Viktor Frankl Quotes

On Future Goals

As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietszche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.

The prisoner who had lost faith in the future — his future– was doomed. With his loss of belief in his future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.

On Inner Challenges

Varying this, we could say that most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge, and simply vegetate, as did a majority of prisoners.

On Freedom

…Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

On Hyper-Attention to Success

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.

Dalai Lama Quotes

On losing

If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

On being approval (or disapproval) of others

“Some say I’m a good person, some say I’m a bad person, it doesn’t matter. As long as my own motivation or thinking is honest, sincere. That’s important.

Actually, Buddha taught don’t care what others are saying. If at one time someone praises you, you should think “I also have critics”. And if someone gives you a lot of criticism, then you should think “oh but some people are praising me.” So it doesn’t matter. Paying too much attention to such things is silly.”

On conflict and suffering

“All suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction.”

Cultivating Humility in Design

No one likes to work with someone else who thinks they are smarter or better than everyone else (even if it’s true!).  While “genius design” sounds cool (think, Steve Jobs) it can lead to one person (or group of people) demoralizing, devaluing, and demeaning others (think, Steve Jobs) all for their own goals or benefit.

Designers who believe they are better than others, end up not being good team players who no one would like to work with.  This kills collaboration and can jeopardize your career and work projects.

Author’s note:  I’ve worked at a few places where some designers thought they were better than others.  There was always an aire of pretentiousness and judgement which caused others to be more competitive or fearful/doubtful.  Psychological safety was an issue.  To be 100% honest, I too have fallen into the arrogance trap and thought myself as “special” (we, as a human condition, are constantly judging and comparing ourselves to others).  That being admitted, I don’t want readers to read this article without examining their own behaviors and attitudes.  I recommend reading this article as it relates to you.  Don’t let your mind wander and think about others – use the article to ponder your own progress.  I believe, developing rock-solid humility and moving away from judgement takes time and maturity.  

What is humility?

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” – CS Lewis

Humility is a modest view of one’s importance.  Humble designers realize they are no more important than others – putting their pants on one leg at a time too.  They also realize that they are no less important than others either.

Understanding this balance between valuing yourself and valuing others, I believe, is essential to collaborating well with others, whether you are a junior designer or chief designer officer.

The foundation:  being secure with who you are (and are not)

Humility, fundamentally, to me, starts with accepting yourself as you are and as you are not.

When we don’t accept ourselves, we work hard at “looking good” — trying to make sure we are seen in a certain way.

A good example of this is when we join a new company, group, or start a new project.  In this case, we have all felt a desire to be accepted and to “look good” amongst our peers.  This involves wanting to present ourselves as exceptionally competent and capable.  We may speak up more and try and present ourselves as “smart”.  Or, we may begin to feel anxiety and be hard on ourselves.  After all, it takes energy to try and present ourselves as perfect!  Or, we get overly sensitive.  Someone’s feedback to us feels like harsh criticism and we take it personal, when it is not.

In the end, our mind is all over the place and we are constantly trying to prove ourselves to get others to acknowledge and accept us.

Ironically, the three challenges I mentioned above, speaking up too much, feeling anxiety, and being sensitive – end up not helping us to get others approval.  People can see through our issues (often I have found, better than we can).  Our concern for “looking good”, repels others rather than attracts them.  The possibility of collaboration is hurt.

This article will cover ways to accepting yourself more fully, so hang tight and read on.

From worry to arrogance and the paradox of successful jerks

The above feeling of “trying hard” and not accepting yourself fully, is a common experience for many people.  Thankfully, I have found for myself, that these insecure feelings typically go away over time.  Once you settle in a healthy (key word: healthy) organization (you get to know people and they get to know you), you begin to relax and feel secure in who you are.

However, for some people, this doesn’t happen.  They end up perpetually feeling insecure and there is a constant underlying worry of not being accepted (or failing).  There can arise a compulsion to be perfect and seen as perfect.  As a result of striving to be perfect, we can become arrogant which works against humility and collaboration.

Author’s note:  It’s confusing and seems paradoxical, but I have met arrogant people who have done very well in their careers.  Their arrogance coupled with developed (or perceived) talents, give off a confidence that seem to help them in their careers.  For a while I thought that it was a good idea to be a bit egoistical and arrogant too.  But don’t be fooled.  I believe, such progress comes at an immense cost.  I believe that we cannot be arrogant and rude with others at work AND have a peaceful personal or home life.  Thus it’s important to work on our own issues.  

So how can we keep ourselves in check?

Ways to Cultivate Humility

People are amazing BS detectors.  Within a few seconds people can tell who is truly humble, who is faking it, and who is quite frankly, arrogant.  And like I mentioned, whoever is seen as arrogant, puts collaboration in jeopardy.

Thus, it’s important as designers to be aware of behaviors and attitudes that don’t demonstrate and cultivate humility.

No one is perfect and I have admitted earlier that I sometimes struggle with ensuring my ego is in check.

Earlier I had mentioned that humble designers realize they are no more important than others and also, at the same time, that they are no less important than others either.  That they understand the balance between valuing yourself and valuing others.

The list below has some techniques that I feel can help you learn how to “value yourself” and also, at the same time, learn how to “value others”.

Learning to value yourself

[accordion_item title=”Admit when you don’t know” parent_id=”my-accordion”] Trying so hard to be perfect is exhausting.  A simple technique to cultivate humility is to admit that you don’t know, when you don’t know.  This also called being authentic.

To build authenticity muscles, we must call ourselves out.  We must acknowledge when we’re puffing our chest and recognize we’re not fooling anyone.

When our need to be real outweighs are need to “appear cool” – you know you’ve made progress here.

Author’s story: On one project, my team lead was really good at admitting he didn’t know.  What I found was, he was really good at doing that AND coming from a place of honesty and power.  He would say (paraphrasing), “I’m not 100% sure how we’re going to approach this next part, but let me talk to so-and-so who’s really good at this and maybe might give us some ideas.”  Along with his genuine personality, I felt like the team appreciated him even more when he could be vulnerable like this rather than claiming he knew all the answers.
[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Be kind to yourself when making mistakes” parent_id=”my-accordion”] Ever watch tennis players who make a bad shot, yell at themselves?  This is sadly how we sometimes treat ourselves we goof up at work or make a mistake.

Some people’s projects and work must be perfect or they fear judgement from others.  For some, the fear of failing leads to serious control issues.  If they are not succeeding at a project, they’ll feel less inside.  They begin to fear others will perceive them as not perfect and lesser.  “Self-enchantment” is when we want others to only see as perfect.

Stop being so hard on yourself.

