How to become the best version of your designer-self

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

I recently finished reading one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto.

The book is not as an easy read, but it’s well written and thought-provoking. 
It outlines a broad and complete code for living life.

The material to support the validity of each rule comes from a mix of ancient wisdom — mainly through religious anecdotes — and scientific research from a breadth of psychological and physiological studies.

The book dives deep into how we interact with others, how we think, the consequences our actions have, and many other concepts that could allegedly make your life easier when applied.

If you’re into philosophy or psychology, this is worth picking up, if you haven’t already. If neither is what you’re into, pick it up anyway because it’s a damn insightful read.

There’s been all this buzz about Jordan Peterson’s book, with critics on left and right, so I thought I’d read it myself. Right, wrong, or somewhere in the middle, here are some of the connections I could see with our practices as designers.


1. You’re a badass, portray an image of competence

Our posture and body language influence how we feel and how others around us feel.

Carry yourself like the expert you are, or at the very least the expert you want to be.

“Standing up straight with your shoulders back is something that is not only physical, because you’re not only a body, you’re a spirit so to speak, a psyche as well. Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of being.”

This is far from a “fake it till you make it” approach, which means acting in a certain way without the evidence to show for it, this could lead to confusion and subsequently to delusion.

This is instead a manifesto to put your desires forward and to speak your mind. You will start noticing a change, and people around you will too.

Ask yourself:

  • What image of myself am I portraying to my colleagues, project managers or stakeholders?
  • How do people around me see me?

Actionable insight: Here’s a great TED Talk on how your body language may shape who you are.


2. Take care of the designer before taking care of the user

We always look at ourselves as a separate entity from others and that’s exactly what leads us to treat ourselves differently from others.

As a designer, you are likely to be empathic towards your users as you care about their experience.

Empathy is the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most valuable soft skills in UX.

Although most designers are pretty good with empathy, given the nature of our role, we tend to be not so good with self-love, which for me is short for getting your shit together.

“Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your being.”

Getting your shit together (self-love) is “a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological, and spiritual growth” according to Clinical Psychologist Deborah Khoshaba.

Ask yourself:

  • How can I produce my best work to help the user and/or the people around me?
  • What am I doing to make sure I’m getting my shit together?
  • What are the habits that I know I have to get rid of to make space for new, healthier ones?

Actionable insight: My angle on this is to take one small step at a time and start with your primary needs:

  • Eat well: You don’t have to give everything up, not your social life nor your favourite pizza. Just be considerate with the amount of the foods you eat: tracking what you eat and flexible dieting is a great approach in my opinion, and you can use MyFitnessPal to get an idea of what you eat in a typical day.
  • Exercise: Take your pick, as long as you move and you do it consistently over time. Run, lift weights, hike, walk, swim, do yoga, you name it. If you asked me to pick something with the most benefits I would pick strength training for its numerous benefits. Here’s a simple way to get started.
  • Meditate: You don’t have to go and hide in silence in a cave in the Himalayas, just practice some mindfulness a few minutes every day. 
    The benefits are simply undeniable: 12 benefits of meditation and how to get started. Try with Headspace, their app is easy to use and has an amazing design.

3. Surround yourself with amazing people

If friends are the family we choose, coworkers are the friends we don’t choose…or something like that.

Our character is shaped by the people surrounding us, be it family, friends or coworkers. It’s natural that you want the best people around you, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Sure, you can’t change the behaviour of the people around you, it needs to come from them. But that still doesn’t mean you can’t have a positive inner circle.

Most of us are simply just reactive about the people we surround ourselves with.

“People create their worlds with the tools they have directly at hand. Faulty tools produce faulty results. Repeated use of the same faulty tools produces the same faulty results.”

Whether you spend most time of your working hours by yourself in your freelance job or you’re surrounded by people in an office, be proactive in the search for your circle of amazing people.

If you’re the ambitious type, find someone ambitious in a different line of work that could hold you accountable for the work you produce, find a role model, a mentor, people you can exchange your ideas with.

The great thing is that they don’t necessarily have to be in your office. It doesn’t even have to be people in your industry.

Try to be part of a community as much as you can.

Ask yourself:

  • Are the people around me pushing me to produce my best work?
  • Am I challenged enough on my ideas and my thinking?
  • Do I have enough good quality conversations with my peers?

Actionable insight: Surround yourself with amazing people.

In this day and age, we really have no excuse, social media makes it so easy for us. Be it on Twitter, Facebook, Slack groups or even better in real life in the form of meet-ups.

This really good piece from Christian Beck that can help you with networking without losing your soul.

How to Network without Losing Your Soul

If LinkedIn seems too formal for you, Shapr was described as if Tinder and Linkedin were to have a baby.


4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

Comparison done in the wrong way puts the focus on the wrong person, is unfair, robs us of time and doesn’t take our uniqueness into account.

