Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Happy New Year, 2017

Just wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on 2016 and think about what's upcoming in 2017...

I think we (tech in general, I suppose) have finally gotten to the point where people are realizing that there is value to be had in design. More people than ever before are actually seriously considering, "When is the right time in the lifecycle of my product for me to bring in a designer?" Of course I would think that the answer is "from the beginning," but there are also times in which the technology itself has to be proven out before design can even begin. And then there's also the time when the team is just so heads down delivering functionality to their desperate users that design falls by the wayside.

The role I'm in at Netflix was originally supposed to be focused on assisting a single team. During the interview process, based on feedback and discussion, this role was expanded to include a handful of teams creating internal tools under my manager's purview. Over time, engineers and PMs creating all sorts of internal-facing tools came to me for design consulting, spending a short amount of time providing context about what their users were trying to do with their tool, how it was supposed to work, and what they wanted it to do. (I never thought about this before until a couple of coworkers pointed it out -- apparently I can understand how systems work quite quickly, which is what enables me to do this ad-hoc consulting.)

Looking back, I've provided design feedback and critique to quite a few people in the company. And of course, once you do a good job, they'll want you to do more. I'm at the point now where I'm not only designing for those teams I was originally tasked with, but also looking at taking on more responsibilities with more teams that need a lot more design help than I could give in a simple 1-hour consultation.

It's a lot of responsibility, frankly. I'm faced with the reality that I won't be able to devote quite as much time to the teams that I had focused on previously at a strategic and business level. I've been told that I need to give other people the chance to step up, for me to step back so that I refocus my energy elsewhere. I'm struggling with figuring out how to pull back while not producing unsatisfactory design work. It's going to be an exercise in communication for sure, but I find myself reinvigorated by the prospect of tackling new tools that solve new problems that I haven't been exposed to before.

It's funny. As a designer on internal tools, I don't get the benefit of "showing off" to people all the cool new pretty designs I made that do all these cool things and have neat interactions. Instead, I've got workhorse tools that get the job done as simply as possible. Is it sexy? Hell no. But is it useful? Oh yeah. That's indisputable. It's not glamorous, but it's fulfilling. I almost feel like I'm cheating sometimes, though. I get to have a captive user base who I can talk to and get feedback from whenever I want. Sure, they're sometimes demanding, but they're also reasonable and forthcoming and eager to make the product better.

Anyway. Enough musing for an evening.