User Experience Architect
This literally has nothing to do with Star Wars.
Unless you’re talking about some advice I was recently given by a Star Wars fan who also happens to be a design mentor and former colleague. It was critical feedback, which made it all the more important (and difficult) to hear. Nestled among many sincere comments of support and encouragement, he told me that I was on a path to the dark side, and I had started to seem jaded. He told me how empowered I truly was to impact the design of the products I work on. And he told me that the light side was the truest path to success.
When design is your passion, it’s a force within you. There’s no other way to describe it. It creates the impression of physical sensation, something most humans can imagine. It’s not something that follows you on a whim. The force of design passion leads you to a certain path in life. It dictates your preferences in the books you pick up, the information you consume, the problems you uncover and the solutions you test. It leads, and you follow. The force of design elicits emotion and gives as much as it takes, because for every euphoric technical epiphany there’s at least three moments of exasperation and anger.
It’s the anger my mentor worries about. It’s the exasperation I feel whenever I point out gaps in the quality of the world around me and my family just nods politely. (I know they love me because they put up with long conversations that they really couldn’t care about less.) I pride myself for my keen eye and rapid ability to consider the potential causes of (and solutions to) all of life’s problems. This happens dozens of times every day. Probably 90% of all my design thinking is applied to huge, vague, complicated and unnamed problems. Problems I cannot possibly conceive of, much less solve within the perfectly fictional design space of my mind.
But noticing the problems without actually offering to help is: useless, offensive, obnoxious, distasteful, negative, toxic, and frustrating. I’m sure there’s more adjectives, take your pick.
So this is the dark side of the force. It is unhelpful, powerful, and ultimately destructive.
Then we have the Light Side. We have the thrill of knowing that something you made brought someone happiness. Made someone’s life easier. Even for just one invisible microsecond, they felt joy, comfort or relief. It’s this incredible ability for design to cross boundaries and improve the world that lured me into a design career. But somewhere along the way I dipped into the dark side of the force. Maybe it was in an Intro to Type class, surrounded by my true peers for the first time, nervous and uncomfortable with my body and my role in life, that I made jokes about Comic Sans to show off my design prowess. Maybe it was when I interned for a print design team and joined in ripping apart any piece of design work we deemed worthy of our scathing critiques. All I know is that after nearly 6 years of working in corporate enterprises with frustrating restrictions and resulting designs that didn’t meet my own internal standards, I began to believe that my painting of a lifeboat wasn’t going to help out much on the Titanic.
Sorry, that was dramatic. The truth is that I haven’t worked on a Titanic. In fact, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to grow every stage of my career in nuturing, respectful, and friendly environments. Challenging environments, sure. No tech company is perfect, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something. But the products I’ve worked on are the result of innumerable hours of work from my peers. It’s time to show those peers (and the products we build together) the same empathy I’ve always held for our users.
I’m so lucky to have mentors willing and able to give me hard truths, because now I see that the path I’ve been on leads to bitter and toxic environments. Now I can change course back to the light.
Create your free account to unlock your custom reading experience.