An Event Apart Seattle 2012 was refreshing. I say this because as a developer I spend a good portion of my day writing code in order to meet functional requirements. Most of the presentations focused on inspiration, design and content strategy. These things are easily forgotten when working on existing applications that require little to no further design work.
The Five Most Dangerous Ideas by Scott Berkun, was most inspiring to me personally. It’s all the things that designers/developers don’t want to talk about or deal with, but it’s a reality. Designers need to realize that they’re never going to grow if they try to protect their power.
1. Everyone is a designer. Designers design solutions to problems. This can be proven if you just walk around the office and see how people customize their desks or how they rig books under their monitor to put it at eye level. Everyone may in fact be a designer, but not every designer is a good one. All designers are ambassadors for good ideas, but good designers are the only mentors for bad designers. A stakeholder that’s interested in design is not a bad thing. They’re just really passionate about their product. We should consider their ideas as they come from passion and perceived success of the product. Take the opportunity to mentor them and they will realize how much they really don’t know about design. Hopefully this will result in more power for you.
2. You have no power. As a designer, what decisions are completely yours? Ultimately, the final decision lies with someone else. A stakeholder for example. As designers, we need power to make decisions. If a designer is given small amounts of power, they will try to protect that power. They will often use jargon to fortify their position. Scott says “Whoever uses the most jargon has the least confidence in their ideas”. This is not a good way to make yourself seem more credible.
3. The generalists are in charge. If you have more than five people in the room, you have less power than you think. If you spend a lot of time in meetings convincing people that your idea is a good one, then you are less influential than you think. If you want to see more of your ideas in production, you need to get good at influencing people in a more general role than you. Don’t go into a meeting with an “I’m just a designer.” attitude; you will be limiting yourself and that will be the new expectation of you. This reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite movies; Idocracy – “You either need to lead, follow or get out of the way”. Be passionate about your work. Warning: Being passionate about what you do makes you ultra sensitive about critical feedback.
4. You work in sales (regardless of your job title). Some designers may look down on salespeople and think that design is more noble and important than sales. But, it’s their skill that we should strive to obtain. Everything a designer does is sales oriented. For example prototyping, pitching, evangelizing, going to meetings run by others, asking for resources and giving presentations are all sales tasks. If you want to be a good salesman, you need to learn to persuade people to see the value in your ideas. If people think you’re smart and useful, your job title is irrelevant. If people think you’re dumb and useless your job title is irrelevant.
5. Creativity is risk. Once a year you should pitch something that you know is not going to fly with the stakeholders. Be willing to take a risk and put your reputation on the line. Be willing to fail and learn. Ask the tough questions and push the boundaries. As the creative one in the group, you should be pushing the limits of creativity. If you don’t then who will?
If I had the power, I would send every User Interface Developer to attend this conference so that they may have the refreshing experience that I did. Getting away from code for a couple of days with focus on UX is just what we all need.