Category Archives: Management

Design Constraints Are Awesome

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While reading some material recently I was particularly struck by a correlation between the sentiment of “designing for monochrome first” (for color deficient users) and the design movement termed “Mobile First”.

In both cases, the designer aims to build their interface elements such that the largest % possible of users will have accessibility to the data, based on the real and perceived limitations of the environmental factors imposed. After baseline accessibility and usability you can worry about nuances and aesthetics.

Monochromatic vision strips the designer of color-based tools and techniques, forcing you to fallback to the use of shape, contour, contrast and pattern. The Mobile First design sensibility forces the designer to carefully prioritize what elements of the design are truly needed to accomplish the goal(s) of the product, framed within the limits imposed by a smaller display. You also have to consider the contextual differences in usage between a mobile device and a desktop computer, and within the vastly different feature sets of modern devices.

I often hear about project constraints in terms of drawbacks, of obstacles to building the perfect widget. It’s much more helpful to think of constraints as helpful wayfinding elements on the road to successful project definition. If you know what they are, you won’t waste time in rabbit holes and you’ll be able to focus your time and attention on crafting the best product possible – one that will meet the unique needs of your users, whether or not they can see colors and regardless of what they’re using to access your offerings.

Thoughts On Medical Decision Making

Original article by Jerome Groopman

We all fall victim to habitual behaviors, and more so when we are unable to focus sufficient attention on tasks at hand, believing (consciously or unconsciously) that we can accomplish some process or task without conscious thought, instead thinking about ‘more pressing’ matters.

What is more difficult to detect are those biases not based on habit, but instead on other factors. Groopman’s article on medical decision making explored this issue in the light of decisions made every day by physicians in practices and hospitals across the world.

Several types of errors were explored, including Representativeness error (thinking that is overly influenced by what is typically true), Availability error (the tendency to judge likelihood of an event by how easy relevant examples come to mind), confirmation bias error (cognitive cherry picking – confirming what you expect to find by selectively accepting or ignoring information) and affective error (making decisions based on what you wish to be true).

The stories he shared demonstrate how a very skilled and educated doctor can make incredibly dangerous mistakes, due in some cases to the fast-paced world of medicine but in other in reaction to common human urges such as the desire to be merciful and spare a patient embarrassment or further fatiguing tests.

At my workplace we are tasked with making medical industry communication more secure and much more efficient – resulting in better patient care and increased physician and clinician satisfaction. After reading this article and having learned a great deal about how complex the communication needs of a hospital or practice have become, I have to wonder how many mistakes are made due to the very real problems of workflow dissolution and workplace communication breakdowns. How many errors of the classes described by Groopman could be avoided or reduced in severity through more frequent and higher quality peer-to-peer interactions in the medical industry?

GapMinder Data Analysis

In my HCI cognitive science class we’ve been studying visualization and how a given interface can enhance our mental processing power, bringing more of our wits to bear on a challenge. Here’s a look at comparing a few layers of data as reported by two very different nations.

Denmark vs. USA – Charitable giving related to income & life expectancy

I chose to compare the nations of Denmark and the United States, examining their respective records of charitable giving and comparing that to each nations’ income per person and their life expectancy. The data available ran from 1960 to 2008, and so it’s worth noting that the period studied spanned several wars with worldwide impact, numerous financial recessions and a gradual but accelerating trend of climate change.

The United States
The United States in 1960 was quite a charitable one, donating 0.54% of the gross national income (GNI) while only reporting $18,175 in income per person. We had a change of heart it would seem, as the % of GNI given to charity fell steadily for 37 years before finally ending at 0.18% of GNI in 2008.

During this period, while our incomes rose by $24k and our life expectancy by 8 years we gave 0.54% less to charities.

Denmark
Denmark in 1960 was a hard place, donating only 0.09% of their GNI while reporting only $11,569 in income per person. They seem to have buckled down and gotten industrious, as the % of GNI given to charity rose for 21 years to 1.03%, with a high of 1.06% before finally ending at 0.82% of GNI in 2008.

During this period, their incomes rose by $20k and their life expectancy by 6 years. In the end Danes increased their charitable giving by a staggering 0.97% over the period.

Reflections
An interesting measure to add to this comparison would be an index of reported happiness & contentment – does charity or income have a greater effect on happiness?

I would also have enjoyed seeing an overlay of world events across political, economic and climate scopes, relating those factors into the changes in life expectancy, income and charitable giving.

The animation was quite helpful, and illustrated the rate of change between compared parameters over the lengthy collection of data ranging over 48 years, clearly calling out the rapid rise of Denmark’s charity while the USA gave away less and less each year.

It’s purely correlative, but it appears that given the much larger percentage they gave to charity (from their noticeably lower income) the Danish were not overly burdened and lived to nearly the same age. Many factors could have been at play, but I’m given to lean towards the old adage that money CAN bring happiness as long as you spend it on others.

