Saturday, February 09, 2013

Designer seeking advice...

Earlier this week I received a message from a young designer asking for advice on how to land her dream job.  With her permission, I'm reprinting it here (with some editing to not reveal her identity):


Hi Irene, How are you? Hope you are well :) Sorry for the direct approach. My name is V. and I'm a Visual/UI/UX designer currently based in [city].  I'm a young designer in my mid-twentys [sic] aspiring to become a good UX designer. During the mean time I'm having a difficult time just to get started. It would be amazing if I could get some help on some career advise. I discovered [an opportunity] I really want to be part of, but as I'm not experienced enough for the highly skilled small team, I was not a great fit. The team lead has kindly given me some advise on what skills I need for the role.  Two years later, I've found myself not gaining the skills I wish to gain through my job. While working, I'm constantly reading blogs, books, and more in order try and improve my skills. I'm starting to get frustrated, since I'm not quite sure how to take my skills to the next level through work. Like most mid-twenty year olds trying to figure out 'life', I find myself so hungry for something, but I can't quite pin point it out exactly. What I do know is that I do want to work on something meaningful, have contribution to the world through my skills. This is exactly why I find [this organization] so appealing, or you could say it was like love at first sight and the flame is still burning strong two years after. I strive for creating great user experiences through strategy, research and design. The only problem is, I have no idea on how to get there. Just yesterday I came across a design worksop that is going to be held at Google Headquarters - Mountain View. On the application it asks the applicant to explain one project that is in their portfolio that they are proud of. And I realised that I haven't done any UX work that I'm proud of nor came across any major problem solving matters. I do love being a designer and I'm grateful that I have a design job in this economy. Thank you so much for reading this letter and I do apologise if this letter came across a little strong or intense. Have a lovely day! Best wishes, V.

A few years ago I would have responded with a reply naming my favorite UX books, authors, and consultants.  I would have given more blogs to read, specific workshops to take, and conferences to attend.  What I have observed over many years of mentoring and employing hundreds of designers is that it's often not lack of skill but lack of an internal resource that limits them.  This is what I wrote to her:


Hi V., 
Since you asked for my advice, I will share my perspective with you, which has largely been shaped by my own career and studying and practicing the spiritual teachings of yoga. 
First, start where you are.  Stop worrying about the skills or expertise that you don't have.  You already have a foundation and basket of skills to draw from.  When you worry about not having the skills or knowledge you need, you lose confidence, which undermines your ability to learn and be effective. 
Second, the best way to learn is by doing.  Get involved in projects that interest or inspire you. Maybe you will be lucky enough to engage in such projects that happen to also bring you income.  If not, find the time to engage in such projects on your own time.  Seek collaborators, or go on your own.  Make stuff, design stuff.  Invent projects for yourself to do that allow you to exercise your skills; you will learn a lot by practicing.  You will learn even more by seeking feedback, from mentors and users.  From the feedback, you will discover how you need to grow.  In your desire to make your product better, you will orient your energy toward activities that will help you grow. 
Third, notice and follow what brings you joy and energy.  If you are truly interested and passionate about the endeavors, your interests will guide you toward what you need to learn, and you will invest the time and energy into learning it.  You will also build a portfolio/body of work that you can later show to potential clients or employers; the joy you bring to your work will shine through and you will be able to see yourself more clearly -- and people you talk to about hiring you will see that too.
 [...]
Best, 
Irene 

This advice was inspired by three basic rules for practicing Hatha Yoga, which I wrote about last year.  In fact, these rules are relevant to almost any endeavor, whether starting a yoga practice or exercise regimen, advancing one's career or beginning a new one, entering a new relationship, or creating a new product:

  1. Start where you are.  Stop worrying about what you don't know or that others are further ahead than you.  Stop worrying about what the future holds.  Be in the present moment, and start with what you have, where you are, right now.
  2. Join movement and breath.  In other words, just do it.  Fear nothing.  The best way to learn is by doing and getting into it.
  3. Observe yourself.   Through self-study and observation we gain awareness and presence of mind.  We notice changes over time, understand cause-effect, and use that feedback to inform the future.
Hatha Yoga rules = Rules for Life