We need to remind ourselves we’re human.  “Mistakes” are learning lessons.  Believe it or not, you’re allowed to make mistakes at work and that you are not required to have all the right answers.  Try and remember that the next time you don’t say the right thing or have the right solution.

We are all working to be better versions of ourselves and must believe in ourselves.  It’s a skill to simultaneously hold the view  that we are not perfect.   It allows for failure, it allows for personal and professional growth.  A good mantra to try: “I am perfectly imperfect” or “I am a constant work-in-progress.”
[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Measure yourself by your effort not by others” parent_id=”my-accordion”] On one project, one of my teammates made me feel horrible about how I was contributing.  This made me doubt myself and I spent time figuring out why I lost so much self confidence.  I took Kain Ramsey’s program, called Warrior Mindset, which I highly recommend.

From that program I learned why I felt so terrible.  I had a need to prove myself a success and I was heavily committed to defining myself by ‘what I did’. Since my identity was tied up by “what I did”, then “how well I did it” would determine if I was successful or not.

For example, if my design was “good” it was only known to me if others praised me. THEN I felt good.  If my design was “bad”, it was only known to me if others didn’t like my output.  THEN I felt bad.  This essentially was an on-going evaluation and thus, emotional see-saw, because I defined myself by ‘what I did’.  The only way I could know if what I did was good, was to evaluate “how well I did it” based on others opinions.  I was getting really affected by others opinions as a result.  Crazy right?

Nowadays, I try and define myself by if I have done the best I could to my ability or not.  “How I am being” (within my control) defines who I am.  I have to remind myself, I am hardworking, loving, collaborative, easy-going, imperfect, flexible, etc. etc. That’s what matters to me.  ‘What I do” doesn’t define me anymore (or at least, it doesn’t very often, but I have to stay vigilant).  I suggest checking out Kain Ramsey’s program or reflecting on the above to help you let go of identifying too much with your work.

Author’s story:  On a project at work, while I was brainstorming with my team, I was really evaluating my contributions and defining myself by “what I did”.  If others thought my idea was good, I felt good.  If they thought my ideas were bad, I felt bad.  I had to pause and recognize the familiar pattern.  A good technique here I found was first being aware I was doing this and then second, stay quiet.  Fight the need to prove yourself.  It’s a subtle thing, but I found if I paused more, I could then start checking in with myself to see if my ideas were helpful to the team and users – not to me and my ego.  
[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Let go of judgement” parent_id=”my-accordion”]

One thing that kills collaboration and building healthy relationships, is judgement.

All judgements are evaluations (whether self judgement or judgment of others) and end up separating you from seeing others as human beings like yourself.  In the moment we begin to believe “hey!  I’m pretty amazing and wayyy better than others” or “that person is NOT great/nice/competent/helpful/friendly/smart/etc. etc.” that evaluation now separates us from others.   Positive judgements about others also create problems sometimes, “hey that person is really amazing at what they do.”  This may be true, but can now create a subconscious yardstick where you now are measuring everyone else up to some standard.  

We communicate and perpetuate judgement in subtle (and not-so-subtle ways) and thus people can “sense” being judged almost intuitively (although they may not be able to articulate exactly why they are uncomfortable around others).

The moment we judge others, our micro-expressions can change (our face and body language gives away clues that we do not approve of someone else).  Comments “I expected more from you” or “you’re better than this!”, can belittle people and signals we are judging others (although we may not even mean to offend).

I believe, without self-acceptance (discussed earlier), I believe, we can have troubles perceiving and appreciating others accurately.  After all, if we judge ourselves and hold ourselves so highly (or not), we can easily fall into the trap of projecting that judgement onto others and then comparison or competition can start.

Author’s story:  After getting into a conflict at work, my manager told me to try being curious rather than judging others.  If someone says or does something that doesn’t settle well with you, instead of jumping to conclusions and judging them – try and be curious.  This can open up dialogue and can allow you to be more flexible in your dealings with them.  A good quote from the book Theory U, “But it is only in the suspension of judgment that we can open ourselves up to wonder. Wonder about noticing that there is a world beyond our patterns of downloading…Without the capacity for wonder, we will most likely remain stuck in the prison of our mental constructs.”

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Learning to value others

[accordion_item title=”Relax and make others laugh” parent_id=”my-accordion”]

I do believe too many people take their work very seriously.  And to some degree, work is serious.  But I believe, work should not get stressful.  It should be like playing a game of tennis – absorbing and focusing your energy for some purpose.  The moment you let the game get to your head, you’re in for trouble.

We can often forget that work is one part of life and as a result end up being so serious and stressed.  We can unintentionally hurt others by being mean or not giving them the proper respect as fellow human beings.

Thus, I believe it’s very healthy to be able to smile and laugh at work.  Collaboration can’t occur when the team doesn’t feel safe.  Making others laugh relieves their stress and allows them to relax too.

Author’s note:  On one project, I saw a senior leader and a product manager get so heated up that the senior leader barged out of the room slamming the door behind her!  A few months later the product manager was “let go” from his position.  Some people thrive in hostile political environments, thinking that’s the “norm”.  I feel, for myself, for my health and wellbeing, I don’t think this is “part of the job” and how people typically behave.  I would like to bring less stress to myself and others around me.  Learn how to make others laugh.  

[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Give your eye contact and attention equally” parent_id=”my-accordion”]

Another valuable suggestion for demonstrating humility, is to give eye contact equally.  This is a very subtle thing, but as human beings we are very aware if we are not being addressed in a group of people.  Eye contact, and lack of it, I believe is one thing that demonstrates if we are paying attention to someone or not.  

Although you probably don’t mean it, lack of eye contact can signal that you may not value others.  Often, the most senior person receives the bulk of eye contact since others are often looking for their approval.  The key I feel, is to be aware if you are doing that and then stop doing that.  By learning to give eye contact evenly, we show respect to everyone in the group regardless of their expertise or rank.

Author’s note:  A really good senior leader I know does a great job of giving eye contact evenly.  He goes even a step beyond that and often says, “I want to hear from folks on the phone” or “We’ve been talking for a while, I wanted to hear if anyone else in the group wants to chime in with thoughts about this.”  Doing this, he wins a lot of friends very easily.  He is careful and doesn’t abuse his rank thus increasing the team’s feeling of inclusivity and collaboration. 

[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Listen twice as much as you speak” parent_id=”my-accordion”]

We live in a time where we think being the loudest person in the room is a celebrated virtue.  In fact, it can work quite the opposite.

Oftentimes, I have had to pause and stop myself from saying the first thing that wants to come out of my mouth.  I am learning how and when to speak and contribute.  When I speak too much, I find I am not engaging others or I am putting too much attention on my ideas.