Notes from GiantConf 2014′s “Building a Whole Team UX Design Team” presentation by Phillip Hunter

In his presentation on day two of GiantConf 2014, Phillip Hunter talked to us about “Building a Whole Team UX Design Team”. Here are my notes from his talk.

Phillip Hunter – Building a Whole Team UX Design Team
@designoutloud
http://www.minotaurdesign.com/blog/wp-login.php

His belief is that in the UX community, team building is much like early days in baseball scouting.

The focus on stereotypes:
on rock Stars in the industry…….
(is that a person w/ diseases and who trashes hotel rooms? lol)

On Ninja’s….
(is that the person who kills people in the night? lol)
Focus on design mishmash – (beanie/knit cap and glasses, lol)

– Stereotypes don’t help us build better UX teams. Avoid them.

(slide of the major pieces of most companies) – All these people are ENABLING the user experience.
– most of us are in Product development team.
– so it’s silly to think of one small piece of the org as wholly responsible for the UX of a company

4 primary capabilities (as a grid):
– engineering leading technology
– maintaining strong teams
– running a successful business
– enabling great experiences

The practice of creating experience is a SERVICE – look to service design for cues

Strategy means defining and inspiring before hiring

Hiring a dev, designer, tester because you need to developer, design and test is premature.

Context + capability to help you know the best way to create that holistic UX mindset.

OAQH- Orient, Assess, Question, Hypothesize

Setting the team-building CONTEXT:
– what are our goals, values, constraints and principles as a corp?
– what do we need to get done?
– why?
– how much/how fast?

Setting capability requirements:
– What do we need to be god at?
– How good? How will we know?
– What are our priorities?
– Not who…. (yet)

Liz Bacon’s infographic on her definition of user experience design
– pie chart of sorts
– ranked herself within each facet

Building effective structures within the company:
– Complementary strengths vs homogeneous development
– Breadth and depth of skill across people
– Increase participation

Beyond hiring and skills:
Shape align and inform with biz goals
Aim for impact, scope, scale, diversity, resilience, sustainability

Crazy list of necessary skills (all of which mapped back to the grid of 4 above)

Atomic elements of necessary high level skills

Have the right project members been identified?
In what areas will augmentation be the best thing?
What kind and from where?

Building Your list of necessary Skills
Skill name
-skill 1, 2, etc becomes `> color, line, shape 2. Latent need identification, ebrand integration, prototyping, etc.

Gathering list items:
Ask your UX leaders and ICs, your UX enthusiasts, your Product owners, your Execs and sponsors.

(ranking 1-5 etc)
Skill name – Current Level – Desired Level – Priority
– – – –
– – – –

Perceived skill gap
– gap value on its own wasn’t that compelling/illuminating
– Gap value multiplied by Priority – this really surfaced the true GAP in context

Conversations that can come out of the above types of analysis?
Who does that already?
How can you get them involved?
What do your colleagues want to be good at?
X is how we need to craft our job description for HR!!!

sixboxes.com
framework for aligning people’s desires with their roles, and ultimately their ideal internal path that also benefits the company

– issue challenge to add UX to everyone’s job
– Let people find their point of contribution

HIRING (since sometimes you just have to…..)
– understanding and implementing the strategic framework from above
– involve the team to determine fit and talent
– Hire the inspired

Phillip’s slides (Thanks, Phillip!) – http://www.slideshare.net/philliphunter/building-a-whole-company-ux-team

Notes from GiantConf 2014′s “Embracing the Suck” presentation by Chris Harrison

In his presentation on day one of GiantConf 2014, Chris Harrison talked to us about “Embracing the Suck”. Here are my notes from his talk.

Chris Harrison – Embracing the Suck – 10:45a Thursday, June 12

@cdharrison
cdharrison.com

Embracing the Suck: Military phrase meaning to make the best of whatever situation you’re in..

Background:
– Weight loss – 529 to 377
– weight gain due to being depressed, hating what he did, etc.
– Making sites since 1996.
– Former fulltime freelancer
– now: frontend dev for Morris Communications (magazine division)

2013 state of the workplace
30% engaged and inspired
18% actively Disengaged – sabotage their coworkers (cost 450-550 million a year)
52% permanent case of the mondays – do just enough not to get fired

Sometimes you just gotta suck it up.
– Consider the alternative – it could be worse.

– dan willis, “great takes work”
– choose your battles and spend your energy wisely

Negativity is a cancer! (this could be a talk topic!)

Sometimes complaining takes more effort than just getting things done.

Don’t fear new. New = opportunity. (he was told he’d be doing all joomla and drupal work. This was not happy news)
– learn on the companie’s dime
– doubtful he could have learned this stuff as a freelancer (no time/money in it)

Everything you do is a learning process for everything.

– thomas edison’s quote about opportunity and how it looks like work.
– fabio at mailchimp, lead html email designer. was hired to do ui/ux, but they approached him to do HTML emails.
– we know as an industry that html emails suck.
– when he heard this, he embraced the challenge.
– 5 years later he’s an innovator in a field where it was thought there was no room for innovation left.

