It's Halloween 🦇 The Veil is Thin

  
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Back in April I introduced Venerating the Grave UX (medium), which is about regularly “ritualizing” negative feedback. The idea is that periodically you make an event out of digging-up negative user feedback and determining whether it has been or how it might be addressed.

For those of you who like to feel extra spooky, I called a collection of purely negative feedback — which, real talk, could be just a filter a on spreadsheet that weeds out the positive and neutral feedback — a “Charnel House.”

Venerating the Grave UX isn’t really about emerging with solutions, but about normalizing your perspective. In January, I wrote

Consistent user research unearths plenty of truisms about the quality of your service. Like youtube comments for the soul, we willfully perform this grave diggery to identify pain points in a customer journey that give meaning and direction to our design work.

Catalog these well, and make it easy to revisit the worst of the comments, your negative feedback. This is your charnel house. Visit often.

Veneration is humbling, but the goal is optimistic: it’s hard to do consistently thorough user research without being conditioned against taking negative feedback personally. Such a practice thickens the skin. It inoculates you.

So, today, when the veil is thinnest, make some time to look upon the bones of your design work.

Craft spookily,


Clicking that ❤ in this issue of Stoic Designer is an easy, no-sign-in-required way to signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a minute of your time. Stoic Designer is also a podcast on every platform.

Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield
@schoeyfield

Keep your chin up. Don't lose your shit.

"Don't let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole." - Our boy, Marcus.

Remember that the neuroticism endemic our design world — deadline-griping stakeholders, micromanagers, complaining users — and the problems that shake our trembling organizations - aren’t. Most of us, most of the time, don’t do life-or-death work. These pangs are those of a first world. Memento mori. There might be not be a tomorrow. Few things really matter to you. Don’t lose your shit about the rest.

Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer.

Then remind yourself that past and future have no power over you. Only the present — and even that can be minimized. Just mark off its limits.

If the problem is something in your own character, who’s stopping you from setting your mind straight? And if it’s that you’re not doing something you think you should be, why not just do it? — Marcus Aurelius, a couple favorite pulls from Meditations

Craft virtuously.


Clicking that ❤ in this issue of Stoic Designer is an easy, no-sign-in-required way to signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a minute of your time. Stoic Designer is also a podcast on every platform.

Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield
@schoeyfield

The Problem with Goal-Setting is The Goal

Goal-setting should be constrained to factors in your control: that is, pursue goals that best prepare that arrow’s trajectory.

Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, …. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. — Viktor Frankl

What is the goal of the archer who aims at the target? It’s to hit the target.

But what about the archer shooting the target is actually within the archer’s control? The archer can control their poise, their draw, their breath, their distance from the target, the day they choose to shoot the arrow. But as soon as the archer let’s go, that’s it. The rest is left up to external pressures. A gust of wind can push the arrow off course. The target can move. The weather can change.

Stoic designers can’t control the success of their product. Whether you hit 1,000 subs or not is determined by timing, topic, competing products, the news, even public health. Letting the arrow go to be acted upon by external pressures is critical to that arrow reaching its target, but you only control things up to that point.

Your goal, then, should not be to hit a specific target. Rather, goal-setting should be constrained to factors in your control: that is, pursue goals that best prepare that arrow’s trajectory.

  • What can you do to better time your release?

  • What can you change about the way you work to make the trajectory of your “arrow” more consistent, thus predictable?

  • How can you better strengthen your organizational draw?

The rest is out of your control. If you miss the target, don’t lose your shit because the arrow went wide. Observe something about your actions before your miss that allow you to line-up a better shot in the future.

There is also something to be said about the archer allegory surrounding practice. An archer shoots hundreds of arrows consistently as part of a routine, before developing any kind of real understanding about the likelihood they’ll hit the target. Stoic designers that shoot only one arrow will probably miss. Predictably high success rate is correlated with many releases. Organizations that are not designed to suffer many misses will fail.

Craft virtuously.


Clicking that ❤ in this issue of Stoic Designer is an easy, no-sign-in-required way to signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a minute of your time. Stoic Designer is also a podcast on every platform.

Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield
@schoeyfield

The Ol' College Try is the Goal

  
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We idolize a project that is complete in design work. We don’t organize portfolios around failed experiments, incomplete products, the good ol’ college try. Instead, our bragging rights are constrained to a spectrum of doneness, notches in a belt, that — like a belt — represent arbitrary milestones on a line that loops back on itself.