Yes, it’s good to engage with others.  But be careful you understand why you are doing that.  If it’s to get others attention and to be the smartest person in the room, ultimately this will subtly hurt your relationships.  Competitiveness can happen or people can be annoyed you are hogging the stage.

What I find works well is focused listening.  I find that when I am engaged the most in a conversation, I am absorbed in my listening.  It’s more about others rather than me and what I have to say.  I am hearing what each person is saying and what they are implying.  This requires I follow the conversation and not get distracted.   When you can give this level of presence with your listening, what you contribute when you do contribute, is more impactful and helpful to others.  People can tell you are listening attentively and your words will now carry more weight and flow in the conversation.

Author’s story:  A relative of mine doesn’t listen.  I know it.  I’ll share something and that relative nods their head, sometimes looks around, seems aloof.  They are often just waiting for their turn to speak, catching the bare minimum of what I have to say in order for the conversation to flow. Over time I have picked up on this and it has left me feeling the relative doesn’t care much about what I have to say.  It’s taught me the value of listening.   

[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Never take credit that isn’t yours” parent_id=”my-accordion”]

When working with others, we can easily get carried away.  When the time comes to share a great idea, we can end up not giving the right credit to the right people.

When I have done this in the past (or seen others do this), I’ve seen it can end up destroying trust.  Others can feel that you are out only for yourself and may no longer want to collaborate as much.

When we can put ourselves aside and in a balanced way, give the right amount of credit to others (not more or less), it’s actually a bigger stepping stone to an ideal which is to cultivate a genuine wish for the success of others.   If we believe work is about competition, that there isn’t enough to go around, then yes, we can end up stealing credit (whether intentional or not).  So when we practice generosity, we learn to shift to more of an abundance mindset.  Genuine leaders do this – they acknowledge their teams efforts often.

A good rule of thumb is the golden rule, “treat others as you’d like be treated.”  At first, make sure you go out of your way to let others know if someone else contributed to your project or idea.  Of course, don’t overdo it either.  Not every contribution has to be noted.  Nor do you have to live in fear that others will be slighted if you don’t mention them.  Refer back to the golden rule if you find yourself unsure of what to do.

Author’s story:  I was once on a project where the design team was brought in to help the product management team develop a new product.  We worked with them for weeks up until the product was built and deployed.  When there was department level share out in front of hundreds of people, the product managers on the team shared the work.  However, they failed to mention the design team’s contribution!  Needless to say, it soured our design team’s relationship with the product management team. 

Another project I was on, I was redesigning a massive website.  This website was highly visible at the company.  The IT manager in charge felt he deserved most of the credit for the website work and began isolating himself and not collaborating anymore.  He felt I was stealing credit and making him look bad.  That being said, I didn’t believe so.  I had worked politely, I had hustled hard with my team of designers to come up with concepts which we had got buy-in from multiple stakeholders.  It’s a good example of not having to give undue credit.  Some people may exaggerate their contribution or try and take over your contribution.  Jealousy can even happen.  Keep calm, carry on.     

[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Recalibrate when you offend others” parent_id=”my-accordion”]

Every team goes through a few stages until people truly trust each other.  In the early stages of a relationship, people are feeling out each other’s personalities.  Over time, as projects continue, each of us handles situations differently.  When we end up offending someone (or being offended), conflict can happen.  This conflict can be subtle (like avoiding eye contact or sensing someone is uncomfortable) or it can be not-so-subtle (like people being rude or cutting you off).

Overall, though uncomfortable, I feel like some conflict can teach us how others would like to be treated.  If we’re smart, we take note of what people liked or didn’t, and recalibrate our behavior.

Sometimes we mess up.  That’s ok, we’re human. When we offend others, I find it’s helpful to pull the person aside privately and discuss.  Not everything needs to be called out, but it’s better to side on caution if you have felt you did offend someone (or someone offended you).

Author’s note:  I struggle with this sometimes and have to calibrate.  If I say something and notice someone else is now acting out of character, then I like to take note of my behavior or how I am coming across.  My goal is to enable collaboration, not hurt it.  I will analyze how I said something and work towards improving it next time.  During the end of projects, I like to ask for balanced feedback, which may surface blindspots as well.

[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Use Language Softeners” parent_id=”my-accordion”]

Over time I am improving my usage of “language softeners.”  These are etiquette words or phrases that help us communicate openly (and thus less arrogantly or directly).

For example, instead of saying “this is the direction we need to go” it’s sometimes better to say “one direction we may go.”  This allows for flowing dialogue and inclusivity.  Another benefit is that it also doesn’t make you look foolish if your idea was flat out wrong.

[/accordion_item] [accordion_item title=”Ask for balanced (unbiased) feedback” parent_id=”my-accordion”]

Hate to break it to you but projects are not meant for us to be rockstars (although we all feel great when we are contributing of course).  Projects are actually meant to help us grow.  And as we all know, any growth must requires discomfort.

Learn to be uncomfortable.  Often, people don’t want to make us feel bad, so only call out what we’re doing well.  Or, we don’t want to know the truth.  Real growth, however, comes from asking for the good AND the bad.

Learn to enthusiastically and proactively ask to receive balanced feedback.  Earnestly ask for other’s opinions about what you’re doing well and what you can improve on.

Continuously doing this (during or after projects) is helpful in creating a muscle to be proactive about feedback.

Author’s note:  Not all feedback is equal.  Be careful who you ask for feedback.  Make sure that person is trusted and respectable.  If the person giving feedback is a joker, I tend to be careful about paying too much attention to it.  If the person is overly mean (providing only negative feedback), this also doesn’t settle well with me either and I begin to evaluate the credibility of the feedback rather than hear the feedback.  Over time, however, I am learning how to stomach feedback more and not take it too personally.  When I find feedback is done well, it’s balanced.  It tells me things I can do to grow and encourages me.  Whenever I’ve received feedback which made me doubt myself, paralyzed me or made me resentful – I think these are signs I either took the feedback too personally, which means I need some time to process it.  Or it could mean the person giving the feedback wasn’t kind and balanced when giving the feedback.  When you don’t agree to the feedback, in these cases, you need to be like the dude and say to yourself “Well, that’s just your opinion man” and learn to shrug it off.

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How to Eliminate Worry and Be a Happier Designer

Baby sitting and laughing

One of the challenges of design (and life) is to focus on the present and enjoy it and at the same time plan for the future.