Opportunity opens doors…

Help your team…
– concept of jumping on hand grenades (someday you’ll need help from the person you help today)

Small wins are still wins. (make it something awesome despite the scope)

Make learning a priority
– learning about sass etc and givng talks about it.
– things suck less when you share what you know with your coworkers
– codeschool etc. as good options for continued learning.

“Sneak” new technology/techniques into projects, but strive to get buy-in from your coworkers (if not management)
– Demonstrate the benefits of incorporating these new techs into an existing workflow

Find creative outlets
– draw more.
– starting doing illustrator avatars for friends
– take pictures! (vader, ninja turtles)
– lilvaderadventures tubmler

Scratch your own itch – side projects rock
– itembrowser.com – his first responsive project
– learned media queries, etc.

Start using your powers for good
– jingle jam (10k) benefiting safeHOMES charity
– design + development + marketing
– someone could really use your talents!

Happiness depends on ourselves – aristotle
Even sucky work can make you happy. Give it a chance.

Reorgs: Rocky or Righteous (Designing the Experience of Company Transition)

As designers, we grapple every day with challenging projects. This of course is part of what keeps us coming back. Some challenges, although not directly related to project work, can still be looked at through a UX lens. In this case, I’m talking about a phenomenon you’re likely familiar with: company reorganization.

If you’ve been through a reorg (that’s ‘Reorganization’ in water cooler parlance)you’ve probably experienced your share of the whispers, closed-door meetings and mixed messages that seem to be par for the course when an organization goes through major changes in size, scope, staffing, or management.

I’ve been through a number of these shuffled decks myself, across several companies, and for a variety of reasons. It’s fair to claim that each one is different, but there’s enough overlap to identify patterns and form some baseline recommendations.

If you’re in a role with decision-making authority, then you’re ideally positioned to ensure that the reorg will be designed as an intentional experience with its actual user base in mind.

However, if you’re like the majority of us who aren’t in a position to make decisions about the reorg, you’re probably still reasonably close to the folks who are. Why not take the initiative and lay out some scenarios and recommendations for how the reorg can be designed for optimal reception and impact on your organization?

The users

Whether it’s planned or not, the scope of the reorg will have an audience far larger than the group of people seemingly affected on paper. The experience of these groups throughout the reorg should be purposefully designed by whomever is running the change management show.

Let’s take a look at who your users are.

  • The folks who are officially part of the reorg. Their status is changing in some way, be it their actual role, reporting structure, and the like.
  • Coworkers/teams who have direct or dotted-line dependencies with anyone or any team directly involved in the change.
  • Coworkers/teams whose only connection is physical or cultural proximity or who ultimately report to the same upper management.
  • Third party vendors who communicate with or provide services to reorg-affected parties.

Here’s what you need to realize: These groups will be getting bits and pieces of news about the reorg whether or not you craft that message explicitly.

With that in mind, you should ensure the messaging supports the business strategy, is accurate, and speaks to each party’s specific concerns.

This is the difference between an unplanned, unpredictable experience and an intentional, designed experience. It’s a golden opportunity to show your stakeholders they are a valued part of the organization, and you’ve got your arms firmly around managing the changes. If the right preparation goes into the reorg, you can nip in the bud any misinformation and unnecessary stress, building confidence in your team’s leadership and capability as a whole.

The alternative is to risk spending what trust currency you’ve accrued to date.

The message

Now that you know who you’re talking to, what do you say? It’s idealistic to think that you’ll know all the details when you begin planning the reorganization–but you do need to initiate your communications plan as close to the start of planning as you can.

Start by crafting general messaging that indicates the why–the logic being the necessity and desired benefits of the reorg. This should be high level until more details are known. If you know enough about the how to paint a low-res picture, do it.

A little bit of information that’s transparent and honest will go a long way–but take care not to make promises you can’t keep. Things can and will change, so own up to the reality that dates and other details are very much in flux to help you avoid having to take back your words when deadlines shift down the road.

As you approach major milestones in the reorg process and as the details solidify, provide appropriate communications to your audience groups–and do so again once the changes have been rolled out. This may seem like a lot of effort, but rest assured your people are asking questions. It’s up to you to address them proactively.

If a milestone date changes–and it will–the audience who’s been paying attention will still be looking to that date unless you update your wayfinding (in the form of project timeline communications). Without this careful attention to detail, you’re sharing bad information–perhaps more damaging than no information at all.

When the rubber meets the road

Inevitably, one question that will come up repeatedly throughout a reorg is “When does all this actually happen?” In other words, when do we start following the new processes, change how we route requests, start doing this and stop doing that?

For both logistical and psychological reasons, knowing how and when transitions will take place is vital. Often the difference between a stakeholder being stressed out

(perhaps becoming a vocal opponent of the changes) versus being calm and confident is the company’s honest commitment to consciously bridging the transition with trained, capable support.

This could be as simple as a window of time during which existing persons or processes can continue to be called upon for support or as complex as an official schedule that shows specifically how and when both the responsibilities AND expectations of the audience segments will change.