If you’re thinking “How does everything come so easy for him/her?” Or “Why does everyone know what they are doing and I don’t?” you’re not alone, but you should stop.

It’s the so-called Imposter Syndrome, you most likely read or heard about it and is quite common for it to manifest in the form of comparing oneself to another — among other despicable things.

That’s a broken mindset, it’s a fixed mindset, one where you think you don’t produce results like others and feel like a failure.

When you adopt a growth mindset, you find yourself embracing the challenge and enjoying the process, rather than stressing over the outcome.

More often than not your problems need personalised goals, what works for others won’t work for you.

“What you aim at determines what you see.”

Let’s assume you’re writing your autobiography. Would you compare your page 20 to someone else’s page 400?

That sounds silly — you might not even be writing the same damn book!

Ask yourself:

  • How many times have I compared my work or success to that of other people?
  • Can I shift my focus to care more about my work and process rather than tie everything to the outcome?
  • How can I change my mindset to get the best results?

Actionable insight: Keep a journal and write down your ups and downs: track your progress how you faced a challenge and what you would do differently. Be introspective.

  • Journaling: There are numerous benefits to starting a journal, here’s a short piece with some pointers from Thomas Oppong.

The Life-Changing Habit of Journaling

  • Book: Mindset is yet another great book that gave me a few Aha moments about how education and society shaped the way I thought about learning.

5. Do not let your company do anything that makes you dislike them

We have to reach compromises with stakeholders and project managers in order to ship a product that’s useful to the user and profitable for the business.

We need to compromise, yes, but never on our ethics. So don’t feel afraid to speak up when you know it’s necessary.

Nobody, apart from sociopaths, likes conflict. But I would argue it’s a fundamental part of growing.

I challenge you to question every choice you’re presented with. You don’t have to be vocal all these times, but at least challenge it in your own mind. Understand if you agree or don’t agree with it and understand why that is.

“Clear rules make for secure children and calm rational parents. Clear principles of discipline and punishment balance mercy and justice so that social development and psychological maturity can be optimally promoted.”

Your role as a designer is to bring balance in that you should understand where to draw the line, you don’t have to be the hard-ass, the difficult to please guy, but you should always strive to create a win-win situation.

We can still make a profit for the company and push for the user’s interest in something that agrees with our ethics.

Have a set of rules, something you wouldn’t let yourself or others break.

Plan discipline prior to the problem. Know what you are going to do and make sure the company knows the consequences of the choices they’re willing to make too. Be consistent.

Ask yourself:

  • How many times did I just ‘let it go’ to avoid an argument, even when it felt wrong for my ethics?
  • How is my company dealing with my own set of rules and does that match my idea of ethical work?
  • How can I create the most win-win situations?

Actionable insight: Aim to create win-win situations and get good at making compromises.

  • Book: Sell or Be Sold. Don’t be fooled by the catchy-salesy title of this book, it’s great and it could help you get your way without feeling you’ve screwed anyone over.

Don’t take my word for it, here’s a quick 20 minute audio summary of what the book is about.


6. Know your process before you criticise the world

When we judge or criticise another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.

Jumping to conclusions is some people’s favourite sport.

When looking at someone else’s work, we don’t — almost always — know the context, the reason why it’s designed the way it is and why it works the way it works.

Just make sure your process is in place before criticising others’, and when you do, make sure to do it correctly.

People who experience evil may certainly desire to perpetuate it, to pay it forward. But it is also plausible to learn good by experiencing evil. A bullied boy can mimic his tormentors, but he can also learn from his own abuse that it is wrong to push people around and make their lives miserable.

Critiquing design and functionality of the products we see and use is a staple of becoming a better designer, it builds the critical eye and we start to notice things that could help us improve our process.

We can learn from mistakes other people make, but we need to make sure they are mistakes in the first place and try to understand the context under which the choice was made.

Ask yourself:

  • What am I doing that others aren’t? Am I doing it correctly?
  • What can I learn from other professionals and what can I do to improve my critiquing skills?
  • Why was it done that way?

Actionable insight: Keep on designing and solving problems, continuously ask for feedback.

Stop doing what you already know is wrong.

Try to find ways to give feedback even when it’s unsolicited, be nice about it and make sure you’re doing it to improve yourself and others and not to bring anyone down, nobody likes a know it all.

Here’s an explanation on how to receive and give feedback:

How to Give and Receive Feedback at Work


Conclusion

Talking about rules isn’t the most fun, after all, we should be OK with breaking them every once in a while — in the limits of the law, of course.

Design is great because it’s not purely driven by ego, intuition or opinion. It’s not about the designer, it’s about the user.

You need to work on yourself before you can produce your best work.

I hope that you found these rules useful and that there is something you can take away from them.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think of it!

Thanks for reading 🙂


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