But too much focus on the future, we get anxiety.  We worry too much: “How will this project turn out?” “What if I fail?  Will I succeed?” “What will people say of me?” “What am I doing with my career?” “How can I achieve success?” “What should I be focusing on right now?” “I wonder if my boss hates me?”

All these things takes us out of the present moment.  Then, while at work, we don’t enjoy our day.  Our minds have taken over — and we can have a subtle feeling of anxiousness or worry that paints everything we do.

The rat racer

I just finished a wonderful book called “Happier” by Tal Ben Shahar (I highly recommend it).  In it, he calls this worrying person the “Rat Racer”.  He suggests that at a young age, we learn to put off enjoying the moment and instead, learn how to sacrifice for the long term future.  For example, in school, we are told we need to focus and do our work, regardless if we like it, because ultimately, this will get us a good grade or get us into a good college.  We carry this into adulthood, where our hope is that buckling up and working hard will allow us to one day buy that home, buy that car or take that vacation.  In other words, we say to ourselves “I will be happy some day…”.

People inside high-rise building with concrete wall

But this is a pipe dream.

Shahar mentions the rat racer has made a secret pact with himself — he thinks that sacrificing current happiness will get him happiness in the future.  Thus the rat racer doesn’t care about happiness in the moment too much — since it’s all about some future prize.  This is summed up in the “no pain no gain” mentality.  We continue to disregard how we feel about what we’re doing and plow through.  We continue to encourage ourselves with other similar slogans like ‘work hard’, ‘hustle’, ‘put in the hours’, etc. while disregarding enjoying the process completely.

On the extreme end, this makes people very competitive and insecure.  You get people who are focused so much on their future ambitions and career that they justify bad behavior in the workplace.

Hate to break it to you, but just achieving our goals doesn’t make us happier (I’ll explain more in the next sections).

Poster that says "hustle hard stay humble"

Side note:  This sort of rat race/competitive thinking is prevalent in self-help books which emphasize ‘ambition’ and ‘grit’ at any cost.  They imply that we must force and motivate ourselves because we are lazy or undisciplined (and if we don’t — they imply we will lose out in life like the majority of “lost” people!). Sure, sometimes it sounds like sweet words (example:  “hustle hard stay humble”), but underlying this context is that we need to PUSH for success.  It MUST be effortful.  It’s like a good friend once told me, it’s not the carrot, it’s not fully the stick, it’s like someone is beating you with a carrot.

This rat racer motivation style may work for a while – but we end up not happy.  Work becomes a chore, design becomes a chore, life becomes a chore.  People can fall sick, feel existentially lost, or get angrier as time goes on. T-Shirt that says "Hustle Hard"

Happiness = pleasure + meaning

Tal Ben Shahar counters this common thinking.  His idea is that man/woman needs to have two things to be happy:  pleasure and meaningfulness.  We must enjoy the current efforts in the moment (pleasure) while at the same time move towards meaningful goals.

From “Happier” by Tal Ben Shahar:

Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.

Reaching our goals is not satisfying in itself (as Shahar mentions in the book).  Often we confuse the relief of accomplishing a goal as ‘happiness’.  But “Happiness is not making it to the peak of the mountain.”  Countless studies have shown that those who have won the lottery return to their baselines of happiness months after winning.  The rat racer hopes that reaching the peak (their goals) will bring him happiness, but its just “relief” – momentary discomfort is removed.  Not only that, life goes on.  New goals will be created that the rat racer will be struggling towards.  Again, discomfort settles in.

So do we disregard goals all together and just focus on enjoying the moment?  Not so fast.  If we just focus on doing what makes us happy — without any regard to goals — we end up doing meaningless activities.  We do things for fun, but without purpose.  This is why Shahar says “[Happiness is not] about climbing aimlessly around the mountain.”

Ultimately, happiness is about trying to balance your life and tilt it more towards doing things you enjoy AND doing things that help you work towards goals you find meaningful.  Of course, sometimes that may be tough to do (example:  a job or project that isn’t providing interesting work at all), but we must aim to strike this balance in all areas of our life and also improve our present conditions (or attitude) so we can enjoy the moment more.

Applying this to your design work

Are you enjoying the process of design?  What parts do you find meaningful and pleasureful?  Do you have clear meaningful goals?

Here are my two suggestions:

1. Discover what design activities you enjoy

For myself, I have realized that I really enjoy learning about ethics in design.  So I have spent some time reading blogs and books about it.  Other designers may be enjoying learning a new software or creating high fidelity wireframes.  Whatever it is, learn to articulate this interest.

2. Set meaningful goals

No one is going to tell you what is meaningful for you.  You must decide that.  Is that getting promoted?  Is that winning a design award?  Is that applying a new skillset to your project?  For me, I enjoy doing workshops on things I’ve learned — this allows me to connect the ideas I’m learning to a future meaningful goal.  Discover what is meaningful for you — and then try and connect enjoyable activities to it.

Suggested activity:  rate both activities and goals

Here’s an activity to help you.  Shahar suggests you write down your day-to-day activities and goals that you set — and then rank them on a scale from 1 to 10.  This helps build more awareness of what you enjoy- what you personally find pleasureful and meaningful.

Are you coming home energized or drained?

Think about the majority of your days.  Do you come home drained or energized?  Too many activities that don’t bring pleasure will bring you down.  The journey becomes a chore and you get into the rat racer mindset – where you just want relief for some day in the future.

Do you enjoy what you do, but have no sense of where you are going?  Do you feel like you are wandering?  Maybe spending some time articulating goals or working with your manager to articulate goals may be helpful.  But again, only YOU can say what is a meaningful goal or not.

My advice (and Shahar’s), make sure you can enjoy the process AND work towards meaningful goals in your life.

Thoughts?

What do you think?  What’s your general philosophy about being happier as a designer?  Feel free to share any comments below.

Overcoming “Trying Too Hard” at Work

A difficult challenge for me at times is just to chill out when I meet people at work.

If I am to be honest, I find myself “trying hard” when I meet someone new, people senior to me, or with new clients in top positions.

We all do it, but when is it unhealthy?

To some extent, we all “try hard” when we meet someone new or want to make a good impression.  This extra energy and enthusiasm is what people tend to appreciate too (no one likes a dead unenthusiastic personality when introducing themselves).

However, the definition of “trying hard” to me is: overextended energy going beyond basic first-time meeting energy exchange.

What does “trying hard” mean?  Beyond the first meeting of someone, you:

  • You provide extra effort, time, energy to please another person or get their attention, approval, validation.
  • You smile more often than what’s nature to you (could be real or fake smile, sure why not).
  • You give “unearned” or “undeserved” extra attention to someone else due to their rank, newness, position, etc..
  • You do things against your typical nature or behavior to try and befriend another person.

