As a designer, your toolbox empowers you to do research, define personas, explore UX patterns, lo-fi sketch, and even refine what agile design means. It’s time to apply these skills to the one product that needs it most – yourself.
Before you embrace this concept, let’s paint a picture. You’re a design consultant and you’ve been hired to lead the user experience for an amazing new product. You walk into a room and are introduced to this fancy product… it’s you.
Don’t worry, the best part is, you already started designing this product long ago, so you know the concept is pretty good to begin with. Only now, with a fresh mindset of being on the outside looking in, it’s time to start using your design skills to redesign yourself.
"It’s time to start using your design skills to redesign yourself."
For the rest of this article “The Product” will refer to the thing we’re designing here – you.
At a high level, we’re going to put The Product through the following design process to illustrate how you can use your design toolkit on yourself:
- Set goals
- Understand your users
- Start low fidelity
- Research, gather data, and iterate
- Take advantage of UX patterns
- Be agile: Design a starting point
Set goals for The Product
The first step to designing a product is clear goals. Personal goals are likely something you think about often, but without clear purpose. The Product is constantly evolving, and your answers will change over time, so revisit them often. One way to approach personal goal setting is to answer a few questions:
- Why did The Product become a designer?
Your high-level mission/vision
- Why did The Product come to work today?
Are you somehow contributing to your vision
- What is The Product trying to achieve this week?
Make sure you’re constantly delivering value
Why this is important
If you find you don’t have answers to these questions, then it’s time to do some soul searching. Life as a designer is full of problems and questions. At the core of solving these every day, you need to believe you’re contributing to something bigger.
The second reason is that these answers should help define The Product to its users. The Product needs an elevator pitch. It will become a foundation in two key parts of your design career:
- Job interviews – My career has given me the opportunity to interview a good number of designers over the years. When people start talking about themselves, it becomes very clear who really thought about why they want to be a designer. People who have thoughtful answers are almost always full of passion and drive.
- Your portfolio – needs to showcase YOU. Tell a story about who you are, how you think, and why you do what you do. The story you start telling on your portfolio should continue on to your first phone screen and right through to the day you’re doing your in-person interview.
"People who have thoughtful answers are almost always full of passion and drive."
Understand your audience
The people you work with every day are your users. Your design team, Product Managers, Engineers, Sales, Marketing, and even the CEO all have an experience when they interact with you.
What’s one of the first things you do as a designer when you start a new project? You research and understand your audience. You define personas and understand their jobs-to-be-done. Have you ever seriously spent time doing that in your current job?
I challenge you to spend some time really documenting the different personas in your workplace. For bonus points, write down each of their customer journeys. What you‘ll soon learn to appreciate, is all the work they do when they’re not interacting with you. People have jobs that are not at all like yours. It’s so important to understand what motivates the people around you. It will help you get through hurdles together and give you a sense of empathy when you face challenges or conflict.
You’ll soon realize that you need to adapt how you interact with different personas. This is one area we all tend to forget, because underneath it all, we simply are who we are. However, if you have to pitch a design concept to someone who isn’t a design-thinker, you’ll need to create a different version of your story, driven by what motivates them.
Examples where you may have the same message but need to adapt it to your users:
- Pitching a concept to design peers (what design decisions you made and why) vs. Pitching to VPs (how will this design solve the business problems)
- Talking about your design to PMs (how will this design resonate with the other stakeholders) vs. sharing your design with Engineers (this design is easy to build and scale)
An example utilizing a design tool we use often (card sorting) to help take an entire story and map key points to different personas.
Start everything low fidelity
The concept behind low fidelity design is to sketch ideas quickly with the minimum detail needed to communicate the idea, and we validate with low cost.
"Don’t tackle any task by over-investing your time."
When we apply this to The Product, it really just defines a working style. Put simply, don’t tackle any task by over-investing your time. When someone gives you a task, always try determine their expectations and if you’re not sure, start with the bare minimum.
Examples where you can apply a low fidelity approach:
- A project manager asks for “a few quick ideas so solve problem ABC” – many of us tend to jump to our sketchbooks, scribble some ideas down, and spend a few hours turning this into some type of presentation or even sketching some wireframes. Instead, grab a room, and start brainstorming together. Even if you don’t feel prepared, you’ll eliminate intangible ideas quickly, and get a sense of what excites the participants. Without knowing it, you’re also taking the first step in sharing a design journey with a future stakeholder.
- Someone says “can you teach me how to do blah” – even if blah is a half-day lesson, respond quickly with “let me set aside 15 minutes to email you some links to get your brain on track and I’ll set up an hour session tomorrow and we can create a learning plan”
- You’re calendar is booked solid but someone wants to discuss something important. “Let’s chat for 5 minutes now and it will help me understand the urgency and think about the topic when we re-connect tomorrow”
These aren’t new concepts, but further illustrate that there’s almost always a low fidelity approach to any task.
Research and gather data, and iterate
The underlying principles of agile design (research, validate, design, validate, ship, validate, and iterate) can easily be applied to how we execute our jobs every day as designers.
"The underlying principles of agile design can easily be applied to how we execute our jobs as designers"
Researching often means we don’t take on any task at face value. Ask why, check with your peers and make sure you’re investing your time in the right tasks every day. Once you’ve completed a task, follow up and understand how successful it was.
Gathering data means you document your failures and successes and refer to them any time someone asks “why” or “how do we know”. There are times when it’s appropriate to bring up failures, and times when it’s powerful to bring up successes?—?have both in your arsenal.
Iterate means that everything you do is never the final version. Treat everything like a version, and expect feedback for your next iteration. I find that as long as you frame things appropriately, and present them as first version or an iteration, people are appreciative and feel like their early feedback makes them part of the final solution.
Take advantage of UX patterns
UX Patterns are all about:
- utilizing tested solutions that have proven to work
- leveraging user muscle-memory by solving similar problems in the same way
Just like UX patterns, we can find patterns in the way people around us work. Once you start identifying them, use them to influence desired outcomes.
Some examples where you can look for user behavior patterns, and use them to create desired outcomes:
- Every time we present hi-fi mockups to leadership team, we get caught up in discussing the wrong details, so let’s remove those from our presentations
- Whenever our marketing manager is on-board with our ideas, we have a higher success-rate of exciting the CEO, so let’s bring him along for our design journey
- Whenever we kick-off new projects with a brainstorm session, it narrows down our options early, so let’s make it part of our design process
Be agile: design a starting point
Not to be confused with “start everything lo-fi”, my spin on this topic applies specifically to your design career. When you’re thinking about the success of The Product, don’t stress about the final solution.
"When you’re thinking about the success of The Product, don’t stress about the final solution."
As designers it’s our nature to think of the end state. Your design career will change over time, often from things outside of your control. Ten years ago the term Product Designer and UX Designer were barely on our radars. Jobs titles I’ve had throughout my career include: Print Designer, Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Web Design Manager, Flash Designer/Developer, Design Developer, Creative Analyst, UX Designer, Creative UX Director, Design Manager, Design Lead, Principle Designer, etc. In most cases I could never have anticipated my next step, and I certainly have no idea what my end state will be.
If you’re new to UX or Product Design, plan the first version of your design career and don’t worry about taking the wrong path. Despite all my advice above, just make sure that each week you’re a better designer than you were last week. Occasionally spend some time redesigning yourself (using those amazing design skills you have), and over time your small steps will lead to giant leaps.
"Occasionally spend some time redesigning yourself, and over time your small steps will lead to giant leaps."
If anything, I hope this article has empowered any growing designer to reflect on the notion that the skills you use every day, can, and should, be used on yourself.
This article originally appeared on Mick's Medium page.