11 December, 2012
Built upon an email I sent my team.
I wanted to share some thoughts on what we do and how we do it. I would normally just speak this out, but there are times where even I tire of my own voice. So here are four things for you to read. Nothing major. Just four principles that have guided me in my life that I feel might help you. They may be obvious to you or they may not. Either way, I felt compelled to share them, so here:
The joy of creating (inspired by Soichiro Honda's philosophy)
We all have the words "User Experience" in our title. Dwell on the two words for a minute. We are tasked with what we do not because we know how to use OmniGraffle or because we draw boxes and lines, but because we are supposed to be the voice of the end user and understand how they want to experience the website/app/email/etc. I know that we aren't creating the next Instagram or the next iPhone, but we're doing work for hire that's for the most part ethical, meaningful, and at the end of the day pays our bills. For this work to be truly good, we have to find the joy of creating. This joy comes from having a passion deep in our bones for what we do. While the outward showing of this ends when we leave the office, we still carry it within us – we are, after all, users too, right? You can't fake this joy. If you haven't found this, please take the time to find this within you by reflecting on your role and what is it that you're really doing. I assure you that the joy of creating will follow – be it as a UX person or as whatever else it is that you discover that you want to do.
Pride in what we create
Every thing we create reflects on us – be it a doodle on a napkin or a whiteboard diagram, or be it a .PDF or a .GRAFFLE. It speaks volumes about us as individuals and as collectively a team. We must take great pride in it. This means going the extra little bit to get every detail as right as we can. Now I'm not saying we do everything perfectly – that's impossible – but I'm saying that we self-evaluate before we put it out in the world. Just the same way we taste the food we're preparing before serving it to others, or we put a little extra flourish on a gift before giving it to someone, we must strive give our work a once-over. A twice-over. Make sure all the pieces are there. We must ask ourselves "Can this be better? Can this be simpler? Is there anything that's amiss?" Look for things like file names, typos, file extensions, alignment of elements across pages, locations of files… I could go on. Keep in mind that someone is going to look at what you're creating and build on it. A shortcut or sloppiness on your end can have disastrous effects. So, please take pride in what you do, how you do it, and forever find ways to improve on it. And when you do make a mistake, own up to it and dedicate yourself to never making the same mistake again. Our work is a reflection of us. This is why I have each of us put our initials against our files. We must truly own what we make and taking pride in our creation is very important.
Mastery with humility
Each of us is uniquely talented and gifted with a set of skills that makes us capable of doing what we do. Some of us have been at it longer than others and some of us have picked it up faster than others. That said, we are all the same in that we are seeking to refine our skills and become masters at it. This sometimes means doing a lot, and sometimes it means doing a little. Either way, dedication to our craft is important if we want to become excellent at it. Each of us should aspire to be the best UX person out there. Work hard at it every single day – and be relentless about it. No one got to the top by coasting or by just phoning it in. There is a sea of mediocrity out there and I believe that each of you has something special that made me handpick you to be on my team. With this, more importantly, comes a sense of humility. Please remember that for every master, there are many apprentices. For every Steve Jobs, there are many Tim Cooks. They learn from us. They aspire to be like us. They make our lives easier in some way. So, please be humble. No one respects a braggart or an asshole. Humility has many aspects and as I see it, the most obvious one is patience. Be patient with those who are learning and who depend on you. Embrace the diversity in learning styles and skill levels. To everyone be kind, yet firm. Compassion is never under-appreciated. This applies to everyone we work with, including those from other teams. Remember, you're the emissary for our group on the project. A negative perception of you is a negative perception of everyone on our group.
Be aware and interact with your environment
There are many things around you that can change where you go and what you do. So, keep your eyes and ears open. Tune in to your surroundings and pick up on things. Listen for and engage in conversations that you feel might be interesting. Look out for things that could use your skill and put it to use. Be receptive to feedback and input. Seek it out if you can. Know of a better way to share documents? Speak up! Don't accept the status quo. Push it. You'll notice it pushes back. It reacts. It does something. The best part about this world we live in is that there are consequences to every action. Every choice, every interruption, every action as ripple effects. Find it and then push and pull until something happens. Ask around. Talk to people and engage with them. You'll be surprised how much you can learn – and where you can go – if you did that. Specifically, this means doing something if things seem off. Picking up after someone else. Offering to help where it might make someone else's life easier. We are not factory workers assigned to stations. Collaboration is in our DNA and we must embrace that.
Please don't view any of this as a critique or admonishment of your individual skills or performance. My increased interaction with each of you has had me thinking about how I can pass on what I know to you. I'm not right, nor have I "figured it out". Heck, all of this might be the worst advice you've ever received in your life. All I know is that this has worked for me. It's kept me honest, humble, and has paid off in ways that no bank account or title can measure.
I've been in meetings and sessions with you where I've expressed frustration at UI elements being off the grid and misaligned across pages. I've marked up glaring and obvious errors and I've made you scramble at the last minute to move files from locations, re-arrange pages in documents, and print the correct document. In all of this, I've never lost faith in your capabilities nor ever thought that you are not talented. I firmly believe that each of you is exceptional in your own unique way and that with a little effort, can let the inner diamond shine.
That said I, for one, am going to make the effort to end my verbosity by thanking you for reading so far and hope that you found something of value in the preceding words.
Have a great week, each of you, and I look forward to many moons of creating awesome stuff together.
All my respect,
PS: if you haven't seen the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" I highly recommend you watch it. Some of what I've said above is inspired from it and I'm confident the flick presents it much more eloquently and artistically.
Newer: Why I Roll My Own