Subverted Design(

over 5 years ago from Joel Califa, Senior Product Designer at GitHub

  • Samantha S, over 5 years ago

    Thank you for articulating what's been on my mind for quite a while now.

    "With that choice, project goals became increasingly centered around company needs rather than user needs. Our language changed to better communicate with stakeholders. Words like "polish” and “value” gave way to “adoption” or “engagement” or “platform cohesion.” It’s laughably easy to rationalize that these things are good for users too."

    I’m trying to understand how anyone managed to convince us that becoming more senior meant caring about users less.

    I think it all stems from biases in human psychology, such as being agreeable and easy to work with will get you further with product dev stakeholders than being perceived as hard to work with and a bottleneck for product development to ship on time.

    Working at a for profit company where shareholders/investors and executive leadership have perverse interests (C.R.E.A.M), your paycheck rests on the fact that you can prove your value in generating more revenue than if they did not hire you.

    Designers who are more senior can go toe to toe with MBA goons and explain in their business school speak (e.g. adoption, engagement, retention, etc) cause this speaks to the business' return on investment on a per project basis and largely justifies keeping a designer "resource" on payroll along with mitigating liability (i.e. accessibility CYA type stuff) otherwise your design work would have just been outsourced to the lowest bidder. Seniors need to be able to speak in terms of vision/ roadmap/strategy and that requires business acumen and playing the political silo'd corp game. They risk their seat at the table if they can't balance user needs with business metrics being tracked by the powers that be.

    Green/junior designers cant speak the language of business or just lack visibility/allies in the political aspects of big silo'd orgs to make their case for design vision or strategy. They are focused on leveling up and designing with their rose colored glasses until they've paid their dues and learn how to play the political game in their company and justify their worth to the decision makers paying their salary... so you can leave your soul sucking corp gig promptly at 5pm and get on with your life... cause your job as a designer is actually making some 1% shareholders filthy rich unless you start your own company.


    TL:DR at the end of the day, a business is in business to make money and your livelihood depends on proving you can do this through ensuring an easy to use, thoughtfully designed product which allows more people to use the product and ultimately generates more $$profits$$ for shareholders. The users never mattered and we are just lining the pockets of the 1% shareholders/executives. Maybe AI will make us irrelevant in the coming year when developers are replaced by machine learning and we are replaced by computer generated style guides and pattern libraries?

    I need a drink, also if anyone knows of any fulfilling design work I'm listening, seriously burnt out of the enterprise corp game. Any veteran designers please chime in and tell me it gets better, haven't even started a family yet.

    27 points
    • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, over 5 years ago

      This comment is very real. Hit me up and I'll help however I can.

      7 points
      • Samantha S, over 5 years ago

        for sure, thanks for writing this piece, it's definitely worth discussing further. Hit me up if you are ever discussing this further somewhere or just expanding on the piece, I'd love to join in on the convo and am literally bursting with thoughts on the topic daily.

        0 points
        • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, over 5 years ago

          I sent out a follow-up this week this weekend via newsletter. If you sign up you should get access to the archives :)

          1 point
    • Earl CarlsonEarl Carlson, over 5 years ago

      I don't disagree with a lot of what you're saying here and a lot of the same notions nearly drove me out of the tech industry in the first place. Essentially as soon as a company takes venture funding they are looped into a vicious cycle where they have to continually grow.

      There is a lot of satisfying design work needed in the world, and some of the same skill sets we use in our day to day to prove our worth in these institutions can also be used to prove worth in other areas. I'm not there yet, but I've got a few friends that are making a serious go at it, and I hope to soon as well. There's a lot of NGO's that could use the "design thinking" that we've crafted over the years.

      Now that being said we will probably not get that sweet tech salary, so if then we have to weigh those, what's more important some money in my pocket, or feeling like I'm contributing positively in the world?


      In all seriousness though, thanks for sharing <3 It's better that we are starting to talk about it.

      4 points
      • Samantha S, over 5 years ago

        I'm relatively young (late 20's), these are just some of my observations and thoughts on the subject. Glad I could have resonated with fellow designers and that I'm not just crazy for thinking what I do :)

        0 points
    • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, over 5 years ago

      I believe we're all being way too hard on ourselves in a lot of situations.

      Our way of assessing ourselves is by abusing impossible-to-meet standards, by turning them into the holy goal of goals.

      Anecdotal analogy: I play basketball. I'm on a pretty solid team. Amateur level, but we carved up several competitions around the city for two years in a row. Am I in the NBA? Hah. No way. I'm an overweight guard/forward with a suspect lefty. Could I beat a 54 year old Michael Jordan? Not even when I was in my prime. Am I proud as fuck that of the game where I single-handedly outscored the opposing team? You betcha.

      Back to work;

      Yesterday, I hacked together a landing page with WordPress. It's not ideal on mobile, and I won't be able to reuse much of the code. However, I also designed and built an email campaign, and slapped that into Campaign Monitor. And did images for our social media outlets for the coming few weeks that tie into the campaign.

      On my own. In a day.

      Is it the world's best campaign? No. Is it going to out-shine the multi-million-dollar campaign made by that famous agency? Hell naw... but is it going to sell within our market? You betcha.

      You HAVE to judge yourself not by your losses, but by your wins. Count your achievements within the context of your capabilities and resources.

      0 points