4 Things Designers Can Learn From Shaun White’s Post Olympic Defeat Interview

I just watched the half pipe final, and was mega bummed for Shaun White. The half pipe was a slushy mess, the Swiss snowboarder Louri came out of nowhere, etc.

But you know what really stuck with me the most?

After the scores were announced he gave the gold medalist a huge, sincere congratulatory hug and gave a killer, classy interview.

He didn’t whine, or toss out excuses or throw a tantrum, he just said that they were all battling the same conditions, that the conditions were no excuse and that he was happy for the guys that performed well.

He took the heart wrenching loss with grace and humility and showed legit joy for the folks who medaled. His reaction, in my opinion, will mean more to the futures of our country’s youth who idolize him, than bringing home the gold ever would have.

So why am I rambling about an Olympic snowboarder on a UX blog? Because I got thinking that as designers, we can learn some things from his situation.

1. Sometimes life throws you some nasty conditions, power through them.

For Shaun it was a slushy mess of a half pipe.

As a designer it’s sometimes a difficult client, or an interaction design problem that is just beyond your reach, or a color scheme that makes you want to vomit. If it makes you stumble, take a page from Shaun’s book and walk away, take a deep breath and try it again. Sometimes you just need to clear your mind.

2. Sometimes you try to power through issues, but you fail anyway. That’s ok. Learn from it.

Shaun had a killer qualifying run, but still missed the podium when it came time for finals.

Remember the dot com boom? Everything was coming up roses until the bubble burst and folks had to start their lives and careers over from scratch. Is failing fun? Nope. But it happens to everyone at one point or another. The trick is not throwing in the towel, and instead learning from your failures and moving onward and upward.

As a designer, sometimes you make great products and killer apps and awesome, intuitive interfaces. Other times you release an enhancement and your clients hate it or can’t figure it out or they fire you . You can’t let failure crush your spirit. Pick up the pieces, learn from your failure and keep moving forward.

3. In the event that you fail, keep it classy and own it.

You know what I can’t stand? Folks who don’t own their mistakes and failures.

For Shaun, the half pipe was a mess, but instead of laying blame there, he just said the conditions weren’t perfect, but pointed out that that was the case for everyone. He then noted that in this case, he just didn’t deliver. There was no finger pointing or cursing Sochi, he just straight up owned his performance and his placement in a mature, classy way.

When your designs miss the mark or your clients are lost when they see your new interface concept, don’t point fingers or try to lay blame on them, just own it. Admit that whatever you did didn’t work, learn from it, and move forward. You may have the best, most innovative design concept ever, but you’re ahead of your time and your client base just isn’t ready for it yet. (I’m looking at you Motorola fingerprint scanner of yesteryear.) Take a page from Shaun’s book and own your mistake, and learn from it.

4. If someone does something awesome, congratulate them.

Shaun congratulated the medal winners very sincerely, and even gave the gold medalist a bear hug.

If another designer nails the solution to a problem you’ve been trying to solve, don’t be afraid to congratulate them and learn from their solution too. (The bear hug is optional, might want to run that past HR in advance.) 😉

In the design industry, the pace of change is frenetic. It’s my favorite part of my career, there’s always something new and exciting to learn.

Don’t get discouraged when someone else beats you to a great solution, take what you can from it and keep moving forward.

And remember, at the end of the day, innovation doesn’t have to mean creating something brand new. It can just mean making something that already exists, extraordinary.

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