Category Archives: Management

Optimism in Designers, Developers and Managers – Part 2

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In part 1 of this series, we talked about the inherent optimism of designers, developers and managers, as well as specific elements of our professions that increase our sense of optimism. Now let’s touch base with some real people as they consider how optimism is reflected in their own lives.

I polled some coworkers and friends who can be loosely grouped into designer, developer or manager roles, and I asked what made THEM optimistic. Interestingly, almost without fail folks had a hard time identifying this at first. It seemed easier for them to come up with what kept them from being optimistic than it was to define what kept them engaged and hopeful.

I’ll start with the manager role, and with my own experiences in management.

In my own life, I’ve felt optimism in several ways. First, it’s amazing how good it feels to make a fundamental and positive difference in someone’s life – someone who relies on you to keep them informed, supplied with projects, needful resources and sometimes even advice. For every crappy situation I’ve had to deal with as a manager, there has been a more impactful moment where I realize the difference I made for a person, a team or a project. I’m optimistic that if I can trend towards keeping my eyes and ears open, my mouth mostly shut; if I can focus on striving for a healthy balance in all things and on being a servant first and boss second, my optimism will continue to be justified.

What does a management peer have to say?
Tripp:

“What drives me the most is my role as a teacher. I don¹t view myself as someone who has a long list of things to get done. Instead, I view my role as someone who teaches others how to get things done and to do so while producing exceptional quality…

“Nothing is more satisfying than watching your team learn and grow over time, and I look forward to preparing them for that growth everyday.”

Tripp’s comments echo the sentiments I’ve heard from many of the great managers I’ve worked with over the years.

Next, let’s talk to developers, starting with my own reflections on the role.

As a developer, nothing makes me more optimistic than being given the chance to implement a new tool or new feature within the scope of a well-defined project. By well-defined, I mean that the requirements are actually spelled out with enough clarity that I’m not having to chase down specific interaction details, approved copy or the latest round of graphic assets. Optimism comes from knowing I’ll be given a tough challenge AND the breathing room and time to do it well. Bonus points if I get to collaborate with other developers to come up with something extra special.

Let’s see what other developers have to say:
George:

“It’s like the Wild Wild West all over again. The number of devices available to assist users in consuming content is growing. Mobile browsing is exploding, wearable tech is just on the horizon. Content and information about almost everything anyone could want is at your fingertips… as developers, we’re the ones with the power to unite the content with the users and display it in such a manner that it delights the user, that it informs the user, that it makes a difference in their lives.

… for all those reasons, I feel like despite the number of challenges we face as developers… how could you be anything BUT optimistic!?“
Matt:

“As a coder/developer/programmer, I’m excited about how fast we’re now able to create powerful new tools and applications with new languages and methodologies, mostly spurred by a large organic open source ecosystem (or ecosystem, depending on view). I’m also glad that our profession, to a degree, has been able to grow its talent pool beyond its initial, small, arguably insular, group of practitioners.”
Jeff:

“Being given the chance to write code which can stand the test of time and be used again and again… Code that deals well with changing circumstances and can be adapted pretty easily to meet the needs of tomorrow. All that pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff. I like writing code that makes writing code easier and more fun…”

We’ll hear more from these folks later on when we examine some of the challenges each group faces as they look to the future.

In these conversations, it was obvious that the simple act of verbalizing something positive about their design or management gig was followed by an uptick in their outlook. Now if you’re paying attention, this means that we’ve made something from nothing. We’re outlook alchemists! Where once there was a lukewarm, gray day with nothing interesting on the horizon. Haven’t we all been there?

Take a few seconds every day, snatched from whatever your day already holds. Think about those things you’ve identified that are essential to your vision. Then make such efforts as you are able to bridge the gap.

Next time, we’ll take a peek inside the minds of designers to see what makes them flourish and what makes us feel like we’ve died a little bit on the inside.

Editor’s note: Also published on GIANT UX

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Optimism In Designers, Developers and Managers – Part 1

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By looking at what raises our spirits or crushes our souls, I think we can increase our awareness and take back a little control of our work destiny. Join me as we delve into what makes designers, developers and managers optimistic, and what fills us with dread.

I recently heard a line that stuck in my head: “Designers are inherently optimistic.” This was casually mentioned by Simon King, a designer presenting on why we should step up and design apps for ourselves, to “scratch our own itch.” He added an observation that all designers do these two things: seeing and making.

“Is that true?” I wondered to myself. Simon feels this is true because designers can often envision a better way (be that a better future, a better product, or a better interaction) – and more often than not, designers can visualize the steps necessary to reach that better place.