Usability research

It’s not like you can do A:B testing with a reorg. You can, however, do some polling when the initial reorg information is shared, then midstream, and again after the reorg is complete.

Why do this research? As with any project, from your first person perspective, reorg elements might seem obvious–or you may have overlooked some pretty big pieces. Talking with your ‘users’ can be illuminating and also sends the message that their input is desired and valued.

While some reorgs are expressly designed to reduce overhead/staff, reorgs are not always about cutting heads. Often-times it’s a shuffle of resources (people), and if the right discussions happen you can guide that process to a win win.

Using a handy list written by a gentleman you may know of, here are some dimensions co-opted for our use. Employ these as you see fit to generate interview material and discover how well your company reorg experience has been crafted.

Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?

We can ask our participants what they took away from the reorg communications they were sent. This includes actual group or 1:1 meetings, formal documents, emails, etc.

Find out if the materials conveyed the message so the transition was easy to understand. Did they grasp both the high-level view and the granular details? (In other words, overall strategy and the specific impact to them.)

Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?

If the folks you’re polling have been assigned specific assignments in the reorg, ask early on if they fully understand their instructions and if they could have added any insight that might have decreased task costs or durations. Midstream or late in the game you can follow up to see if those instructions turned out to be clear and accurate enough for the tasks to have been carried out efficiently.

Did task instructions have the most time-saving sequence? Were there steps left out of the tasking communications that had to be discovered and completed?

Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?

Remember the telephone game? Someone makes up a story and then each player passes the story on to the next by whispering. When the story makes it back to the author, the details have changed–it’s a different story.

When those involved in a reorg talk with others, they’ll pass along what they know. The simpler the story and the more they’ve understood it, the less you’ll lose in translation.

Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?

A successful reorg requires a lot of work and collaboration between groups. Mistakes tend to be costly and have a ripple effect, becoming harder to correct as time goes on. The critical path of these big projects is placed at risk due to missteps due in large part to (wait for it) learnability and memorability, or due to errors introduced by people who have been put off by the lack of efficiency of the reorg process and attempt to forge their own path.

Another source of error is in failing to communicate enough timely information about role changes to employees and contractors. Major change breeds anxiety, and in a job market where workers have the power and employers are constantly on the prowl for good (and hard to find) talent, it’s a mistake to risk wholesale attrition.

Avoid this error by honestly and accurately communicating dates and the likelihood of roles continuing as is or with changes. If roles are going away, be transparent about that too. Better to maintain trust and respect with clear messaging about terminations than to leave folks in doubt and unable to plan for their future.

Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

If the reorg does NOT leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, and if the stated project goals have been met, you’re doing it right. Reorgs happen for a reason, typically because something’s suboptimal or simply broken. Ultimately, everyone should pull together and work towards a positive outcome resulting in better workflow, lowered cost of doing business, increased job satisfaction, and, of course, $$$.

Moving on

Regardless of your role in the company and the reorg, consider whether or not you can use your UX superpowers to make the entire process less painful, easier to understand, and more likely to succeed.


Note: Also published at Boxesandarrows.com

Optimism in Designers, Developers and Managers – Part 5

If you’re just joining us now, be sure to check out Part 1, where we explored the inherent optimism of designers, developers and managers, and what specific elements of our professions increase our sense of optimism. In Part 2 of this series we talked with real people in development and management roles to learn what leads them to feel optimistic about their work life and projects. Part 3 continued our exploration of optimism as we checked in with some designers to see what makes them feel hopeful about their projects and day to day. Part 4 covered the dark side – how people feel and act when faced with the factors that discourage optimism rather than foster it.

Walking the Walk
So until now we’ve only talked about optimism, right? Let’s put it into practice. How do you cultivate a positive attitude when dealing with the hectic pace, stressful situations and the shear distraction of today’s lifestyles? Glad you asked!

1. Take inventory
Stop, breathe and make a list of all the good things about your life. One by one, focus on what makes your job worth doing, what brings you joy at home, and the people inside and outside work who inspire and support you. What milestones are you looking forward to, and which have you already achieved? Sometimes it’s easy to forget how good you really have it, and a simple and honest review of your circumstances may clear the fog and reveal a pretty nifty landscape indeed.

Next, list out all your grievances. Add to the naughty list that client who never listens to your ideas, and write down the many ways Joe from accounting chews too loudly. Don’t edit yourself here – if it bugs you, jot it down. This list is more useful than you might think in building optimism. It’s what you’ll reflect on in a moment, gazing through what I like to call the ‘first world filter.’

2. Reach Out
Humans are a communal species. By and large we do better with others around instead of going it on our own. Empathy is a powerful tonic, and sharing your tales of wonder and woe (ie. the good and bad, the ups and downs) with other folks has several built-in rewards. You’ll build better relationships, get some perspective when hearing about the challenges others face, and hopefully inspire someone else who’s slogging through their own Fire Swamp, battling Rodents of Unusual Size.

