I often receive emails from other creatives looking for career advice. I suppose it’s due to my habit of sharing strong opinions all over the internet. Or maybe it’s because I’m not afraid to get a little vulnerable online as well, especially in my private newsletter.
Whatever the reason, I can’t answer every email with as much detail and thought as I’d like or my day would be consumed with writing emails.
Yet there are times when someone asks a particularly pertinent question that might later inspire an article on this blog. While I would usually speak broadly about it, I thought I would try something new and start answering a few emails more directly here. This seemed like a good place to start:
I’m head of design / cd for a consumer-product focused on AR. As our team sprints to hit deadlines, I’m observing corners being cut and the product quality decreasing. After designing the experience, it’s hard to not want to control all assets of the app. I’d love to learn new tools and tricks to help with quality but I just don’t have the capacity. Observing the loss in quality makes me lose interest in the project entirely. Any recommendations on how to see through this or pave a positive pathway?
P.S. Having a lead role requires a strong level of emotional intelligence, so I don’t freak out on the team - but honestly, a part of me is losing it inside.
When I worked at a large tech company, I learned to accept a lot was out of my control. I could spend weeks on a design only to see it carried away on waves of politics and process. I might not see the final result until months later. Sometimes, I never saw the result at all. It would be researched and re-designed by committee until it became something else entirely or died a silent death before launch. This wasn’t always the case, of course. But when you work in a large company with hundreds of employees, it’s just part of the game. You can see yourself as having zero control or you could see it as contributing to a larger whole. It all depends on the day, your communication skills, politics and often just pure persistence and stamina.
No matter the company or your position in it, however, it's still possible to influence the team and final result. As the head of design / creative director, you have more control than others. But even an intern can change the course of the project.
We can apply the Broken Window theory in this scenario. If the quality of work is low or there are many "broken windows," it will lead to more broken windows and in turn, loss of motivation. Quality will continue to decline despite good intentions. So many cracks and missing pieces exist already – what's a few more? The only way to break this cycle is to start fixing the windows. You can't necessarily do this in a day. But by slowly improving quality, piece by piece, momentum will increase and motivation will follow.
Start small and keep it simple as you fix the broken windows. Schedule half a day with your developer to go through the product and clean up the UX or fix bugs. A lot of work can get done with four hours of dedicated time between two people. When you're finished, schedule another half day to tackle another list. A half day at a time, you will clean up the product and see the potential that excited you at the beginning of the project.
Now that I work on my own product, I feel more control over the end result. However, I still face deadlines and see cut corners, and I still work with a team who is responsible for their own work. Most days, I feel proud of what we do. Other days, I know we could do better. On those days, I can choose between throwing my hands up and admitting defeat, or I can encourage my team to start fixing the broken windows.
I also choose my battles. Every element of every project will not be perfect. It’s better to accept that than waste energy lamenting every imperfection you will inevitably find and letting that defeat you. Instead, use your energy on the most important aspects of the project that are within your control. The beauty of working in the digital space, as I do, is that we can almost always improve on the product after launch. It sounds like that may be the case for your line of work too. Even if it’s not, you can learn from the project and bring it up to your team before starting the next one. No matter your position in the company, role on the team, knowledge or expertise, you can also strive to be useful. It’s better than standing by or resigning to the feeling of helplessness.
If you are constantly feeling uninspired or unmotivated about the work your company is producing, perhaps you need to reevaluate what you want and where you want to be. Despite the occasional exceptions or disappointments, I respect and trust my team immensely. Feeling proud of our work is of utmost importance to me. If the work consistently fell short to the point where it became a pattern, or if I looked at all the projects we produced with a sense of disappointment, I would know something is wrong. I would evaluate my part in the problem and solution, have the honest conversations I need to have, consider the ways I could better support my team or find a new one.