Stop Being a Selfish Designer
Around the holidays, it’s like there’s a switch in my brain that reminds me I need to think less about myself and more about those around me. And since my life tends to orbit around work, I’m reminded of those that helped me take the steps toward the person I want to be professionally. But, as easy as it is to thank a person for doing something for me, it’s a little more difficult to thank a community or group of people that had an impact on the work I love to do every day. How do you even begin to show gratitude for that?
I’ve had some ideas over the past few months on how to do this:
If you’re like me, you learn new things every day. But as designers, whenever we learn something new, we think we’re the last ones to know so we tuck it away for fear of sounding
like we’re not as up-to-date as we should be. I mentioned this to the senior developers at our company and they could not have agreed more. In our industry, this fear I think prevents us from collaborating. I know I’m certainly guilty of it. I remember when I first learned about Sketch. It helped me really latch onto design, as a developer. But, since I wasn’t a designer at the time, I figured all the designers I worked alongside had not only heard about Sketch, but had already started integrating it into their workflow. So when I finally had the courage to bring it up in a creative meeting, I got some quizzical looks that told me they hadn’t heard of it yet! That is a constant reminder that I need to share the things I learn and the thought that I’m the last one to know is often a figment of my imagination.
Whenever you learn a new tool, technique, no matter how small or insignificant you think it might be, share it. Take a closer look at your workflow and try to identify some things about it that have become second nature to you. For example, I’m holding a training session soon about speeding up your workflow with keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts are something I learned early on in my career that I never thought of sharing with anyone, but I know a lot of why I’m able to work as fast as I do comes from having learned them. Whatever your preferred method of sharing information is, just share the wealth.
Any designer interested in improving their work will welcome feedback. It’s a great way to find out what works, what may not work, and give them an idea of how to improve it. They know it will make them a better designer. They understand that an effective way of improving a design or design process is by picking it apart, so as an outsider, providing useful feedback is a great way to do your part in the design community. What’s useful feedback? The feedback I love receiving is any feedback that let’s me know that person has been thinking about and trying to solve the same problems I have. It’s also specific. Whether that’s a font pairing, or navigation pattern, as long as I leave our conversation with an actionable item to dig deeper into, that person’s feedback has done it’s job.
I was part of a design meeting recently, and one of our younger designers said he wanted to learn more about advising clients. Immediately, a couple of the more senior designers jumped in to share what they had learned over the years. Younger or less-experienced designers might be hesitant to ask for help, like in this situation. We have to make sure, at the very least, the designers around us are getting what they need to their best work and.
Ask the designers you work with what kind of designers they want to be, or who they want to be professionally. Once you find that out, do what you can to help them get to that point. I posed this question to that same designer after the meeting. He said he wanted to be a great UI designer. Now, whenever I run across something I think may help him get to that point, I’ll share it with him, ask what he thinks about it, getting him one small step closer to being a great UI designer.
Regardless of our seniority or skill-level, we shouldn’t wait for less-experienced designers to ask for help. Find out what they want, so you can then help them with what they need. Every inkling of information we can share that we have picked up along the way has the potential to steer a designer in the right direction.
By now, you’re probably wondering what giving back looks from my perspective. For Computer Science Education Week (December 7–13), I’m speaking to a group of kids about my career as a developer and a designer, and helping them think through solutions to problems. Speaking is my preferred way of giving back to the design community, and seeing those “lightbulb moments” in the audience is really gratifying thing.
Take some time to think about how you can show gratitude for the design industry you’ve already learned so much from. The need and opportunity is there; it just takes some proactivity on your part to stop be such a selfish designer.