Raise your hand if you, or someone you know has ever run into this scenario… Everyone? Yep, it happens often, and it’s the worst. In some orgs it doesn’t matter how many red flags you wave, or if you wave them so hard and so long that your arms fall off. There are stakeholders who flat out refuse to invest in the research necessary to ensure that you’re building something your audience actually needs.
And then getting blamed for the product’s failure is just the icing on the cake. If you run into this there are 2 things you should know:
A. You tried. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
B. It’s not your fault, don’t get down on yourself.
You can push and push and push but if the stakeholders in your org refuse to understand the power of design thinking and the value in user research and usability testing, there’s not much you can do other than bounce and look for a job at a more design centric org. Or at least an org that is open to learning more about the value of design.
You could build the best product in the world, but if there is no audience for it, it’s going to fail. If you encounter this situation, just keep your head up and continue moving forward in your current job or toward a new one, your choice. 🙌
(Or come work at InVision, because we don’t have this problem!) 🙂
I was chatting with some friends this week, and we got on the topic of how hard it can be to fire clients.
I mean, they’re giving you their money, and you obviously want to keep a strong freelance following and your good reputation.
Here’s the thing. Keeping a client who is a holy nightmare to work with is counter productive on soooo many levels.
Give yourself full permission to fire terrible clients, guilt free.
If you’re considering firing them, one or more of the following are probably true:
#1 They suck as human beings.
#2 They’re taking advantage of you by trying to make you feel guilty about your fees/the amount of time it takes to finish their project.
#3 They’re the actual worst at communicating, which means you’re wasting time you could be working on other projects waiting for them to respond/wrestling decisions from them.
#4 They’re paying you late/refusing to pay for something you’ve already completed.
#5 You’re just not vibing, and it’s frustrating both you and the client in a big way.
Toxic clients are detrimental to ALL of your design work—not just the work you’re doing for that one client.
If any of these issues are occurring, give yourself 1000% permission to fire them, guilt free. Why? The stress they’re adding to your life is taking away from the other awesome clients you’re working with. They’re negatively affecting the quality of ALL of your work, not just the work you’re doing for them.
Keeping a toxic client will not have a positive impact on your career.
Choosing to keep a toxic client around to “keep your good name” isn’t going to have that effect. The rest of your work back sliding is going to damage your reputation, and there’s a high chance that they’re not going to recommend you to their peers anyway after the fact.
It’s always ok to respectfully fire awful clients.
When firing a client needs to happen, don’t just tell them to take a long leap off a short pier — have an open and honest conversation about your concerns.
Sometimes that conversation on it’s own will resolve the issues you’re encountering. If it doesn’t, tell them that you’re sorry, but they’ll need to find a designer who will better fit their needs for the remainder of the project and issue a refund for any project work you haven’t completed yet. That way you’re not “blaming them” for the issue, and you’re not saying you refuse to work with jerks. You’re just peacefully parting ways.
Fear of bad press isn’t worth destroying your sanity and your career.
Even if they rage out and try to blast your reputation afterward, there is a good chance that others in the industry will already be aware of how awful they are to work with. And if people aren’t aware, they will be when they see the client publicly blasting someone. Consider it a public service if that happens. Other designers will know to steer clear. The benefit of removing the negativity from your life is worth the gamble regardless.
Sometimes you can finish the current project and just gracefully decline additional work with the tried and true, “I apologize, but I won’t be able to take on this new project.” You don’t have to make up excuses, you don’t have to lie about a huge workload (especially since you’ll be looking for additional work), it’s ok to just say no.
Don’t get me wrong, you need to pay your bills. And you’ll always have clients that are difficult, it’s just part of being a freelancer.
But you need to know where you draw the line between difficult and toxic (and that line will be different for every freelancer). ID that line and stick to it. Saying “no” and firing awful clients will save both your sanity and the quality of your work (and your career) long term.
We were in a meeting recently and someone made a comment about startup years being like dog years. Definitely an accurate statement!
