Depending on your personal views, accepting the fact that you’re just one of the billions of people can either be a suffocating thought or nice reassurance. I’m in the second camp. It reassures me because, of whatever hardship you might find yourself in, chances are rare you’re the first one ever paving that path. And wherever others have come before you, there are opportunities to learn, deal with, or avoid a negative outcome. If you’re lucky, those before you have even put systems in place to help you navigate your way out of a bad spot. Think traffic signs at dangerous crossings or an accessible way to healthcare if you break an arm. Though downplaying yourself as being one of many is not a sexy argument to make, it gives me comfort and peace of mind.

Like stoicism, the belief in being one of many keeps you grounded. Rules of physics, psychology and medicine apply to me as much as anyone else, it’s great not to be an exception in these departments. But by extent, this means not being an exception in our collective flaws either. When I started my career in design, one of the first books I’ve read was Thinking Fast and Slow, and it made a lasting impression. Backed by an arsenal of fallacies described in the book, Kahneman lays out an inconvenient truth: humans are badly suited to make rational choices even when accurate data is presented.

Five years later, Kahneman’s message still loops in the back of my head. It reflects in the way I work and operate. I rather depend on creating systems and documentation overdoing everything in my head. In fact, I often distrust myself when asked to make a decision on the spot. This is reflected in the feedback I get, where collaborators consistently tell me that I’m doing a great job but would love to see me take a firmer stance more often. I’m not saying they are wrong, but I personally reject the notion that one has to take a strong direction to be a good product designer. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for problem-solving, as multiple directions can achieve success; and it’s my job to carefully reflect on my option. On the opposite, adopting a hardline stance early backs you out of certain directions.

This is important because designers shouldn’t operate in a vacuum. In most setups, we depend on other actors to get an idea out to production. Most designers don’t set the goals for the entire company, nor ship production-ready code. Instead, some of the best product designers facilitate processes where needed and depend on others to inform them when making decisions. This is what I try to embody: a sensible collaborator over an authoritative monolith. Ordinary people can have a positive impact on the world, you don't have to be a unicorn.

And luckily for us, software is perhaps the least expensive building material on earth, so let’s leverage this. Let’s focus on building. Let’s validate ideas by building them. Let’s check our bias by building. And while we’re out building the scaffolding for our next project, let’s try to have some fun while we’re at it.

Published on 10-02-2022