2021 is almost here! No matter how 2020 has been–and we know it hasn’t been ideal–it is hard not to be optimistic about the future. Have you made any New Year design resolutions?
If you’ve not made up your mind, here are some prompts to guide your resolutions.
Where will you work?
Let’s address the virus in the room. 2020 has taken work-from-home (WFH) from “I wish my organization offered WFH,” to “I miss the office cafeteria.” If you’re an independent contributor to your team, perhaps you feel like you are the most productive in a disturbance-free home environment. If you are juggling between home and work (and/or kids), or find yourself working longer hours because everyone in your team has differing work hours, then maybe you want to make sure you are in the office space as soon as possible.
Collaborating and communicating with different stakeholders is a challenge even if you are in the same room. It becomes more so when you are fully remote. Technology can only make it possible to work apart. The rest is on us.
One way to ensure everyone is on the same page, and to minimize misunderstandings in communication, is to present information through visuals. Humans process visual information far more easily than textual information. Visuals leave little scope for anything getting lost in translation. Tools such as mind maps and flowcharts remove unnecessary grammar and compress information into a small space, allowing you to see the complete picture.
Draw a resolution
This 2021, sharpen your visual communication skills. Try to sketch your ideas as much as possible. Pick up a pen and draw (yes, a pen, not a pencil). The point is to draw and not stress over making lines perfect. The more you practice, the more confident you become.
How will you work?
Would you prefer to work in an organization on a payroll? Or are you going to take the freelance/consulting plunge? If you are already working independently, will you continue on your own, or will you look for full-time work? What roles would you want to focus more on?
As an independent consultant/freelancer, you will need to own the entire design process—from understanding the client’s requirements to conducting user research and from drafting the information architecture to creating the wireframes/prototypes. You’ll also need to perform non-design related tasks—manage accounts, handle finances, not to mention follow-up to get paid.
One important activity you will find yourself in, is sales pitches. As designers, many of us are uncomfortable with sales—it sounds like pushing something down people’s throats. As a freelancer, and indeed, as a designer in a company, you will, at some point, need to make a sales pitch to get business stakeholders to understand the importance of user experience design, the value of your work, and the impact your work will have on both the end-user, as well as profitability.
Pitch a resolution
This year, get into the shoes of your clients (or the business owners of your company)—after you’ve empathized with your end-users—and then reframe your sales pitch. For example, if you have to convince stakeholders about making a change in a product, see if you can reframe your pitch to show how it will benefit the company (and the user). Suppose you want to implement a feature that allows the end-user to complete a task within 3 minutes, instead of the current average of 16 minutes. You could pitch that this change will help the company differentiate itself from the competition, potentially driving more business.
Psst: We have a rich collection of articles about soft skills.
What will you work on?
What types of design projects would you like to work on? Technology moves fast, giving designers wider wings to glide on. To incorporate the latest tech in your design projects, it helps to understand it works. That is not to say that you should look under the hood and learn everything about it (which you most certainly can!) Understanding the advantages and limitations will help you identify the best use cases for the platform/framework/wearable device in your design projects.
Diverge in your resolution
Go beyond your comfort zone. If you usually design for mobile, take up web/desktop based projects. If you work with products for the masses, explore a niche category. How about designing an app for a smartwatch, or an interface for a VR game. If 2020 made you think more about our existential future, perhaps you’d like to look for (or create) opportunities in, say sustainable living.
Which are the new tools you will explore?
Tools may come and go. Core design principles and processes remain the same. That said, which tools have you relied on in the past? Do you plan to stick with them, or do you plan to try a different tool? Here’s a mammoth list of UX tools for you to consider, just in case ;)
If screen time is wearing down your eyes, perhaps you’ll consider going analog with a good old pen and paper?
Will you take a break or go back to school?
If 2020 has worn you down, we hear you. Sometimes, all we need is a break. A break can mean different things to different people. A break from work, from your role, from specific clients, or even from design (we hope not!).
A break in your resolution
You can break away from work and go back to school. Depending on what your current role is, it could mean a design or a business school. You can even try to get your employer to sponsor your executive education.
You could break away from your current role, organization or client, and search for newer opportunities and roles. Yes, it is okay to part ways and say goodbye to clients, especially when you feel that you are not utilizing your potential. Just make sure to let them off easy, fulfill all your commitments, and try to find a replacement for yourself. This last selfless act will help you in the long run. The world is a small place, and you never know who will help you out with references in the future (so maybe not so-selfless an act, after all)!
You can also continue to work and go to school. Thanks to 2020, even design schools that were offline-only are now offering courses and bootcamps online. Check out our recommended resources section, where you will find a comprehensive list of UX courses.
Promises made, promises kept
One way to hold yourself accountable for your resolutions is to write them down. Write them down. Don’t type. Put it somewhere prominent, so that you can see and get inspired. You can assign a resolution buddy, who can regularly ‘check’ if you’re keeping your resolutions. Set reminders or alarms. If you are comfortable, make your commitments public. Share them on social media, and let your network hold you accountable!
Planning ahead may seem futile, given how 2020 rained all over our plans. But like everything good and bad, this too shall pass. The future is filled with hope, and together we can design it better.
Here’s a template to help you plan your 2021. You can download and print it, or simply use it as a reference to create your own version.
The Interaction Design Foundation is offering 25% off their annual membership this holiday season. Whether you are looking to level up on your existing skills or starting from scratch, the IxDF’s 30+ self-paced online courses in user experience design—Design Thinking, User Research, Information Visualization, and Service Design, to name a few—will have you covered. Additional year-round perks of your membership include a 90% discount on every Master Class webinar with design experts (over 20 of them each year) and over $680 worth of exclusive discounts from the best UI/UX tools. Find out more here.