Problems with “trying hard”

There are a few problems with “trying hard” that can end up hurting you in your career and life.

Problem 1:  Trying to please everyone rarely works and often pushes people away

2 hands holding on to fence

This is an interesting irony, but the more you try to please someone the less they respect you and like you.  This is indeed contradictory to most typical advice to “work harder!” if you don’t get your result the first time.  Pleasing others with more effort, backfires.  Big time.

You would think people would be flattered right? Rarely that happens. Oftentimes an opposite effect can happen where others find your behavior unappealing.

“People pleasing”, “Looking good”, “nice guy/girl syndrome”, “trying hard,” or “butt kissing” are all forms of trying to impress others.

When you try hard to impress others and befriend them, people consciously or unconsciously know you are really trying to get something from them.

Now, you may think — no, I am not trying to get anything from them.  I’m just being friendly!  An extra amount of friendliness doesn’t hurt!

Well, let’s be honest here.  You are trying to get something – the obvious thing being their approval, a return of friendliness.  You are forcing an emotional exchange – when the other person may or may not be that into it or even deserving of it.

Try too hard to impress others — unconsciously rings an alarm.  People can sense you are changing yourself (not being at ease) for them.

If the alarm could talk it would ask:

Why would you change who YOU are just for MY sake? Must be a plan in the works.

Unconsciously, people’s “sales-man” radar goes off. They unconsciously ask themselves, what does he want from me? Does he want my approval? My trust? For what?

Problem 2:  You fail to see people as they are

Yellow sign that reads 'rattlesnakes may be found in this area give them distance and respect'

I think another big problem with “trying too hard” is something I have seen myself do.

I have tried so hard, that it has blinded me from seeing people as they really are.

If you are trying so hard to please others — no matter what they do, you are really not being self aware of who you are dealing with. 

That person may be a complete jerk and undeserving of your extra attention, energy, good will, etc.. — but you are too busy trying to get their approval (or reciprocity) to notice that you reealllly need to stay away.

This reminds me a common story of the scorpion and the frog.  Here’s the short version from Wikipedia (but it’s a fairly old fable):

A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.

If you are used to “trying too hard” too often, you risk the possibility of developing a very agreeable personality type that blinds you from staying away from those who may not have good intentions for you. 

This can be a fatal flaw (as you saw our friend the frog do).  You can easily get stung. 

Side note:  I have done this in my own career and warn you against making the same mistake.  If you are too nice and agreeable and always trying hard — you can fail to stay away from negative or toxic co-workers.

Problem 3:  You can hurt your self-respect

Tired man holding his face

Another big problem with “trying too hard” is that you end up hurting your own self respect after some time.

If you “try too hard”, for reasons I mentioned earlier, you are going to frustrate yourself.  You will find that your effort doesn’t give you the results you are looking for (you will find people are hard to control and won’t bend to your try-hard-willpower too often 😉 ).

This can lead you to hurting your self-respect since you are doing things you really don’t want to do and is NOT effective.  You are not honoring any personal boundaries or limits with others, which doesn’t build personal power.

This can lead to shutting others down more quickly or keeping others away subconsciously (think of teenagers or heck, even adults, who break up and remove the other person from facebook since others won’t comply with their affections).

The Paradox:  Try Less = Get More

The paradox is that the more you accept yourself and release acceptance from others (try less to impress others), the more you will be respected for your own opinions and ideas (others will accept you more).

So how can we move to this self-acceptance state?  Here are some tips:

Tip 1:  Ensure you have a “neutral” tone of voice

Boy yelling into old school megaphone

You’ll notice when you are trying too hard, your tone of voice will rise.  This is your “making rapport” tone of voice.  It’s usually higher pitched – signaling that you are not a threat and are eager to make friends.

Example:  When people visit after a long time they’ll usually say “Heeyyyy!!  Great seeing you after so long!”  This tone of voice is definitely more higher pitched — it’s the “making rapport” tone of voice.

Compare this to harsher tone of voice that accompanies people who are used to breaking rapport.  Executives in companies are very OK doing this (as a power move?  I don’t know.  But it doesn’t win friends).

Example:

Timmy:  Good evening Mr. Scrooge!  (Making rapport tone of voice)

Mr. Scrooge:  Bah Ham Bug!  (Breaking rapport tone of voice).

People who use the “making rapport” tone of voice with strangers and new people TOO OFTEN, signal to others that they are too open and eager.  They are “trying too hard”.

Others subconsciously know they are fishing for commonalities or connection without warrant.

So what’s my tip? Aim for neutral tone of voice (or slightly higher energy) when meeting people.  This doesn’t mean be a lame duck — no personality at all.  It just means to cut down your energy and “try-hardness” such that your voice of tone slows down a bit.

Tip 2:  Catch yourself impressing and start expressing

Man peaking behind rock

Start becoming aware when you start getting in your head, and trying to say and do the right thing.

Watch yourself if you’re trying too hard to please and be a certain way for someone else — be it your boss, friends, loved ones, family, or even Facebook (I know many people who won’t post whats on their mind simply because they fear other peoples responses and reactions).

This way of being stifles true self-expression and creates a false way of being.

A lot of people don’t even know they are trying to impress others because impression can be a very subtle thing. Oftentimes you have to catch yourself doing it.

For example, if Tom tries too hard to get to know his boss, this is a form of impression. “Lets go for lunch!” Tom says with a beaming grin. He’s trying too hard and his boss knows it.

Watch when you give opinions and ideas. Is it to get a certain reaction or approval from someone? Even a positive intention like a desire to get an approving nod or a smile from someone can be a form of trying to impress.

Don’t cater to others and also don’t let others stifle your opinions and ideas.  Find your own voice, accept it, and then express it.  Then you can speak without the approval of others. 

People sense you don’t need their approval and THIS is what is truly what wins admiration.

This is what people secretly want. No one wants you to impress them.

Tip 3:  Be a contrarian (do the opposite)

Lone sheep standing out amongst sleeping sheep

It might take a while to embody this idea of true expression with others. While you catch yourself trying to impress, you handy trick is to start saying and doing things intentionally to NOT impress.

This is like being a contrarian.

You tell yourself, “oh man, I know I am going to try to impress him/her, so I will take the opposite approach and not impress him/her.”

This means if you are eager to help out always (your way of “trying too hard”) — maybe you lay low and don’t volunteer this round.

Do the opposite of your “try hard” behavior.

Be careful though.  Too much contrarian-ness may lead to being a jerk!  What we are aiming at is to treat others fairly and with due respect as well as honoring your true self expression and way of being.

