Design isn’t just messy at research, it’s messy ALL the time

Monish SubherwalDesigning Joy1 Comment

One of my biggest pet peeves are mundane images that are shared on LinkedIn and the web.  A whole bunch of them are cliché and/or have been worn out by reuse (especially, the UI is NOT UX image on the web thats SUPER common, how many times and ways can you tell people that UI is not equal to UX?).

A big NO-NO

One image looks GOOD, but bothers me:

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.48.19 PM

The image shows a tremendous amount of “messy clutter” during the research phase in design.  It indicates that a lot of activity to discover and define the project happens in the beginning of the UX process, and that once that is “figured” out, the rest of the process is less messy.

But that’s not true.  The image is not accurate.

Design is messy ALL the time

Here’s the reality:  design is messy ALL the time.  NOT just during research.

There is ambiguity throughout the process.

And, to be even more clear, I feel that navigating that ambiguity is one of our key jobs as designers.

Redesigning the graphic, I think it should look like this:

messydesign-963x417 copy

And this lines up well with a designer’s #1 job.

What is a Designer’s #1 Job?

ALL of design is a constant tension (good tension of course).  A designer does their best to learn about their users, and create a vision to solve that user’s problems.  And the entire process is just a non-stop dedication to bringing that vision to reality.

And that’s a designer’s #1 job.  To make vision come to reality.

If product managers have “product-market fit” to worry about, designers have “vision-process fit” to worry about.  This vision-process fit (this is a term I am coining btw), is matching a designer’s vision to the process (including tools and skills) that he/she uses.

So how do they make vision come to reality?

If product managers have “product-market fit” to worry about, designers have “vision-process fit” to worry about.  This vision-process fit (this is a term I am coining btw), is matching a designer’s vision to the process (including tools and skills) that he/she uses.

Creative Thinking Vs. Critical Thinking

Designers do 2 things really.  They create something AND then check to see if that thing they created is “good” or “not good”.

This constant back and forth between creating and evaluation, happens at ALL stages of the design process.

To create and evaluate, great designers end up developing 2 essential soft skills:

  1. Creative thinking skills
  2. Critical thinking skills

Through each stage of the design process (research, design and prototyping), a designer must be creative and critical.

In other words, it’s messy throughout – not just during research, but also during prototyping AND during design.

Some examples of Creative vs. Critical Thinking

Research Phase

Creative thinking activity:  Creating a topic map
Critical thinking activity:  Evaluating to see if the topic map is comprehensive.

Creative thinking activity: Brainstorming questions
Critical thinking activity:  Evaluating to see if the questions are well formed and the order is correct.

Creative thinking activity:  Interviewing users (yes, this is an art)
Critical thinking activity:  Analyzing the notes and discovering patterns from all interviews.

Creative thinking activity:  Creating the card sorting cards.
Critical thinking activity:  Having users group the cards and label the piles (open card sort).  Analyzing the results afterward.

Design Phase

Creative thinking activity:  Design Studio Method (designing solutions separately)
Critical thinking activity:  The converge phase in the design studio method (when designers come together and talk about what ideas worked or didnt)

Creative thinking activity:  Sketching
Critical thinking activity:  Getting feedback from others or self-evaluating to see if the sketch works or not (has all the requirements and solves user’s needs).

Creative thinking activity:  Wireframing
Critical thinking activity:  Getting feedback from others or self-evaluating to see if the wireframe works or not.


Creative thinking activity:  Building the prototype and the interactions
Critical thinking activity:  Getting feedback from others (usability testing) or self-evaluating to see if the prototype works or not.

It’s really really messy

As you can see, design is an ongoing process of making the unclear, more clear.  This requires 2 crucial soft skills: creative thinking and critical thinking.

And to be honest, I lied.  The graphic really needs a LOT more squiggly lines.  Here’s what the process really looks like:


For each method used in the design process, there is a squiggly followed by a straight line (lack of clarity, followed by clarity).

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts?  Are all the phases of design equally messy or do you really think research is the messiest?  Leave your comments below!

How to Give Design Feedback

Monish SubherwalImproving CollaborationLeave a Comment

There used to be an old joke in the design community: “you can always tell a junior designer from a more senior one.  When giving feedback, a junior designer nods, smiles,  thanks you…and then proceeds to the bathroom to go cry.”

Receiving feedback is a core part of being a designer and you develop “tough skin” over time.  But giving feedback is also an art.

The Delicate Balance Between Soft and Hard Feedback

As an instructor, I often have to give feedback.  I see lots of projects from students at different parts of their education and in different phases of my class.

I have to evaluate what is “good” or “bad” design and give appropriate feedback fitting the project, student skill set, and phase of their learning.

And, the truth is, it’s a delicate balancing act.

Being too soft with feedback, we lean towards being too nice and supportive.  Telling the designer the design is “OK” and “keep iterating.”  The recipient is left with little pressure –  thinking that they don’t need to worry too much and that they just need to keep moving forward.

Being too hard, we risk hurting feelings and demoralizing the person.  Telling the designer their work is “sub-par” or not acceptable.  The recipient is left with a LOT of pressure – and can shut down and not feel our feedback is useful to design iteration, but is rather a personal attack.

