I closed my emails and took a moment to rebel
I’m sitting at my desk after a two-day conference called Leading Design, and it’s all too familiar.
I go to a conference or a workshop and leave brimming with an intoxicating mixture of inspiration and enthusiasm. I've visited my personalised version of Top Gun, where I’ve heard from the “Best of the Best”, and I want to BE Maverick.
Then I open up my inbox.
I’m immediately horrified and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of unread emails. I then get a sinking feeling that my heavily-scented “cologne de optimism” is about to get hastily washed off.
Well, today I’m rebelling.
I’ve shut down my email client, and I'm going to capture five things that truly inspired and resonated with me: a healthy mixture of awakenings and tasks.
1. I suffer from “Imposter Syndrome”. And that’s okay.
Executive coach Julia Whitney in her talk on the Human Blueprint spoke about Imposter Syndrome. As the name suggests, it's the feeling that you're an imposter in your job, that you're not good enough, and that someone is going to find you out.
It’s something I've heard whispered about in hushed pub conversations, but to hear it given an official label was enlightening. And to hear many of the incredible speakers talk about it, means I’m not alone.
And as Cap Watkins, VP of design at BuzzFeed, later put it - if you don’t suffer from Imposter Syndrome, you probably should.
2. Design must be demystified
For too long design has been viewed as being the finishing touches of a product, and this was illustrated a few times by showing an image of a pig with lipstick.
We need to help educate our colleagues on how and when design can or should be used, and more importantly when design results in a win.
We should be doing a better job at advertising our services. We can story tell, prototype and really bring ideas to life. We don’t just “colour in”, which is sadly an expression I still hear on a regular basis.
Shouting about great design work is something that feels unnatural for designers, and it’s often thought that good design should simply speak for itself. We need to change this.
Which brings me to my next point (and this is going to be very un-popular)...
3. Designers aren’t special
Someone (and apologies for not remembering the exact speaker) said: “Designers were millennials before there were millennials.”
The truth is, design is a process, and we’re the drivers of that process. Designers aren’t special, but design is.
I had a designer colleague named Patsy, who after a particularly challenging work review, said to me: “Can we please just print out A2 posters that say IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU and put them all over the design studio?”
Patsy, I hear you loud and clear.
So, if it’s not about you, then who should it be about?
It should be about us. And the definition of “us” starts with your immediate ecosystem and expands to encompass the entire company you work for.
I stand (or more accurately sit here) guilty as charged with falling into the trap of “they just don’t understand me, I’m special.” But from today forward, I’m going to be an “us” guy.
This leads nicely onto point 4.
4. Learn from my colleagues and stakeholders
I need to, in the words of LinkedIn product design director Kim Lenox, “Be a player, not a victim.” I should be engaging with all my colleagues and stakeholders.
But here’s the tricky bit. I need to engage them in the right way. Having identified that my role is often still perceived as “putting lipstick on a pig”, I can’t simply go and ask them what I can help with.
My approach needs to be to find out what's keeping them up at night, and then showing them how the design process can help them solve those problems.
This is a challenge that I’m not particularly relishing, but being a newly-formed “us” designer, it’s a necessity.
5. I’m a bottleneck
A very hard pill to swallow, but I still insist that I sign off all of the work that people do. This not only slows down the rate at which we can “ship product” but exposes that as a manager, I’m clearly failing. I always champion the concept of MVP in conversation, now I need to put it into practice.
I need to let go and trust my team. I need to let them learn by doing, and more importantly by failing. After all, isn’t that the Agile way?
Perfection needs to take a backseat in a long list of priorities. This won’t be easy, and I’m going to need buy-in from a lot of different people to get this done.
Right, reflection over. It’s time to open that inbox….