If you analyze the progress made by a successful fast growth startup in sales & revenue, feature additions & product growth, and staffing additions, each year is often equivalent to about a decade (or more) of large corporation progress.
One of the biggest thrills of working for a startup is the breakneck pace. It’s not for the faint of heart, but man is it ever a fun ride!
A few years ago I submitted my first ever conference presentation proposal. My super supportive design team encouraged me to give it a shot, and a friend gave me a final guilt trip/shove that made me pull the trigger on the submit button.
I submitted the same proposal to 2 conferences. I knew that there was absolutely no way my proposal would get selected since it was my first time, but it was a great experience going through the process.
A few weeks later, I got an email from the first of the two conferences. My proposal had been accepted.
When I first got the email, I was elated! Overjoyed! Mega pumped! I was going to have the opportunity to share some of the research I’d been working on with the UX & Design communities!
45 seconds later, I was panicking and considering moving off grid to a cabin in the deep woods with no internet access so I could pretend I never got the acceptance letter.
I’m an introvert and public speaking is definitely not my forte.
Even though it was borderline terrifying, I was really passionate about the topic, so I wound up going for it.
The session went well, and I got some really great feedback from the attendees. And then I went and hid in my car for an hour to blast some music and decompress.
As it turns out, even though presenting at a conference was draining, it was also kind of fun. So much fun that I did it again. And then again, and again and again.
I learned some pretty valuable lessons after my first presentation experience, and thought some aspiring conference presenters might find them helpful.
1. Make an outline first, don’t touch that deck
When I put together my first presentation, I whipped out PowerPoint and started adding some slides. Then more slides, then 8 godzillion more slides. Then I realized that my presentation was out of order, confusing and had no flow. Then I got frustrated and slammed my laptop shut. (Sorry MacBook.)
The second time I put together a presentation, I made my outline first. It made the process about 9000% easier.
2. Once you have an outline, pick graphics to support your points
I said keep your hands off that deck! Take a look at your outline, and then grab graphics to support your points. Don’t be afraid to make them amusing graphics.
3. NOW open your deck program and go to town.
You now have permission to open up your deck program, and add your slides. Your flow has been defined, so creating the deck will go relatively smoothly.
4. In your slides use your pictures, not your words.
As you’re creating your slides, remember that people will need to see them from a distance. Use large fonts, and as few words as possible. If you can skip the words and just go with graphics for some slides, even better. If you’re doing a presentation that requires a bunch of text (I did one on a research method once that required equations like crazy) sprinkle pictures in between the boring parts to keep folks attention.
To improve accessibility, make sure you describe the images in your deck as you present.
5. Use your words to create a transcript to make your presentation more accessible, instead.
Creating a transcript is awesome for several reasons. First, if you post your presentation online people who attended your session will be able to get a refresher on the details. Secondly, if people didn’t attend your live session, they’ll still be able to learn from your presentation. Thirdly, and in my opinion most importantly, creating a transcript will make your presentation more accessible.
6. Tell stories.
When folks leave presentations, they remember stories that were told to prove points far more often than they remember detailed facts or figures. If you really want to make a lasting impact, weave stories into your presentation.
7. Make sure that your presentation works both online and offline.
Luckily for me, a seasoned presenter mentioned before I headed to my first presentation that I should always have a copy of my presentation that could be presented completely offline. If you’re using an online deck program, download a copy too. If you’re doing live demo of a product, get screenshots or a screencast of what you’ll be walking through just in case.
The woman who gave me that advice saved me from having an absolutely horrifying first presentation experience. About 10 minutes into my 50 minute presentation, the wifi in our building completely tanked. All of the presenters were booted offline for 15 minutes. I just whipped out my thumb drive and continued on, it was a non-event.
8. Back up your backup.
During the same conference, I attended a session in which a presenters thumbdrive failed. It just straight up flat lined. He didn’t have a backup, and we were using the venue’s laptops, so he was completely SOL. I felt absolutely terrible for him. He got through it lecture style, and offered to post his slides once he got back to his personal machine, but it was one of those worst case scenerio situations.