How much pressure?  What’s the right mindset?

Overall, we want to set HIGH expectations without demoralizing the recipient of feedback.

Indeed, whether we’re too “soft” or too “hard”, the intention is pure: we want them to keep refining their work so the product output is better.

Second, we want to empower the recipient (and especially if you are a leader your goal is to develop others).

Building self-confidence as a designer is a HUGE skill set (after all, the ultimate goal is self-reliance – for THEM to be the measure of quality and be able to evaluate themselves).

Problems with Being an “Expert”

“Expert” designers (designers with 10+ years of experience) become REALLY REALLY good at evaluating designs.  They can spot when a design is “off”.  Really great designers are able to “see” all these problems all at once (like Neo in the matrix, yes quite a nerdy reference).

They can tell you why grey isn’t a good choice for a color, or why your feature isn’t going to work.  It’s an amazing skill that comes with time and years of experience designing products.  I know this because I have met great UX directors who have evaluated my work and I have been dazzled at their insights during feedback sessions.

There are many many things to give feedback on, and expert designers can evaluate a design based on ALL these elements:

  • Design layout
  • Labels
  • Color
  • Design decisions
  • Content
  • Structure of content
  • Feature decisions
  • and much much more!

Yet, the drawback for expert designers is that it’s EASY to tear a design apart — AND the designer receiving that feedback.

It’s human nature to focus on the negative (business philosopher Jim Rohn says “negative is normal”) and just spew out problems.

However, if you quickly rattle off ALL the problems ALL at once, you really don’t make your feedback useful to the recipient.

They can end up flustered, demoralized, or unable to know what to “fix.”

Over time, they will stop coming to you for feedback at all – realizing it’s a painful negative experience that isn’t useful.

What Great Designers Do

The better designers can “SLOW DOWN” when they give their feedback.

They hold off rattling off “issues” they can spot.  Instead, they:

  1.  Hold off their reactions.
  2.  They seek to understand, before they ask to be understood.  
  3. They back their feedback up based on objectives.

I’m going to go over each of these (many of these ideas come from a book called “Discussing Design” which I highly recommend).

1. Holding Off Reactions

“I don’t like it” “It doesn’t make sense!”  “This is sh*t.”

When people react, they can react verbally or non-verbally.  Whether we like it or not, the reaction tells us something about their view of our design.

Great designers when giving feedback, hold off reactions.  When they are asked for feedback, they take some time to slow down and think.

When we react too quickly – we get judgmental and this automatically puts safety at risk.  This can cause the recipient of the feedback to get reactive and defensive themselves and even stop listening to you.

That is the opposite of what you want.

Remember, feedback isn’t about judgement, it’s about refinement.  So slow down.

2. Seeking to Understand

Once you’ve taken a few breathes, start to ASK QUESTIONS to learn more about how a designer was thinking about the design decisions.  “Why” questions become invaluable for discovering intentions.

Questions like:

  • Curious to know, why did you choose this color?
  • Why did you consider this feature over another?
  • Tell me, why did you go in their direction?

Asking questions like this helps show you CARE about the other person’s hard work.

It helps build rapport and helps set a context for reflecting and exploring the design together.  Showing you are thoughtful about another person’s perspective, is the basis of empathy (a skills set that great designers cultivate).

3. Back up Feedback based on Objectives

What is “good” or “bad” design?   Is Craiglist an example of “good” design? Craiglist is a successfully UGLY product that works well.

Design can only be “good” or “bad” based on if it meets the objectives of it’s users and the business.   

Thus, great designers can articulate WHY the design is off and back up their evaluation  based on objectives (persona, scenarios, problem statement, and/or business goals) and using design principles.

This is better than reacting quickly or being the “expert” and rattling off design problems.

Great designers ask about how the design meets the objectives.  Their feedback is centered around objectives.

They give feedback that ties into the objectives AND can ask questions to explore the design (mentioned earlier):

  • Your persona is really busy and doesn’t have much time.  Have you consider reducing the steps in the wizard?
  • The business wants to increase conversions.  Adding a form here instead of a button will make conversion happen quicker and save the user steps too.
  • The problem you are solving is related to a lack of discovery.  Your feature here is not addressing that so I’m concerned it won’t be enough.
  • I see that Nielsen’s Heuristic “Match Between Match and World” is a concern here.  The label you are using “Brand” may confuse your persona.  Maybe “Products” is a better word that users recognize.

Notice that when feedback is tied to objectives it becomes a LOT less personal.  It becomes less about one person’s taste or judgements.

This ends up building rapport with the recipient (synergy).

Leading by Example

Feedback recipients want to learn why their designs are not “good” and WANT the feedback raw and truthful.

Yet, we must also consider how we evaluate the designs.  Mastering our emotions (being non-reactive) and being willing to explore the design with the objectives in mind, keeps our conversation useful to the recipient.

Doing so, allows us to be clear and concise when we evaluate, but at the same time, not destroy a person’s self esteem or letting a person “off” too easily.  This allows us to balance being “hard” and “soft” – giving the recipient just enough pressure to refine their designs with a clearer direction.

