What do you do when, three weeks into your internship, you are given the task of redesigning a dropdown menu for a site that’s about to be launched?
My knee-jerk reaction was to simply “jump on it.” “Jumping on it” was a term used copiously at my last job. What it meant was to dispatch the task as quickly, smoothly and decisively as possible.
So, following my usual approach, I skipped Photoshop, slapped down some CSS and HTML, and showed the results to my mentor. He was not sold.
“Um, this looks unresolved to me.”
My first job out of college, I learned a lot of things. Things like, in the Real World, you don’t have the luxury of taking 6 weeks to “refine” a design to perfection. That if clients don’t want to pay for more than 2 revisions, don’t do them. That if you can get away with just one revision, by all means go for it.
These “lessons” made good business sense. And in truth, most of my lessons in my 2 years at my last job were to do with business: how to write diplomatic emails to clients, how to track and bill my hours, how to juggle projects, etc. But before long, business and logistics soon came to define how I worked. Which isn’t a good thing for a designer who wants to get better at, well, design.
And business and logistics were the reasoning behind this default working mode called “jumping on it.” When you are at a company that bills projects based on the amount of time a project is expected to take, it’s in your best interests to try and “beat” that estimated time span so you earn more. Spending hours perfecting and tweaking, and doing concept after concept in the name of exhaustiveness, just didn’t jibe with this modus operandi.
So over the months, I jumped on things, over and over again, until it became MY default way of doing design.
After a month of interning here, I’ve been slowly learning that “jumping on it” isn’t the only way that design gets done in the real world Real World (surprise surprise). There happen to be companies out there that care more about quality than business. I’m lucky to be at one of them this summer.
What of the drop-down that I had to design? I spent the next 8 hours designing the darn thing. Not just because I did not want to face the wrath of mentor Mike, but because I wanted to get back into being a Good Designer again. Not just an Effective Businessperson.
Life is short. People are busy. We all have grand ambitions, and there are always too many things to do. So it’s easy to forget that expertise really only comes with spending time on stuff. Not taking shortcuts, not speeding through it, not “jumping,” but walking, sometimes even slowing to a hands-and-knees investigative crawl.
This is the summer to unlearn some bad habits. From here on out, I’m making a note to myself: it’s okay to take it slow.