My Year in Design — 2023
I’ve been writing these look-back articles since 2016 (well regarding my year in Design that took place in 2015). Since that first article came out, so much has occurred in the Design world (hello Figma and Adobe, goodbye Twitter), and also so much has changed in my career and life. I’ve decided to change a bit of the structure of the article for this year, by highlighting some aspects of what I deem relevant, and being concise (and hopefully substantial) about it. As always, I’m hoping this article sparks some interesting discussions or conversations amongst my peers.
Projects. While I can’t discuss many of the projects I’ve tackled this past year, I can attest to its diversity and how it once again reinforced how the Design Process itself works and brings value to an organization. It works in the sense that while abiding to the principles of Human Centered Design (understanding the problem statement, making it user/people centered, using an activity centered systems approach for solutioning, and frequent testing and iterative cycles), it also allows for Innovation to be brought forth (in the sense that there’s a specific point of view that is set in motion, based in research that also allows for the solutioning to revolve around the problem at hand). Also in parallel with these aspects, there’s the overall aspect of Cost Reduction which is achieved by abiding to the Process itself (going through the Design Process, crafting Prototypes, Testing, Iterating), which ultimately results in savings since engineering doesn’t have to write any code or even apply AI or any level of Automation. The projects I worked on relied heavily on Research, which included User Interviews, Usability Testing (moderated and unmoderated), crafting business cases and logistically keeping multiple projects concurrently taking place. This also allowed for a better understanding of which Design tools to work with more effectively, and which ones to opt out altogether.
Design Management. A brief statement on this topic. Not every Designer who moves through the ranks of the profession makes for a good manager. The same way that not every manager makes for a good Designer (or has the insight or skills to be one). Both functions require training, and a sufficient amount of self-awareness to realize the following: being a good listener is of the utmost importance, advocating for one’s point of view is fundamental, being flexible is imperative, always being prepared for a conversation/discussion you’re about to have is mandatory, being honest/authentic is a baseline quality, and building rapport with the teams you work with will allow you to solve problems faster and with the support you need.
Job Market. My statements on this topic are based on what I’ve observed online (courtesy of Glassdoor, Dice, LinkedIn) and have witnessed first hand with a variety of friends and former colleagues. In all the years I’ve worked in the US (17 years), I’ve never witnessed a job market dynamics quite like the ones that occurred in 2023. And I’m not stating this just due to the staggering number of layoffs in the Technology domain, but more importantly, the number of people who haven’t been able to bounce back and find alternatives. Even with some of these professionals being experts in their field. I read a note written by a Design professional on LinkedIn (a seasoned professional), where this individual was offended by an automated rejection email that was sent for a position that person had applied for. This person deemed their prior experience perfect for that role, and spent some time preparing their materials to substantiate their application for that role (according to them). While I empathized with this professional’s claims, I couldn’t help by think that there’s thousands of people who have been let go, including very talented Design professionals, who just like that particular professional, also probably thought that role was just perfect for them (and some of them didn’t even get an automated rejection email). My point to that example is as follows: there’s no such thing as “the sure thing”. I’ve been saying this all along to various colleagues of mine throughout the years: always be ready, be prepared, be self-disciplined in how you approach maintaining your portfolio, your resume, and any materials which showcase your abilities. Also: don’t expect anything, particularly if you’ve reached a certain point in your career path, and believe that you’re “owed” something. Don’t apply for roles with the bias that you’ll be “perfect for the role”. Chances are, you probably are a good fit, but so are other individuals. Keep in mind that a rejection doesn’t define you, doesn’t destroy your credibility, and ultimately doesn’t mean more than what it is: you simply weren’t a good fit. Learn to maintain a healthy ego, but one that isn’t self-centered, nor one that implodes when rejection comes by. This was a year where I read about rescinded job offers (at the last minute, when professionals had upended their lives), where young professionals suddenly saw their internships moved around, endangering their work permits and ability to stay in their host countries, all of which were dramatic to read through, and definitely put the organizations who performed these actions in a different light. My point to this being: if the market does change, and eventually it will, make sure that as a Design professional you’re aware of all these oscillations, of these actions that have occurred, and find ways to prepare yourself so you don’t find yourself in similar circumstances when the downward trend occurs.
Self-Education. I’ll reinstate what I mentioned in last year’s retrospective. Constant education, reading, is paramount for Designers to keep checking the pulse on what’s happening in the world. Downloading applications and using them is indeed a good way to become aware of certain trends, but more importantly is always being disciplined about what you devote your time and attention to. Investing in one self is the best investment that one can professionally make.
Moving Forward. Life is made of unexpected occurrences. Personally and Professionally. We all get to experience loss at some point in our lives, and it’s never an easy moment. The best metaphor I can find for it is a car crash. One where you survive, but where you have some scars from the occurrence. The balancing act lies in not letting one painful experience define your subsequent steps, but also not sabotaging/dulling its emotional impact in your life. It’s ultimately about coming to terms with fear, be it of loneliness or professional steadiness. In a way, we have to adopt a bit of Rutger Hauer’s iconic characterization in “The Hitcher” (well minus the psychotic and menacing aspect): picking ourselves up after a challenging situation, and keep moving forward, being informed by what has happened, but not letting it warp what our goals and ambitions are (and always keeping in mind that our memories live on forever, or at least while we’re alive).
Choosing Our Battles. This goes without saying. I’ve always shaped my professional conduct by focusing on problem solving and doing so in a manner that is inclusive, thorough and responsible (and that includes financially responsible as well). I’ve learned a while back that Designers don’t operate in a vacuum where they get access to everything they need, be it resources or funds. However now, more than ever, it’s important that professionals really prioritize what matters for themselves, for their teams and for their projects. Being flexible, being able to swiftly change gears is something that is and will continue to be of the utmost importance.
Doing a retrospective, much like a Product Design Retrospective, forces us to look at what we think worked well, and what didn’t really turn out for the best. It’s an opportunity for reflection and hopefully for positioning us for what lies ahead. Our great privilege lies in the choices we get to make, and how we shape each and every single day in our lives, be it professional and personal. Here’s hoping we have the insight to look at our experiences as a baseline research on which we can build upon to make better decisions and keep solutioning better and better.
I’ll finish this article with a quote from Albert Einstein on the topic of learning and growing.
“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”