Taking tips from the pros who know
At the suggestion of my mentor, I started keeping track of how much time I spent on research (too much!) versus execution (way too much!). At first this time tracking was stressful, but this quickly turned into a motivational tool I could use to cut through the unnecessary overdoing of everything that I’ve carried over from my journalism days. Back then I was always so scared of getting it wrong and committing that wrong to print that I would research and rewrite a topic to death (and almost always the detriment of my mental health and the sleep cycles of both myself and my editors).
I started approaching my coursework as if I were a professional UX designer, my mentor was my client, and the assignments were the work he was hiring me to do (this was actually a tip from my Design 101 mentor, but it has stuck with me and proved immensely useful throughout the UX Academy coursework). There was no room for getting stuck in the perfection loop here. I needed research based, empathetic solutions, ready to be revised and reiterated based on feedback, aka testing.
I made the clock my master (it has always been my greatest adversary) and the results were monumental. When I previously would get caught up in my “designer head,” stuck for hours on seemingly inconsequential details—what icon should go where, what font combinations say it best (oh the typographical humanity!)—I found I was able to cut the whole excruciating song and dance down to an easily digestible bite-size.
Look at this cluttered, crazy thing!
This is an example of one of my first assignments for Design 101, a mockup for a product landing page. It was supposed to take an hour. It did not. To save face, I won’t tell you how long I actually spent on this, only that it was shameful. And if you can believe it, version two turned out even worse.
One very helpful thing to always keep in your mind while approaching the UXA coursework (and that I wish I’d known and adopted in my previous careers): clients can benefit from—and even prefer—high concept, low fidelity work along the way to a finished product. It’s an essential part of the process. As my first Design 101 landing page shows, if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish before you begin the design process, all the effort spent on the heavy lifting of the aesthetics is likely to have been a total unusable waste of time you could have better spent relaxing, or sleeping, or washing your hair (seriously, it takes so long).
My first color/typographical style tile
By the end of UX Academy week one, however, I’d received enough of an introduction to the fundamentals of color theory, visual hierarchy, and design process to catapult my work to another (much more tolerable) level. Even the above style tile exercise left me feeling capable and confident. By keeping myself firmly within the allotted time, and following the briefs to the T, I found I was able to cut through all of the overwhelming design clutter bouncing around inside my head and create cleaner, most streamlined results the first time around (and in much, much better time).
Play to your strengths (while exercising new ones)
I also started capitalizing on my pre-existing strengths, skipping heavy visual presentations (where I knew I was liable to get caught in the detail doldrums) in favor of verbal analysis (which I could whip through in half the time, or in reality, in the exact right amount of time because, let’s be real, I’m not that disciplined—at least not yet).
Pulling a feather from my journalism cap, I was able to call on old habits and instinctively run my user interviews the way I had when reporting a story—building a rapport with the interviewee to break the ice and set a relaxed, friendly tone, and using the hourglass format of questioning (general > specific > general) without even realizing it.
This skimmed quite a bit of time off of the recommended ten hours allotted for conducting research, and even after I compiled my empathy notes and wrote the debrief, I still had more than three and a half hours to spare. This was the first and only time thus far I’ve been able to finish faster than the time estimation, and it meant I’d get to put those hours back to work for me the next time I found myself in uncharted territory where the results came slow.
The way my mentor put it, “Inspiration could strike at any moment, and the attack burner is always on.”
Succeeding here (i.e. completing the best version of the work in as close to allotted time as possible) would be all about trusting my own instincts. If I saved an hour in one area, I shouldn’t punish myself for sticking that hour back into ideating another element if and when inspiration decided to strike in the eleventh hour (subsequently pushing me over time).
UX is both a scientific and a creative process and rectifying the two is like dancing the tango—it’s best when it’s done in perfect unison and without both partners being in step, you’ll only ever just be trying.
And with that, I’m off to find that rhythm! Catch you next week when we’ll all find out if I ever caught up on my coursework. Until then, happy (hopefully) agile designing!
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