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Every so often, I’ll see a fresh wave of articles pop up with questions like:

  • Should designers code?
  • Should designers learn product management?

I have a theory. The root of this relentless interrogation is not How do we become better designers?

No. What we’re really asking ourselves is this:

How do we get taken seriously?

In other words, these…

Tips and tricks for running a smooth, successful workshop

Photos courtesy of the author.

Design sprints are all the rage but they need great facilitators. Sometimes that responsibility falls to you.

This is a difficult role, made harder when the participants have never done this before. It can be daunting to run your first (or fiftieth) workshop, but some good prep and getting into a good headspace can make all the difference.

Before we dive in: Design sprints aren’t magic. They’re just a framework for assembling a handful of classic design-thinking (read: problem-solving) techniques. …

Product Manager Cat doesn’t like it

Designers! We’ve all had the experience of showing our work to someone — usually someone with more power and clout than we have— who looks at our work, shrugs, and says “I don’t like it.”

It could be a client, or a manager, or a colleague. But it’s happened to every single one of us. It’s so frustrating. There’s no acknowledgement of our hard work, no understanding of the decisions we’ve made. And worse, there’s no way of knowing what you should change to make them like it.

It’s easy to blame the stakeholder, of course. They should be giving…

Sing it with me: As a _user_ I want to _perform an action_ so I can _achieve an end result_.

This is great in theory, but writing good user stories is harder than it sounds. I’ve seen well-meaning product, design, and engineering folks take this approach to user stories and interpret them as magic words. Somehow, as long as we begin our task statement by uttering the “as a user” mantra, we’re magically taking a user-centered approach.

No. Because here’s what happens when this approach is used badly:

“As a user, I want to click the button, so I can…

Back in the early 2000s, I had the title “Web Developer/Designer.”

I hated that term then, and I still do.

I used to strongly suggest to clients that they hire three separate people with specific skillsets instead of one person who was expected to do concept, fit and finish, copywriting and content strategy, and production-ready implementation.

I wasn’t alone, of course. Lots of us had to build a career from bits and pieces of different skills, but we frequently didn’t have the language to describe what we did. We had no word for the unicorn-like set of skills so many…

I live in a suburb of San Francisco. My town is safe and cozy. It’s known as a great place to raise a kid. Kids frequently walk or bike to school here. I’ve heard locals refer to it as “Mayberry-By-The-Sea.”

It’s also mostly white. It borders Oakland, specifically an historically Black area of Oakland.

This morning, on my otherwise delightful ferry commute into San Francisco, I overheard a group of white people from my town talking about last night’s Halloween adventures.

They were discussing how they felt about a bunch of kids who “weren’t from the neighborhood” trick-or-treating their houses…

“You’ve got impostor syndrome bad,” my spouse said to me this weekend.

“It’s not impostor syndrome,” I protested. “I just really don’t know what I’m doing.”

Oh, wait.

But I don’t have the usual kind of impostor syndrome, the kind that prevents forward movement, the kind that prevents growth. I do hard things anyway, and I learn stuff and get better, and I still feel this way. What’s up with that?

There’s a proverb that has permeated much of my life: To whom much is given, much is expected. It runs like a shining thread through my adolescence and young…

Hey there, design job seekers. Here’s something I bet you haven’t heard yet:

Include the goddamn cover letter. If it’s good, it will set you apart. And if you’re dealing with a hiring manager who doesn’t read cover letters, it doesn’t hurt anything to include one.

What to write? Use your design thinking skills. When you’re applying to work for me, I’m your end user. Think about what I want to hear.

Here’s how to write a letter that will get you noticed.

Address me by name.

First, make sure to include a greeting. You know you’re writing to someone. …

As a job seeker, you might get advice to apply to jobs you’re not completely qualified for. It’s true that sometimes hiring managers list “nice-to-haves” as “requirements,” so why not apply? The hiring manager might make an exception for you because you present yourself so well.

Sometimes, you’re right.

But when a job posting asks for two years of work experience, they probably mean it. And no, projects completed during your two-year master’s degree probably don’t count as work experience.

When I ask for two years of experience, it’s shorthand. Here’s what I really mean:

1. I need you to understand the complexity of the work.

As a hiring manager, I…

Janet Taylor

Design leader. Recovering software engineer. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. She/her pronouns.

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