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10 New Year's resolutions you should have made

Abandoned your 2015 resolutions already? It's not too late to start again.

This article is written by Mike Monteiro, who will be speaking at Generate New York. Buy your ticket today!

Wake up. I hope you enjoyed your holiday because it's a new year and it's time to get back to work. We did pretty good last year. We started standing up for ourselves. We stopped working for free. We started getting our financial house in order. (Please don't make me do the contract thing again this year.) We rediscovered typography (again). And we stopped comping with lorem ipsum and started paying attention to the actual stuff we were designing for.

This year? This year's gonna be a goddamned golden age. Last year we trained. This year we fight.

01. Choose better problems to solve

Let's solve real problems with our design work

Designers are, by definition, problem-solvers. And the world has never been so blessedly full of  problems. Our infrastructure is rotting, the economy is crap, Wall Street is awash with criminals and millions of people can’t get basic medical care, food and water. We don't need another app to rate your sandwich. We don't need to know when we go to sleep and get up. We do not need digital farms. We need real ones. We need fresh water. We need solutions for the apocalypse.

Let's find problems to solve that actually improve people's lives

We have more processing power, affordable tools, and combined intelligence right this very minute than at any point in the history of design. We are using it to build shit. It's time to aim higher. Let's find problems to solve that actually improve people's lives.

 

Whether it's figuring out a better way to access medical records, figuring out how 14 year olds can stop carrying forty pounds of textbooks back and forth to school every day, or a reservation system for the communal rooftop farm in your building, there has got to be something more beneficial to society than the next Facebook clone.

02. Stop stealing crap

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against stealing. I'm against the quality of junk you're stealing.

Design is the collective knowledge of all the design that has been done before. So take advantage of how others have solved a particular problem. Learn from what they did and see if you can take it to the next evolutionary step.

Do I mean that you should literally steal their code or drop their screenshots into your own work? No. I'm telling you to be aware of and take advantage of the learning that came before you. Be aware of yourself in that timeline. And become the person who next generations will steal from.

Don't be afraid to steal, just steal the right stuff. I am old enough that my first book on how to make websites was called View Source. If we saw something cool, we viewed the source. We copied it. We tried doing it ourselves. Then we added something new to that, put it online, and somebody came along and copied that.

See Mike speak at Generate: buy your ticket today

You have not been alive that long. Design has been with us since the creation of the universe. Be aware of it, explore it, take from it and put something new into the timeline once in a while for someone else to steal. Trying to re-solve a problem that has been solved by millions of other designers without the awareness of what they did isn't just a sin of ignorance; it's a sin of ego.

03. Stop trying to save bad work

The most common question I get from designers after pointing out what is wrong with their work is, "Can I save this?"

You are not Jesus and comps aren't for saving. If something isn't working, start over. Otherwise the goal you're working towards is saving your work, not solving the problem.

Also, comps do not have feelings. You are not abandoning them. (You have no idea how much therapy that sentence took. Seriously.)

This urge comes from not wanting to feel like the time they've spent on that comp is wasted. The only possible way you can waste time is by being dishonest with yourself about its value. If you just spent an hour on a comp thinking it was working, then that was time spent honestly trying to solve a problem.

The minute you realise the comp isn't working and you start trying to "save it", you’re no longer working towards good design. You're working towards ego salvage. You gonna bill for that? That's what I mean by dishonest time.

04. Stop being your own obstacle

Stop getting in the way of your own progress

I spent the first 10 years of my career saying things like, "If I could just do this work the way I know it should be done...” and convincing myself that someone else was keeping me from making better choices. I'll often be reviewing work with another designer and they'll say, "Well, if I were doing this...” I stare back at them in astonishment until they realise what they've said. What is this strange gene that makes designers handicap themselves?

Stop designing the compromises you expect to have to make. Your fear of being wrong wins out over your fear of having to convince someone you’re right. Your client is in your head with you. Telling you to make the photo smaller, the logo bigger, paginating the multi-page article. You're choosing the typeface you think your client will like, not the one that solves the problem best.

How horrible for a client to have gone out and found a good designer and then get handed work that looks like something they would have done. Clients deserve your best work, not their best work. Really good clients, the ones I want you to work with, would rather be challenged than pandered to.

Always design the best choices. Compromises will always come later on down the road. With much argument. And after much salesmanship. But if you’re coming to the table with a compromise in hand, even before you've tried selling your best work, you'll end up losing the client’s respect – which you were so naively craving anyway.

You can't design in fear. Don't throw the fight before a punch gets thrown.

05. Blame yourself first

Blow a deadline? Miss a requirement? It happens. Raise your hand. Let everyone know it's your fault. The sooner you take responsibility for something the sooner you can start fixing it. Excuses help no one. Everyone respects the person who can admit their mistakes. No one respects the weasel trying to pin the blame on their teammates.

This year, everything will be your fault. It'll feel good.

Next page: five more New Year's resolutions you should have made...

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