A couple of years ago, I started thinking more concretely about the values that drive how I work. What are the pillars that support my approach as a designer and a leader of design teams?
It has taken some time to formulate these thoughts into explicit values, but now that I’ve done it I see these principles have been at work in my life for many years.
I’m a big believer in the idea that how you do something is every bit as important as why you do it or even the outcome itself. Having a defined process for something helps you achieve consistent results. Similarly, your values drive behavior that generates sustainable and repeatable outcomes.
Respect all humanity. Preserve our sanity. People over profits, every time. I reject any notion of people being treated as resources. I’ve always strived to strike a healthy balance between work and life, sometimes at the cost of career advancement. My kids are better off today for those decisions. As a leader, I encourage the same focus on the mental health and well-being of the person first, knowing great work results will follow.
Do the Work.
If you’re not hustling, you’re slacking. If you’re slacking, you’re stealing. A friend of mine (credit Matt Donovan) used that line once and it has always resonated with me. As someone who is fortunate to be a designer, work is fun for me. I rarely feel like it is actual work.
Lead by example.
Don’t demand authority. Eagerly take responsibility. Relentlessly give credit. Even before I became an actual manager or had direct reports, I made sure my attitude reflected this value. Everyone can have an influence.
Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful. But if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful. That Shaker design philosophy is my bones. Details matter. And not only at work. I tell my kids all the time: “If it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing right.”
Strong beliefs, loosely held.
Have an opinion, but don’t hold it too tightly. It’s ok to be wrong. I teach designers on my teams to “have an opinion” and even better yet, an opinion backed up by data. And I teach them how to properly defend a design decision. But I also teach them to stay humble and open to new ideas and perspectives and the idea that most of the time the answer is somewhere in the middle.
Leave everyone in awe.
Above & beyond. Every time. No matter what. I try to establish a high bar of performance. Designers on my teams know where that bar is and they also know that I’m there to help them reach it. Stakeholders know that working with one of my teams will be a positive experience and that whatever it is they’re working on will be improved.
Why bother with any of this?
I am not a fan of the idea of the ends justifying the means. We’ve all said this or heard it said before: “Well, everything turned out well, so we must have done something right.”
That notion too often excuses poor planning, lazy attitudes, and a lack of care. It also encourages arbitrary decision-making and relies too much on chance for success.
Having a defined set of values helps you make decisions. It helps you decide what is important and gives you a standard upon which to compare your actions or attitudes. I highly recommend everyone taking the time to go through a similar thought exercise. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, which is always worth the time and effort.