After witnessing that train wreck, for my next conference preso I had a copy up on an online deck service, but in case their service went down I also uploaded a hard copy of the presentation to Dropbox and emailed myself links to both, AND I had a copy on a thumb drive in case the wifi tanked. I was taking no chances.
9. Stop editing!!!
My final bit of advice is to leave your presentation alone once it’s complete.
With my first presentation, I spent days and weeks working on my presentation, then kept tweaking it pretty much daily for the months leading up to the event. This is a surefire way to drive yourself insane. I was even still tweaking it the night before the conference.
Do not do that to yourself. Edit what needs to be edited early on, and then DON’T TOUCH. Unless of course you’re using stats and they change. Seriously, leave it alone, or you’ll drive yourself mad.
If you wind up submitting a proposal and/or speaking at a conference for the first time, I’d love to hear about your experience! Hit me up on Twitter at @jma245! 🙂
I will NEVER forget the day my daughter walked into my office and asked me if we could play, and I snapped back, “I’m working overtime right now so you can have your toys and video games! Please stop interrupting me!”
Her face fell and her eyes welled up with tears, and she said very quietly, “I don’t care about those things. I care about spending time with you.”
And then my heart shattered into a million pieces and I took a step back. I asked myself 3 tough questions in that moment and thought they may help another workaholic realign in the future.
Workaholic Reset Questions
1. Why am I working overtime?
The answer? Because I wanted to. I didn’t NEED the money. It wasn’t going to make or break my financial situation. It would mean more cash in my savings account, which is fine and good, but I didn’t NEED the cash. There was a time in my life when I was working 3 jobs to survive and the OT was absolutely necessary, but that wasn’t the case at this point in my career. We were fine financially—I had worked my ass off for many, many years to get to that point. But I still had that lingering voice in the back of my mind telling me that I had to work myself into an early grave to live comfortably. It simply isn’t true.
2. Is the project I’m working on more important than my kid?
Obviously not. The reason I’m working is to provide an awesome life for my kiddo. Putting in crazy, uneccesary hours and missing her childhood was robbing her of one of the most important parts of that awesome life—quality time spent with a parent.
3. Will the entire project burst into flames if I step away for 15 minutes to play with my kid?
No. No, it won’t. Tight deadline? Still no.
As you’re pouring your heart and soul into your projects, don’t forget to keep some on tap to actually enjoy life. Spend time with family and friends. Life is short and kids grow up really, really fast.
Is adding some extra cash to your retirement fund really worth letting life completely pass you by?
Recently the design community has developed a giant central rift over the concept of Design Thinking. There are those who absolutely love Design Thinking, what it stands for, and practical applications they’ve been able to employ in their workplaces.
There are others who are blowing the whistle on Design Thinking and are trying to explain the reasons why, “It doesn’t exist.”
Here’s the thing. For decades, designers have been silo-ed away in dark rooms and viewed as tortured artists. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an artist, in fact, many designers are incredible artists, but their skillsets also extend far beyond. Designers are problem solvers, business leaders, execs, founders, innovators driving the future of technology, the list goes on.
Design Thinking really took off because for the first time in decades, designers had a way to explain and then clearly demonstrate why they should be permitted to exit the dark room and contribute to the high level conversations. Instead of being given instructions on what to create, they were given the opportunity to actually design solutions to the problems companies and clients were facing.
Design Thinking gave designers the vehicle they needed to have conversations with C-level staffers around why they needed a (I hate this phrase so much but I’m going to use it here for dramatic effect… wait for it…) seat at the table. (Blech. But You get the idea.)
Prior to Design Thinking taking off, it was EXTREMELY difficult for designers to break out of the design room into a space where they could help guide business decisions.
And the companies that embraced design leadership and let them join the conversation? They have been making it rain when quarterly earnings reports come around.
Not going to lie, you hear the occasional horror story about how a company embraced a really terrible design leader and wrote off the entire industry as a result. But those stories are few and far between these days given the high bar put forth by the industry.
