Bookmark Beat: EP 3

Performance management for designers - followed by UX, UI and API design

Welcome to the third week of the Bookmark Beat! A (mostly) weekly summary of my browser history. This week, I reflect on how to progress through the design career ladder and how to manage new designers as they make their way through it. I also found some great case studies in the bookmark bin - spanning the years, the front- and back-end…

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An intro: Joni Mitchell makes me cry

I woke up on Monday to a tweeted video that captured a moment I was very lucky to be alive for… Joni Mitchell performing again!

Joni was joined on stage by Brandi Carlile to sing and play a couple of her hits - including the tear-jerking “Both Sides Now”. The fine folks at the Newport Folk Festival released an amazing recording of the performance on Tuesday. Every time I watch it I cry. Something about Joni's gentle timbre, surrounded by a phenomenal group of musicians, makes me choke up half-way through the first verse.


I've been thinking about “professional development”

and how silly it is that we think of it as something separate from the work we do. The larger the company, the more likely there's a budget for you, called “prodev”, that you can use to buy books, courses or even take time off work to learn. But, having worked at startups for most of my career, I've always found something a bit off about this sort of “mandatory fun”.

Yet, it's performance review season, layoffs are hitting companies big and small, and everyone is trying to set goals, prove that they've hit goals, or learn new skills in an attempt to “stay relevant” in a challenging job market.

And, it's not like our field makes it easy. There's new tools and technology all the time. Every new designer is pressured to learn everything there is to know about VR/AR, FinTech, AI, and whatever other area we think is still hiring, despite everything else. Thanks to sites like ADPList, and, though, it's become clearer than ever that the skills you need to succeed in Design are not domain-specific, nor are they unique to any particular medium… instead, the vast majority of skills that show up in these frameworks are cross-disciplinary and most certainly not unique to our discipline.

So, that's great news if you're coming from another field! You'll stand out much more against your fellow bootcamp applicants if you can actually work well with others and manage your own task list. And as you progress in these foundational skills, your “level of impact” will increase - leading to higher and higher roles - as described in Jing Jin's amazing post: Career ladder from junior to director — guidance for UX professionals

But what if there is a skills gap? Then what?

If you're asking this question, you're probably a people manager. You've maybe seen progression in these foundational skills… or maybe it really is the “craft” skills that a certain employee is lacking in. I think it's important to actually take a step back and really identify the source of the problem. In this oldie-but-a-goodie, Don Clark breaks down the common reasons why employees don't perform well:

  • Lack of Skills: This is mainly an employer responsibility — the need to supply training or learning opportunities.
  • Lack of Information: This is also an employer responsibility — need to supply information or train how to use or collect readily available information.
  • Motivational Issues: Employer and employee jointly responsible — requires mutual discussion.
  • Personal Issues: Employee responsibility — needs to take charge of life
  • Environmental Issues: Employer Responsibility — redesign is needed.

Note how more than half of these are actually the employers responsibility. Yet, we've become so focused on “managing up” and “taking initiative” that we can sometimes forget that “the work” must go both ways. I've been loving Jasmine Friedl's Performance Management as a New Manager series to break down this work, more specifically.

Getting down off my soapbox

To geek out about some old case studies!

  • Redesigning Evernote for iOS describes what Kara Hodecker “learned redesigning the Evernote mobile experience, twice!”
  • Designing Windows 95’S User Interface is a rollercoaster of pre-agile hijinks that makes me really happy I live in a world where “rapid iteration” is not some crazy hail mary pass that execs throw at a looming deadline.
  • Never Use a Warning When you Mean Undo is not so much a case study but a reminder that computers have memory for a reason. We were discussing an error message today at work and we realized we could replace it with just a generous undo… it made me happy and reminded me of this post.

Finally, this case study, Ethnography is Key for Computer-to-Computer Communication that Enhances Veteran Experiences, reminded me of the amazing work that goes on behind the scenes to make spectacular developer experiences. User research is key, even when your users are developers interacting with your API.

Some other great resources for this type of work:

Coda: Background beats

Ever since listening to TED's Far Flung: The secret Somali mixtapes, I've been jamming out to this Spotify playlist inspired by the mountain of cassettes and reel-to-reel recordings buried in Hargisa during the Somalian civil war.

It's a great story and the playlist really packs a punch!

Let's wrap this up with the…

Tweet of the week

I used DALL·E 2's inpainting feature to make a version of Eames Powers of Ten, leaving the prompts in to explain each of the 57 steps. #DALLE @OpenAI #AI

~ @adampickard

That's all for this week! If you're looking for a bunch of free “professional development”, check out my Knowledge Dump! Oh, and don't forget to subscribe ✌🏼