Finding a different job for the parts of you that get the job done

Over the last year, our design team shifted in focus from design strategy and product strategy to more pure pixel output. This came with pros and cons of course. The pros were that our team had the time and resources to create a design system and to modernize and our visual language. The cons were we lost some of our muscles in product strategy, design thinking, and user experience research.

Personally, as someone whose path to user experience design was circuitous and…did not involve a ton of visual design, because of the team’s renewed focus, I had the opportunity to grow in areas like design systems and UI. And because we were doing so much work in so little time, with not enough designers or product managers, I practiced and grew skills in…just ‘getting shit done’.

Yet the drive to constantly produce to achieve a goal (or to prevent failure) comes with a cost — becoming less curious. Warren Berger’s “A More Beautiful Question” discusses how our brains have evolved to dump most of what we see and to quickly categorize the rest:

“Our ancestors needed to quickly determine if something coming at them was friendly or harmful; today, we still need to do that at times, though we’re more often concerned, in this info-rich environment, with trying to sort what’s new and important from what’s known or extraneous. We make judgements in fractions of a second: This I’ll pay attention to, everything else I’ll ignore because (a) it doesn’t concern/interest me or (b) I already know about it.”

Relatedly, I realized I had grown used to working in essentially a fast-moving Kinkos shop, constantly fielding what to pay attention to or ignore, and I was spending less time on things that wasn’t related to the next immediate task, like asking questions, deeper problem-solving, or design strategy.

Luckily, with a new leadership change, the team is shifting back to strategic design rather than tactical design. And while I wholeheartedly agreed with this change, I realized I am a little unsure of myself — “Well now what I do? Do I remember how to be a user-centered, creative designer?”

And I realized the part of me that ‘got the job done’ felt a little lost, because it didn’t feel appreciated or have a role anymore. In my head this part of me looks like an Industrial Revolution factory, black and polluting but polished and efficient.

So what do I do with this factory side of me?

Answer (from therapy): I can still use it when I need to, but it doesn’t have to be working overdrive anymore. When I looked closer, the factory didn’t actually want to work 24/7, didn’t even know why it was working and was actually quite tired, and would rather be using its energy to power something that actually goes places:

Answer (from manager): The ‘get stuff done’ part of me can be brought in to manage the details at more important parts of the process, like at the beginning of projects or design strategy.

So I’m still exploring what to do, but I’m sensing that letting the Industrial Revolution factory parts of me step aside will give room for the quieter, more curious, and more questioning parts.

User Experience Designer