Talented design leaders are absolutely crushing it right now in senior staffer positions.
So what’s the big deal about this whole Design Thinking fight? Who cares right? It’s conceptual.
Except it’s not folks. Design Thinking is the crowbar that opened the door to enterprise companies letting designers in to help guide business decisions in addition to product design decisions. People who are discounting it now, aren’t discounting it in a designer only vacuum.
Enterprise companies and C-level leaders are now paying more attention to the design industry than ever before. This argument that previously may have gone unnoticed beyond our immediate design community is being seen by C-level staffers and they’re starting to question their investments in design leadership in general. They aren’t paying attention to the nuances of the language being used, they’re just seeing a headline that says Design Thinking is dead. Then they’re giving their design leaders the side eye in board meetings. We’re undermining our own industry, and we need to knock that ish off before we sink ourselves back into the dark silo-ed off hole from whence we came.
If we want to fight about nomenclature, and specifics, and concepts surrounding methodology and what is and isn’t design, it’s fine. If we want to redefine Design Thinking, and create new terms and descriptors it’s cool. But loudly and proudly shouting that Design Thinking is BS, is… well it’s BS. It needs to stop before any more damage is done to designers on the threshold of pushing through to having the opportunity to make their products better from the top down.
And seriously, there are still enormous enterprise companies that don’t even HAVE product designers. At all. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
So designers, let’s not distract ourselves so much with internal arguments that we lose our footing in the corporate world. We can evolve our thinking, adjust our methods and keep moving forward without cutting each other down. Let’s just do our best to keep kicking ass in the board room and keep our sights on our mission as an industry: Improving the world around us for the next generation, one project at a time.
So I got a phonebook in the mail today, opened it up and discovered that it doesn’t contain people’s phone numbers anymore.
I totally get it, it’ll save a zillion trees (which is great), and to be honest I don’t think my daughter has ever used a phone book in her life, but for some reason it made me a little sad.
It contained contact info for schools, an area code map, gov and emergency numbers, information on how landline phones work and business numbers and ads, but no people.
It feels like the end of an era. Or a statement about the future of our society.
That being said, someone being able to access your phone number without your permission has become something that many people very seriously consider an invasion of privacy.
We’re willing to put our entire lives on Facebook and Instagram, but if someone gets our cell phone number and calls without asking personally if they can have it? Creepy.
You can do a white pages search online for anyone with a listed landline number in the country, but we don’t because it feels like an invasion of privacy. Uninvited phone calls have reached the the same emotional trigger as telemarketing or spam mail or email. If someone I haven’t seen since high school where to Google my number and call, I’d be really freaked out. Sending me a Facebook request is a totally normal, socially acceptable move though.
And people add loads of “friends” and followers who are often complete strangers on social media without batting an eye, giving them a street level view of their entire lives and the inner workings of their minds with a click.
I hate talking on the phone. With a deep seated passion. (PTSD from my early days as an emergency support rep getting calls at 4am.) It’s not just me though, a lot of people who grew up in chat rooms seem to prefer texting to talking. And kids who grew up on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and Video chat seem to consider talking on the phone a boring waste of time.
I understand it though. When you’re used to having a fully emmersive, multimedia experience while you communicate with people, moving to voice only seems silly.
Originally we spoke out loud and sang songs to pass down stories. Then we figured out some written language and started carving messages into stone and painting on walls. Eventually we had a postal service and telegrams and could write letters and messages and send them all over the world. Then people realized they could use the medium as a way to advertise, and spam mail began. It was annoying, but not considered a huge invasion of privacy—which is interesting becase for most people, the mail was being sent the the physical address of their actual home. The person sending actually knew where they lived.
When the phone hit, it seemed really oldschool to write a letter or send a telegraph. Then telemarketing exploded. Telemarketing seemed more an invasion of privacy, because a person was bringing their voice into your home. Anger toward telemarters started early on and has persisted.
