Better Dad: Stuff they should have told me in the fatherly instructional manual but I learned at my day job”.