Advice to my younger self

To: Alisan Atvur in 2004
From: Alisan Atvur in 2016
Subject: A Letter to a 20-Something Designer


Congrats on finishing your first project as a paid design contractor. You must be feeling so proud of you work right now. Later in your life, you might think back with embarrassment about that flash animation on a homepage.

If I may make a suggestion, I would encourage you to resist the urge to attack your early work. At any given point in your career, you are producing exactly what you were capable of producing, no more and no less. Over time, you will reflect on what you have created, and reflection will influence what you create next. Creation can lead to reflection, and reflection leads to new creation. It's a educational and humanizing cycle. It is in the spirit of reflection that I would like to share a few suggestions with you. 


Professional is a mindset.

With every job and every client, you will realize more and more that "professional" is a mindset, and "quality" is a moving target. Over your career, you will focus and re-focus on what you believe these two characteristics mean, and each adjustment and change in your life will influence this perspective. 

Don't fear stress. 

Stressful situations are going to happen. Stress is the pressure you feel when you are faced with a challenge. Assumably, you are hired as a to solve a design-related challenge that can be managed better by you than by your customer. However, it does not mean anything about the level of stress the challenge might involve. With practice and self awareness, you will learn to manage that stress, not run from it. The more you manage it, the less power it has over you. The challenges you face will get more stressful, but your management of those challenges will become more effective and natural.

Mistakes will happen.

At times, you might think if you study enough intelligent designers, read enough articles, and work long enough hours, you will avoid making the mistakes other people make. However, you will always make some mistakes. Identify mistakes. Repair the ones you can, and learn from the ones you can't. 

Asking questions can be leadership.

Asking questions can be a form of leadership. Asking someone a really good question is sometimes more powerful and more persuasive than telling them what to think. The way you will help your team members see a new perspective is by asking them questions the introduce a different perspective without judging theirs.

Forgive people.  

It takes focus and resolve, but it's worth it.

"Best" isn't a real thing.

"Best" is a contextual concept. The "best" design decision is only better than other designs options. The "best" decision and the "right" decision are not the same thing.

Take care of yourself.

Watch movies in a cinema and exercise every week. It may seem time consuming, but they are necessary stimulation.

Be prepared to be uninspired or bored.

Being uninspired isn't an excuse for not delivering good work. You will have moments where your work isn't inspiring. It will feel boring or trite. As a design employee, you have an agreement with your employer to help people solve problems, including problems that seem boring or trite. 

Communication takes practice.

Saying something simply is more powerful than saying something precisely. However, both are important for sharing your ideas. Practice, and be patient with yourself as you develop your skills.

Show others you are listening.

When someone asks you a question, wait a few seconds before answering it. You may already know the answer, but it doesn't matter. Let your thoughts wait in your mind, and release them only when a person knows they've been heard. 


When you are upset, try two things.

If you ever feel like you don't know what to do, take a walk. If you still don't know what to do after a walk, read something stimulating. Graphic novels, comedy, and poetry are especially powerful. 


Be compassionate to yourself and others.

You will be tempted to think that your performance is special or that you work harder than others, which are both irrelevant and untrue. Remember: you are only human. The most constructive thing you can do is to share you attention and creativity with others. Not surprisingly, people are often happy to return the favor.