Little Boxia has just turned two! Look how proud she stands, barely wobbling at all! See how she toddles around, smearing food on the walls! So independent, so curious and wait… did she just say “no!”? No, no, no! Here they come… the terrible twos.
As we celebrate Boxes and Arrows’ second birthday with pride, I find myself looking at our profession as well. As a manager of designers and as a member of the community, I am struck time and time again at how timid and uncertain so many designers are. It doesn’t matter if they are information architects, graphic designers, or interaction designers; a pervasive feeling of fraud floats through the air. “What if they don’t believe me,” “I need data,” “What have I got to offer?” Around dear Boxia’s birth, Jesse James Garrett accused the community of dressing up in lab coats to try to pass for a professional. To this day I see designers reaching for data like a thug reaches for a baseball bat before entering a street fight. The research they want to do is not to learn, but to win arguments. This is, of course, bad for design and bad for research.
How do you become confident? How do you stand up in a room with senior vice presidents, directors of marketing and …shudder… engineers and explain why you didn’t color in the napkin-wireframe they drew over lunch, but rather, that you decided to design? You have to make sure you are as professional as the professional you are.
- Know your shit. Make sure you have the education you need. This is a combination of school learning, keeping up-to-date with periodicals and books on your subject of expertise, and real-world experience. This is probably the toughest for young designers. The solution though, is to read like a crazy person, talk to every senior designer you know about the work you are doing and learn from their experience, and work as much as you can, through freelancing and volunteering.
- Think it through. If you haven’t thought through every bit of your design, you’ll get a kick-in-the-rear when you present your ideas. It doesn’t mean you have to be hyper-analytical while you design, but it does mean you set aside an hour or two before you present and do a heuristic analysis of your own work (or get a peer to do it). Walk through the entire solution and look for flaws. Categorize them into:
- “I will fix”
- “I won’t fix because…”
- “It could be a bad solution, but I don’t think so because…”
- “I don’t know”
Now when these issues are brought up in the presentation, you won’t trip up, you won’t lose your confidence. You’ll calmly explain that “Yes, very perceptive, I have so and so working on it,” “I’d like to, but this is the phase one solution, it’s all we have time for,” “I do see your point, but have you considered this?” and your secret weapon, “You know, I’ve been pondering over that—what do you think?” Why is this the secret weapon? Nothing shows confidence more than the willingness to admit you don’t have all the answers. Admitting you don’t have an answer always trumps bullshit.
By treating the folks you are presenting to as members of your team—equals with unique insights that match your own—you reach two goals: ending conflict while shoring up your own sense of place in the project and your value therein. You also message that to the other members of the team.
This is my final bit of advice:
- Psych yourself up. I’m really not an affirmations type of gal, I’m more of a “Let’s go get beer and a pizza and see if there is some brilliant insight that comes from sausage and mushrooms.” Maybe it’s my years in California, but before a really tough meeting, I’ll sit quietly at my desk for five minutes and say to myself “You know your sht, you’ve done your homework, you’ve been doing this long enough, you are a smart cookie, you won’t say anything dumb, you will listen closely, everyone in there is on your side, we all want the same thing, you will be great. You will be great. You will be great.”
Sounds goofy, I know. I hope my family back in Iowa never reads this. But it works. You have to believe in yourself before you can get anyone else to.
At the IA summit I stated in the five-minute madness, “You win more arguments with will than with data” and it’s true. It’s all about giving up the lab coats and showing off our own design raiment.
So what has this got to do with our little Boxia’s birthday?
As a human, you enter your second year of life becoming more confident. Less obedient. More freethinking (as well as freestanding) and you often tell people “no.”
“No” takes some courage to say. It means you have realized your world view is as valid as your parents. And it’s a critically important moment in anyone’s life, be it B&A, the design profession or your own life.
Boxes and Arrows will continue standing tall, fleshing out ideas, not talking down to folks, exploring new approaches—even if unpopular, and saying “no” when saying “no” is the right thing to do.
We recommend you do so too.