In the long term, we end up leading by example – showing them how to evaluate design in a healthy way.

For Designers: 10 Takeaways for Your Better Future

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

In May, I just finished teaching the finest students at UX Design Immersive class at General Assembly in Santa Monica.   In a rigorous 10 week time period, I saw students transform (what I call an “identity” level shift), from not knowing what UX really was about, to being full fledged UX designers.  They got to work with clients and I got to see some AMAZING projects.  I couldn’t be more proud.

Alas, all good things come to an end.  During the last week, I gave a final lecture which I aptly called “the last lecture.”  It was a lecture with last pieces of wisdom and advice that students could take away for themselves.  These ideas were stuff other people told me or that I experienced.  Some were hard lessons and some I’m continuously trying to cultivate myself.

Overall though, I think it’s a pretty darn good list of takeaways for designers.  Hope you enjoy it and it helps you on your journey to becoming a great designer. 

1.  Follow your heart (more often than your head).

heart mind photoWhen we just think with our heads (our intellect), we ignore the most important part of who we are: our heart (as corny as that sounds).

I’ve joined companies and went after titles that sounded nice, but in the end, realized that I was in the wrong place. When we just chase the money, the title, or position – we focus on what we will get.  Instead, great designers focus on who they are becoming.

Some great advice from a mentor of mine: most people who look like they are successful and have reached a high position can’t really tell you how they did it.  They most likely didn’t have a five or ten year plan (or if they tried to create one, they pivoted quite a bit).

Instead, they just chose the next best thing for themselves.  In other words, they got good at listening to their heart – choosing something, then the next thing, and then the next.

2.  Be a part of a community.

community photoOftentimes, when we have problems in life, we tend to reflect on the problems and try and solve it ourselves.  We alienate ourselves from others.

General Assembly is a fantastic community.  When people enter our school, they can feel that this is a different place.  The vibe is one of learning, growth, and support.

You’ve got to continue being a part of a community.  Community heals, community lifts you up.

3. Don’t seek to become a bigger version of yourself.

Anytime you are evaluating options and you start salivating at your own greatness – a new position or title, ask if thats who you truly want to become.  Becoming a bigger version – bigger title, bigger position, is OK – so long as it’s what you truly want to do.

4. Develop your skills.

Be a serious learner.  The definition of luck is the intersection of preparation meeting opportunity.  So keep learning new things, being involved.  Luck will happen.

You get paid for the value you bring to the hour and to the marketplace.  The man who cuts the tree down with a stone axe will take 3 days, the one with the steel one will take 1 hour.

5. Don’t be the sad jerk during layoffs.

Be nice to others.  Nice people do get ahead.  Yet, it can confuse you because you may see jerks and aggressive personality types leading organizations.  I can tell you, there are also really nice people leading organizations too.  Look for them and find them.

Jerks are sad people.  They are frustrated and their personal lives are usually a mess.

When layoffs happen, people help support each other through the change.  Everyone realizes they were on the same ship.  But no one cares for the jerk.  The jerk is on his or her own, because they burnt bridges through the entire journey.

6. Don’t stagnate.  Invest in your personal and professional development.

If you aren’t growing, get out.  Don’t waste your time and your employers – if you’re not happy, you’re not going to do good work.

Yet, some place offer nice paychecks and benefits.  How can I sacrifice that Monish?  Somethings cost too much.  The cost of staying outweighs the benefits – but you can be blind to this fact.

Again, we need money – so choose wisely.  But don’t fool yourself if you are stagnating, and don’t blame others if you realize you stayed too long.

7. Don’t show up to prove, show up to improve.

When you start a new job, the intention should be simple:  I want to help.  I want to help.  I want to help.

Don’t think about yourself.

A former manager told me some sage advice:  the first 3 months should be making friends.  Don’t do anything else.  Get to know people.  Don’t be selfish.

Later, you can add your two cents – but that right is earned when trust and respect is earned.

8. Don’t network, make friends.

Networking doesn’t work.  It’s ultimately saying “I do something for you, you do something for me.”  It’s so contrived and agenda based.

Instead, just make friends.  Show up to an event to learn.  Meet people.  The ones you like, keep in touch.  Expect nothing.

And remember, the major key to a better future, is YOU.  No one else is going to do it.

Don’t seek that ultimate mentor or manager.  Everyone tells you that successful people have mentors.  What they don’t tell you is that successful people attract all sorts of people.  Everyone wants to be around successful people.

9. If you leave, leave it better than you found it.

People should be sad you’re leaving, not glad you are.

Be a person of value.  Simple as that.

10. The things you build, end up building you.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 7.24.03 AMProjects you work on, the people you work with – end up defining who you are. Choose wisely.

Why It’s Important to Know Your UX Heroes

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

One of the personal development people I really like is Jim Rohn. Rohn once said,

“Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person you become.”

So who are you becoming? For 2016, I have been asking myself this question and one of the quickest ways I’ve found to know who I am becoming is to find a hero or role model.

