Don’t Just Decline Opportunities—Pay Them Forward


Over the last few years I’ve been given incredible opportunities to contribute to all kinds of publications. Joining the team at InVision has opened so many doors for me—our incredible team is so supportive, and I’m grateful to all of them for all that they’ve done to help get me to this point in my career! (I’m looking at you Clark, Clair, Kristin, Leah, Stephen, and so many others!)

At one point I started to get overwhelmed with press requests coming in. I couldn’t keep up, but didn’t want to let anyone down by not contributing. I talked to my mentor about it, expressed how grateful I was, but how I was running out of hours in the day (and night).

He said something that SHOULD have been obvious and top of mind, but it wasn’t. I was so embroiled in stress over the thought of not being able to keep up when so many other people weren’t given these chances that it didn’t even cross my mind. He said:

“It’s awesome that you’re being asked to contribute in so many ways, but you’re only one person. Don’t feel guilty about having to turn these opportunities down. In fact, it’s a chance for you to share the opportunities with others. When you’re tapped out, it’s ok to pass them along to someone else in the company.”

The lightbulb went off in my head, my stress level rapidly declined, and from that point forward, I started passing along opportunities to coworkers as they came through. It was so much fun being able to help insanely talented people who sit back and quietly kick major ass at their jobs every single day get their names out there.

One of the first PR reps I ever worked with, Leah, told me once that her favorite part about her job was having the opportunity to help people launch and grow their careers through press channels they wouldn’t otherwise have had access too. She is not only insanely talented, she’s an amazing human as well.

Contributing a post, guest starring on a podcast, speaking at a conference, or contributing quotes to a publication can change the entire trajectory of a person’s career. (It certainly did mine!)

So, what’s my point here? This mentality applies to all kinds of situations, not just press related ones. Asked to work on a big project but can’t contribute? Is there a mega talented, super driven junior designer who you know would crush it? Pass their name along. Get a call out at a major meeting for something you worked on with a team? Follow up with a “this wouldn’t have been possible without XY & Z”. Something that takes 2 seconds and seems incredibly small to you may be a huge stepping stone for someone else.

If you’re a person who is regularly given channels to push your career forward, give someone who might not have access to those opportunities a chance to shine. Don’t just decline an opportunity—pay it forward if you can.

Creating a Killer In-house Design & Innovation Team

While conversing with some of my UX pro peers, I’ve discovered that design teams at software companies are extremely varied in make up. Some places have great team dynamics and others really really don’t. At my company Schoolwires, we have a completely awesome Design & Innovation team with members that work incredibly well together, not only from a personality stance, but from a combined powerhouse of skills stance. So today, I’m going to focus on answering  the question:

What does it take to create a killer in-house Design and Innovation team?

1.      An Incredibly Innovative Vice President

At my company we have a VP of Product Design and Innovation who is one of the most contagiously creative, innovative people I have ever met. You go into what should be a mundane meeting with him, and come out feeling inspired every single time. He also has a vision of the future of technology that reaches out decades. He’s always thinking about the next next, with his finger on the pulse of the latest and greatest apps and software and technology trends. (Don’t even THINK about trying to headhunt Jay… He’s ours!!!) 🙂

2.      A UX Manager Who Thinks in Wireframes and Dreams Code

Our Manager of User Experience literally thinks in wireframes and dreams code. I’m not even kidding. We recently had a discussion about it. She hears a concept and pictures the wireframes in her mind. She is incredibly talented, and has a background in code, so she not only pictures design in her mind, she knows how to MAKE the things she envisions. Cap that off with being a phenomenal, supportive manager and you’ve got Sara!

3.     Two Creative UX Architects Who Love to Design

We have two awesome architects who really enjoy designing! Our architects do the data layer/api/business layer work for all of our projects, but they also lead designs and create wireframes at times! I’ve talked to folks who do not have architects on their design teams, and I can’t imagine designing without them! They are able to tell us at a glance if what we hope can happen is actually feasible. If we had to wait until our designs were passed off to development to find that stuff out, we’d end up with hours and hours of additional rework time. They are key to keeping us agile! Craig and Heather are incredibly talented!

4.      An Extremely Talented UX Designer With a Graphic Design Background

Our UX designer is absolutely fantastic! She can make a CMS interface look like a work of art, and can kick out gorgeous high res mockups on a dime! She too is constantly looking for the latest and greatest design tricks and tips, and brings fresh ideas and concepts to our products! Danelle is fabulous!

5.      A UX Editor/Content Strategist With a Background in Psychology

Our UX Editor/Content Strategist is completely obsessed with writing, statistics and discovering how we can make our clients lives easier through design. She is also a tech-blog-aholic and has an insatiable thirst for all knowledge related to UX, Usability and Content Strategy. She loves design brainstorming and working in wireframes more than most things in life!

The 6 of us work together exceptionally well because we work in an environment that supports open sharing of ideas. We all have the utmost respect for one another, and our leadership team has made it clear that every member of the team is valued, as are their opinions. It’s also accepted team wide that no one is perfect, nor are they expected to be. Sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re wrong but the safe environment for sharing both the good ideas and the bad leads to incredible collaboration and ultimately stronger, more innovative, user friendly products.

To cap it off, there is a level of completely contagious excitement that spreads throughout the team while we work on new design concepts. You can almost feel the wave of excitement crashing around you while the team is brainstorming and tweaking and perfecting. It is the most amazing work environment I’ve ever experienced.

As proof, our current design project is incredible. I can’t wait for it to hit the market! I’m like a kid on Christmas morning, it’s so exciting! 🙂

In summary, I hope that this article helps you to envision your dream in-house design and innovation team. I’ve found mine, now it’s time for you to create yours! And remember, you don’t have to go freelance to love your job! Our team is living proof that in-house design team utopia does exist! 🙂