My favourite slide from my onboarding talk to new designers.

What you own vs. What you care about

As part of Shopify’s onboarding program, I give a talk entitled On Being a Designer to all new designers joining the team. The goal of my talk isn’t to cover everything that a designer needs to know, but simply to cover some fundamentals that will help them hit the ground running.

One of the most important things I talk about is the responsibility of being a designer. As a designer, there are two scopes to think about when it comes to your responsibility: your role as a Designer and your role as a Shopifier (i.e. a member of the company).

Or, said differently, it’s: What you own vs. What you care about.

Illustration by Sally Chan

What you own. As a designer, there are things you own. You will produce wireframes, flows, art direction, layout and UI comps, and other forms of prototypes. You own this work (and the thinking, strategy, execution, and delivery that goes with it) because your expertise allows you to excel at it and you’re accountable to its success.

What you care about. As a designer, you also care about things beyond what you own. You care about customer research, product strategy, accessibility, performance, and many other aspects of the product. You care about these things because you understand that success in these domains increases the chance of success in your own.

As it turns out, the things you care about overlap with the things others own, and vice versa. This, I believe, is an important characteristic of highly effective teams.

In fact, designer or not, the larger the scope of care any given individual has, the better they do on the team overall. People who care proactively ask questions. People who care get involved with bodies of work beyond their areas of ownership. People who care contribute to discussions and aid decision making. People who care don’t care about what hats they’re supposed to wear or where the line is supposedly drawn between them and their peers.

Later in the talk I also speak to 3 things we expect from everybody on the team: ownership, resourcefulness, and resilience. But what I’ve come to understand over time is that these 3 things still just boil down to how much somebody cares.

People who care take ownership of the whole product, not just the bits they’ve been assigned. People who care work hard to fight through ambiguity and figure shit out. People who care pivot quickly from failures because they’re focused on the end goal.

As far as onboarding talks go, this is probably one of the most important messages that I can offer our newly minted teammates. It sets the bar high but accurately frames the expectations ahead: if you care enough about the company, the product, and the problems being solved, there should be very little standing in the way of doing the best work of your career.