2017 marks ten years in tech for me. It’s a mildly significant, albeit thankless milestone. There were no anniversary gifts. Just more grey hairs, expense reports, and Ikea chairs. I’ve taken my lumps but took the time to celebrate successes too. If I sat down with my younger self, what advice would I give? Some musings, Looper style:
Design is always in the minority. In headcount and budget, design will be the smallest. Design augments the business in small ways over time.
Find a mentor. Your work problems aren’t unique and someone has probably fought that battle. Take this person to coffee and learn from their mistakes, risks and victories. Return the favour when you are older and wiser.
“Not a good fit” is a 4-letter word. When a designer gets sacked, it’s rarely about performance. Most of the time it’s interpersonal conflicts. His/her weak output was a lagging indicator of misconduct. What they really mean is, “that person was an a**hole.”
Hire for potential. (see above) Emotional Intelligence is more valuable, relevant, useful, [insert superlative] than talent. You’ll know right away when you have a design brat on your hands. Take a highly-collaborative B+ performer over an A+ performer that acts like this. Every time.
The output of one diva is no substitute for the consistent work of self-aware, kind individuals.
Don’t work at startups to get rich. Join a startup to experience the rush of being an underdog and the joys and pains of autonomy. Wearing many hats is fun and provides break-neck growth. Do it early in your career though. It’s a young man’s game but cooler than working at an agency.
Join a startup to experience the rush of being an underdog and the joys and pains of autonomy.
Stay in touch with your professors and alumni. Leverage your existing networks. They provide a trove of anecdotes and references . They’ll tell you what it’s truly like to work at company [X].
How you design together is just as important — if not more important — than the design itself. Collaborate at every opportunity. Products come and go, but relationships are enduring. Win or lose you have each other. My goal is to be able to share a beer or coffee with you in a few years.
People make designs. Smart, scrappy, imperfect people.
Practice salesmanship every day. Your designs aren’t self-evident to everyone. Practice on your oratory skills. Take an improv class with your team. And don’t — DON’T — revert to designer speak when explaining your solution. Tell a better story.
There is no perfect design. There are many solutions available. Your secret weapon is experimentation. Since there isn’t one right answer, facilitate risk. Ask hard questions like, “Are we on the right path? If not, why?”
Get over yourself. Thank you, Victor Papanek for reminding us that society can make strides without great design and that we don’t cure cancer.