I’m working on a new project at work that involves multiple products and multiple stakeholders and no agreed upon goal. My normal way of approaching it would be — get all the info. Get the tech constraints. Get everyone on the same page. Prioritize what’s being built when. Design a scalable MVP that is buildable now.
I was challenged by the design team’s leads to take a different approach— start blue sky, and then pull the direction of the product to ideal state, even if you’re looking at a reality that is years away. I was also asked to use new design methods I hadn’t tried before, which was interesting but I mostly felt like I was stumbling through. I also was working with a group of designers I had never worked with before.
When I expressed that I wasn’t sure exactly what to do next or what my role should be, my boss’ response: “Isn’t that great?”
Then he told a sports story of how youth golfers can sometimes grow 12 inches in a season, and then suddenly have to change their grip from one that compensated for their smaller stature and weight to one that is more suited for a full-grown human being. And how this is the worst thing for a golfer, to have to change their grip. That it SUCKS. And that how this new project would feel this way to me. That I have been in an environment of constant production design, standardizing title-casing vs sentence-casing on our websites, but that design also can be creative and contemplative, where designers create brand new things, and that this is where he wanted me to stretch myself.
So I’m trying. What I’m noticing so far:
Contemplation vs. collaboration
I’ve grown up in the school of IDEO-style workshops that aim at getting consensus and understanding from stakeholders, as well as not biasing designs with our personal opinions, relying on qualitative and quantitative data to drive designs. I’m seeing another side of design — where design does involve collaboration and consensus with partners, as well as understanding user needs, but emphasizes that in the end we hold the pixels and it’s our intuition, sense-making, and our focus that drives the experience.
Who we’re beholden to
By working with a design lead who is hyper-focused on helping users meet their primary needs and who doesn’t get distracted by who says what, I’m seeing the value of being able to ignore noise. I’ve always known empathizing with far-off users to be a struggle of mine — ironic because I’m a user experience designer, yet when I don’t have a chance to talk and listen to users, I end up prioritizing the needs of the people around me, especially if they have titles that in my Korean hierarchical mind means they need to be listened to. I also end up prioritizing feasibility, constraints, timelines, which I understand can happen when you’re constantly on the line to deliver something right away.
BUT, I know that practicing compassion is a skill and a habit, and it matters that we be compassionate to our users and recognize moments of pain, suffering and hardship, and try our best to alleviate that through design.
So far, trying a new grip is interesting, uncomfortable, messy — when I told a friend how I was feeling, her response: “That sounds like UX”.