Keep at it. Over time you will find a healthy middle ground where you will know how to just express yourself without even worrying about impressing others.

Summary

Trying too hard is a lot of work.  There are a number of problems that can arise in your career as a result.

Some of these problems I mentioned:

  1. Trying to please everyone rarely works and often pushes people away
  2. You fail to see people as they are
  3. You can hurt your self-respect

The cure?  Paradoxically, trying less ends up getting you more (more respect, more affection and friendship, etc.).

Well, here are a few tricks and tips that have worked for me:

  1. Ensure you have a “neutral” tone of voice
  2. Catch yourself impressing and start expressing
  3. Be a contrarian (do the opposite)

What are your thoughts?  Have you experienced “trying hard” in your work and life?  How has that resulted?  I’d love to learn your tricks and tips as well.

Dealing with Job-Hunting Failures and Setbacks

When I taught UX Design, I would tell my students that looking for a job was a matter of just applying daily, keeping at it! Through planning and sheer willpower you can ensure you are making all possible efforts.

And then one day, as I realized I needed to get out of my current job, I began actively looking for job opportunities.  Boy, it was difficult!  Putting my foot in my mouth, I realize it’s easier said than done.

Looking for a job can have a tremendous emotional impact on your wellbeing as it always brings in questions of your self worth.

When you don’t receive a call back, when you apply continuously without any results, or when you do go on the interview and reach the final stages but don’t get the job — it can be very tough to not take things personally and feel down.

This can be especially true if your job search goes from weeks to months.

The Downward Spiral

man looking down dark spiral parking lot

The more we “fail” and get hurt by our failures, the more we can feel like nothing is working and we’re not good enough.  This in turn, leads to more failures.  Subtly (or not so subtly) we can sabotage any interview chances by either a negative or skeptical attitude, a low energy or mood, or even not following up or applying as much as we should.

This is the “vicious downward spiral of defeat”.  Viewing a situation as a “failure” ends up draining internal resources. It can also lead us to have negative beliefs about ourselves and our capabilities.

I know one designer friend who kept getting to the final stages of interviews at 3 companies and didn’t get selected.  As a result, he was so discouraged he spent 1 MONTH taking a break and not applying anywhere.  Instead of celebrating the successes he had so far — he ended up taking himself out of the game.

We don’t want to be like my friend.

Tips for getting out of the downward spiral

To counter this downward spiral, here are some tips to help you get immediately out of your funk:

Tip 1:  Apply more!

Man asleep with book on his face

I often talk to designers who are struggling with the interview process.  They complain that they aren’t qualified and aren’t getting phone calls back and aren’t sure why.

When I ask them, how often are they applying, they tell me “oh, I apply about once a week”.  Once a week!  That’s hardly enough!  You need to be applying daily to 1-3 companies (3 a day is what I would say is aggressive mode).  You should also be reaching out to people you know, asking for introductions, talking to recruiters, going to job fairs, etc..

Yes, I’ve heard “it’s about quality and not quantity!”.  I respectfully disagree.  It’s about quality AND quantity.  You need to be doing both and more.

Tip 2:  See your failures in terms of outcomes

Blurry background with clear sunglasses with city reflection

For some folks caught in the negative spiral, the first thing they need to do is get out of focusing on their “past failures” and “bad results”.  They’ve got to change their attitude!

To do that, refocus on the outcomes you’ve created so far.  An easy way to do that is, to see a failure as a stepping stone to where you want to go.

These questions help you refocus on outcomes (from Neuro-Linguistic Programming for Dummies by Romilla Reddy):

  1. What am I aiming to achieve?
  2. What have I achieved so far?
  3. What feedback have I had?
  4. What lessons have I learned?
  5. How can I put the lessons to positive use?
  6. How will I measure my success?
  7. Pick yourself up — and have another go!

For a designer who is applying to jobs, these could be your answers:

  1. What am I aiming to achieve?  Trying to get a job as a UX Designer!
  2. What have I achieved so far?  I’ve applied to numerous places, got my resume in good shape, worked on my portfolio.
  3. What feedback have I had?  My last interview did not go as planned.  They didn’t invite me back.  I asked the recruiter and she said I didn’t have enough research experience.
  4. What lessons have I learned?  I do have enough experience!  But maybe I need to talk more about my research process in a compelling and confident way.  
  5. How can I put the lessons to positive use?  I’m going to add a research section to my portfolio and prepare (and write down) a better answer for next time someone asks about my research capabilities.
  6. How will I measure my success? I keep applying weekly to at least 5 jobs!
  7. Pick yourself up — and have another go!  🙂

Notice how this process gets you to focus on outcomes and your progress towards those outcomes.  Hopefully, you should be feeling much better and more inspired.

Tip 3:  Troubleshoot what isn’t working

Clipboard with various doctors items

Each “failure” we encounter is just feedback.  That’s all.  Sometimes it’s just evidence of what didn’t work and is telling us to try again or try something differently.

In UX interviews, troubleshooting is usually easier than you think.  Here’s a list of common problems that happen and what you can do to fix those issues:

Common Problem 1:  I keep applying online, but don’t get any anyone emailing me or setting up a meeting.  

This may be due to a number of factors:

  • You aren’t applying enough (mentioned earlier).  Apply more often.
  • The company is EXTREMELY slow (they’ve got other things going on!) and/or you have been put on the bottom of the stack.  Try and follow up with recruiters at the company or other contacts at the company via LinkedIn.
  • If you are a seasoned UX professional, you may overqualified for your position.  Take a hard look at the position and your resume, scale down and customize as needed.
  • You are doing online only!  A LOT of positions come as a result of knowing someone or talking to independent recruiters who are connected to companies seeking candidates.  Reach out to recruiters via LinkedIn and start networking with people you know and asking for introductions.
  • If you are a good fit for the position, it could be your resume or portfolio are not compelling enough!  Seek the advice of recruiters or other senior UX designers to get their honest feedback.
  • You are under qualified!  This means you need to take on freelance projects, get additional schooling, or build up your skills.  Recruiters and senior UX colleagues may be good guides to help you feel more confident in your skills and showcase that appropriately.

Common Problem 2:  I got the phone screen with the recruiter, but didn’t move further than that!

This may be due to a number of factors:

  • Could it be your salary is out of range and scared them away?
  • Could it be you didn’t project enough confidence on the call?  Create a list of common UX interview questions (google them online) and come up with answers that are congruent to you.
  • Perhaps you didn’t show them what they needed to see in your portfolio.  You have to reflect on what didn’t work and focus on fixing that.
  • The company is weird/nuts/insane.  Sometimes the person on the other line doesn’t connect with you because you two aren’t a good fit.  Either way, I wouldn’t sweat that too much.  Next!

