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To the young designer
146: So, you've chosen to become a product designer, ha?
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To the young designer
So, you've chosen to become a product designer, ha? At this point, I doubt I can persuade you to change your mind about your terrible decision, considering that you've already invested a significant amount of time and/or money (most likely both) in the expectation of becoming The Great Product Designer.
I think you'll be like me in a few years — wondering why you didn't go into winemaking.
However, you probably won't change your mind at this point as your bills are waiting to be paid. So here's a list of advice. You can take any part of it, leave out others, or publicly laugh at it all.
But know that I've spent nights worrying about these things throughout all 13 years of my design career. Unless you have incredibly excellent sleep meds, you will as well. Good luck!
Understand the context of the problem
As a designer, your first goal should be to fully understand the problem's context. Never believe that your sole responsibility is to deliver solutions.
Anyone can come up with a solution with a pen and a whiteboard. You'll get hired because you have the best understanding and communication skills.
Don't get attached to your tools
You are not a true designer simply because you utilize a specific design tool. Focus on the problems and ways to solve them. Figure out if the problem needs to be resolved, solved, or dissolved.
"If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." — Abraham Maslow
You can do design without research
You can also drive blindfolded. Both have costly consequences and frequently end up upside down in a pit.
Don't idolize famous designers
People who give talks and publish books are not heroes. They are not saints.
They're people with mortgages to pay and an arsenal of terrible designs, failed relationships, and questionable ideas that they try to hide behind their online and public personas.
Do not idolize them. Take what you need from their experience and leave what you don't. Remember that they are usually more scared than you are.
You are not your user
Your skin color, economic level, gender identity, religious beliefs, dreams, vision, hearing, and physical talents are not the same as your user.
This is something you should never, ever forget. And if you start forgetting, you're losing empathy and doing a sloppy job.
Keep improving yourself
Great designers are aware that they can continue to improve. Bad designers believe they are the best thing on the market right now.
Find good mentors
People who will question and challenge you while also encouraging you. They are not usually older, nor are they always in design.
Do not pull the ladder
Never, ever, ever pull the ladder up after you. Help others in getting to where you are. Mentor young designers, particularly those who aren't stereotypical.
Never, ever stop asking stupid questions
Never pass up the chance to be the dumbest person in the room.
Learn other's language
Not everyone communicates in the same way that you do. Learn to communicate with the frustrated product manager, the micromanaging project manager, and the CEO who doesn't understand why they hired a designer. Design is a form of communication. Learn to communicate effectively.
You're not only pushing pixels
Most of your time will not be spent creating wireframes or debating color palettes.
I've worked as a design leader and took on product and project manager roles. I've been a workshop facilitator, a user interviewer, a usability tester, and an accessibility advocate. I was a teacher, a content writer, an empathetic listener and mentor to senior designers, a psychologist and therapist for stressed-out junior designers, and a coffee maker.
And my title has always been "product designer." You shouldn't expect to just push pixels.
Burnout is a real thing
Burnout is real, and by the time you realize you're burned out, you've already been burned out for a long. Your job is secondary to your own self-care. The design process is a marathon, not a sprint. The best designers I know work 40 hours a week or less.
Hold with an open hand
Approach everything you do in design with an open hand. You are not exceptional, and your designs can always be improved.
Receive feedback with gratitude and transparency, and give it honestly and kindly. You are not required to follow anyone's advice, but you should consider it.
Maintain a positive attitude. Design might easily make you tough.
Frustration, discomfort, and hopelessness will consume you until you are darkly humorous and sarcastic. Fight back.
The optimistic can clearly see the vision and will continue to push the team toward it. But never, ever confuse cheerful, sunny positivity with optimism.
The most optimistic people I know are not rays of sunshine; they are realists who persist in their faith in the face of adversity.