Trust your instinct, don’t be afraid.
Catch the sun.
I was in my last year at design college ready to sit down with my tutor and talk about which University I would choose to complete my studies. The thing was, around this time something called the internet was happening although nobody really knew what it was.
I’d already been looking into courses and discovered a BA(Hons) in Interactive Media Design course, the first of it’s kind in the country in my home town of Manchester, UK.
Before finding this course I had only ever produced flat static graphic design work and spent summer holidays working in a print shop. The thought that people could interact with my design work had never crossed my mind. My head was spinning. The course promised to teach me how to produce interactive CD-Roms, storyboards, experiences and a look at the psychology of behavioural patterns. It sounded a little intimidating but I was excited, I could feel it in my belly.
So I sat down with my tutor ready to tell her my intentions, only for her to burst my bubble with “You know this internet thing is never going to take off, I think you should consider Leeds University where they have a fantastic course on editorial graphic design.”
I ignored her advice. Off I went to Manchester Metropolitan to make my design work ‘do things’.
Gut intstinct #1 — Don’t always listen to other people’s opinions.
Take some time to have your own and act on those.
Letting everybody down.
I spent the next two and half years immersed in everything from storyboarding and interaction flows, quick sketching ideas and presentation workshops to psychology lessons and design history.
I didn’t really understand the need for psychology lessons when I first arrived at Uni, the work I was producing was very much about my own, young, selfish ego, but within six months I was thinking differently.
I was questioning what users might think about playing around with my interactive work. This evolved into trying to understand why they would need to use any of it in the first place. As my design thinking matured and the time on the course passed away I started to validate my ideas. I was speaking to target audiences and shaping the work around real needs and resolving frustrations. It was both a learning curve and an eye opener. My ego gave way to empathy and understanding.
I also wasn’t very happy. In creating all these interactive experiences for everybody else it made me question what I’d experienced in my own life. I felt like I hadn’t done anything or seen anything. I’d gone straight from School to College to University, but what had I really ever done? I was turning twenty one and I needed to break free.
So six months before my course was due to end, I dropped out. I felt I wasn’t good enough to get the level of degree I’d hoped for when I first started the course and I needed to leave. I needed to get out of Manchester, away from everything and just go and live my life.
I had massive guilt pangs about letting everybody down, letting my family down and being seen as a failure, but I could feel it inside. Once again I could feel it in my belly.
I needed to get out of there. So I did, at twenty one years old I jumped on a train and I moved to London.
Gut instinct #2 — Break free. If you have always done what you do because it makes you feel safe and secure how will you know what else is out there.
(And don’t ever leave without saying goodbye).
Why stop at London?
I landed on my feet just before moving to London. I was offered a job as a holiday rep for a small boutique travel company, which meant spending a month in London training before flying out to Spain. I thought what the hell, if I’m going to go all out why not leave the country too.
I saw an opportunity and as scary as it was, I took it. Within a month I landed in Barcelona.
Gut instinct #3 — Seize the opportunity.
Don’t let it pass you by, sure there’ll be other times.
But then there’s always ‘some other time’.
Growing up in Spain.
I could tell you about how I spent a couple of years practically living on the beach, drinking and dancing the night away in clubs and eating in some of the most amazing tapas bars. I could tell you about the places I found in the back streets of Barcelona. But that’s a competely different story from the one I want to tell.
You see, I had a lot of time alone in Barcelona. I had time to breathe and time to think. I went to see the amazing work of Gaudi and Guell. I explored the city and the beatiful cobbled streets of the coastal towns. I had no real possessions, a limited income and I felt alive. Without realising it, I was going through a [mental] coming of age.
I started to do photography, not in the formal sense, but just capturing the inspirational things I could see before me. I kept sketchbooks and doodled ideas. I also found a web design course advertised in a little coffee shop (which sold more wine than coffee) and decided to find out about it.
It was a short course being run through an American college in Barcelona.
I loved every minute of it. The fire in my belly was back.
By the end of that Summer there were two very clear things I knew about myself. I wanted to earn money creating interactive work. I wanted to earn this money so I could see the rest of the world, experience different cultures and taste different foods.
One need would fulfill the other. I would experience more and therefore my work would be better. I would produce better work and earn money so I could go and experience more things. (You see how this works).
Gut instinct #4 — Everything works out in the end. You have to face your fears and also accept when you know something feels wrong and equally when it feels right.
Don’t be afraid.
I returned back to Manchester and landed a job as an Interaction Designer, I finished my degree at night school, and within a couple of years moved up the ranks to Senior.
At some point in time the role changed into UX, though I can’t quite pin point when that happened. It was natural for me to think of the work from the users point of view, it had been stamped into me in my early years at University. Working in agencies formalised design validation through data and KPIs and grounded me in the requirements of the business.
It seems these days everybody sticks UX onto their job title, without really understanding what the job involves. I wonder how many people have gone out into the world to add to their own experiences. I wonder how many people have spoken to users in the ‘user’ part of their ‘user experience’ title.
I guess it doesn’t matter. What matters is that at least people care about this stuff. I think the empathy we gain from the work we design makes us better people. It removes our arrogance and self opinionated comments, or at least, it should.
I’m not sure it completely removes the fear. I know you shouldn’t be scared to do what you feel is right. Leave, travel, be alone, speak to people you don’t know, tell somebody you care, stand up for yourself, stand up for others, walk a different path. Listen. Be still. Be quite. Breathe. Just be.
Gut instinct #4 — Be true to who you are.
Be nice to people, work hard and don’t be an arsehole.
You will attract the energy you put out into the world.
Trust your instinct, don’t be afraid.