Jon Lax's speaker notes from a presentation last year is something I'm able to finally parse and apply in my work. Lots of wisdom, that allow to me be slightly less sloppy while framing how we arrive at desired outcomes, digest large and ambiguous scope into meaningful short-term impact, and perhaps most importantly, push back to try to deliver enough value to have people use the product even after the novelty wears off.
Here's a tidbit about showing more intention in our answers:
“It depends” is a terrible answer. But it feels good to say because we exist in an industry that values rapid iteration and changing its mind. It depends preserves option value.
Think about hearing “It depends” as an answer to questions, what you would take away?
Q: Captain, how do you fly your plane? A: It depends
Q: Dr. how will you perform today’s surgery? A: It depends
Q: Do you love me? A: It depends
There are two problems with answering a question with “It depends”.
First, it implies you have no conviction that you know how to do what you are great at. It means that you haven’t detected any discernible pattern that repeatedly delivers a successful outcome.
Second it isn’t true. There are a whole set of things you do, instinctively; to solve problems, write, design, research behavior, collect and analyze data. You just haven’t codified it by identifying the consistent patterns that exist.
I have been in this constant state of introspection these past few months and have tried to dig a little bit deeper about what makes me happy. Really enjoyed re-reading this comic from the Oatmeal today, which serves as a good reminder that happiness is a gradient. As humans we're constantly raising the bar for what peak happiness might mean – it just might be something we look forward to, something that helps drive our motivations, but not necessarily a state of being.
This interview with Obama in Vanity Fair was a nice read, but here's an excerpt that resonated with me:
Early in my presidency, I went to Cairo to make a speech to the Muslim world. And in the afternoon, after the speech, we took helicopters out to the pyramids. And they had emptied the pyramids for us, and we could just wander around for a couple hours at the pyramids and the Sphinx. And the pyramids are one of those things that live up to the hype. They’re elemental in ways that are hard to describe. And you’re going to these tombs and looking at the hieroglyphics and imagining the civilization that built these iconic images.
And I still remember it — because I hadn’t been president that long at that point — thinking to myself, There were a lot of people during the period when these pyramids were built who thought they were really important. And there was the equivalent of cable news and television and newspapers and Twitter and people anguishing over their relative popularity or position at any given time. And now it’s all just covered in dust and sand. And all that people know today are the pyramids.
Sometimes I carry with me that perspective, which tells me that my particular worries on any given day — how I’m doing in the polls or what somebody is saying about me … for good or for ill — isn’t particularly relevant. What is relevant is: What am I building that lasts?
I'm lucky to be friends with very exceptional and motivated individuals who've discussed having the same feeling with me. It's sometimes really hard to articulate how our work is all additive, all paving the path to a more ideal world. Time and again, I realize how quickly I find myself thinking about the future without taking a moment to breathe and celebrate the past and present - that's something I've been wanting to change.
The age old question of whether designers should code doesn't have a definitive answer. I have a personal belief that while it isn't necessary to be able to code per se, every interface designer who consciously spends the time understanding programming constructs makes a transition from being a good thinker to an even greater pragmatist. I also believe that with a designer's curiosity, a UI engineer's passion and a predictable path to achieving our measured goals for success, it is simply impossible to avoid gaining this knowledge over time.
My present role at work has required to step up the number of interactions with different people tremendously. In order to do my job correctly, it requires me to collaborate with other designers and other teams, thus providing me with more opportunities for unsolicited feedback. As an introvert, this has been incredibly hard to deal with, and simultaneously been my biggest area of growth. The increased interaction is definitely more time intensive than I had imagined, and as a result I have fewer hours in the day for actual execution. This isn’t actually bad, because every conversation usually provides me with new and valuable information needed to connect all the dots, and get to a more informed solution faster. The fewer hours then, are spent more efficiently.
The sheer number of these interactions has provided me with better insight to gauge inter-team dependencies and roadmaps, which has in turn allowed me to better sequence design tasks to accommodate additional feedback from meetings that are still to take place. The key for me has been to remain flexible, since every data point and every piece of feedback has the ability to influence this sequence of priorities.
Because priorities can change so frequently, it is not possible for different functions (Product Design, Product Management, User Research and Engineering) to be efficient without collaboration. This enables inclusion, more involved discussions, and an equal voice for all individuals. These benefits alone have made the time investment for the additional interaction worth it, with continuous prioritization leading the way forward.