Finding someone who inspires you, that makes you FEEL excited about the field of UX, is key. Their ideas and beliefs will add to your own. You will then expand and grow faster than others. Over time, their ideas will integrate with your own thinking and uniqueness.

We sadly live in a world where its hard to find good role models, people to aspire to, so we often silo ourselves. We continue “the daily grind” and zone out. Don’t do that. Develop a personality. Get emotional about your life, feel excited about UX and who you are becoming. Only then can your “work” transform into “emotional labor” and an expression of yourself.

Who are you heroes? Which people do you watch on youtube? What books do you read? Do you have a picture of this person on your wall?

If I ask you “who are you becoming?” and you answer with “a UX Designer” I think thats a limited view. You need a richer answer. There are many UX designers – how are you different? What is your flavor? What is your own brand, your own value proposition? The answer to this question comes from borrowing ideas from other great people along with your own introspection and exploration.

Isaac Newton once said “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Who’s shoulders are you standing on?

Food for thought for 2016.


The Student, the Master, and the Drunk

Monish SubherwalBlog, Resolving ConflictLeave a Comment

A story on how to win EVERY fight at work:

An aikido student once traveled on a train with his Master and one drunk muscular huge guy was attacking and being aggressive to people on the train.

And the student said to his teacher; “Now I will show you what I’ve learned.” And prepared for fight. And the teacher calmly said back; “No, now you will learn again, watch me.”

And he stood up, went to the drunk guy and asked, “Hey! What did you drink? It was probably good!” And the drunk guy, who was noticeably confused, replied; “Sake!” And the teacher said with a calm voice, “Oh Sake (rice wine)! I love Sake! Why don’t we go off the train and I will buy you some sake, we can drink together?”

And the drunk guy calmed down and suddenly started to cry, saying, “I’m really sorry, my wife left me, I don’t know why I am like this, I’m really drunk…”.  And the aikido teacher hugged him, said that it’s all ok, and everyone was fine.

And then the teacher said to the student, “See, this is how you really use aikido!”

Are your the Student, the Master, or the Drunk?

In the workplace, how do you deal with conflicts?  Are you aggressive like the drunk?  Prideful like the student?  Or artful like the Master?

I think, the story is a great one.  It teaches the idea of mental, behavioral, and verbal flexibility directed at resolution.  Indeed, it is tough to be like the Master.  Even the aikido student wanted to show off his skills and “fight” to resolve the problem.  Instead, a solution was discovered in a clever way avoiding any conflict or potential conflict.  Pure genius.

The core lesson, I think, is this:

“You win every fight that you don’t start.”

Peace & Aikido

I’ll be honest.  I know little about aikido.  But from what I’ve googled about it, it is a martial arts that advocates utilizing an opponent’s resistance to direct that energy towards something more positive.

One of the core principles of aikido is “A commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict whenever possible.” A wonderful quote by founder, Morihei Ueshiba:

“Regardless of how fast or slow my attacker advances, I will not be taken off guard nor defeated. This is not because my technique is faster than that of my opponent. Fast and slow are of no consequence. The contest has already been decided from the beginning, merely by having the intention to fight with one who embodies the universe, my attacker has fixed his mind on violating the harmony of nature itself. In other words, the moment my attacker fixes his attention on fighting with me, he has already lost.”

To me, this is the essence of teamwork in the workplace.  Conflict will arise, but winning involves creating harmony.  Any company that wants to win, must have teams that work together and play nice.

Side Discussion:  The Power of Stories

A coach of mine once said,

“Your mind is like a garden.  Some people allow weeds to grow in it (negative thoughts) and it destroys the garden and its beauty.  Over time, nothing is left only the weeds (negativity, antagonism, cynicism).  You must work hard to pull out of the weeds so that you can enjoy the garden.”

Metaphors like this are very powerful.  It’s very easy to grow weeds in your mind’s garden.  Under stress, our beliefs and thoughts can easily become negative towards:

  • our co-workers
  • our company
  • ourselves
  • our managers
  • our future
  • our skills
  • etc.

Stories, like “the Student, the Master, and the Drunk” share powerful lessons that help pull “weeds” out of our mind’s garden.  Yet we forget this.  When we were little, we used to read fables and stories.  These were powerful because they shaped us and taught us valuable life lessons.  As we grew older, most of us stopped hearing such insightful stories.  But I believe they are important and that they can change us and make us better individuals and team players.

I’ll be sharing more stories as I find them, because I believe in their power.  If you have any good ones that you feel have helped shaped you, please share them below.

Trickle Down Bullying: How to Deal with Negativity From the Top

Monish SubherwalResolving ConflictLeave a Comment

Bullying happens in the workplace. Yet it’s not so apparent as the school yard bully (it’s typically more “covert aggressiveness”). You aren’t left with bruises and cuts – but more emotional wounds (as corny as that sounds).

I strongly feel that leadership comes from the top. If you ever see a website that is ugly and disjoint in its experience, it’s because their leadership team is that way (the outside tends to match the inside). This is “trickle down leadership”.

One of the forms of bullying is what I call, “trickle down bullying”. Like “trickle down leadership”, trickle down bullying is anger coming from someone else (usually above you).

