And how you can learn from them

Photo Credit: Pamela Littky for variety.com

While at my last job I loved commuting to work, my two-hour drive was one of the best parts of the day.

If this makes you go like: “Are you nuts?” or like “What are you talking about?” I understand. If I asked any of my friends or colleagues about their work commute, I’d get a pretty unanimous response: everyone hates commuting, it’s the worst!

Honestly, I used to dread work commutes myself, at least until I started using that time in a way that served me. Like many others, I started to consume podcasts and audiobooks, and initially those made my two-hour drive less of a burden. The fact is that I valued my time too much to be simply complaining about the commute, so I decided to make it into something pleasurable instead.

I discovered that — when you listen closely enough — a hidden gem comes out of a podcast, a nugget of knowledge comes out of an audiobook, something that makes you think, or at least that makes the listening worthwhile. Thanks to the time I spent listening to this content, I started writing on Medium too.

After reading (and listening) to Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life” I wrote the 6 rules to own design and loved doing it. In a chain of events, that article led me to be guest on a podcast myself with a fellow designer as a host, and I freaking loved doing that too. All of this is to reiterate why I actually love commutes and why I love podcasts.

My everyday job is to be a designer, so whenever I listen to podcasts, I look for these little treasures, I look for analogies with the world I live in, the world of design.

Ok, hold on a second, what does Kevin Hart have to do with any of this?

Right! While listening to him being interviewed on a podcast, I found the treasure again. I think a lot of what he said could resonate with many of us designers and I decided to share it with you. The quotes you’ll read are all from Kevin, and I’ll make sure to link an inspirational excerpt of that podcast at the end of this article.

So let’s get to it! Here are the 5 lessons Kevin Hart taught me about being a better designer:


1) Be clear on the book you want to write

We’re all writing a book, Kevin says, and he asks: “What does your book look like?” I think the metaphor for this is very clear —and it’s not about writing an actual book — but more about your end goal. This made me ask myself: Why am I in this industry? Why do I design? And the simple answer is: because I want to help others and make a difference.

“All of the things that can be associated with you and your existence become a part of the chapters in your book.”

The book is a metaphor for the mission you have and what you want to achieve in life. It’s a reminder to keep an eye on the pages you’re writing, to be clear on your goals, and make sure not to waste any more time just going “through the motions”. As far as I’m concerned, simply punching in and out of work, without a mission behind it, is a sure way to failure.

So why do you design? If you thrill at the idea of helping others get healthy you should probably be in healthcare. If you want people to be more aware of how they use their money, then maybe you should be in financial services. When you answer these questions it’s much easier to start writing your chapters.

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I doing this to begin with?
  • What does the end of my book look like?
  • What kind of pages am I writing in my life book right now?
  • Based on my goals and my “why”, how can I make sure I write a book I will be happy with?
  • How do I translate all of this to my career and personal life?

2) Don’t limit your possibilities because of your job title

It’s the nature of our jobs that takes us to explore different disciplines and ways of working, but sometimes we get stuck on certain ways because they either come easy or because we want to “specialise”. For example, the limit I’ve imposed on myself for the longest time is to not advance my very basic coding skills, because I’m a not a developer, I’m a designer.

“There’s so much that some people just don’t understand they can do. You don’t have to do just one thing.”

I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. Of course, by that reasoning I shouldn’t write either, I’m not a writer. I shouldn’t have gone on a podcast, I’m not good on the mic. In reality that’s just a way to limit my possibilities. Kevin — in his hilarious yet motivating high pitched voice keeps saying: “why not?”

I could make a small list of what I’ve wanted to do for the longest time but didn’t because of some excuse. In fact, I did make a list, and realised that on paper there wasn’t any good reason for me to not do those things.

Ask yourself:

  • What limits do I impose on myself?
  • What other areas, even outside of design, am I not exploring because of my so-called limits?
  • How much do I limit myself just because others say it’s not possible or I shouldn’t do it?
  • What are the things I could do once I got rid of my limits?
  • Why not? Why can’t I do that?