3. Harness Your Little Green Monster
It’s normal to be envious of coworkers and friends who achieve great things or seem to live a charmed life. However, it’s not healthy or productive to dwell on it, thinking how lucky they are and how you’re not as fortunate/connected/blessed.

Instead of living in a jealous fog, channel your energy towards building your own success. Envious of your pal who’s winning awards or making bank with their new novel? Write a book! Can’t fathom how your coworker has 10k Twitter followers and you have 200? Learn how to better market yourself, how to network and grow your personal brand.

Use your friends and neighbors as the higher bar you strive to reach.

4. Listen Up and Look Around
It’s amazing what you hear when you start to pay attention. For example, there was a time I grew frustrated with what I perceived as a lack of opportunities to be creative. (crazy, I know!)

I resolved to open myself up to anything that presented itself, regardless of how it might fit what I envisioned for creative outlets. WHAM! Suddenly it seemed I had opportunities coming from all directions – I had too many to participate in and had to turn some down. Did the creative forces of the universe turn on a dime? No, of course not. I simply started paying attention to what the universe what trying to tell me.

5. Accept that you control your destiny
It’s absolutely useless to blame anyone for your circumstances in life. Sure, that cabbie who didn’t stop for you this morning and made you late – that’s his fault right? Well, no. You could have gotten up earlier, or set up a carpool, or well… bought a bike.

Choices you make every day, either consciously or unconsciously, define who you are and the world you create for yourself. Make good choices.

6. Be happy
Consciously see the world through a positive lens. Practicing this single step will make an astounding difference, even if you’re challenged in making process via other methods. Seriously, it’s that simple an effective – give it a shot.

It’s my belief and sincere hope that you’ll find value in practicing these habits, and that you’ll find yourself experiencing a brighter outlook in your day job and at home as a result.

Stay on the bright side…

Rich Lee

Note: Also published on www.giantux.com.

Optimism in Designers, Developers and Managers – Part 4

If you’re just joining us now, be sure to check out Part 1, where we explored the inherent optimism of designers, developers and managers, and what specific elements of our professions increase our sense of optimism. In Part 2 of this series we talked with real people in development and management roles to learn what leads them to feel optimistic about their work life and projects. Part 3 continued our exploration of optimism as we checked in with some designers to see what makes them feel hopeful about their projects and day to day.

Now let’s visit the dark side…
In reflecting on my own experiences and while talking with the designers, developers and managers on the topic of optimism in the workplace, a funny thing kept happening: folks would have trouble describing what made them optimistic. Instead, they initially (and with apparent ease) listed out the things that did NOT make them optimistic.

Instead of “I love having clear requirements” they would begin with “I hate it when requirements aren’t clear.” Rather than “I love being able to build something that lots of people will use and love” they’d say “I hate building things no one in their right mind will use just because that VP of BizDev thought it was special.”

This is in direct response to being asked about OPTIMISM, people. What the heck? Are we so entrenched in our work and trapped in habitual pessimism that we can’t see the lining of our clouds any more? So it would seem, but let’s dig deeper.

In my own experience, there are a few things that have me thinking like Mr. Edgar Poe. It’s discouraging to be told that due to a particular situation, a given design can’t be used–even if it’s a better solution–due to uninformed (or just plain wrong) beliefs held by stakeholders. It’s one thing to consider options and make an informed decision, and quite another to make a choice based on misinformation or prejudice.

When a project gets canned part of the way through, and sufficient rationale is not provided – that’s a morale killer. When you’ve poured your time, energy, and (let’s be real here) love into a website, application, process, or team – it’s devastating to have it cut off at the knees and not have closure into why it’s been done.

Last, it really gets my goat when assumptions are made about the capabilities of an individual or team. Just because someone is a designer doesn’t mean they don’t have the desire and skills to develop or manage. Assuming a developer cannot think visually or doesn’t have valuable feedback about user flow is a huge mistake. Concluding that a manager has no hands-on skills is downright silly. These mistakes are costly, preventable and senseless.

Let’s hear what our folks in the field have to say

Jeff:
“What I find crushing of dreams, spirits, etc., is writing code that is only good for today. Code that¹s written to get a single job done and doesn¹t need to be well done. Code that¹s not thought-out and generally, in the grand scheme of things, doesn¹t matter, as long as the project eeks by without a major failure. The rushed, ‘just make it work’ kind of stuff.

“Another frustrating thing to deal with are designs that don¹t translate well to code and/or UX…Those cases where a design is harder to code and doesn¹t produce a better outcome (and often causes a worse outcome) due to certain specifics about the design that could easily be tweaked to make the end result much better.“

Matt:
“A concern I have is the lack of language that developers possess to explain what they do to other technologists, much less non-technical people. This lack of understanding seems to make it difficult for non-programmers to appreciate and understand what our profession does. This both adds to the insularity of programming as a profession, often relegating programming to a task instead of culture or ecosystem in many domains.

