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.

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