One day, I saw this tweet come through the twitterverse from one of the most awesome UXers ever, “It’s normal to hate your own work, right?”. I started thinking that it seems like everyone (including yours truly) is questioning their work these days. When I say everyone, I’m talking about the most experienced UXers down to the most novice. So, what’s the deal? Why does it seem like no one is happy, truly happy with what they are designing? And more importantly, why does it seem like the more experience you get, the more you question the work that you do?
There are a ton of problems with any of us questioning our work beyond a certain point. Of course, it is always good to look at your work and think about what might make it better. However, questioning it beyond this point starts to become self destructive. Not only does doing so start to decrease our own confidence because we start to think that we can’t produce quality work, but it can also descrease our willingness to share our ideas and have them critqued. This is one way that we, as designers, create more and better ideas. However if we become too critical of ourselves over time we tend to clam up and not let our ideas shine through.
How, then, do we solve the problem of being too critical of our work? First, we should start by thinking about why those who are at a high experience level are critical of their work, and then we can work down the chain. I would argue that having more experience means you have a wider range of knowledge that you have acquired about a certain topic, in this case UX, over time. Thus, of course you’ll be more critical, because you are judging your work against more factors than you were before you acquired all this knowledge. If we extend that down the chain we can see that the more we “know” the more critical we become. And we can also see that we are critical because of what we know or because we know we don’t know that much yet. Just focusing on the more experienced folk for this solution, how does one stop being self destructive with their criticism? I would say this… write it down.
What I’m talking about here is writing down, recording, sketching the knowledge that you are judging yourself against. For example, if I don’t like the solution I designed due to it not being easy to use then I write that down… Design not easy to use. Ok, now write down all of these things that you doubt about your design. Leave out the “becauses” (i.e. my design is not usable because), and just simply say ‘I don’t think my design is usable’. After you write down all of your doubts about a design, you’ll have yourself a checklist of what to grade your work on. So then go back to all of the attributes you just wrote down and judge your work against them meaning if you do not think your design is usable, then judge it against the characteristics that make a solution easy to you, and see how well or not well your design compares. Now you have a physical representation or ‘grade’ of how good your work is. If it’s not at a good point, make it better. If it is at a good point, show it and get feedback from others. The important part here is not to sit in your anxiety, but to move outside of it so that you can continue to be productive and awesome.
Grading the quality of your work in this way helps you to do several things. First, it will stop you from taking your critisim too far. It will stop you from going over the edge with hating your work and help you see what’s great about your work. It will make you more confident in yourself and what you do, thus enabling you to share any and all ideas in order to receive feedback and iterate. Continuing to iterate on the work brings you more ideas and knowledge which expands your brain even further and makes you even better. At the end of they day, you will start to doubt yourself less, and just see your work for what it is, your best guess at solving the problem, not a physical representation and how good of a person you are. Thereby allowing you to design better and more holistic ideas, and instead of hating our work, making it even more awesome for our users.
I remember reading research somewhere that said that athletes often think they’re getting worse when training when in fact they’re improving (they’re shocked when they see from data that they’ve improved). Ira Glass has also talked about the gap between taste and ability when you’re learning http://www.mcwade.com/DesignTalk/2011/04/nobody-tells-this-to-beginners/