So one thing has recently gotten my goat design-wise, and it’s not the usual handwringing about portfolios or coding or even “what do we call ourselves?” (Although those are entertaining too, in their own right.)
I’m talking about something more inherent about design, in how newbies are approaching the design field. I especially see it in students and career-changers.
You see, I’m a career-changer about 5 years out. I came from a completely unrelated field: molecular biology.
Here’s what I know about how to “make it” in UX, in one sentence:
Designers, stop asking for permission to make an impact.
I actually have a lot of feelings about that. So here we go.
Stop worrying about the degrees you don’t have. Stop worrying how “good” at design you are. Stop worrying about getting the attention of so-and-so famous designer or someone at this-and-this famous company. Stop worrying if you’ll measure up, if someone will just give you a chance to do design.
Because you know what? There will always be someone more impressive than you on paper. Always. That’s something my mom drummed into my head as a kid. I think she meant to keep me humble, but instead I relegated myself to academic mediocrity, hah.
But that kind of thinking is actually very freeing. Especially to an adult navigating a new, ever-changing field.
People with impressive degrees and companies on their resume are probably applying to the very same jobs you are. Your resume will sit in a pile with other resumes showing 3, 5, 10 more years of experience than you have. Yes, that thought is scary. How could you ever compete? You might be considering, you know, padding that resume a bit…but don’t do that!
The solution is a lot more simple. You just don’t have to play by those rules.
Your impact as a designer doesn’t depend on the degrees you have, or the past companies you worked for. Being able to make an impact doesn’t even mean having any experience on paper. It’s more of a mindset.
Being a designer means solving problems for people. Period.
If you see a problem, if you see someone struggling, this should be your immediate reaction.
There are problems everywhere to solve. There are always ways to make things better. That is what a designer does — they make things better, wherever they happen to be.
It doesn’t have to mean designing a world-changing product like the iPhone. Making an impact could be helping your friend get their business off the ground by making a Squarespace site for them. It could be leveraging Google Sheets to save your colleagues 15 minutes every single day. (I did all of those in my short journey to city government!)
It might not seem big to you, but for those people you made an impact on, it means a great deal.
So start where you are now. Use what you have.
How can you make things better around you? That’s your brief. How do you know if it’s better? These are your metrics. Write a case study about it and boom, look, now you have a portfolio piece too!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be acknowledged for your work. But if you aren’t there yet, don’t wait. The only way you can make an impact…is by making an impact.
Design is not about awards or accolades or what your resume looks like. It’s the impact you make.
That’s why I love working in govt. I’ve gotten comments about it “being a trial by fire” for a new designer and I’m like, “Are you kidding? Whatever I do will literally be 1000x better than what exists now!”
I could let things be either nonexistent or unusable, or I could do something about it.
So I took stock. I talked to people, to whoever could give me their time. I did what I could. There’s no perfect way to make a difference. Just talk to people, work with them, and do something. There’s nothing to lose when your do-nothing options are “nonexistent or unusable.”
Once you start making an impact at that level, you can never go back.
So all you have to do is show up, every day, willing to make an impact wherever you are.
Be done asking for permission.