Dear designers, get uncomfortable
And some tips on how to manage the process
I have a very good friend with whom I often like to make this joke. Wherever he tells me he wants to do something for the first time — be it running, starting to cook, learning to take photos or a new 3d design technique)- my first reply usually is: “But you need a doctoral thesis for that, remember? That can take you years”. Then I receive his annoyed smile just before sinking into self-reflection.
Before I move forward: no, of course, you don’t need a degree to start doing most things. But how did we come up with that? It’s a way for us to start thinking more about the temptation of staying in our comfort zone. Avoid giving ourselves enough credit that we can actually create something, even if we don’t know whether we are good at it. It’s our way of pushing things forward and taking the fear of starting something into derision. Because you don’t need to read dozens of books or take a class to start doing things, you can always gather resources, try, see if it’s right for you, reflect on it and decide later whether more formal education or more effort is needed.
So, how can I postpone this doctorate as a Designer and grow? Here is what I’ve learned so far.
If it’s uncomfortable, you are on the right track.
I spent many weekends with a cloud above my head, thinking about what my next step on Monday was going to be. What are the results of my research going to look like? What if I get biased results? What happens if my assumptions are not valid? If my prototype doesn’t test well? I could not shut off my brain until jumping out of bed or going back home, opening the laptop, and starting to clarify things — as fast as possible until being able to gift me the illusion of clarity and control. All this until I realized that I wasn’t worried about the results, but about the lack of control and fear of the unknown, with a bit of imposter syndrome to go well with it.
When you repeatedly do everything, in the same way, you need to worry. Being unsure of what to do next means more learning opportunities and shifting priorities and mindsets, leading to new ideas and experiences.
Still uncomfortable with the unknown? Start asking questions. Talk to your teammates or an expert if you need to validate your understanding. Please do some research beforehand, agree with yourself on the next steps, think about potential solutions, then discuss them. The best way to deal with uncertainty is to explore, test, and validate. Test with other people and your users, and consult with experts.
You will have days where you doubt your ability, no matter how much you do and what people tell you. There are going to be times when the imposter syndrome will overwhelm you. The key to overcoming this is moving and starting working in the direction you feel least confident in. At some point, you will not understand anymore what all the fuss was all about.
Start doing it even if you feel like an imposter.
Like my 100x Ph.D. friend, we’ve all been through the false comfort of postponing something simply because we think we are not ready for it. It is entirely false in all cases, except if it’s a life and death situation. The fastest way to become good at something is to start doing it consistently.
I truly believe in leading by example, so here is me sharing some of my experiences:
- I started writing articles on Medium with a Bootcamp assignment, and 1 article should have sufficed. I was never a writer, to begin with. But I am keeping at it, asking for feedback and incorporating it. I crossed paths with another Designer once, who told me my articles were helping her be more confident in transitioning to Design. Now I look forward to every Monday article I share and can’t wait to start writing more.
- My first client project was in the world of web3 and crypto. The only thing I knew then was that I should have invested in Bitcoin a couple of years back. And that’s it. And the project was a one-man show. The first thing I did was take Google by storm and learn as much as I could, documenting everything. The project was a turning point, and the start of my career, and not taking it out of fear would have led me on a different path. Not only was the project a success, but the client noticed how much I’ve learned about the subject and the effort I put into that.
- Before my first user interview — or any other meeting for that matter- I used to take almost an hour beforehand, pacing nervous, breathing in and out, researching like crazy. Now I make sure I have a clear plan and focus during the conversation. And it’s enough. But the ease didn’t come naturally, but with a lot of practice. If I had to do five interviews, I did 10. Because I didn’t have anything to lose, I wanted to get better and better at it by doing it, making mistakes, and gathering experience.
Ask for feedback
If you are one of my loyal readers, you probably know how much I value constructive feedback. You might also be tired of all the articles telling you how vital feedback is (in Design and everything else).
So much so that asking for or offering feedback risks becoming the next checklist item in the design process. We all know about feedback; it’s part of our routine, and it becomes an “I love you” said too often and too soon, and it loses its power.
To avoid this, make sure you are as straightforward as possible about what you need feedback. Asking your colleagues randomly to give you some feedback on the way to lunch is not sufficient.
Take the time to reflect on what you think was not perfect, where you could have done things differently, and make sure you ask for specifics. Instead of putting people on the spot and saying: “Hey, can you please offer me some feedback?”, try something like: “ Hey, in our last meeting with the client, I felt I could have offered a better response to point x, but I felt I wasn’t confident enough. What do you think I should have done, and what should I do in the future to avoid such situations?”.
My Ph.D. friend would probably ask for a conclusion by now, so here are some quick reminders for when you feel uncomfortable again:
- Not knowing what to do next is powerful. It means you are not a robot following the same protocol. It’s your brain’s favorite workout. Let it train, and you’ll be surprised.
- If you want to do things, start doing them. You will never be 100% prepared on a magical day. Take small, consistent steps, and you will realize that day was there all along.
- Ask for specific feedback, but do a bit of work yourself. Think about what you can improve and discuss this with others.
If you’re looking to kickstart your UX Design career and need a helping hand with choosing the best way to transition into a UX role, we’re happy to help you at Mento Design Academy. You can book a free call with us in which we will explore if UX design is right for you and if you’d be a good fit for our UX & UI Bootcamp. Stop postponing your career switch and reach out to us! :)