June 15, 2013

By: Brandon McNeely

Usability, content parity, mood boards—they’re all important parts of the ‘Great Design’ puzzle. But what brings the pieces together to connect with the person on the other end? What gets you engaged with your work to forge that connection and to make Monday’s just as exciting as any other day? “Tall order,” you say as you sip on your third coffee of the day. Read on, my caffeinated friends.

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Streeeetch Yourself

You were hired as a UX expert, so you should spend your days reading up on UX trends and honing your latest project, right? Not so fast. It's important to actively pull from people’s experiences and ideas—regardless of their title. Learn what your team members are doing. Ask questions and be empathetic—really listen. Fast Company’s Drake Baer advised “To truly hear someone—be they colleague, spouse, or customer—you need to make yourself a vessel…And if we're in context of relationships—and surprise, that's what our present social era is founded upon—we need to be able to feel what our teams, our customers, and our souls need.”

But more than continue listening, we want to keep learning (you’re going to have to set that coffee down for just a bit.) Be actively involved in contributing anywhere you can. Learn the whole project process: Take up CSS. Throw out some headline ideas. Take on a print piece. You’ll gain a wide set of skills to pull from and understand where your coworkers are coming from. Your work will be better for it in the end, and you’ll find it more rewarding as well.

When it comes down to it, people just want to help. By taking on a mentality of contribution, a creative project stays far away from stops on an assembly line, with contributions coming in at any point. In Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft, he writes “The issue is...whether your work demands use of your personal skills and judgment. If it doesn't, then you're on an assembly line, no matter how crisply starched your shirt is.” You did starch your plaid today, right?

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Keep a Wide Frame

Time to take this whole career shebang a step further: be a multi-disciplinarian in life. Take up an instrument. Learn to make sushi. Read an autobiography. Immerse yourself in another culture. Pick a city neighborhood, grab an outdoor table at a new restaurant you’ve been meaning to try and people watch for an hour. Sketch out some thoughts on a napkin or just take it in. Let everything influence you and then open yourself to let it all influence your work.

Why? One, you’ll be leading a richer life, putting that beating heart to good use. But also because your work will be stronger, more honest and have YOU in it, something a computer algorithm could never repeat. The end product ends up intrinsically rewarding no matter how the client reacts, something you don’t get from more efficient, but derivative work.

Graphic Designer/Firebrand James Victore summed it up well when he explained “In Costa Rica, there is an expression...called Pura Vida. Basically it means a wealth of life, a rich life. Because we all have such wealth. We all have so many interests. And you have to put it into the work, or you’re robbing your audience.”

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To Err is Awesome

Failing is exciting. It means there’s something to learn. The worst days take on a positive edge because you know you can learn from them. Failing means you’re taking chances. We’re looking for engagement here and a reason to retire that caffeine for good. Those Fight Club-esque insurance commercials with the Mayhem character are fun to watch, right? That’s because Mayhem represents risk, taking chances, the unexpected. There’s something appealing to that. Although insurance companies may sell the feeling of security, they don’t stop mayhem. So stop playing it safe and be more open to failing. But by all means, keep all relevant insurance coverages.

To sum it up, you’re not just reading up on trends in responsive design then applying them. By truly learning and being engaged outside of work, you bring honesty, diversity, authenticity, empathy, growth and contribution to work. When we make the work personal, we put ourselves into what we do. It’s why good people means good work isn’t just a platitude, it’s the truth. Live it.

How about a visit to Liquified Design.

...your work will be stronger, more honest and have YOU in it, something a computer algorithm could never repeat.
The worst days take on a positive edge because you know you can learn from them.