For example, a manager may get very upset with you about having things done a certain way BECAUSE his manager got mad at her for something else.

Trickle down bullying comes from someone’s superior and goes down to their junior (and perhaps even beyond, to people’s homes). It’s negativity that spreads.

An Example of “Trickle Down Bullying” from my own Life

“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.

Next week, I went and saw the developer. I had a talk with them about process and how important it was to get the design done. It went over his head. He said HE had a lot of stuff on his plate. I wasn’t expecting that. I wanted to hear he was sorry for not following through and getting things done. I wanted to hear, yes, we’ll do a better job next time. Instead, I got resistance and a lack of openness to doing the work!

I held my breath until no more. I gave him my thoughts “you know, I got a lower performance review because YOU didn’t do your work. I don’t want this repeated. I’ll have to talk to your manager because this can’t happen again!”

Trickle down bullying at its finest.

When is anger okay?

I’m not going to be like HR and say anger is NEVER okay in the workplace. Because thats just silly.
Anger happens since we are all human beings. It’s not okay, it’s not fun, it’s not “right” – but it happens.

If it happens too often, sure, go ahead and talk to HR. But when it happens, you need to be empowered to deal with it in the moment.

Tip: Nip it in the bud, so you don’t end up bullying someone else out of frustration.

There are 2 steps to dealing with Trickle Down Bullying.

Step 1: Empower Yourself

There are a couple of different reactions you can have to trickle down bullying:

1. You could feel bad and guilty.

This is a form of beating yourself up. You feel like you deserved the trickle down bullying. Thats your inner wimp coming out. No one needs to get angry and you don’t need to feel like you deserve their anger.

2. You feel frustrated and angry.

As human beings, we expect others to treat us as we treat them. We expect others to play by the rules of conduct and good manners because we do. But it doesn’t happen all the time.

It’s unrealistic to think others are as nice as you or are always going to treat you as you treat them.

Some people get mean and that’s OK. You don’t need to be friends with everyone, but you do need to learn how to deal with others powerfully.

Step 2: Consider your Action Options

Once you deal with how you feel about the situation, you have a few options for taking action:

1. Ignore the person all together. They are angry right now and they are dealing with some bullying from their superiors. You aren’t going to change them nor do you need to. Give them space.

If someone is not being positive and supportive, you don’t need to call it out all the time. Pick and choose your battles wisely. A lot of times, people are dealing with their insecurities and anger and are looking to unleash it and nothing you do is going to help them.

2. If you can’t ignore the person (you work with them daily), you need to address it assertively. You DON’T need to escalate and get angry back at them.

Pull the person aside. Ask the person, “What is up? Why are you so angry?” This requires maturity and willingness to understand the other side.

Calling out people’s emotions in the workplace is different than calling out people’s emotions at home. At work, people understand they shouldn’t be so emotional and the fear of HR limits their expression.  Use this to your advantage.

You’ll find typically, as long as you assert your desire to have a good relationship with them (ex: “I want to be effective and help you out…”, they will be willing to apologize and explain what is going on with them.

If the person keeps escalating, sometimes they need more space. Leave them alone until they can talk to you like a mature person.

Note: none of this is fun and can be uncomfortable. But it is necessary at times.

What do you think?

Have you ever dealt with trickle down bullying? What do you think about the suggestions here? Any more ideas on how to deal with this behavior?

Getting to Know People Outside Your Department

Monish SubherwalBlogLeave a Comment

I used to hate the saying “first impressions are last impressions!”  It drove me nuts. Over time, I realized I hated that saying because I don’t think I did a great job when meeting new people! I sucked!

And the reality is – most people do too. Don’t be that person.  Work on mastering “the meet and greet” – the first time you meet someone to get to know them (typically 1 on 1 private meeting).

Why are “meet and greets” so important?

The first time you meet someone is a very important time, because it can set the stage of the remainder of the relationship.

My manager was awesome because when I joined, he encouraged me to meet people across my department and within my department.  If your manager doesn’t offer the suggestion to do some “meet and greets”, bring it up with him/her.  Doesn’t matter if you are new or not – get started wherever you are at.

The following things begin to happen during “meet and greets” that makes them pivotal:

  • Building rapport – seeing if you are similar to the other person and getting each other’s world.
  • Alignment – seeing if you see eye to eye with the other person.
  • Exposure – seeing who’s who in your company and sharing with them who you are.
  • Feeling people out – seeing who’s friendly or not.

Earlier I mentioned I used to “suck” at the meet and greet. However, now I think I’m improving. How? Well, if you know me, I’m a huge fan of setting up structures for yourself. I created a simple “Meet and Greet” framework that I’ll share with you below.

Why Have a Framework?

Before I jump into the framework, I want to mention why a framework is important. It’s important because most of the time when you meet people you are either:
1. Phony – Trying to look good and make a good impression
2. Stifled – Stuck in your head and unable to express yourself fully

And to be honest, #1 is really you not being present either.

The framework keeps you focused on the OTHER person and understanding their needs.  After all, you weren’t hired to solve your OWN problems.  You were hired to solve OTHER people’s problems.