This lack of language also makes understanding the risks and reasonable limits of technology out of the hands of most people — c.f. the healthcare.gov debacle. Having reasonable, stable systems as public goods will require something to be done here and I’m not sure there is adequate time or effort being made to do this.”

Robert:
“There are cultural challenges with… large companies… and we’ve got some process and workflow challenges that appear to be changing for the better, but it’s happening slowly. Companies can sometimes seem slow to adopt new process ideas and we often fall back into old patterns we know don’t work, because of resourcing/budgeting constraints.”

Hannah:
“If you want to kill my buzz, the easiest way to do that is to…accept mediocrity. I detest laziness, and I have no time for people who aren’t willing to try new things. This can be a double-edged sword in our line of work because implementing new technology and ideas in a large company takes eons when the rest of the world seems to be moving at lightning speed.”

Ask Yourself
Are you doing the work it takes to live on the sunny side? Because let’s be real–it DOES take work to see things in a positive light, or at least from a neutral perspective. It’s far easier to dwell on the dark side, play the blame game and have a portfolio of excuses handy as to why you’re wearing that floor length black trenchcoat instead of the Rainbow Brite sweater from your aunt.

What is it that keeps YOU from feeling optimistic about your work? Think on it, and let’s compare notes in the next and final installment of this series.

Note: Also published on the amazingly rad UX destination GiantUX.com

Optimism in Designers, Developers and Managers – Part 3

If you’re just joining us now, be sure to check out Part 1, where we explored the inherent optimism of designers, developers and managers, and what specific elements of our professions increase our sense of optimism. In Part 2, we talked with real people in development and management roles to learn what leads them to feel optimistic about their work life. Now we’ll take a look at how designers feel about their work.

Personally, I’m most optimistic at the beginning of a project – the sky’s the limit and anything is possible. Both the scope and the quality of the end product are big factors in my overall mindset. It’s more thrilling AND challenging to be responsible for the look and feel of a site or product that will be seen and used by millions than it is to design that “mom & pop” brochure site (which ends up only being used by Mom and Pop). Building something with clip art and last year’s recycled content is a world away from being given top shelf photography, video, typography and content.

Similar to a developer’s happy place (and perhaps a bit counter-intuitive to non-designers), many designers thrive on being provided up front with the comprehensive constraints and affordances of a project. If design is solving challenges, it stands to reason that knowing what you have to work with is essential to devising a solution.

Having clear insight into the underlying strategy of a design challenge is rewarding, since that can shift the conversation from “Let’s make it green – green is my favorite color” to “how can we encourage users to interact with this component and its deeply rewarding awesomeness?”

Being able (and ideally encouraged) to make the design one’s own is a surefire way to kindle true passion. I, like designers and artists of all kinds, strive all my life to develop, maintain and grow my own personal style. When allowed a little bit of leeway to do so in projects (within project constraints!), I guarantee the results will be noticeably more effective and ultimately fulfilling for designers and the users alike.

Let’s hear from some other designers to get their perspective:

Hannah:

“The thing that makes me most optimistic as a designer are the new possibilities I am constantly finding. I’m a pretty old-school style artist, so when I started working with web-design, I basically thought it would steal my soul. Instead, I’m constantly discovering ways for the new technology on my iphone or desktop to enhance the things I make by hand and vis versa…

…I really love getting a project with pretty strict requirements and then finding ways to iterate and brainstorm mixing and matching different types of media until we find the best possible solution.”


Jeff:

“Good design solves problems. Great design enriches people’s lives…Finding ways to enrich people’s lives is our optimal goal.

It’s the note between the notes, it’s the implied lines of a drawing, It’s the way a coffee shop meticulously roasts and serves its coffee. None of these things are easy, you have to work at it and learn from it. But once you achieve it, the payoff is that much more rewarding.

That’s why as a designer I get up every day and do what I do — I don’t stop at solving problems, I seek to inspire, to put a smile on someone’s face, to truly enrich people’s lives. And when you focus on these things the negatives fade away and become non-issues.“

Jason:
“I feel optimistic when a project is going smoothly (new ideas, reasonable timeline, making deadlines, portfolio piece, etc.) – when there’s room for creativity (hello there, client. Here’s what you asked for – but I also thought about this, that and these) – when trying something new or learning something new – when the team gels (the larger project team not just other designers.)”

One shared sentiment from these discussions that resonated with me is that a project’s scope and restrictions can make or break how the project affects one’s overall sense of optimism. An assignment can be seen both as a crazy cool gig or as a tortuous chore, depending simply on a few details. A limitation isn’t a bad thing – it can drive creativity!

As designers and as managers, striving to keep the excitement and creativity of a project intact isn’t something you can leave to chance. Ensuring the requirements are clear and the tools or assets required have been provided is often what separates a great team producing top-notch products from that same team churning out mediocre designs..

Next time, we’ll explore the flip side to this optimism thing. What makes us pessimistic and hopeless? What makes us bang our heads against the wall and groan in frustration? Stay tuned to find out.

