Earlier this month, I got the opportunity to attend the Healthcare Experience Design conference in Boston, MA. Overall the conference was great, and there are likely to be several posts in the upcoming weeks that refer to my thinking while there. But this one has to do with one thing… designers being wimps.
In one of the talks the speaker, a managerial figure, referred to designers as wimps. Straight out, no apologies. They were basically talking about how designers always fold when it comes to confrontations with other groups (including business and IT) and how this produces less than optimal design solutions… even going so far to say “our design is bad because…” about their own business’ site. Being the laid back personality that I am, I just let this slide… ok obviously I got pissed off. So I started to reflect on his point more and more. I came to the conclusion that he was right… we are wimps. But we are viewed as wimps and act like wimps for some seemingly very good reasons. Put shortly, in these situations where we are confronted by other groups regarding our designs, we have no fiscal or executive backing to give us the “power” to stand on our ideas. The business and IT will always overrule us because, quite frankly, they have bigger budgets, and actual people to stick up for them when an issue is escalated. But I would argue that there is something that we could be and should be doing to make this right.
The problems with this current situation are obvious. We as a design community continue to work in the “yes sir” realm, speaking up as much as possible, but being backed into a corner of giving in more often than not. This leads to several issues including us losing our will to continue to produce high level, creative designs as well as keeps our profession from progressing beyond the detailed design realm into the strategic decision making realms, mostly because we can’t find our way “to the table”.
This is something we’ve been trying to solve since the beginning of the web. Today I’m proposing one solution that hopefully will get us thinking about and building even better solutions. I think that we need to own the many things that we do and then speak up about how important we are because of these things. What do I mean? In his talk at MidwestUX, Geoff Alday spoke about how to tame the nine headed monster. It was a great talk, but afterwards, I found myself thinking how is it that I as a UX Designer am expected to be the consensus point of all these roles, yet still get no respect?? Then, the answer came to me. Put simply, we just are not demanding the respect we deserve. Respect is something that is earned… but what are we putting forth to earn it? So, yeah I said it, it’s our fault we are wimps.
I’m proposing that we start to try and work our way up the food chain one manager at a time. I think it’s time we begin to rise up as well as begin to document all of the different things we do day in and day out to make a project run successfully and to make our sites and products awesome. Then we need to own those things, and demand both monetary reward as well as respect in return. By documenting all the responsibilities you have and showing your manager, their manager, whomever will listen (hopefully there is someone), you now have solid proof of why you should be included in more conversations as a lead and why your team needs a higher budget. Thus we start to earn our respect. We need to start using our taming skills to push forward and advocate for ourselves, not in an emotional way, but in a cognitive fact based “here are all the things you need me here for” way.
Once we step up and begin to do these things, we can “earn” the respect we deserve. Maybe that speaker had every right to call us wimps. If we are too intimidated to fight the system and begin to demand the things that we need to progress, maybe that makes us weak… who knows? But how about we stop letting these guys be right for once… let’s earn the respect we deserve by owning all the many things we do!
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Lis, this is a great topic. Way relevant.nnI can’t help but think of parallels between your article and my experiences in marriage and parenting. (Hold your comments about wearing pants, twirps.) Respect, as I see it, is like a string. You can pull it, but you can’t push it. I can’t force my kids or wife to respect me, but they do. And they do only when they’re drawn (pulled) to me words and actions that line up with my pronounced ideals, promises and boundaries. nnIn design, I’ve gained respect by being the prick, in a sense. The guy who asks “those questions”. I’ve lost jobs (at least one) because my perceived role wasn’t in line with the intended (yes-sir-right-away-sir-anything-you-say-sir) role. Not with attitude. Just asking for clarification and trying to point to the potential time and money hemorrhage without an answer to “those questions”.nnI say respect flows when you’ve become the person that has earned the right to say “I told you so” but don’t.Having said all that, not everyone gives respect when it’s deserved.
Great points Danny! I love the parallels you’ve drawn. You are right in saying that not everyone gives respect when it’s deserved, but that is a different topic all together. Meaning how do you treat people how to treat you as a person and as a professional and be your own brand? Great thoughts!!
Nice analogy to the ‘string’, I know designers, especially ones newer to the scene might adopt a ‘yes sir’ attitude. However as a designer it is our goal to build quality and informed solutions, if you are taking ‘design orders’ from anyone else than yourself (..or maybe another designer), then you are not fixing problems, you are part of it.