Preparing for something as simple as meeting others is a sign to others that you care. It’s the preparation alone that separates you from others – that sets a good foundation for your future relationships.

With that, here are the 6 steps for creating a solid first impression.

Step 1: Do some simple research on who you will be meeting.

I write down the following:

  • Their Role/Title
  • Their manager
  • Their corporate page (copy the link to their official corporate page in case your company has an intranet with an org chart and profiles – if not, skip this)

Step 2: Know your intro.

Write down some points about yourself! Things about yourself that you would like to tell the other person. Here’s some things I mention:

  • Tell them WHY you think you should be meeting (ex: I wanted to get to know your department more, etc.)
  • Give some background on who you are
  • Tell them what your role is
  • Tell them what you do
  • Tell them where we’re you prior to this job (optional)
  • Tell them something personal (good for establishing some rapport)

Step 3: Discovery: Ask them about their goals, strategies, and priorities.

Finding out what the other person is trying to accomplish is SUPER valuable.  Most people don’t even do this.  Here are some good questions that center around knowing the other person’s agenda:

  • What do you do?
  • What are the projects you are working on? (this should start illustrating a strategy to you)
  • What are the intentions of these projects (how does it fit in with the bigger picture product, UX, company, division strategies)?
  • Are there any other initiatives and efforts to follow the strategy?
  • What’s the scope of work?
  • Current status of things?

Step 4: Knowing their goals (Step 3), what are they struggling with and how are they measuring success?

  • What are the challenges? Obstacles?
  • What is the aspiration? Desired outcomes?
  • Focus areas? Scope?
  • Guiding principles? Mantras?
  • Activities? Capabilities?
  • How do you measure success?  What are some of the metrics?

Step 5: Ask who are their partners in crime.

  • Which stakeholders and buy in is needed? Support from higher up?
  • On the design side who have you worked with?

Step 6: Thank them and make sure to follow up and add them on LinkedIn and your company chat.

  • Send follow up thank you email
  • Be sure to add them online! (on chat or other system)

Q: Can nice designers be good leaders?

Monish SubherwalBlogLeave a Comment

Being a UX Design leader and growing yourself is challenging, but is even harder at times when you have to deal with:

  • difficult coworkers or managers
  • a political work climate
  • A-type personalities
  • passive-aggressive and indirect behavior
  • people who aren’t very transparent
  • etc. etc.

People and their own agendas can get into the way. Politics as usual.

What’s a straight forward, honest person to do?

There’s an ancient Indian philosopher and military strategist (consider him the Indian Machiavelli), Chanakya, who once said,

“Do not be very upright in your dealings for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked ones are left standing.”

Wow. Jaded words.

The quote leaves a big debatable question: Is it possible to be an honest, nice person and still get ahead despite work politics?  My take is:  yes.  It is possible. In fact, I have 5 core principles I live by, that makes me believe this is true.

Read on and find out what they are…

Principle 1.  You can’t control anything except yourself

I’ve been laid off after doing very well, I’ve had projects I’ve worked on for months get de-scoped once they were built, I’ve had managers leave and been told what I worked on under that manager wasn’t worthwhile at all.

Drama and change in the workplace is ongoing, but you can’t control it. So focus on the one thing you do have control over: yourself.

Develop yourself and keep learning. That’s the only thing you can control.

Which leads to my next principle…

Principle 2.  Cream Rises to the Top

When you focus on developing yourself – you don’t spend energy proving you’re better than everyone.  Nor do you need to spend energy “faking” that you are awesome (this is called “looking good” – I wrote an article on this bad habit).

You’ll start developing a learners attitude, a growth mindset.  With this proper attitude, you are setting yourself up for success.

By not focusing on “getting ahead”, but rather, being a person of value, you inevitably will get noticed and get ahead.   If you are good at what you do – eventually people will discover it.  Why cut corners?

Which brings me to the next principle…

Principle 3.  People don’t like “Whipped Cream on Poop”! 😉

While some people advocate a “fake it, til you make it” philosophy (cutting corners),  I do not.

People figure out who is good at what they do.  And they also figure out who is NOT good at what they do.  Titles and positions don’t mean much after a while if you aren’t producing results.

Over time, people may be fooled by a person’s high ranking position or charming charisma (“whipped cream”), but eventually they do “smell’ the incompetence or mean personality (poop) that is hidden.  It may take some time, but people are not stupid.

You may see some people who get ahead and wonder “how did they get ahead?!”  Don’t worry – if they aren’t the right person for the job and/or have a horrible mean personality, they’ll eventually be found out.  It doesn’t take long for smart people to move past the “whipped cream”.

Which brings me to my next principle…

Principle 4.  If you make yourself a target, you’re gonna get hit

At times, you may find people who are conniving at work. They find ways to give others a hard time. Some people make others look BAD so they can look GOOD. Others refuse to play at all and block your initiatives. Some openly discourage your work – attempting to diminish your reputation or authority.

My mindset regarding this people is this: if you make yourself a target, you’re gonna eventually get hit.

