It’s been just over a year since I moved from being a software engineer to being a designer. In making the transition I have had to change a lot about how I function. This post is a small and incomplete list of things that I have had to get used to for me to function as a designer.
Getting used to Uncertainty
Working as a designer has meant getting used to a certain level of uncertainity. In the engineering world, you get a project, understand the expectations, create a plan as per the existing process and get to work. As a designer, things are not that linear and clearly laid out. I find myself a lot more unsure about how to begin, how to establish what is really required, once a direction is established, how to know whether this direction is the right one or if its missing something.
Trying new things…
To deal with this uncertainity, and lack of a defined path, I’ve had to rely on trying new approaches. I have created my own user research techniques, defined and redefined visual models to aid and validate my understanding, created new documentation formats tailored to the needs of particular projects. I have also learnt to become comfortable throwing incomplete ideas and approaches in discussion without worrying too much about them being right or wrong.
Bringing more of Me to my work…
As opposed to engineering which is precise, design is subjective and often quite personal. Different designers approach the same problem quite differently because design is not just informed by user needs, it is also informed by personal opinions and philosophical standpoints. And with good reason. When you are working on conceptualizing a system, which does not exist today, as you might be on some design projects, you have a really broad playing field. There can be hundreds of different approaches that can be taken, how do you narrow it down to just one? You rely on as much user research that the project timelines allow you to do. You try to get a lot of opinions. And importantly, you rely on your own opinions, philosophies and values to show you the way.
For me this has meant learning to trust my gut, being open to different viewpoints and being comfortable taking a stand based on what I believe in.
As a designer you often work with multiple stakeholders with different priorities. While your priority maybe the user needs, an equally valid priority is maximizing profits or reducing development complexity. Add to that the subjective nature of our work and you have a recipe for constant friction. As a designer, I have come to accept and now even enjoy disagreements and debate. I believe as long as you remember that all the stakeholders are as commited to building a great product as you are, you actually gain a lot from the debates even along the lines of improving the user experience.
I’d like to end with 2 lovely quotes that seem very appropiate in this context:
“ It’s about realizing that there isn’t always a right or a wrong way of doing things,
There’s not always a correct answer,
Only the answers we create.”
“…Try and drop the assumption that you know how to do things,
and already know the solution.
Stray away from the direct path.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,
because it’s only from the mistakes that we learn,
and it’s from the mistakes that the really interesting things happen.
We may not always create or invent,
but we always learn when we try.”
(Source of quote: http://bit.ly/dU8SdY)