Note: also published on GiantUX.com

Changing Lanes

In the course of your life, unless you have inherited your family’s Piggly Wiggly fortune, you will have held a number jobs. Maybe you started out in your teens by bagging groceries, or perhaps you filled up that piggy bank by babysitting or mowing lawns. That first job hopefully taught you some valuable lessons about life.

You probably learned that time is money, that you have to work hard in order to do well and keep that job, that learning new skills can be challenging but also rewarding, and that new skills make you better equipped for other jobs in the future. I hope you’ve realized that relationships are instrumental in your success in a role, and that the relationships you build in one job may prove to be a factor in roles you’ll hold down the road.

Undoubtedly, you will have at some point realized you no longer wanted to keep doing the same job. Depending on your circumstances, you may or may not have been able to act on that impulse immediately—many of us certainly have tales of a dramatic exit from a job we’ve held! Hopefully, you gave some thought to your decision to leave the job, but–regardless–you did eventually move on to something else.

Think for a moment about what led you to move on in each job you’ve held over the years. Can you pick up any patterns in your thinking or in the circumstances that triggered your desire to move to the next gig?

This kind of introspection can be illuminating in that it can help you consciously account for the factors that could lead you to stay in a role as it exists, make changes to the role so that you continue to reap rewards in the current position, or determine it is again time to look for that next great adventure.

A few types of job changes

One type of job change can be thought of as linear progression. You start out waiting tables, move up to shift manager, tend bar, manage a store, manage a region of stores, and then run the company. This kind of change tends to value domain knowledge highly: how WE do things in THIS restaurant. It also values generalist knowledge: THIS is how you bus tables, how you handle a customer who’s had too much to drink, and how you report (or don’t report) tips.

Another type of change is when you keep the same role but change companies or divisions. You can be a graphic designer, an insurance salesperson, or a registered nurse just about anywhere because the skills you must possess and the tasks you must be capable of performing well are going to be quite similar anywhere you go. Generalist knowledge is valued here, but more important is subject matter expertise. If you’ve been a nurse for 20 years and have worked in six hospitals across three countries—chances are you’ve seen it all, you’re hard to rattle, and you can do a good percentage of your tasks by instinct while focusing your active attention on more complex challenges.

The last type I’ll mention is what we’re going to focus on today: moving in your career from one archetypal role to another. For example, starting your career as a librarian and then becoming a chemist, followed by a stint as a stunt car driver. This type of change can be very challenging, but very rewarding as well.

One quick note: This can happen within a single organization or it can happen when you leave one company and join another. There will be some differences in how you evaluate the pros and cons of a transition versus an exit, but I believe my experience holds true in both cases.

The more similarities and overlap between these roles, the more your existing knowledge will be useful in the new role, but if you look closely you’ll find there are many skills and realms of knowledge that ARE actually transferrable between widely divergent roles. The real magic happens when you can bring a fresh perspective to the table when tackling challenges in the new role.

I’ll address the following questions based on my experiences in moving from role to role:

  • What drives someone to consider a lane change?
  • What are some factors to take into account when deciding if the move is the right one?
  • What could make your transition more successful?
  • What should you expect once you’ve made the leap?

My own experience

In my own career, I’ve been an illustrator, graphic designer, art director, multimedia developer, web designer, web developer, ad operations trafficker, and more. I’ve managed designers, developers, and non-technical folks. I’ve worked on the revenue side as well as the content side of small to large publishing/entertainment properties.

To channel Sesame Street for just a moment, you might imagine that some of these things are not like the others. As a matter of fact, all of these roles share similar aspects as well as having striking differences—and that is a damned good thing.

So what motivated me to consider moving to a radically different position (different at least to outside observers)?

In my role as a visual designer, I designed interfaces for websites and applications. Often my designs would brush up against the edge of what was possible with then-current HTML, CSS, javascript, and Flash. At the very least, some design decisions I made would prove to be problematic for those tasked with building a template from the design. This led to me learning new skills–namely HTML, CSS, javascript, more advanced Flash, and PHP.

Jumping from designer to developer came about to provide a better product (visual design artifacts) in my role as a designer.

I also knew that learning more developer-centric skills would make me a good fit for a far wider selection of jobs in the future. I’d be able to apply for roles that went beyond visual design.

Moving to a new role was in service of increasing job security and preparing for more opportunities in the future than a single set of skills would provide.

Some people prefer to pursue excellence in the same type of role for their whole career. This, however, is not me. I simply get bored with the same role over a long period of time with little to no variation. Now, doing similar things while changing up other elements is another story—for example the context, the complexity, the subject matter, the environment, or the team members. These factors are part of what determines one’s experience in a given job, so changing one or more can significantly extend the period of contentment one feels with that role.

Simple boredom was a significant factor. For me, passion breeds excellence; boredom breeds mediocrity.

In many cases, it can be difficult to get a raise when you hold the same job over a period of years, while a change to a different job entirely is likely to come with amenities: a bump in pay, a cooler title, better facilities, more chances to travel, or more training opportunities. In recent years, the data has shown that those that change jobs every three years or so advance more quickly in their career than those who hold the same positions over longer periods of time.

