Over the past two years, I had been working for a small digital design agency in Utrecht. A group of 25 specialists, who know their way around innovation and digital design. I could’ve only dreamt I would land a job as a user experience designer here. But I did, and was thrilled to get going.
We got beautiful work done, and were motivated to craft digital experiences. Our game plan was a no-brainer: work hard, play hard. Great successes were celebrated, and I was able to be part of a great, hardworking team. But, after two years, it was time for me to move on to a new challenge.
If I knew back then, what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. You know why? ’Cause you can’t. You can only learn. Here are some of those things I’ve learned along the way. If you’re at that point in your career, and just starting out as a UX-/UI-/Pancake-/Anything-designer, I hope these tips are for you.
If you’re short on time, skip to #10 :)!
#01 | Stop pretending to know it all
but start asking.
Be dumb and start asking questions. On my first day, I asked dumb shit. On my last day, I asked dumb shit as well. I lied my way through the first day, pretending to know what an MVP was, in orde to sound more professional. Colleagues can tell you’re faking it, so start asking. They will tend to like you more, if they find out you’re being dead honest with them. You’re a small group of specialist, someone will know the answer or push you towards the right direction, so us it!
#02 | Show and tell
but ask and listen.
Starting out, I thought nobody cared for what I was doing, besides the work I put in. As long as I got my stuff done on time, all was well. A lot of my colleagues had these cool side projects, and were happy to share them. As soon as I was comfortable talking about skateboarding or analogue photography, they were genuinely interested. Be that racing bike pie-baking novel-writing-guy. You get the point: show them you. Humans are wired to classify and label people, so why not take advantage of it? Connect with those willing to share what gets them out of the bed in the morning, and are passionate about it.
#03 | Stop hiding
but respect others hiding.
A fancy screen in front of you, is good for hiding. How I know? I’ve tried many times. When conflict seems inevitable, it’s tempting to hide behind your laptop. More understanding will come from getting up from your chair, and telling them in person. Sure an e-mail will get you the exact words, and you should write it. Just don’t send it. Write it to get the words out. Most of the times when you speak your heart out, this will be met with great understanding. Try it. Likewise, you can’t force someone to act the same, so ‘knock’ first. Be it through Slack or something else, with a DM. Not everyone is as happy to be disturbed. Let’s have a coffee together, can really be a great start.
#04 | Build an inner circle
but don’t break their code.
I am not saying you should start smoking or anything. Everyone knows it’s bad for you. Smokers (or any group) — out of sight of colleagues — tend to vent. This is were the real slur is slung. And honestly, only so much of it is slur, when more then half of them tell the same story, I guess. Some stuff is only told in these circles, so respect the code and don’t mention anything outside of it. So try to gather around a shared interest, to get some momentum.
#05 | Speak the fuck up
but know when to shut up.
No one else will speak up for you. When something is frustrating you, speak up and tell. First, attend to your inner circle, don’t shout in a room full of people. Use it as a safe space to vent from time to time. If speaking up to your direct peers is met with positive vibes, turn up the volume a notch and get your concerns heard. Not everything you want to address is seen as complaining. Good ideas and initiative are mostly met with applause.
#06 | Know your stuff
but know other’s stuff as well.
Your managing director hired you for a reason, probably because you’re doing something quite well. If you’re an expert at making shiny wireframes with yellow neon borders, tell them all about it. Tell them how amazing they are. Tell them they have the fanciest neon bordered wireframes over in Lichtenstein. Why we should buy the wireframe-kit, ’cause no one else has. I reckon you get the point. Likewise, ask others about their stuff. It’s crazy how much your #RSS newsfeed doesn’t tell you.
#07 | Find your own flow
but don’t deny the current.
It’s a small agency, so we are in a way forced to find a way to make it work together. No room for egos, or trying to change the organisation from the inside-out. Especially when you’re fresh out of college. Sure you can lock yourself up in a room, in need of focus. Therefore you should find your own way of working, your own flow. Do spent some time studying the mechanics and current of the agency, and act accordingly.
#08 | Have some mentors
but try to learn from everyone.
You’re probably familiar with articles promoting to “find a mentor”. How about finding a couple of them? Sure, you can hang out with like-minded designers, but I don’t know the first thing about pitching a good social media strategy. You can learn from the people that are sitting right across the hallway. #insiderTip: Talk to your office manager, they tend to have all the right people-skills ❤!
#09 | Trust your inner compass
but admit when it’s glitching.
There is only so much, that reason can solve. As designers we like to talk about that which excites and moves us. A lot of it is done by following a set of guidelines, but a lot of it is experience, making the actual hours. On the other hand, just as much of it is a matter of preference, so own your own inner compass, and trust it. There’s a sweet spot here, I haven’t figured out where :). Admitting you’re wrong, or don’t know it yet, is one of the most valuable lessons you can learn.
#10 | Own the process
A job is a process, own it. Accept the ups and downs. The thrills and chills.
Ask. Be dumb. Show and tell. Stop hiding. Speak the fuck up. Build an inner circle. Know your stuff. Find your own flow. Have some mentors. Trust your inner compass. A job is a process.
It’s so easy to say.
“If only I had known. I would’ve acted this or that way.” And I don’t regret anything, ’cause we’re all learning here, and still are.
Have fun and be you 🙂