Why I stopped creating content about design. Why I want to start doing so again.
Addressing my depression, impostor syndrome, and my views on content creation and the state of of design.
To begin, I will start with a bit of a disclaimer. This first bit of writing is going to be personal, it’s going to focus on my life story, how I discovered design, what design means to me now, and what it could mean to me in the future. I don’t know if what I write will always be heliocentric but I imagine that the first article or so will be as I navigate what I want my content creation to look like.
I can’t remember the exact moment when design was introduced to me but I remember who and how. A close friend of mine showed me how he used software (Photoshop at the time) to use creativity to solve a problem and more importantly to help other people communicate or solve something. Prior to this revelation, I was making art for myself, making art for me was primarily a selfish act. To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Art can be personal and it can be just for the person making the art, but until then I was searching for a way to make a difference for someone other than myself and design was what I found in that search.
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I do remember how old I was when I discovered design, 27. I was navigating aimlessly through my local junior college while my parents supported me and even encouraged me to discover my purpose. Being a “late bloomer” in this field has always haunted me, and it still does. I often times feel inexperienced for my age (I’m almost 40 now). Fortunately, I fell in love with design and it wasn’t fleeting. I say fortunate because this love propelled me through school and it helped me do so quickly and with high marks (I graduated from Cal State University Channel Islands with a 3.9 GPA at age 30.) I was not the most talented student in the program and I was mediocre at design software (I still am, more on that later.) The messiness of my package designs and screenprints is still infamous at my former school. But I treated school like work, I showed up and did the best I can and that’s still how I approach my craft.
While I was finishing school, both of my parents died. My brother and I had to learn how to adult real fast in the aftermath of their passing. I still think we’re figuring out how to do that but at the same time, we’ve come a long way (especially my brother, he has an amazing family and a wonderful daughter who I hope to spoil often for many years to come). My parents were my biggest fans, as I mentioned earlier they were unbridled supporters of anything I tried to do with my life. (trust me there are a lot of things I tried to do, I might write about that in another piece of content.) To this day I still feel I am trying to figure out how to navigate my life without their love and counsel. Fortunately, my partner and my fur babies have done an admirable job of replacing that love and counsel (I may or may not ask my dog Olly for font suggestions).
I am providing this background to give some context to support what I will be writing and creating content about. Specifically, I provide this context to support the topic of this article: Why I stopped creating content about design and why I feel compelled to start again.
Let’s start with why I stopped.
Mental Health - The first reason is simple, I was (and still am) struggling with anxiety and depression. I feel that I am in better control of both but for the last year or so I simply didn’t feel that I was in the mental state I needed to be to contribute to any meaningful design dialogue.
Impostor Syndrome - This is somewhat tied to mental health but last year I was struggling mightily with this. A ton of folks, especially designers, deal with this syndrome every day and I don’t think it will ever completely go away for me. To help curb this syndrome within me and help add credibility to my content I am going to write honestly about my career and relationship with design. More on that later.
The Saturation of Content Creation in the Space - “Influencers” and “content creators” in the design space often annoy me. That seems mean and harsh and I honestly think it is. And furthermore, it’s not fair to the design folks out there creating valuable authentic content. I only bring this up because I tried creating Instagram carousels and listicles about “3 ways to do blah blah blah” and it didn’t feel right to me, it felt inauthentic. This again goes back to being authentic and transparent with anything I write or produce here or on other channels. I might still create carousels or use lists in my articles but hopefully, this time around these will be created in a more authentic way.
A Lack of Focus - I am pretty sure I experienced a good old-fashioned mid-life crisis in 2022. I questioned everything I was doing and was panicking about what I will or should be doing in the future. Some good came of this, I started creating art again (Incoming shameless plug = Instagram: plasticflowerworld). But I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted my actual professional career to be focused on next. As a result, I wasn’t even sure what I could write or talk about.
Before I get to why I am going to start writing about design again I want to go back to that whole impostor syndrome thing and what it means for my content moving forward. As I wrote earlier, I want to be authentic and transparent. With this in mind let me address a few things on my mind as I begin this new content creation journey.
I alluded to this earlier, I am exceptionally mediocre with the tools and software that go into the crafting of design artifacts. I know my way fairly well around Figma & Adobe illustrator but I don’t know how to use auto-layout, and there are some tricks in Illustrator that I don’t know. And ya don’t even ask me about Photoshop and Indesign, I can use both and a lot of different tools well enough to materialize an idea, but I will never be your resource on how to use these tools at their highest level. There are plenty of other folks out there that know what they’re doing with these tools, you should pay attention to them and I hope to be sharing the content of some of these amazing practitioners in the future. Oh and no I don’t how to code, and I don’t plan on learning how to anytime soon.
A good portion of my work throughout my career isn’t “live on the web”. I haven’t won any design awards, I don’t have an app in the app store, and there’s only a handful of design artifacts that I have contributed to making “in the wild.” Overall I am satisfied and happy with my track record and my experience but I would be lying to you if I were to say that it’s always easy to share what I’ve done in my career.