Saying this stuff out loud is a little woo, but I’m trying to temper our endemic reverence for getting things done. A complete collaborative project represents, if anything, compromise. It is the way in which a team worked together to weigh user needs against organizational objectives. As your craft matures, you’ll have one or more pieces of work — maybe even a majority, if you stick with a single company long enough — you’re not proud of. We have to pay bills. We lose battles. I have an entire list of complete projects that make me groan. You probably do, too. These are projects not only where our skills were less refined but, maybe, our design principles took a back seat to the stakeholder’s demands. Sunk cost, right?

Service design is the work of people. Cooler heads don’t always prevail, the best ideas don’t always survive rank, the time required is too much for the time given. Shipping is compromising. Sometimes, that’s to the detriment of our pride.

But — is this just a problem with perspective?

The practice of Stoicism is the practice of asking, “is this in my control?” What about shipping design work is? What control did we share, and thus forfeit? Shipping work requires you to recognize your place in the process. Your control of that process is limited, as is how a completed project turns out.

What’s in your control? You are in control of whether or not you try.

Do your best to convince them. But act on your own, if justice requires it. If met with force, then fall back on acceptance and peaceability. Use the setback to practice other virtues.

Remember that our efforts are subject to circumstances; you weren’t aiming to do the impossible.

Aiming to do what, then? To try. And you succeeded.

What you set out to do is accomplished.

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6 #50

Design work is a verb. Do what’s in your control virtuously.


What do you think? Let’s chat about it on twitter.

Clicking that ❤ in this issue of Stoic Designer is an easy, no-sign-in-required way to signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a minute of your time. Stoic Designer is also a podcast on every platform.

Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield

Adhering to design principles under pressure

  
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When I meet with teams I’m sometimes asked to catch folks up on the progress of various feature requests in the system. I work pretty hard to make sure these statuses are transparent, so more often than not I’m confirming what they know: I haven’t made and probably won’t address these in the near future. That sucks to hear.

Often many of these requests are small design tweaks that take no time at all, but stay in the backlog by principle.

Here’s a real conversation between me (MS) and a stakeholder (SH):

SH: We know some of the customers complain [about this design] and [want it changed in this way].

MS: I feel ya. But any design changes like this ought to be prototyped and tested, and that just takes bandwidth we’re using for [this OKR]. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to bump this to the front of the line.

SH: Literally no one would care [if you just make the changes right now].

How often as user experience professionals do you feel you talk into the void? It’s easy to capitulate. You tell the stakeholder, “okay, sure, I’ll try to make this happen,” because on some level the stakeholder is right. When the stakeholder outranks you, it may even be wise not to die on that hill.

But I profess here and for many years in Metric that it’s not just that good UX is good business but that a good user experience design process is good business, and in cases above without really compelling evidence it holds-up that adhering to a design principle is better for the business. And if, after all, principles were so easily subverted, they shouldn’t be principles.

I’m frustrated when I have to have these kinds of conversations, to champion principle. What’s more, it’s easy to second-guess yourself. Often the business of championing systems of work and design process is lonely. You’re in a state of evangelism until there is enough organizational buy-in. Even as I write this I’m not supremely confident that being a stick-in-the-mud is worth it.

However, the reason we put so much effort into developing systems of work and establishing strong best practices and design principles is that they make both organizational decision making easier as well as a quality product more likely. They should be defended.

Let me emphasize the shit out of this pull-quote from Epictetus:

When the standards have been set, things are tested and weighed. And the work of philosophy is just this, to examine and uphold the standards. But the work of a truly good person is in using those standards when they know them.”

— Epictetus

He isn’t talking about design work, and we should keep that in mind. For most of us, design isn’t life or death. It doesn’t matter as much. But I think we can maintain this perspective and apply the dogmatism of doing what you said you were going to do simultaneously.

The work of living is to set standards and then not compromise them. … Not, I want to do good—that’s an excuse. But, I will do good in this particular instance, right now.

— Ryan Holiday

Craft virtuously.


Clicking that ❤ in this issue of Stoic Designer is an easy, no-sign-in-required way to signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a minute of your time.

If it’s easier, you can listen to Stoic Designer in your podcatcher of choice.

Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield

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