My own background is certainly grounded in design, but I’ve made some fairly broad jumps to other disciplines in past years which have given me a somewhat different perspective on many things. Immediately after coming to the conclusion that there was some truth in Simon’s assertion about designers’ optimism, my developer voice jumped into the discussion.

“Hey. Developers are optimistic too! We also envision a better product and often feel that achieving the goal is within our reach – we can code a solution!!! Also, we SEE and MAKE too! Of course, we often see differently than designers do.” Silently, I agreed (yes, with myself if you’re following along) there was some merit to the claim. Developers ache to be given a substantial challenge – one with clear expectations, well-documented requirements and a reasonable timeline. We want to build things that will be used en masse, that will gain a following and be appreciated. Not to be outdone, my manager voice chimed in next.

“Well, managers are CERTAINLY optimistic. Whether one is managing a team, a project or a product – there’s certainly a lot of optimistic thinking going on when one takes on a new management role.” True, I thought. And if management is defined as “adding value through optimizing the contributions of others,” or by “facilitating a high level of productivity at a minimum cost,” etc., then it could be argued that the whole SEEING and MAKING paradigm holds true with managers as well. Managers should see the whole, the composite made of many smaller pieces. We MAKE by facilitating a more efficient trip from A to Z, or one that’s more fun and rewarding, or cheaper, or that benefits more users. While jumping into a new management situation can be terrifying, it’s also exhilarating. Think about the amazing things your team can accomplish, the growth you can foster in your team members and in your organization, the real impact you can have on someone’s career and life.

So if designers, developers and managers all are capable of seeing the world with a positive outlook, and of jumping into projects with an innate sense of hope, determination and joy… if we’re all immersed every day in SEEING and in MAKING… what’s the deal? When does the milk turn sour? At some point, we all lose that fire – that very sense of optimism that makes it a treat to head to work each day because you know you’ll build something worthwhile, tweak a process, refactor that block of code or simply have a stimulating conversation about work with a coworker. (imagine that!)

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at some of the factors in the modern workplace that might influence how optimism of our designers, developers and managers can ebb and flow as we navigate this evolving world together.

You might be surprised by how little it takes to change someone’s outlook – perhaps a friend’s, or perhaps your own.

Editor’s note: Also published on GIANT UX

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Getting back in the saddle

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It’s been some time since I redesigned Minotaurdesign.com. (2006, to be precise.) It’s been my business site since I had a business (1999) and it has gone through intense periods of work with much love/attention being paid to it – alternating with periods of inactivity.

I’m now coming off several years of letting the website sit untouched. If it mattered, I could point the finger at a number of things: parenthood, juggling the duties of a part-time landlord with a full time job, and feeling a lack of creativity fueled by having roles that put increasingly less emphasis on DESIGNING vs MANAGING, to name a few. Regardless, regret at having let the site sit idle does no good – so onward and upward!

As I gear up for a substantial redesign and some strategic shifts in focus, I have to credit a number of factors when looking at what has moved me to action:

  1. Recruiters

    I know what you’re thinking… recruiters? aren’t they the underbelly of our working world, constantly pinging you when you have no interest and making statements and promises that simply demonstrate their lack of any real knowledge about your chosen field…? Well, that can be the case, certainly.

    In my case, being contacted by one of the most influential companies for me on both a personal and professional level was an eye opening experience. When Apple first pinged me (via a well known business social media platform) I thought it was spam. After a bit of research I found the inquiry to be legit, which led to a number of conversations with recruiters and hiring managers on the west coast. The long and short of it was that our discussions led to one recurring observation:

    They felt I wasn’t solely dedicated to the discipline of front end development, and that I (still) seemed to harbor interest in the design side of the web.

    After much reflection, I realized they were right. With a background in illustration & advertising design, with a large side of fine art – I had to admit to myself that despite a full time job with an incredible company, serving terrific family-friendly brands, and working with amazing people – in the end i could not say I was fulfilled by the roles I’d held in recent years.