People who hurt other people will suffer the repercussions at some point or another. It may not be today or this year – but it will happen eventually.

Yes, my philosophy is very karmic in nature.

To me, when I see these things happening – I try to observe and not judge. That eliminates the upset emotions and victimization feelings.

I believe that person will get whats coming to them – if not at this company, then at another one. Oftentimes, this is hard to believe. But you have to see the long term impact of people’s actions and sometimes that involves you staying out of it.

Which brings me to my next principle…

Principle 5.  If you aren’t good at politics, don’t play them.

I had told my manager one time, I am not very good at corporate politics – can you share with me what is going on? He smiled at me and told me this: if you aren’t good at politics, it’s simple: don’t play them.

And I love that advice. People think they need to be mean and be indirect just like others.  You don’t.

Don’t get sucked into playing other people’s games. A coach once said to me, “you’re always winning the game you’re playing.” How true! So don’t play one that involves politics. Play the game of being nice and helpful to others regardless of how they are behaving.

What do you think? Can nice people get ahead with the ideas I’ve shared?

People like to think that nice people CAN’T get ahead, but that’s their own viewpoint.

Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments area below.

When Stakeholders Say “NO” During Design Review

Monish SubherwalDesign Leadership1 Comment

getting stepped on during design review

Does this sound familiar?

Business stakeholder:  “I think it looks good, but we need to make sure the design is not too edgy.  It may scare off our users.”

The design gets rejected and you have to stick to the old design or design something less than ideal for your users.

Good grief.

Design Reviews Gone Bad

When we do a design reviews – oftentimes, it’s a stressful occasion.  You have worked hard, you have to present your solution, and you want your designs to be approved and sent off to development.  That’s the dream come true!

YET, sometimes when we present to stakeholders – the feedback becomes nit picky and can be sometimes outright resistant.  The other person doesn’t “get” your design or doesn’t see the value in your direction.

So what is REALLY going on?  What I’ve observed and also got validated at UX Advantage (a conference I attended a few weeks ago) – was that stakeholder alignment was REALLY important in having your design ideas accepted during design review.

But what is alignment?  How do we get OUT of alignment with stakeholders?  And what can we do to get back INTO alignment?  

Read on and I’ll share what I’ve learned about design reviews where stakeholders don’t play along.

Why Stakeholders May Not be Aligned with You

There a lot of reasons why stakeholders are resistant to your suggestions – and a lot of them has nothing to do with you per se.  A lot of it has to do with the organizational climate, their own priorities, and not understanding what you do.

Here’s what I’ve discovered are some reasons why stakeholders are so resistant:

  1. They don’t understand UX Design
  2. They are scared of taking risks
  3. They are overburdened with work and don’t have the time to “innovate”
  4. They don’t see the value of your work and team
  5. They feel like their opinion is not valued – AKA, they don’t like you or your team very much
  6. They have their own agenda (politics)

What do each of these have in common?  They all are scenarios where you and the stakeholder are NOT on the same page.  In other words, you are out of alignment about design direction.  They don’t trust you and don’t agree with you. The result:  a nit picky design review with constant resistance.

So how do we get alignment?  Read on.

Getting Agreement from Stakeholders

The only way we can truly get design alignment, is if we STOP trying to get design agreement.  There is a night and day difference between design agreement and design alignment.

The reality is – you are looking for agreement.  You are looking for them to just give you the green light, praise your design genius, and agree to a job well done.

When we do a design presentation with “agreement” as our intention, we start being:

  • Broadcasters – we broadcast our designs rather create dialog.
  • Dogmatic – we get attached to the “right” design.  Our design.
  • Closed off to feedback – we stop listening.
  • Not open to discussion – we stop listening.
  • Argumentative – we get defensive.
  • Convincing – we get creative with how to convince them (using data)
  • Emotionally attached – our designs become sacred cows.

In sum:  trying to get agreement is trying to control the other person.  And you can never control another person.

When a stakeholder says “NO” – we can get angry and our ego’s can get hurt.  It’s easy to get into the the blame game and eventually feel like a victim to these stakeholders.

But the real culprit is NOT the stakeholders – but really us.  We’re in the “agreement” frame of mind (I wrote an article on frames here), where we really need to be is in the alignment frame of mind.

Alignment is the art of getting someone to say “hey, we’re all on the same page.  Let’s do it!”

But how can we do that?

How to Get Design Alignment

Sun Tzu, the author of the Art of War, once said “Every battle is won before it is fought.” And this statement is true of design alignment.

If you are encountering REPEAT resistance – it’s a sign a few things gone wrong, FAR BEFORE your design review.

Here’s what I’ve learned to counter this sort of repeat resistance:

We need to build SOLID healthy partnerships FAR before work gets done.  