Common Problem 3:  I got the interview with the team, but they didn’t invite me back!

This may be due to a number of factors:

  • This one is a bit tougher.  You have to reflect where things went poorly.  Sometimes it could be just that you answered one question wrong.  Could be your presentation wasn’t compelling.  Could be you didn’t do a great job during the design challenge they set up for you.  Could be you got tired.  Whatever it is — this is ALL free feedback to make you better next time!  You can always ask the recruiter for a reason why they didn’t hire you.  Sometimes they’ll give it sometimes they won’t.  Either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Someone on the team didn’t like your answer or didn’t like you for some reason.  Could have been your garlic breathe.  Who knows?  This can happen (and has happened to me).  It’s tough to make everyone your advocate.  Keep calm, carry on.
  • They have a better candidate who is possibly cheaper than you or they like more that you.  Hey, it could happen!  We like to think there aren’t others more qualified than ourselves, but it’s true.  Don’t worry about that and keep trying.

Tip 4:  Believe you dodged a bullet (or two)!

Photo of bullets and bullet shells

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck” – Dalai Lama

I love the above Dalai Lama quote.  It’s SO true.  You NEVER NEVER know if the company whose interview you bombed was really the right company for you and your future.  Sure people may say so and so company is a good company, but it may not have been the right company for you.

For example:  you may have been put on a terrible project, your boss may not have liked you for whatever reason, your commute may have been terrible (or you ended up in an accident and got paralyzed), you may had a terrible colleague who was out to get you…who knows!

Since we aren’t fortune tellers we can’t predict the future at all, it’s not a bad idea to assume things are going perfectly as they should be.  This sure beats being negative and isn’t about putting on rose-colored glasses when coupled with tips 1-3.

When I used to teach UX, I used to say this to my students when we put them into groups for projects, “The group you get put into is the right group for you.”  This similar attitude, that the right job will come for you when it’s ready – is a positive one when coupled with the tips 1-3 above.

Conclusion

Overall, I’ve given you 4 really good tips for handling failure.  Feeling bad happens to us all, but we have to adjust our thinking and our actions so that we get closer to our desired goals.

What do you think?  Do you have a tip or two that may help others struggling with failures?  I would love to hear them — please share below.

The Hero’s Journey to Becoming a UX Designer

Every once in a while I teach a UX bootcamp for General Assembly – typically in Santa Monica or Downtown Los Angeles, California. The bootcamp covers the fundamentals of user experience design and students walk away with understanding the design process by practicing UX and building a mobile prototype.

The students who attend are often career shifters. These are people so deeply curious about User Experience Design as a new career possibility that they are willing to pay good money to attend my class and spend a day with me.

At the beginning of the class, I like to tell the students something which I’m not sure they fully understand, but is worth discussion. This is what I generally say:

“I’ve taught both part-time and full-time courses on user experience. But the large value of those classes are NOT that you learn user experience skills. Don’t get me wrong, the skills (domain knowledge) are a big part of the class. But the real value comes from being able to have an identity level shift at the end of the class. To be able to go from your previous profession (accountant, marketer, sales, whatever) and be able to confidently and congruently say ‘I am now a UX Designer’. That is why you are taking the class.”

To be honest, some students instantly grasp what I tell them about “identity level shift” and others sort of gloss over it. For myself, it’s a big realization I have had about my role in teaching user experience — and I think it’s important for new students to understand. Allow me to explain…

What’s Required for Transformation

To transform from one career path to another – to be able to say (and believe) that you are a UX Designer is something quite extraordinary. Any identity level shift is very difficult. For example, I can’t wake up tomorrow and credibly say to anyone (including myself) “I am a physicist!” All my internal voices in my head would say “yeah right!”. Internal doubt and incongruence would take over and people would find out soon enough I don’t know squat about physics.

This is why I’ve never been a fan of the “fake it til you make it” idea. It’s bogus. There is no “fake it”. You just make it. You can’t lie to yourself and others for too long.

How to “Make It”

So how does one “make it” then if you can’t fake it? Well, sacrifice. Hard work. Reading the books, paying for and attending the classes, and watching the videos are a part of that process of transformation. And it can be very confusing and emotionally draining too – that’s part of the sacrifice process too.

However, even in order to “make it” (to do the hard work) – you have to do something before that, which is even harder for some people.

And what could possibly be harder than the long hours of hard work?

Well, that is to admit your career isn’t where it should be — and that you don’t have it all together. That’s the hardest part!

In life, in order to achieve big things you have to be somewhat dissatisfied with where you are now. You have to admit where you are is not that great — and that learning user experience design is a worthwhile endeavor.

To those career shifters who become UX Designers, dissatisfaction and general unhappiness with ones career and life is the beginning of their call to adventure.

The Hero’s Journey: Becoming a Student again

The students in my class hear a call to adventure and it beckons them. This is the start of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

To even start on the hero’s journey – one must admit where they are now isn’t that great (and that they don’t know everything).

Only then, can they desire for a better future.

This desire leads them to turn into a student again and get back into the learning process. This is an amazing feat in itself.

I often find it amazing how when I come into a classroom, there is a clear role reversal. I may have students who are insanely intelligent experts in a different field, who now sit quietly to hear what I have to say.

They take on the role of “the fool” in tarot. And I don’t mean they ARE fools, but rather they are taking on the spirit of the fool.

The Fool

For the record: I’m no tarot buff, but I heard Jordan Peterson mention how in order to be a master, you must be a fool. Students must be willing to admit that they don’t know everything like “The Fool” tarot – a man who is carelessly walking around.

Additionally, when you see the “The Fool” tarot card, you can see the man carelessly walking towards a cliff. Ouch.

What does the cliff represent? Sacrifice. To be more precise, the cliff represents dangeroussacrifice (which can be very painful).

Students must first have the courage to admit they are lacking some information. They then have to desire for that information. And lastly, they have to sacrifice a lot to get that identity level shift.

And sacrifice they will. These courses are intense. They are called “bootcamps” for a reason (in fact, the full time course at General Assembly is called an Immersive or Intensive).

But at the end of the hard work is a pay off. “The Fool” goes on to become a master.

My Role as Instructor

Earlier I had mentioned the Hero’s Journey. Dissatisfaction, desire, sacrifice – are all parts of a student’s own personal hero’s journey.

I play the role of the “Mentor/Helper” in their hero’s journey. After their personal call to adventure, I appear in their lives for a short while. I help guide them into the unknown world of UX. I challenge them and test them (the ‘Trials and Failures’ in the Hero’s Journey image above) and help them learn new skills.

