Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Apr 2022

Design As Anti-Career

Some folks don’t want to hear the truth. Some want you to placate their expectations until you are no longer of good use. Not intentionally (usually). This just happens as a part of business.

The previous could be taken in almost any context, but the shape here is that of design. Or, more specifically, design practioners and their careers. You see, it’s well expected a designer is and will always be needed to design something. And often, their roles, the problems they are conscripted to address, and even their maturation through the org, is based on this tact agreement - the designer is expected to be there.

But, what if after they did the thing, they stopped being there?

What if the role of the designer (and developer or analyst for that matter) was to mature the business in a specific means and then leave? What then of this expectation? Of this agreement to do and be compensated continually? What then does it mean to “have a career in design?”

One of the deeper-level conversations around this Avanceé initiative comes not long after this point is brought forward. Many orgs don’t want to hear that someone is only there to address a specific item and then move forward. Many would like that item to be continual. Or the guarantee of support for similar items to have continued attention. And sometimes, the shape of the org makes it so. A component library always needs new components (is governance not comprehensive?). There’s always a new site needing to be created (can building the tooling to take requirements, and execute a site from a series a templates be too much up-front work?). There’s always new user research and seocisted reporting/dashboards because there’s always new users (is product focus immature, causing business capture to be haphazard, and metrics are of the wanted-past instead of the future-present?).

A client explained to their team Avanceé was not going to come on board to do their work for them. Analysis would happen. Prototyping and content strategy would be in the cards. But, the work was to communicate to those responsible the questions they were not asking, or refusing to admit to. The shape of the work was not for Avanceé to own, it was for the client. The client held some significant talks within themselves to assess not only if Avanceé was the right partner, but if they were willing to do the work.

Designers can and should allow space for the hard questions. Then move aside and allow the work to manifest what truly needs to exist. This is a hard truth. And to many it would sound anti-career. But, then you’d have to ask, “if design is a mature industry, why aren’t more folks able to do it after guidance?” Or, have we taught folks to dig a hole with their skills and talents, only valuing them for the expectation of performance.