Anonymous interview 3


What frustrates you most about your job?

Lack of awareness and understanding from leadership: I rarely have visibility into how priorities are determined. ICs are constantly advocating for foundational work to enable us to build new XYZ thing in the future, but instead we are forced to continue putting bandaids on everything. Foundational, critical work that isn’t very visible is usually done in secret by ICs.

Random politics: Since leadership lacks awareness and are usually out of touch with the craft, ICs get hit with random requests to explain the value of their work (which means less time to do the actual work) which gets fed up a chain never to be seen again.

Why do you think things have got to this point?

I think it’s the result of a period of growth followed by a few rounds of layoffs. Also cultural changes, like more of a focus on process, planning and OKRs. Promotions became more difficult which lead to individuals working on things that look sparkly for promotion instead of pushing for more useful projects.

What could be changed to make these problems go away?

More trust from leadership in senior designers. Trust that giving them a quarter or two to work on foundations will improve the long term success of the team. And actually commit to giving them that space rather than overloading their plates with random fires to put out.

Place more value (promotions/monetary) on team players who prioritize projects that benefit the whole team instead of their own agenda. Incentivize quality work over fast, sloppy (but shiny) work.

Make quarterly planning a team activity instead of top-down.

What frustrates you most about the design community?

The online design community can be hard to navigate, especially for someone just getting into design. I see a lot of repetitive conversations about conventions, design tools, frustrations with engineers… if that is the only content the algorithm is feeding someone, they might miss out on other areas worth exploring. Some people write design content purely for engagement, and that muddies the waters. I’ve met early stage designers at meetups who seem to place too much value on these areas most likely because they lack experience, but also because it’s the kind of content they see online regularly.

I don’t personally find value in following conversations about how to name color variables in Figma, or how to create some unrealistic interaction for a design artifact. I like to see real-world observations about interface design, and conversations about how people work together.

Do you have any cynical beliefs or techniques that have helped you in your career, but that you wouldn’t want to admit to?

Sometimes you have to work around people, even people above you. If you’re struggling to communicate through a stakeholder or your manager, find the right people to talk to directly. Talk to your manager’s manager. I’m not saying to go to these people and complain or burn bridges, just get your point across about the work you’re doing and offer to answer any questions they have directly. Make sure they feel like they can come to you directly with future questions.

This one is more cynical… depending on your organization, you may have to decide what’s most important to you: a promotion, or doing the right thing. The right work to do might be invisible and not work well for advocating for a promotion. But the promotion worthy work might be problematic, like creating a bunch of design debt or problems for your peers to clean up because you were on a timeline. I don’t really know what the answer is here, because not everyone can ignore promotions and raises. And I don’t think someone is “bad” for prioritizing promotions. I think the organization is bad for incentivizing certain kinds of work over others.

I can see the emotional case for doing the right thing. Is there also a cynical case for it? Do you get a long-term practical benefit?

I think there’s practical benefit, yes. Here’s a few reasons:

Build trust: Pushing for work that you believe in should (hopefully) positively impact your reputation. Your peers can trust that you’re looking at the work critically and that you will work towards a good solution. People will want to keep working with you because you demonstrate how being a team player still benefits your own personal career.

Avoid burnout: If you’re someone who is passionate about your work, the fastest way to burnout is to do work you don’t believe in. Some people can still be happy just going through the motions (nothing wrong with that) but if that’s not you, then it’s better for your career to push to work on things that you think will have the most impact.

And if things don’t work out in your current role, you have much more content to speak to as you interview for other roles. You can talk about your own perspective on what kind of work should be prioritized. See how people react to your ideas and ideally you’ll find a team that shares a similar perspective.