Take your time

I am very much an introvert. I exhibit the classic symptoms: avoiding parties, reading books instead of hanging out with people, etcetera. But mostly, it manifests in how I process the world around me.

I think a lot — I spend most of my time in my own thoughts and mind. I mull over scenarios, weigh options, and think through everything I’m going to say and do before I put it to action.

Not unrelated, I’m also very much a designer. That means I notice a lot — I see the world through a visual and tactile lens, constantly analyzing the smallest details around me.

Some details: how letter spacing affects legibility, bus doors that open inward and fold vs. others that open outward and slide, how left-handed people use keyboard shortcuts

Many designers experience the world in this manner — being this observant is a fundamental part of our work. But it’s a lot to process. And as an introverted designer, it means I need to take more time than others to get my thoughts in order.

A few thoughts in my head

Sometimes when I work with others, my introverted designer tendencies create friction. When working one-on-one with a strategist, I’m worried I take too long to think. But when I rush to respond, I feel their frustration rise — I end up with an non-constructive scramble of words instead of thoughtful consideration of their ideas.

Other times, sitting in group brainstorms where it feels like everyone else has ten sticky notes, I struggle with my lonely three, sweating it out as I anxiously try to conjure more ideas — only to scribble what turns out to be fluff.

Some thoughts—actually, just feelings of nervousness and anxiety

I’ve asked several of my coworkers for advice — on how to be more generative, more engaging, more extroverted. I’d been ready for a while to change; I just wanted to know how.

Instead of criticism, I was met with genuine curiosity: Why do I feel I need to make more contributions, if my few are valuable as they are? Why am I measuring my worth in conversations by a “number of times spoken” count? No one’s counting. Only listening.

Why do I feel I need to make more contributions, if my few are valuable as they are?

Because being generative doesn’t necessarily mean listing a bunch of ideas during a brainstorm. Being a good contributor doesn’t mean speaking up constantly. I have no idea how to be a person who does those things. And more importantly, my style of processing and work is just as valid as anyone else’s — it helps me do my best work.

Two things that I’ve learned about being an introverted designer, that I hope might help others:

  1. When I feel unable to contribute on the spot, I can take my time. I can come back later, with a few solid ideas, instead of forcing myself to respond immediately. It’s not a weakness to spend more time thinking than reacting.
  2. Since my natural tendency is to draw (not all designers are illustrators, but I happen to like drawing), it’s more efficient for me to take the time to illustrate a concept, instead of inefficiently searching for the right words. Again, this is my particular strength with visuals — not a weakness with words.

My skills, personality, and experiences lend themselves to this type of communication — slower, more deliberate, more visual. I’m starting to build on them to better myself, instead of berating myself for not being something else.

I’ve also started asking others to try something different from their style (i.e., asking someone to draw a concept, bringing up a concern in a one-on-one setting instead of at large group meetings). Almost always, I’ve been met with enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. The fear that people will correct me, or tell me that I’m “doing it wrong,” is just that — only a fear.

Of course, I’m still learning. It’s a cycle of figuring out what works best for me, adapting to each situation, and remembering learnings for next time. Hopefully, this will help some of the introverts out there. Ask for time! And then, take your time.