Death to Entitlement in Design

I want it now!” -Violet in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

I’ve been to many conferences and meet-ups with fellow designers that turn into group therapy sessions where a common thread of discussion revolves around not being understood, not having what you need to come up with great solutions, or not being able to produce your best work because of some factor within your organization. Many of these conversations have a defeatist tone to them, where the designers don’t feel like there’s any way to make things better.

When I’m in these conversations, I can’t help but think that far too frequently, there’s an expectation that we’re entitled to have everything we need in order to be great designers, instead of being active participants in finding ways to make design successful within our organizations. In order to be a successful designer, you can’t avoid the curveballs that are thrown at you or the fact that not everything will always be aligned around design. Instead of feeling like your environment should already be fully supportive of everything you want as a designer, start to think more critically about how you can start to shape your own destiny.

You’re not entitled to having everyone in your organization understand design.
When joining a new company, you may be faced with not having everyone immediately understand what you do or how your work will benefit the products your company creates. There may be design advocates already within the organization, but not everyone will have had significant experience working with designers, and they may not be used to having design be a driving force in how decisions are made. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If designers only ever joined companies that were fully on board with design processes or that had a large, mature design team, there would be a lot more badly designed websites and products out in the world. Rather, it’s something you should see as an opportunity to find ways to engage the company in understanding not just you and your role, but how everyone can contribute to building great experiences. Focus more on surfacing user insights to your team so that they can see how their work impacts the user experience rather than on your personal contributions. Remember to not demand any more respect than what you give to others. Be patient and have as much empathy for your team members as you do for your users.

You’re not entitled to an infinite amount of time in order to follow your perfect design process.
Just because there are well-documented user experience design processes does not mean that your optimal methodology or set of activities will work for every project. Most designers know this inherently, but some still push incessantly to do things the “right” way, even if the “right” way doesn’t take into account all of the constraints that exist with many projects. Granted, some constraints may be arbitrary and therefore frustrating, but many are valid and represent needs that your broader team has to work within, not just design. Instead of fighting that these constraints exist, you will usually have to figure out how to make the highest impact within those constraints. If you are not able to approach a problem in the best possible way, figure out a way of helping the team evaluate the success of your efforts so you can iterate on them afterwards. Find out what’s critical to your success, and where you can be more flexible. Help show your team the benefits of different parts of your process so they can give you the time to do them whenever possible. Show these benefits in terms of how they will make your products and your customers better — not just how they will make you better. Find ways of making your process more lean and efficient while still getting the results you need. You’ll find that even if you’re not able to do everything you may have wanted to do during your design process, you’ll still be able to create some great work.

You’re not entitled to having all the information you need before you begin designing.
You’ll almost never be presented with all of the information you need up-front, and if you are, chances are, that information isn’t actually comprehensive or correct. Getting vague problems to solve is part of being a designer. It’s your job to evaluate the information you’re given and figure out if you need more information before you can effectively find a solution. It’s also your job to help find the answers to those questions, not just assume others will do it for you. Help facilitate these conversations rather than blame others for not having all of the answers. Also remember that if someone comes to you with a proposed solution instead of a problem, it doesn’t always mean that they are dictating to you exactly what to do. It may be their only way of knowing how to articulate how they interpret the problem. Work with them to determine whether that solution is the right way to solve a problem or if you should work through other possibilities together.

You’re not entitled to a special way of working just because you’re a designer.
Yes, designers need dedicated time and space to work through problems and come up with creative solutions. But you know what? So do engineers, product managers, marketers, and nearly everyone else on your team. Thinking that you’re the only one(s) who need a great environment to do your best work can backfire and isolate you from the rest of the team. Instead of asking for special treatment, try to figure out how you can create a working environment that helps everyone be as effective as possible at their jobs. Creating an environment that helps you be a better designer will also likely help the others around you. Ask others how you can help them be more effective at their jobs, and chances are they will be more receptive to giving you what you need to do your best work as well.

Your main role as a designer should always be that of a problem solver. In some cases, that problem solving has to happen within your own organization in order to make you successful. By approaching challenges you face with this in mind, rather than complaining that things aren’t the way you want them to be, you’ll start to make progress and see challenges in a more optimistic way. After all, if you aren’t an active participant in your own happiness at work, who’s going to do it for you?

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