When we moved into the world of email, spam email immediately followed suite. It was highly annoying, but again, not as offensive as unwanted phone calls. (Until people started riddling them with viruses.)
When cell phones hit the the scene, they were considered personal communication devices, to which unwanted calls were considered an huge invasion of privacy (seemingly more than any other communication medium to date), and that sentiment has stood the test of time. Cell phone numbers are considered private information, and breaching that privacy line REALLY upsets people. You take your cell phone with you everywhere you go, it’s kind of the point. Someone highjacking access to your cell phone number, giving them the opportunity to talk to you no matter where you go is just seen as offensive and inappropriate.
Social media and video chat picked up speed and brought us to where we are today, but even now, cell phone numbers are considered very private.
It’s kind of fascinating considering our comfort allowing strangers to see our social media profiles, and message us at any time through those applications. The difference is, we can delete communication apps. At this point cell phones go with us everywhere and cell phone numbers are a fairly permanent companion. It seems that they made us feel TOO accessible.
And now there is an uproar over internet providers being able to sell our browser history to 3rd party companies. (Which I find infuriating.) This is another area that people don’t have personal control over. They can’t delete internet access, because in many areas there is only one provider to choose from. Folks are willing to sign over their history to other companies that use it for ad targeting in order to use their services beause they have the choice to NOT use those services if they don’t want to. This ruling has taken away that choice, much like someone getting your cell phone number. Having access to you anywhere you are, and now having access to anything you do online is just a horrible invasion of privacy. (Which is why call blocking and VPN’s have gained so much traction.)
Pretty soon, we’ll probably just be holograms jumping out of each other’s -whatever future device we come up with next- to chat (personally I’m hoping for Captain Planet style rings, just tossing that out there).
Forms of communication have shifted and will continue to shift throughout history as have our definitions and social constructs around privacy.
So I suppose it’s ok that the phonebook doesn’t contain people’s phone numbers anymore. The important constant is that we, as people, need to feel connected through communication in one form or another. We’re naturally social creatures. People have different preferences for how they enjoy communicating most. You have to give and take a bit since those preferences vary widely across lifestyles and generations.
When it comes to communicating as a society, the medium doesn’t really matter as long as we keep the conversation going.
So what really I’m trying to say is… DON’T CALL ME.
Kidding! Actually I’m not kidding. Talking on the phone is the actual worst. Just shoot me a tweet and let’s chat.
(Until the Captain Planet hallogram rings hit, at which point… you know what to do.) 🌎
Twitter’s recent decision to pull share counts from the new tweet button has thrown a lot of people/companies into a tailspin. A heavily relied on and socially accepted marker for success has been yanked out from under the industry.
People who have written articles that were shared thousands of times, have now lost their symbol of baller status, and they are angry about it.
What does this have to do with Medium?
When I first began blogging on the Medium platform, I found it odd (and admittedly annoying) that the only marker of social interaction they shared publicly was the number of Medium recommendations a piece received. They don’t display social network share stats at all. You can pull referrer stats in the reports area, but they aren’t publicly associated with any of your posts.
Now that Twitter has removed share counts from their tweet buttons, the reasoning finally clicked. The creators of Medium are geniuses. They’ve created a whole new metric of peer affirmation, that isn’t reliant on any 3rd party products. They OWN recommendations, and can do what they want with them for all of eternity.
The services who up until this point have been using the Tweet button to represent their clout in the market are in an uproar, and for Medium and the Medium community as a whole the change is a non event.
Add that to the fact that Medium doesn’t require membership or sign in to view content like other networks do right now, and you’ve once again got a very public marker of success and documented social approval.
Twitter just inadvertently launched Medium to a whole new level of desirability, and I believe that while that platform has been steadily gaining traction in the industry, this change will launch it rapidly to becoming one of the primary platforms for both personal and corporate publishing.
So basically what I’m saying is that the team at Medium should really send the Twitter team a fruit basket, because they just kicked down a wall that will give Medium range to take over the digital publishing industry.