The Guide to a Consistent Improvement Curve — Part 1

Regardless industry or role, to constantly strive for improvement will be a determining factor for success. We guess you’ve heard this before. We have. Many times. How do you feel about it? Are you, like us, a designer wanting to grow your skillset? What are your feelings accompanied with that? Do you have a plan?

We’ve made some observations.

A popular question in the design community is: What does it take to become a better designer? Some popular responses are: It takes time. It takes practice. It takes motivation. It takes skill. It takes feedback… On that note, another observation: To strive for improvement is one thing. To keep the curve consistent is another. Motivation, time and inspiration varies over time. We’ve all been there — no time, no motivation, no inspiration. Bummer…

In this serie of articles we will explore if we can get around this issue and create a solution that paves way for us as designers dreaming of a smoother development curve. We’re a group of UX/UI Designers and Front-end developers from Valtech Sweden who all want to improve our skills within Interaction Design. Based on observations and our own experiences we’ve tried to design a process and toolkit that reduces friction and obstacles and at the same time keeps us motivated and challenged. We’d like to share our learnings with you.

The Baseline

We’re currently testing our first prototype, we call it “Interaction Design Craft Circle” and here are the main hypotheses that it’s built upon:

  • Learning new things is hard to prioritize
  • It is difficult to maintain motivation on one’s own
  • Finding the right challenge is a challenge itself
  • Feedback is just as important as practice
  • A balance between autonomy and structure is key

Our idea boils down to three focus areas — Team, Task and Time. The schedule below gives an overview of our first Craft Circle prototype where we’ve tried to address the needs related to the three T’s.

Schedule — Interaction Design Craft Circle

Task

The process we’ve put together is based on the challenges from Daily UI. We’ve hand-picked a set of 14 challenges that we’d like to solve during this first period and the goal is to complete one challenge per week. We believe the straight-forwardness and simplicity of the Daily UI challenge’s requirement specification is a great way for us to solve the challenges based on our individual goals. It will also help us manage time restrictions as the challenges can be completed with high, low or medium engagement.

To broaden our skills within Interaction design we’ll complement the weekly challenges with skill-sharing and educational sessions that will focus on taking our solutions to the challenges to the next level.

Team

At work we’re used to work in cross-functional teams and we’d like to utilize that power for our professional growth as well.

First, a short list of why we believe that forming a group will help us create a more consistent growth curve for each of us as individual designers:

  • It helps us stay motivated
  • It’s creates a natural platform for inspiration
  • It opens up for feedback
  • It will push us to dare to share
  • It’s more fun!

Second, we’ve thought of some risks that comes with forming a group for supporting individual development:

  • We all have different background and experience
  • We all have our own goals and interests
  • We all have different schedules
  • We all have different motivations

The main idea on for overcoming the risks is to get everyone on the same boat. With that in mind we organized a kick-off: Craft Circle Interaction Design #000. We wanted to meet with the group to discuss the plan and understand each designer’s drive and goals with joining this initiative. We met up after working hours and had dinner together while discussing some important areas: Communication, Goals and Motivation, Schedule and Sharing on Social Media. In our next article we’ll cover how we address these areas, with a special focus on managing goals and expectations.

Time

Participating in our Craft Circle means putting in extra time to complete the challenges, either at home or at work, and to prioritise this. We wanted to create a schedule that doesn’t feel impossible to follow, but that is challenging enough to build progress. At the Kick-off we agreed that we would attempt to complete 14 design challenges in 15 weeks with one week’s break to either catch up or just breathe a little. If one for some reason couldn’t complete a challenge, we decided it’s better to focus on the current week’s challenge to keep the group in sync. Our hypothesis is that a balance between team meet-ups and individual work will help us stay motivated, goal-oriented and focused. The schedule for the Craft Circle supports this by including “Design Labs” as a planned activity where we will meet, have dinner and share our outcome from the challenges that we’ve recently completed. The main purpose of the Design Lab-events is to gather the team, to share our designs and learnings and finally, to give each other feedback.

Testing to learn

September has been the first month of testing and we aim at iterating the prototype during this fall. The end goal is to present a framework for designers like ourselves, and maybe also for other professionals, that paves way for a steady incline in ones professional development curve. We’ll take note of areas to improve and re-design our process as we go. We aim for this series of articles to act as a tool for documenting our thoughts and learnings, which enables analysis for developing the framework. We’ll measure our success mostly in soft-values, but we’ve set our main KPI to be a hard fact; group stability / retention. This means that to have succeeded, we have managed to stay motivated, challenged, dedicated, inspired and together throughout the Craft Circle. By December we hope to feel that we have grown as designers, and that we can continue our development journey within the design field or any other area of interest with this toolbox close at hand. Meanwhile, we hope you’ll learn something new too!

Stay Tuned

Our next article will cover reflections and learnings on how we set goals and expectations for the group which also support the goals of each of us as individuals.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and perspectives on our approach so please feel free to leave a comment if you have any input or critique on our process this far.