Compensation and benefits played into my decisions to change jobs each time.

What factors should YOU take into account when considering a lane change?

  • The skills you currently have that will be directly or indirectly applicable to the proposed new role. This one will take some reflection, because it’s not immediately apparent what kind of overlap that might exist.
  • The obvious/traditional career path the new role would offer, PLUS the flexibility the potential role would add to your repertoire for future lane changes.
  • The compensation and benefits offered by current and potential roles, weighed in terms of how much each of those benefits matter to you personally.
  • The teams and individuals you do and would work with on a daily basis. When you see folks more days a week than not, you’d better like them! They should compound your enthusiasm, your drive to innovate, and share a similar value system to your own. If there’s a marked difference in culture, values, workflow, or communication styles, don’t take this lightly!
  • If you’re pondering a jump to a new company AND a new role, factor in the equity you’ve built in the existing company. Seniority has perks, so make sure the leap is worth your while.

What could make this transition more successful for you?

I’ve found transparency to be effective here. When you are talking with your existing supervisor/peers AND when you talk with the prospective team members—be honest. Tell them where your head’s at, why you want to make the move and how you think your particular background would make you a great fit in the new role.

Ideally, there are real benefits to both teams. In one case, the team I was exiting depended on the team I was moving into for support. They knew that I would carry the concerns and sensibilities forward, and that they would have an inside connection and more responsive support since I knew their pain points.

If you’re leaving your current organization entirely, there will be less overlap in domain knowledge specific to a given company/brand, and significantly less benefit to the relationship aspect—knowing who to deal with in other teams to get things done efficiently or influence strategy outside your new team.

Lesson: Identify and communicate the win-win.

Want to know a surefire way to avoid burning bridges? Ensure adequate coverage for your existing role. Take the time to share with your current team all the intricacies of the things you are responsible for. Verify that all the things you do have a new owner or are at least acknowledged as items that need new homes.

Take it a step further and document all those little nice to know details that people may take for granted you’ll be able to provide if asked. You may not have the luxury of dropping everything in your new role to address someone’s need in a timely fashion, and if you can point them to a resource or forward them a detailed explanation that already exists, you’re ahead of the game.

Lesson: Keep intact the bridges you’ve built. Leave good notes.

Finally, what can you expect once you’ve made the leap?

You’re in the new job now, kicking butt and taking names. Everything is copasetic… except that you keep getting emails, phone calls, IMs, and drive-by visits by folks who just “have a quick question” or would “like your input on something.”

As part of your transition strategy, take the time to negotiate a period of interim support. For X number of weeks, you’re willing to provide limited support of your prior role’s responsibilities (and your new boss has authorized the time to do so.) This makes it clear to all parties that there WILL be some support and eases a lot of fears in the process. It also makes it clear where that line is drawn, beyond which you cannot commit to helping out the old gang any longer.

If you’re leaving your company for a new one, the expectations for interim support are unlikely to be significant. Regardless, making the effort to avoid leaving landmines will be noticed, and good karma never hurts.

Lesson: Set boundaries and stick to them.

Another important step in today’s world is ensuring that your communication channels are updated. Distribution lists, chat rooms, trade publications, physical mailings, and the like all take time to wade through, time that isn’t productive and can extend your on-boarding time as you remain stuck between two worlds.

Lesson: Fill out those virtual change-of-address forms.

Finally, the way you’re perceived by internal and external contacts is something that can take a long time to shift, if it ever does. If you met someone in your role of designer, don’t expect them to refile you under “content strategist” in their head just because it’s so. It may never occur to your team lead that you can put together a styleboard. You will have to be your own champion, diligently switching out your various hats and making opportunities to integrate your different skills into your new role.

Lesson: Habits are hard to change. You’ll need to help that process along.

Final thoughts

Throughout my career, in every case where I have made a significant change in the role I am pursuing, there have been challenges—of course. But I can honestly say that each lane change has led organically to bigger and better things and that I’ve learned a ton, which is a crucial part of my happy place.

Your own lane change may result in a greater appreciation for how other team(s) work and greater empathy in your collaboration with them in the future. It may cause you to realize you actually enjoy the new role more than ones you’ve held before and that you’ve found YOUR happy place. Or you may simply take your new insights in stride, apply it to your growing skillset, and move on again when the time is right.

Nomad or permanent settler—there is no right answer, but don’t be afraid to explore. There’s so much out there to experience, and the knowledge gained and the overlap between roles can be significantly to your benefit, to that of your team, your organization, and, ultimately, your users.

Further reading
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/03/08/the-pros-and-cons-of-job-hopping/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/08/06/8-pros-and-cons-of-job-hopping/

http://danschawbel.com/blog/job-hopping-is-now-part-of-career-management/

http://hbr.org/2012/07/why-top-young-managers-are-in-a-nonstop-job-hunt/

Also published at Boxesandarrows.com/