  2. Old friends

    In the first few years of my professional career I was part of a rapidly growing company that built multimedia sales platforms for auto dealers and which eventually turned into doing websites for automotive OEMs and dealer groups. Our team was home to a group of truly talented, passionate folks – many of whom are still in contact today. 2013 brought some significant career changes to three of those very influential friends from the early days:

    • One fellow had been out of the loop so long he no longer felt able to get back up to speed and took a retail job to pay the bills. He despaired of every returning to the web industry. This was a gentleman to whom myself and other young folks had looked up as an early adopter, a pioneer – with many different skill sets and a daunting intellect.
    • Another close friend was a renowned expert in his field, and a published author several times over. He was a trusted source for guidance in many forums over a number of years, a born teacher, and a truly remarkable human being as well. This friend had been a full time freelance developer for more close to 10 years, but his chosen area of expertise began to lose relevancy and his work dried up. He had to take a corporate job, and he too felt the pinch of having let his skills in many areas fall out of practice – easy to do in a world where innovation and major shifts in accepted practices happen all the time. In conversations over the course of the year, I had to admit I was very much in danger of falling prey to the same kind of threat.
    • A third friend, who some would have voted ‘most likely to remain a no-good punk for life‘, instead went on to consistently make wise choices in the roles he took on and the contacts he made in the industry. He adopted an attitude of humility and eagerness to learn, and was rewarded by the well-earned regard of his employees, employers and peers. His path remained aligned with his core values, with the things he’d grown to value: open, clear communication, advocacy for the users of the products he touched, and the courage to call BS when necessary. This year brought an amazing opportunity for him and his family, and hearing the joy he found in continuing to pursue his chosen path was encouraging to say the least.

  3. Family

    My family has been supportive over the years – grateful for the extra income my work has brought in under the Minotaur Design banner and happy that I was content in my work. It’s been obvious in recent years that I was left somewhat incomplete by the roles I’ve held by day, and my family has urged me to indulge in creative outlets while remaining understanding when I didn’t feel I had the energy or will to do so. My wife and daughter are the subject in many portraits done over past years, and so too are they supportive of my desire to steer back towards more creative professional roles.

  4. Twitter

    I admit it…

    I didn’t really GET Twitter when it launched. In fact, I didn’t really get it for years. It didn’t help to have set my privacy settings to “Ostrich with head in sand” when I initially signed up.

    Not until somewhat recently did I awaken to the second-by-second stream-of-consciousness zeitgeist that Twitter had become. Taking part in active conversations with other designers, developers and assorted experts has been at once humbling and exhilarating. Keeping up to date via blog entries and published articles has gotten harder year by year, and I’m starting to see how much more accessible it is to use tools like Twitter to stay abreast of the always changing world of the wide, wide web.

There are so many more choices available today than when I last redesigned the site. It used to be you simply coded out your design from scratch, did some testing with friends, peers and prospective clients, and breathed a sigh of relief when it was done and you could get back to paying work.

These days there are a lot of factors to juggle:

  1. Goals: Are you building the site to get new business? To show off your chops in hopes of scoring a plumb day job? To demonstrate hard-won expertise and hawk your latest book, seminar or conference tour?
  2. Platforms: Are you building from scratch or Using a publishing platform like WordPress or Drupal and/or relying on a framework like Bootstrap or Foundation?
  3. Deployment methodologies: Are you pushing everything up to your server manually via FTP, or are you using advanced IDE software, employing enhanced workflows, and jumping through the hoops of Node.js, NPM and Gruntc?
  4. Stylesheets: Still writing your CSS the old fashioned way? Pull up a stool and skill up on dynamic stylesheets: LESS, SASS, mixins and varying levels of automation wired any which way.
  5. Speed: Do you have site performance in mind? Think it’s still enough to just watch the filesize of your jpeg files? Are you loading all your script and style assets for every page, or building things in a modular fashion and only loading what’s needed, ala Require.js, Yepnope, or LabJS?
  6. SEO: It’s not enough to have a nice website these days. You’ve got to have it set up so it’s searchable, relevant, semantic and well-liked (well-linked). You may even have to pay for some exposure – SEO isn’t enough, SEM to the rescue.
  7. Research: Operating on hunches about what your users are doing? No bueno. You’ve got to wire up your site to some analytics – get some real insight into traffic patterns, user behavior, and the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
  8. Marketing: What, you’re not doing much marketing? Too bad, you just lost the first round. Many FREE and PAID options abound, from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn, Tumblr, Quora, Pinterest and more. Seperating the signal from the noise is part of the challenge, as is learning to employ your research in focusing your marketing efforts.
  9. User Experience: Great, you’ve got users on the site. Now, CAN THEY USE IT? Usability was a concern back in the day, but now it’s become an increasingly important discipline to practice, and one that relies on many of the prior factors – research primary among them. Is your content organized well? Does the visual design enhance or obstruct your message? Can your users follow the desired courses of action you’ve laid out for them? Are your objectives served by each and every choice you’ve made along the way?

All of this is enough to induce a case of decision paralysis – but I’m powering on.

I’ve finally rediscovered the passion I felt in the early days of designing for the web, and I can’t wait to find out what comes next.

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