I’ve become a pretty good thief over the years. It’s a subtle art to steal inspiration from various sources and then hide the heist, carefully melding the disparate pieces together to form a unique new thing.
What I’ve ended up with is not a single design style or fixed process, but instead a constantly-evolving set of guiding principles and common work patterns.
Basically, I try to think independently and do good work, fast. And play nicely with others.
That’s about it. Everything else is details.
My Design Playbook
- Be flexible. Know your toolbox inside and out, so you can use the right tools at the right time, no matter what the team’s development process is.
- Collaborate well but also think independently. Ingest many viewpoints while still creating opinionated work.
- Be fast. Momentum is king. Bring a positive and proactive energy to the team.
The multifaceted nature of my profession is a perfect fit for my personality. I've always had wide-ranging interests and try to be a master of several trades.
Day-to-day, putting those core values to work can take shape in all kinds of different ways:
To me, product design is a game for fullstack players. UX, UI, prototyping, frontend development, project management, business strategy… you have to play many positions to win at this game.
Collaborating While Thinking Independently
There’s no doubt that creating products is a team effort. Having good relationships and clear communication is particularly important to my personal style of work, since I have an almost journalistic approach and try to ingest as many different viewpoints as I can.
Yet it takes a lot of practice to take in tons of input while still creating focused & opinionated designs in a proactive way.
Balancing teamwork with independent thought is where the magic happens.
There’s a rhythm to bouncing between different types of work. You get a feel for when it’s a right time in a project to zoom out and gain perspective from other people's insights, versus a time to zoom in and execute, then rinse and repeat as needed.
It’s a particularly important skill for designers to be able to think for themselves because they’re usually outnumbered by other roles, often by vast amounts. It’s not uncommon for teams to have ratios as high as one designer per twenty developers, plus an assortment of PM’s, stakeholders, marketers, and others.
The stakes are high — the quality of a designer’s work sets the bar for everyone else.
Good design work has an ineffable aspect that sets the tone and injects enthusiasm across all levels of a team. People want to bring good work to life when they’re excited about the final product.
Creating work of a high caliber takes a little bit of solitude, a bit of space where independent critical thinking skills can thrive. Otherwise, you’re purely reactive and so busy putting out various fires that standards drop just to keep up. Quantity wins over quality and the final product suffers.
Finally, it’s important to attack the work with energy. None of the rest matters if you can’t pull it all together in a fun and positive way!
Enthusiasm for the team and mission can’t be faked, so I’m very picky about where I ply my trade.
It’s why I always advise junior designers: do the kind of work that you want to do more of and the rest will follow.