I’m an introvert. For a long time, I thought this was my biggest flaw, and that I needed to fight it to be good at what I do. I was wrong. It took me many years to find out that being an introvert is not a barrier, but a great asset. Every day, being an introvert makes me a better designer.
Let’s agree on the definition of “being an introvert”. Being an introvert is different from being shy. I’m sometimes shy, sometimes not at all. This is not what makes me an introvert.
The best definition I’ve read is that introverts find their energy in their inner selves. Extroverts find their energy while being with others. It doesn’t mean that introverts hate being around people. It means that social interactions require more energy. Introverts need to get this energy back by spending time alone.
That said, here is how being an introvert helps me every day to become a better designer.
Being a good listener to better empathize
I’ve always been the quiet one, avoiding chit-chat and elevator conversations. But as long as I can remember, people always talked to me. A lot.
I love listening to people. As I’m less comfortable chatting and improvising, I will often prefer to listen and observe. This allows me to notice details, postures, behaviours. This is gold for a designer! I do user interviews, user testing, user research on a daily basis. Being a good listener made me better when it comes to noticing how people use products, what they think, what they do. It just made me better in user research! Being an introvert made it easier for me to put myself in users’ shoes.
Keeping all scenarios in mind to design for the real world
It always requires a lot of energy for me to interact with people in a chill and natural way. I’m usually trying to think ahead of a conversation to prepare for it, just like I would prepare a presentation for a conference. I’m often trying to empathize with the people I’m talking to. I’m concerned about what they think, if what they say means what I think it means, etc.
This sounds like hard work, but it’s actually a habit I built so I could feel more comfortable when talking to people. This habit of thinking ahead and trying to picture all possible scenarios is a great asset when designing a product that people with different behaviours will use.
Acting more than talking to share complex ideas easily
“Why don’t you talk more?”, “Don’t you have anything to say?” are things that I heard on a daily basis when I grew up. I thought that being the silent one would make me a mediocre person and a mediocre designer. Spoiler: I was wrong!
When I was studying design, I learnt that doing something is always more powerful than talking about it. A picture is worth a thousand words… and that works for everything. Every idea I had to express, I tried to put it in a visual way. I always polished my presentations to the last details, so they would speak for themselves. I made more impact this way than trying to talk about what I had in mind. It allowed me to be clearer and to leave no room for interpretation or misunderstandings.
It’s a great asset I use today for design reviews, client presentations, or just when I want to share something with my colleagues.
Inspiring others with actions more than words
When I started working as a designer, I had this idea that I would never be listened to, because I was an introvert. I would never be able to mentor or lead anyone. I thought being a leader was not in my nature, like a goal impossible to achieve.
I had a discussion with my manager and mentor at the time — Jeff Zundel — who gave me this piece of advice which I think about every day:
You don’t have to speak loud to be respected. You don’t have to know how to captivate your audience with words and gestures to share your ideas. You’re a designer, design things. If you’re not comfortable speaking to someone or expressing abstract ideas, just act. Produce stuff. People will understand what you mean, and learn from what you did.
It’s so much more powerful than explaining something abstract and waiting for people to believe you and follow you blindly.
It really made me realise that being an introvert didn’t mean I couldn’t be a good leader or mentor.
Instead of fighting against my introvert nature, I tried to turn it into a strength. Unconsciously, I think it’s the reason that made me want to become a designer in the first place. After all, being a designer is all about listening to and observing people, and then turning it into a useful product that people enjoy using. I’m sure that being an introvert gives me the assets to be a better designer, everyday.
It’s easier to notice people who shout louder in our society built around extroverts, but let’s not forget that being extrovert is not needed to be a successful person.
To finish, a few things I’d like to tell my younger designer self:
- Keep listening to people. Answer them with your heart. Chase meaningful conversations.
- Never stop doing, producing, building things that you can show to people.
- Don’t chit-chat if you’re not in the mood. Ignore people who ask you to talk more. Silence is not awkward.
❤️ Thank you to the great people who helped me make this post better: Alicia, Daniel, Dawid, Ricardo, See Wah, Sérgio, David, Gabriel and Jeff.