Quick recipe for improving designer’s motivation

Quick recipe for improving designer’s motivation
Photo by Miguel Bruna

"How do you feel about this project?" is a typical question that I ask when I notice when someone in my team doesn't perform as expected. "It's good. I like it" is the answer I hear pretty often. Sometimes people say that because they don't want to discuss their emotional state, others are afraid that any other response will lead to penalties. But designers who don't enjoy their work create a significant problem both for themselves and the team they work with.

Building a bond with a person is by far the most important goal that a design manager should do. Today I want to share a few tips that will help you improve your designer's motivation. This article is more like a reflection on the problem based on my own experience.

Know what activities make a designer happy

"Happy designer, happy user" is a phrase I like to say. I firmly believe that it's possible to convey emotions via design. And when you are tired of what you do regularly, your users will feel your unhappiness.

It's vital to select activities for designers that will put them in the right mood. Ideally, designers should enter a state of flow while they work on a product. It is a state when their mind is fully immersed in a selected activity. The product design process feels like playing a game in the flow state, and you stop tracking time.

The thing is—different people like different activities. Some designers like to spend hours creating low-fidelity concepts; others love pushing pixels to create a pixel-perfect design. If you manage a team, you have to learn more about the people you work with and their personal preferences. Create portraits of your team (learn about what they like/dislike about the project and their activities).

Know in what activities a designer shines

What we love to do and what we have to do usually aren’t the same things. Typically, a designer is interested in activities that will help them learn new things. But finding interesting and relevant tasks is never easy.

What I like to do vs What I have to do. Image by Nick Babich.

If you have to give designers various types of tasks, ensure that most tasks are from the "love" group. I recommend using the Pareto principle, 80% of work is what a person loves to do, and 20% of tasks they have to do. This principle will help you prevent designers from facing emotional burnout.

Applying the Pareto principle to task management. Image by Nick Babich.

Selecting the 20% tasks can be tricky. Ideally, it would be best to choose tasks that will help designers gain new valuable skills.

Clearly describe the role and responsibilities

"What is my role on this project?" is a typical question a designer asks when they join a new team. If management does not properly describe the role and responsibilities, designers have to learn it themselves. The problem is—not everything that a designer will learn will be true. It can be frustrating for a designer to hear management expect a different outcome from his work. Thus, try to prevent that from happening in the first place by offering good onboarding. You need to conduct a greeting meeting with a team, introduce a new member to the team, and explain the person responsible for.

Don’t push or distract designers

When it comes to product design, faster is not always better. Pushing designers is a sure way to turn them against you. You need to learn the pace at which team members typically work and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Using too much micromanagement is one of the key mistakes that design managers make. While micromanagement is not bad per se, and this technique can work in specific contexts, it's recommended to avoid using it as a general practice. Why? Because it will distract many designers from the state of flow and alienate many of them.

Help designers get out of the dead-end

Dead-end is a situation where a designer has already spent a lot of time solving a task yet is unable to find a solution. Facing a dead-end is by far the most emotionally exhausting part of the design journey. It's a moment when designers are most fragile and start to doubt their skills. It's a perfect moment to support your team members. By helping designers get out of the dead-end, you build a strong bond with them.

Make designers feel a part of the team

Design is a team sport, and it's essential to create conditions that will help designers feel like they're part of the team. In solid teams, team players care for each other since they know that it's impossible to achieve solid results while working alone. Team spirit plays a tremendous role in motivation. Sometimes designers don't want to leave a company because they have a strong connection with their team. The design manager should create conditions that will help the designer feel that the team appreciates them and values their work.

Help designers to see the results of their work

My friends who work at large tech companies usually complain that they cannot see the impact of their work. When you don't see your work's impact, you start to doubt whether your work is valuable or not. Managers need to remind designers about the importance of their work. It can be as easy as showing how the interfaces they create are used and appreciated by end-users.