Some could say I also personify the obstacles they must overcome to reach their true end goal: ‘identity level shift’ – to be able to say they are a UX Designer.

This is their immense accomplishment and I am honored to play a part in it.

Ownership: Are designers responsible for failed projects?

Principle:  Effective designers are great at follow through, throughout the design process. This means adopting an “ownership mindset” – being responsible for successes and failures.  This includes:

  • Taking on additional responsibilities to get the project on track.
  • Getting their design implemented as intended.
  • Avoiding blaming others for stalled or failed projects.
  • Navigating difficult personalities to get work done.
  • Bringing together the right people to get the project done.

Real Life Story

“What the heck was that?!” I thought.  I had some difficulty with getting my designs implemented by the developer and my manager gave me hell.  In short, he got angry and told me the work sucked. 

After the meeting, I continued thinking angrily, “How dare he!  He didn’t even know what I put into the project.  I worked long hours to get this done.  Why is it my responsibility to code it properly?  This is unfair!”

Come performance review time, I was shocked by the lower rating.  I had performed at peak levels for years.

I was pissed.

Failure Sucks

Failure will happen on a project.  There is no escaping failure.

There’s lot of articles on failure these days.  People LOVE talking about how “failure is so great” and embrace failure and “fail often!” and yada yada yada.

Failure is a great teacher, but it still sucks.  And it hurts. And truly, no one wants to talk about how they failed (until much much later when they get over it).

One of the key soft skills that effective designers cultivate,  when failures happen is to adopt a ownership mindset.  

Ownership

Ownership in design means to own the design – from beginning to end.   Ownership doesn’t just mean “creation rights.”  In my definition, it means having accountability for what is built per your design.

“Failure” Will Happen

Failure will happen.  There are a variety of problem scenarios that can happen, centered around your design:

  • Deadlines keep slipping
  • The quality of the design that is launched is poor
  • The project is blocked for some reason (not enough resources, not enough stakeholder buy-in)
  • Your design gets torn apart during design review (and in front of your manager and peers!) 
  • Your developers ship something without telling you
  • And more…

Get rid of excuses and blame

When problems happen, people expect justice for others and mercy for themselves. – Anonymous

In the real life story I shared above, I was angry that I got blamed for a developer’s poor work.  When the product launched, it was due to the developer not planning their time and fixing all the css per my design.

Or was it?

At least, that was the perspective when I was getting the heat from my manager.  When I calmed down I realized that in order for me to be successful, I had to adopt the mindset that I was responsible for everything related to my design.  

To do that, I had to push aside the blame and excuses I was telling myself when the project “failed”. 

Here are some of these excuses for you to avoid:

Excuse #1:  My manager should’ve known, it’s THEIR job  

My manager’s lack of understanding was annoying to me.  

But in hindsight, he was right.

I had status checks with him early on and showed him progress, but his job isn’t to be there checking on the quality all the time.  That’s my job.

Later in my design career I realized that most manager are swamped and don’t have the bandwidth to babysit you and your project to completion. 

The babysitting is reserved for junior designers, who are expected to not yet be able to fully manage a project on their own due to their lack of experience and/or skills. 

If you are a junior designer reading this, ownership helps you stand apart.

If you’re more senior, it’s expected of you.  Inform your manager of what is going on – but don’t use that as a crutch for designs that don’t meet expectations (yours or others).

Excuse #2:  The Developer screwed up 

Developers don’t screw up.  If your developers code things that don’t match your design, it’s your job to check with them and see where they are at.  

If their progress is slow and you’re seeing the deadline approaching soon, HAIL THE RED FLAGS.  That’s the best time to let your manager know.  

For me, there was no point being angry at my developers (my teammates).  They were swamped.  Truth was, they had hustled and worked long hours to build out a lot of the functionality I designed.  

And they were fairly OK to work with – attitude wise.  

Excuse #3:  The Product Manager or Project Manager is Responsible 

Everyone knows the product manager is responsible for the success of a project.  While that may be true, it’s not a helpful attitude to adopt, for 3 reasons:

  1. You can mentally check out and silo yourself as a “designer” and that’s product manager stuff – which hurts a team mindset.
  2. You may not be responsible for the success of the product itself, but you are responsible for the design and the impact of the design.  If the design is horrible and many people think thats the reason for the failure of the product, people may start to point their finger to you for the project failure, not the product manager.  
  3. Nowadays, the designer is being looked to help validate the business ideas as well.  The idea of designing an MPV for experimenting and testing in the marketplace is becoming prominent as more and more designers are learning “lean” thinking which focuses on designing and launching small experiments to test your ideas. 

Tactics for Ownership

The idea of being only responsible for your part of the work is an old one from the industrial age.  At one point in America, lots of farmers gave up their craft to become “specialists” (factory workers).  They were just tasked to focus on one thing.  By doing so, we didn’t have to worry about all parts of a business – JUST the part we were hired for.  

In other words, we gave up ownership.

Seth Godin mentions this in his book Linchpin.  Godin writes about factory life:

“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed.”

Great designers may be managed, but they don’t give up ownership all together. They are also self-reliant, proactive, and take on the responsibility of being aware of the project’s status irregardless if they are the product/project manager or not.

Below are some practical tactics to adopt an “ownership mindset”:

Ask for help

  • Troubleshooting early.  Raise the red flags when development doesn’t seem on track.  Discuss with the team your concerns.
  • If you still aren’t on track, go to the development manager to express your concerns and tell your manager as well.

Bring  the Right People Together

  • Bringing together the right people to get the project done.  This may include visual designers, copywriters, or others.
  • If you don’t know who else needs to be involved, its a good idea to ask your manager or someone else, “who else should we invite to our meetings to ensure project success?”

Create a Design Bug Log

When my design was implemented poorly (and after I got scolded), I did the following to get the project back on track:

  1. Talked to my manager again (when I was calm) and asked him how to improve the situation.  He suggested I create a log of all the “design bugs.”
  2. Talked to the developers managers and told them the problem.  Had their buy-in for meeting with the team weekly to go over the design bug log I created.
  3. Met with the developers weekly to fix the existing problems and prioritize future work.

Use a Project Management Tool to keep track of items

  • After that meeting, I started using Tom’s Planner, a super simple project management tool for organizing the project.  If your team already has a project manager, great!  You don’t need to do that.  My team was not organized enough – so I took on the additional responsibility to get the project on track.

Are designers responsible?  What’s your experience?

Have you ever had to deal with project gone bad and been blamed?  What’s your general attitude?  I would love to hear what your thoughts are about this topic.  Leave your comments below!