Why becoming a digital wanderer made me a better product designer
Becoming a digital wanderer (a term I like to call myself since I’m slightly away from the already well-known term digital nomad) wasn’t my main priority when I decided to turn my career to becoming a digital product designer, but I couldn’t be happier to have taken that path.
For almost a year now, I’ve been exploring a large variety of countries around Europe while working remotely. Throughout my travels, I have gained experiences that I can now apply on my day job as a product designer that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise.
What are the differences between a digital nomad and a digital wanderer
Usually, digital nomads are those who by the use of online communication deploy their tasks no matter the location. We can take the example of photographers, PR or marketers who use this to further their career by exploring locations where they expand their business boundaries.
Some people take this as a way of making more; by living in a place where their salaries (earned in the country where their company is based) is more valuable and can get more for the same amount.
In my case, I decided to see my nomadic work life as a way of exploring and researching how people behave in different countries to improve and expand my knowledge in user behaviour and apply it on my designs. Challenging myself to live in a new place for a few days or weeks and get to know how people live and make use of their products on a day to day basis helped me broaden my understanding of different cultures and behaviour.
As a digital wanderer, you shouldn’t set yourself any limit to the exploration of your destination. Just make sure to try to learn as much as possible from the place and the people.
The nomadic life from a designers perspective
For the past few years, I have turned my career to product design, basing this on User Experience, User Interface and Digital Design where the main task is to solve problems by working and coming up by digital products user-centred.
As a digital wanderer, you get to interact with products built for other societies than yours, with different cultural roots and sometimes with different approaches to the ones you are used to. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that situations that appear simple to us in our own country are completely in another.
Train ticket machines are a clear example of how, depending on the country or the region, to solve the same problem, there are multiple ways of approaching the process. You don’t purchase a train ticket in Norway the way you would in Germany.
Either is the language selector or the route picker, I’ve always been curious about the fact that for something as easy and straightforward as purchasing a train ticket for a specific journey, countries like Norway or Germany approach this from different ends and using for that slightly different user journeys.
By travelling to different countries, cities and parts of the world, apart from meeting new people and getting to know about their experiences and backgrounds, both as a fellow traveller and as a user-experience designer, you get to make an idea of user behaviour. Approaching the user from a different perspective helps to build better products, finding better solutions and solving problems that could be improved. You also get to experience living like a local, not being tourism the focus of your journey, so you get an overview of things that people in the area do on their daily lives.
Perks of being a digital wanderer
I often get asked if I ever get to really work, not because I’m always partying but because I often post edited pictures from where I travel on my personal Instagram. Apart from being passionate about photography, it’s usually not obvious that I spend even more time working on my company projects from where I get to stay. That means doing research, designing, prototyping, having meetings and chatting with the rest of my team through online platforms.
- Living in a new environment, out of your comfort zone, is something that some people might see as scary. I take it as a way of recharging my batteries because of living in one of the busiest cities in the world; London.
- I’m someone that needs to be as close to nature as possible, so when working remotely I try to go to places where nature is part of the surroundings so I can get out after my work is done and explore the landscape by hiking and jogging through mountains, forests or parks.
- Expanding my food culture; if you allow yourself to be curious, you get to try some of the most tasteful foods during your travels. Be it a vegan meal with a Mediterranean origin or a piece of ecologic whale, the boundaries of food are limitless when working remotely and trying to experience the local life.
- Setting limits, when working remotely, is one of the major perks but also the downsides. When I’m away I start working on my tasks earlier and finish later. When there’s no commuting needed, you only need to check that everyone is aware of when you’re working and from where, and if possible, of the time differences. But it does feel great getting ready in the morning, looking for the right spot to work from and start earlier than normal while knowing you'll be able to stroll around with the camera in your hand later, after finishing all your assigned tasks and projects of course.
- Developing additional skills, in my case as someone that has always been interested in art and photography, travelling helped me getting a better knowledge and skills when capturing moments and editing my shoots. Also as someone who is used to draw, I get inspired for my drawings and illustrations by getting inspired by the art movements from where I go as well as street art or the architecture of the places I visit.
Downsides of the life of a digital wanderer
Being away in your work time is not all positive, especially when working on projects that involve being part of a multidisciplinary team with members devoted to different tasks with tight deadlines. However, it’s not something that might overcome the regular development of your work.
- Work for a company with a strong office culture. Some companies will find that although you deliver your work on time, find yourself always available and always attend the meeting on time, the fact that you are not sharing the same workspace might cause some confusion for people who have to get back to you with feedback or requests.
- Organizing your work routine and your tasks will become tricky. Sometimes the fact that you are out of your comfort zone will imply that you will need to make extra efforts to plan your day, your work and how to schedule your tasks.
- Finding the right balance between work and life. It’s already something difficult when living in the same city you work in with having to commute to the office every day, but working from remote as a nomad will require you to explore the possibilities that this offers you, and balance the hours you are working online with your team at the same time as the time you spend enjoying the stay away.
- Loneliness can also be a problem. While some people enjoy being on their own, I’ve found that other people can get overwhelmed by solitude during their journey despite the new connections they make. However, this issue can be solved by finding a travel partner.
While it might seem like an easy journey from the outside and that things come by themselves, becoming a digital wanderer will require effort (workwise and mentally) and you will need to focus on your goals and what you want to achieve by taking that path. Once the journey started, the most important part of it will be the experiences learnt on the way, not the final stop nor the way back home.
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