Thoughts of a UX mentor (part 1)

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For the last few years I have been a UX mentor to some great adepts in Stockholm. When I was first asked to do this I accepted without really reflecting on what being a mentor meant - I have never had an official mentor myself but was just happy to help. I have found the experience to be extremely beneficial as well personally challenging. During our meetings we discuss a very wide range of subjects that may or may not fall under the definition of UX - design solutions, UX trends, internal organisational politics to the design of restaurant menus.

Through all of this I have noticed that many of these discussions tend to settle around a few major themes. Below are some of these themes together with some my thoughts on the subjects.

Learn how to collaborate.

UX is a team sport.

Gone are the days of 1-2 person teams.  As technologies cover more and more touch points the teams required to develop these solutions increases. Most digital products are far too complex for a single person to know everything (avoid people that say that they do). The more complex the problem we work on gets, the more complex the way we work gets. As a UX designer you will need to lead by example and listen and understand these other perspectives.

Dan Brown, in his book Designing Together defines collaboration with two components:

Collaboration is working together to yield products, not simply creating ideas.

These products are also better then what can be produce by any one person. A group that collaborates has the ability to consider more perspectives and to actually produce the resulting complex products.

As UX designers we need to understand the mindset, tools and culture that cultivates collaboration. The earlier you learn and practice these skills the more effective you will be.

Resource Tips: Designing Together42 Rules for Successful Collaboration

Learn to Facilitate

Once you start to collaborate you will realise this isnt so easy. One major big problem is that people really dont know how collaborate very well. People often have different perceptions of what defines collaboration. Some people will refuse and sit with their arms crossed while others wont be able to keep quite at all. To make any progress you will have overcome these differences and improve how groups work.

Enter facilitation.

Facilitation is when you help group of people explore a problem. The exploration can involve a final solution or a discussion that increases the understanding of problem for the future (often times both). The idea is not for facilitator to do all the heavy thinking but instead learn to be ‘the quite servant’ and step aside and let the team decide. It is making the journey to the solution or future state, more effective. Designers must learn to take on new roles and facilitate the exchange of ideas between different areas of expertise in order for this to be effective.

Resource tips: GamestormingThe Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and CoachesFacilitating with Ease! Core Skills for Facilitators, Team Leaders and Members, Managers, Consultants, and Trainers

Maintain the beginners mind set.

Avoid becoming an expert. Attempt to hold on to the ‘beginner’ stamp as long as possible

Frank Lloyd Wright put it perfectly when he said

an expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows.

Beginner traits to shoot for:

1. Beginners ask a LOT of questions - no question is too basic

2. Beginners are open to learning from anyone, not just experts - everyone has something to teach you. Look closely.

3. Beginners make a LOT of mistakes, because they are open to trying new approaches - new approaches are what lead to innovation. Dont forget that.

Beginners are lifelong learners and that is exactly what a designer should strive to be.

In Ashton Kleon’s book Show Your Work he talks about when Radiohead’s Thom Yorke was asked his greatest strength he answered:

That I dont know what I am doing

Listen to Thom

When I started this post my list of 'themes' was rather short, but as I began to think more the list grew longer and longer

..and longer.

All I can say is stay tuned for Part 2. More to come.