A send off to Designation designers

Designation Team Apr 6, 2018 Design Tips, students, Thought Leaders

By Angelina Cole

Hi everyone! My name is Angelina, I’m an experience designer for a global consulting firm called ThoughtWorks.

We make bespoke software for enterprise clients, which means 90% of my job is talking to people. I’m a graduate of the Celadon cohort of Designation — that was a super long time ago as we’ve gone through the whole alphabet again!

I’m standing in front of you as proof that this experiment has worked, and I hope I can impart some wisdom from my years as a post-grad designer.

Presumably like you, I didn’t start here.

I started my design journey somewhere else but could no longer deny a voice inside of me aching for career satisfaction. I was convinced all I needed was a shot, and Designation was just that.

The people you’ve met in this program are undeniably some of the most inspiring you’ve met in a while; they’ve challenged you to think differently, to go beyond yourself and to become confident in something you might not have known a whole heck of a lot about when you began. Because of the collaboration, arguments, successes and countless beers you’ve shared together, I assure you, you know more about the world of design than you might think you do.

In the months to come, you’ll search for that perfect fit and promise of career nirvana. But I promise you, nothing is quite like Designation. 

It will quickly become apparent that you’re now surrounded by new sets of challenges.

Is the work interesting? Are you challenged in the best way? Are the deadlines grueling? 

You will each have different answers to this and I implore you as you take on your first or your five hundredth project, to stay tight with the people in this room with you right now.

These people will ground you, they will remind you why you started; and when you feel really confident about a super slick problem you’re solving or a wicked high-profile client, they will show you work you worked on together as a sanity check.

This is the heart of our work — people. It’s in our job titles — user experience, user interface — the heart of our work is vulnerability. 

Fueled by our curious mindsets and a healthy respect for deadlines, we offer up, again and again, something we’ve spent a lot of time and energy understanding, concepting and giving a crap about. That is hard. That is the job. But that is not what gives us our confidence.

Regardless of how you’re feeling about what comes next, I can attest that confidence comes with repetition. It comes with knowing you know how to solve a problem. It comes from admitting publicly you have no idea what you’re doing but gosh darn it, you’re going to figure it out.

Our confidence comes from our most coveted traits — our willingness to be game and our ability to ask other people for help.

Presumably like you, I didn’t start here. I started my design journey somewhere else but could no longer deny a voice inside of me aching for career satisfaction. I was convinced all I needed was a shot, and Designation was just that.

Early in my career, I heard Leah Buley, author of The UX Team of One, say that user experience is “all about inviting people in.” As I’ve done this work for all kinds of clients and all kinds of places like Wilmington, Delaware, East Lansing, Michigan and Cincinnati, Ohio, I cannot begin to express how right Leah is.

We must invite others in. We must ask for help from like-minded designers and our most critical product owners alike. We must invite others in and have the mental and spiritual fortitude to say publicly that we might not have it quite right. We must invite others in to commiserate, problem solve and arrive at a solution together. 

Experience Design of any flavor does not happen in a vacuum, it needs others and by that virtue, we need each other to ensure we’re pushing our own boundaries and creating something truly meaningful for people who will likely never know our names.

Inviting people into our world is a risk. They may discover we’re really imposters, we just got here, we just started, we don’t have all the answers. Fu*k that.

I’m telling you right now to tell all those feelings to just fu*k right on off. I still feel this every single day and I promise you, the sooner you make room for this feeling in your life, the easier it gets to say in front of a lot of people “I don’t know, but it’s something we can test!”

Weirdly, the reward is when our assumptions are validated, people can use our creations with minimal stumbling blocks and — oh sweet victory — they didn’t say all that much in usability testing!

It takes a special kind of person to daily put their work up for public scrutiny, even more, special to make real sacrifices for 24 weeks to make that happen.

I encourage you to remember this simple fact: you have chosen to enter this weird, wacky world that is generally governed by strong opinions that are loosely held. That said, remember why you started; remember what excites you, makes you nervous, and what feels like a grind. Pay attention to this compass as you continue to draft sketch after wireframe after prototype. 

This career is a place for makers, dreamers, and folks who aren’t quite satisfied with how things are, even if it is just another personal banking app or payment flow. Otherwise, we wouldn’t try to make it better, right? In design, we are wrong a lot, but I can tell you from experience that this is the right place to create and make.

It takes a special kind of person to put their work up for public scrutiny, and even more special to make real-life sacrifices for 24 weeks to make that happen.

So, as you get ready to drink all the beers this evening, take a quick minute and think about all the people inside and outside of this room who have supported you and challenged you on this journey.

Nobody gets anywhere alone, so when you also experience a new hire, someone who just wants to have coffee, or even a cranky product owner who doesn’t quite get design, remember all the people who got you to where you are. I encourage you to reach back to others as you move forward. 

As the saying goes, stay humble, and hustle hard. 

Your team will support you and now, you have a new design problem to solve — yourself

Take the leap

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