Here’s a few ways I’ve learned that help do just that:

  1. Make friends.
    As simple as that.  Take your stakeholders out for lunch.  Get to know them as human beings beyond work.
  2. Don’t sit in an ivory tower.
    Be inclusive.  If you want their investment and involvement – get them involved in the beginning!
  3. Make others successful.
    If you make your stakeholders more successful – you’ll never have any issues.   If your UX team is not solving problems for other groups to make them better – you won’t be successful.
  4. Stop policing others.
    If you are a policeman – stakeholders will run away from you.  No one wants to be hunted by the design police.
  5. Earn the right to have skin in the game.
    Whether it is providing a design language that helps the company ship faster or designing posters for your work environment – find a way to create value for others and earn their respect and trust.
  6. Talk to your stakeholders like they are customers.
    If they think you have an agenda other than helping them out – they’ll stop listening to you.
  7. Create proofs of concept.
    Demonstrate that you can do what you said you could do.  Understand your stakeholder’s risk tolerance and work towards calming them down by proving your value.

Final Thoughts

While you may be 100% right about your designs, unless you do the right relationships building – the foundations of team work – you won’t be successful.  I have met many people who get combative against stakeholders.  But, they don’t get it.  They think THEY are right.  And THEIR ideas may just be.  But the reality is, they are a part of a team and stakeholders are the final approvers since they are accountable at the end of the day.

Yes, you can try any of the 7 ways to build design alignment AND still get resistance from stakeholders.  Some stakeholders literally put a stake in the ground and don’t want to accept you or your design.  It can happen.  But focus on what you can do.  The 7 ideas given are guidelines, not rules.

8 Tips for Acing Your Next UX Interview

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

Impressing Someone During a UX Interview

I have been on both ends of ux interviews.  I know, from experience, that interviewing can be nerve recking and challenging.  After all, you are selling yourself!

Over time, I’ve adopted a few healthy mindsets that have helped me through the challenges of interviewing.  I hope they help you too.

1.  HR is paying a LOT of money to find viable candidates.

Remember you are wanted.  HR can spend $10-20K to find a good UX candidate for a job and up to 3 months or more to place the right candidate.  It’s a LOT of money and time.  So remember, they are looking for YOU.

This truth about HR helps you from feeling dejected during the process.  You have nothing to lose, and only to gain.  They want you.

2. Stay positive.

Some people who interview are in a BAD mindset.  They either hate their current job or are in between jobs.  Don’t talk negatively about past employment or your situation.  Stay positive.

3.  Rejection is a sign that you are rusty.

Think about it – once you’re in a job, you really don’t interview after a loooong time.  The skills and the mindset needed to land a good job is something you learn over practice.

4.  How you are treated during a UX interview, says a lot about the company – and not you.

I’ve interviewed at places where the people who interviewed me were very critical.  I’d come home dejected and feel like something was wrong with me.  Amazing how an interview can do that!

However, now I realize these people are just WEIRD.  How so?   It’s taken me many years to get this – but it’s simple. People who make you feel uncomfortable or feel bad – are not worth your time.

A candidate may not be qualified for a job – but interviewers who make the candidate feel bad is an indicator of a company’s messed up culture.

I’ve had UX interviews where I was positive, my answers were VERY good — and the person on the other line was stale, dry and not encouraging.  Was I the problem or them?  People behaving strangely is typically an indicator of their company’s culture and not you.

If you are nice, friendly, knowledgeable, share your work and try your best – and are met with weirdness, be happy they didn’t choose you! AND have the courage to reject them if they make an offer.  No one wants to work with weird people.  Not worth the money and headache.

5.  Smile and be human.

A lot of interviewing has to do with rapport. You’ll be amazed what people say after the interview.  “I felt like he/she wasn’t interested in us!” or “I feel like he is a flight risk.”  People like people who are similar to them and who are real human beings.  Smile, share some jokes, break the ice, have a good time.  Positive emotions are contagious.

6. Stop proving yourself.  Start expressing yourself.

Interviewing is a lot like dating.  When you are chasing someone else and proving the value you offer, you actually are hurting your self esteem.

When you know your own value – that you are enough and wanted – thats when you meet the right person/job.

7. Qualify them and turn it into a dialog.

A majority of a UX interview is spent with people asking you questions (the word for this is qualifying, in sales).  When there is 5 minutes left they sometimes give you an opportunity to ask your questions!  Wow.  That’s a bit backwards.

I try and have it be more of a dialog rather than a Q&A session.  If they ask a question, I’ll answer it and then ask them a question back.  It’s a dance.

I also make sure I am TRULY interested in the company.  This is an opportunity for me – and i want to know about the company.  It’s a healthy curiosity – not an annoying prying.  See question #8 for the right mindset.

8. Ask how you can help them.

While the interview is an opportunity for you and you are qualifying them too – don’t have an entitlement mindset!

You want to go in with the mindset, “I’m here to help.”  Otherwise why would they want you?  Stay humble.  Ask each group/person you meet – how you can help them.  Ask them what their biggest problem is.  This way of thinking is probably different than 90% of people out there.  Most people sit passively and await the questions.  Instead, try and lead and see how you can help them out and fit their needs.

Phew.  That’s a lot of tips!  But I hope it helped.  These are just my own learnings – so try them out and see if they work for you and your personal style.  The UX interview process can be tough, but with practice and mental toughness, you can become a UX interviewing pro.  🙂

When the time comes to interview, review these and carry on confidently.