3) Find your way of learning new things and keep doing it

I could relate to a lot of what Kevin said about school and education trying to force knowledge down your throat. My personal story with learning is pretty much that I hated it and I sucked at it. It was only later in life that I understood how powerful knowledge was and that I didn’t really hate learning, I just hated school. I needed to find my way of learning things, and that’s when I taught myself how to design.

“Education wasn’t my pick of choice, it didn’t do it for me. But the knowledge and the common sense that I had naturally allowed me to gain information, apply it differently, it allowed me to grow smart in so many different avenues.”

I guess the whole “learning how to code” thing I just mentioned ties in well with this point: I realised that learning it will help me to become a better designer and keep me curious about other areas of the tech world. In reality, this learning could be totally unrelated to design, and it would still help me in pursuing mastery in this field. I believe that this type of mentality only comes from learning new things and being constantly curious about what’s around us.

Ask yourself:

  • How curious am I? What new things could I learn if I only applied myself?
  • How much time do I dedicate to learning new things?
  • What’s my relationship with learning, and do I have a good way of doing it?
  • What’s the next thing that I could learn, that will lead me to have fun and become more skilled?

4) Be the example and not the problem

In my last job, I set up a team design critique session on Friday every two weeks. The first few months went great, however, after some time we would forget to attend or find excuses not to, myself included. Had I been more strict with it, soliciting others to come, sharing my work regardless of having some deliverable to show, my team would’ve benefitted from it, but I didn’t. I knew what was right, but I became part of the problem.

“Why don’t you think the highest of yourself? When you do, people have no choice but to follow suit. Making myself better puts me in a position to make others better. Be the example, not the problem.”

In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter if you’re a junior, a senior or a design leader: we all share a responsibility to behave correctly and act as an example. Sometimes we fall short and do the wrong thing. Relax, it’s fine. But when we don’t behave as we should, we need to be made aware of it, not by way of sheer criticism from ourselves or others, but from the power of actions. It’s the smartest way to act and the one that reaps the most rewards.

Ask yourself:

  • What am I doing right now that I know is wrong or unproductive?
  • What are the steps I can take to be more disciplined?
  • What’s the one thing that I should keep doing to set the example?
  • How can I make myself better so I can elevate the ones around me?

5) Don’t start things and not finish them (or share them)

Cleaning my desk the other day forced me to go through the endless numbers of sketches and notes that were buried under some other paperwork. Some of them I had just forgotten to throw away, some of them were ideas I had to better the product I worked on for the past 2 years, and they never got finished, or shared.

“If you’re going to do it, do it to try and be the best. Not to be better than other people, to be the best for you.”

Aside from the fact that I should’ve finished my sketches, failing to share them meant I’d shirked my responsibilities and missed an opportunity. It was my responsibility to do it because it could’ve helped design something useful for both the user and the business. Just because I didn’t like my idea, it didn’t mean it wasn’t useful: someone else might see potential in it, or it could be a good jumping-off point for creating something better.

Now, before I start something, I make a conscious effort to understand if I’m willing to invest the time to finish it and share it. If I decide to do it, I will do my best to make it work. Does it mean I’ll do objectively great at any project? Nope. But it allows me to build from the wins and learn from the losses, and you can only do it if you finish what you start.

Ask yourself:

  • What things have I started recently and didn’t finish because of some excuse?
  • How can I recognise when I’m making excuses vs. having a good reason for abandoning a project?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, if I were to rate my work for the effort I put in, how would I rate myself?
  • How do I know I’m progressing? How can I improve a low rate? How do I keep or improve a high one?

Conclusion

We (designers) are not perfect, no one is, but we’re in this field for a reason: to improve things, to make them better and to give a positive experience to other humans. Most times we stumble upon issues, roadblocks and possibly a few headaches, but really that’s never a reason for us to quit, is it? We keep improving and call that an iteration.

My point is that we can take our own design process and apply it to our lives. Sure enough, there will be a myriad of iterations to be made, and the process will never be quite done, but we know the result gets much better by just getting the basics right on most occasions.

If this article made you think and decide to take action, I will have achieved my mission for it, but if you need Kevin himself to talk some sense into you like he did with me, here’s the inspirational excerpt I mentioned from his podcast with Joe Rogan:

Thanks for reading and sharing 🙂


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