This is in a way of adding to my last point but a lot of the work I do is intangible in a lot of ways, I’ll wrap up this article with a little more of an overview of what I focus on doing within the design process, but often times it’s rooted in setting up the best possible outcome for the creation of design solutions rather than me being the one creating the solutions themselves. Again I have used this as an excuse not to write or publicly talk about what I do.
So these 3 things and many other things have been used by me as an excuse to not contribute to design dialogue and even worse I’ve used these things to delegitimize who I am as a professional and even a person (hence the anxiety, depression, and impostor syndrome.) But I want to get to the fun stuff now. Why I am giving this whole content creation thing another go? Some of these answers will be an answer to some of the problems I listed above.
I think writing and creating authentic content will benefit my mental health. If you can’t tell yet, my design career means a lot to me and simply sharing what’s working and not working in it I think will help with living a healthier life.
I feel I need to be a credible and authentic voice in the design community. I want to continue to grow as a design professional and discover new opportunities in my career. I think being a content creator is a part of that discovery process today.
I have dabbled in design education over the last few years by being a guest in classrooms and being a mentor for UX bootcamps. Recently I have been given the opportunity to further explore design education (Shannon, if you are reading this I thank you for taking a chance on me!) For the sake of transparency, I am absolutely terrified of being an educator and I desperately want to do right by any student I work with. With all of this in mind, I hope creating content and sharing my ideas will make me a better educator.
On a similar note, I want to get my ideas out into the world so they can be challenged. I want to be proven wrong, I want to be able to say I don’t know more often and then go try to find the answer. I don’t think I can do these things at scale if I don’t try to write in a public environment.
Finally, I feel that I am refocused again on what I want the next stage of my career to look like. There’s a lot for me to learn and I believe in this cycle of learning and sharing what I learn will help me grow in the way I want to grow.
A lot of these reasons are selfish in nature, and there is some truth in the idea that I am writing and creating content for myself in a lot of ways. That being said I want to be an active voice and listener in the design community and I hope what I create can make a difference to anyone that is kind enough to consume my content.
If you’ve read this far I sincerely thank you for doing so and I promise that I am almost done here, but I think it would be fair to share what I plan to write and talk about. Design has many specific methods, definitions, uses, and applications. I hope by sharing what I want to focus on it will encourage you to read more of what I create in the future. There are three specific methods and/or applications that I feel that I am fairly component in speaking about and more importantly, want to master.
Design as a vehicle for collaboration and co-creation. This idea is materialized in the methods and applications related to workshops, design sprints, and design thinking in general. Are some of these terms controversial and even triggering? Yes, they are. But workshopping is the best way I currently know how to work with other people to create design solutions and I do expect that I will learn more about other ways to do so in the future. But in the meantime, I will be writing and discussing the good and the bad of workshopping and other co-creation activities.
Using design as a mindset to discover more about what makes us human and to find and solve problems humans are facing today. This is just a long-winded way of me saying that design research is something that is important to me and something I feel that I can write about. Design/User research has been a part of my practice for several years now and I have been fortunate enough to learn from some fantastic researchers in my career. At this point, I avoid participating in any design work that doesn’t involve research and I hope to write more about why I feel this way in the future.
Creating design experiments to discover if a solution will make a difference for the people in need of that solution. Again this is just a long-winded way of me saying that I have some experience in creating design prototypes and I look forward to writing more about prototyping in a way that will help others and myself learn more about the concept.
To wrap things up I think it’s also important to divulge what I plan to focus on learning and writing about when it comes to the specific design disciplines where the above concepts/methodologies can be put into play.
Service Design - My love for design has evolved to being more and more obsessed with the holistic components and systems that can be designed for a better world. Service design as I have learned so far seems to be a discipline that focuses on designing holistic omnichannel experiences that benefit both organizations and people. More importantly, I feel the service design discipline opens the opportunity to use design to positively impact humanity at a global level. I definitely consider myself a “newbie” in the service design community but I am hoping that participating in the community will help me learn more about the practice and therefore help me also be a better practitioner in the future.
UX or Experience Design - I consider UX design a very close sibling to service design with the main difference being that UX design tends to focus on only digital channels or experiences. This is where my career started, this is technically the space I still operate in, but as I mentioned with the idea of service design, I am looking forward to shifting my practice to consider and solve for more holistic experiences where the UX of a device, software, or application is a part of the solution rather than the sole solution itself.
Digital Product Design - It’s hard for me to avoid product design when discussing service or experience design, especially in the United States where a “product-first” mentality still reigns king in the digital design community. Of course, there is value to creating well-designed products and UX & service design is tightly woven into creating a good product, so much so in fact that most feel UX and product design is the same thing (and one is not wrong in saying so.). So with this in mind, I do imagine the design of software and applications will come up in my content in the future.
Again, if you made it to the end of this article I thank you. It does mean a lot to me and in the future, I feel that more of my content will be less of my journey and focus and more on the topic of design. I felt that I had to set the stage and foundation for my content and be transparent to anyone reading and to myself. I hope you stick around for more content in the future and I hope you find me on Linkedin and Twitter so we can use the internet to talk about and share our ideas.
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