“That’s me in the spotlight”: Vulnerability + Design


I saw a trailer recently for the Netflix show Song Exploder and as a lover of music documentaries, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it till now so I immediately opened up Netflix and searched for it to check it out. Music documentaries are one of my favorite genres of TV to watch because they allow viewers to see their favorite artists delve into why they made certain decisions with the music that they have created and how they brought their songs to life. The first episode that caught my eye was the episode about “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. Released in 1991, that song transcends time and is just a fantastic song all around so I immediately pressed play. During the episode, the band explains that they had already had 6 albums under their belt and they just wanted to make a record that didn’t sound like anything else they had made up to that point. Guitarist Peter Buck says they wanted to “make a record that’s going to destroy our career and it’ll be cool” and then they would just keep making records after that. I don’t know about you, but that’s the type of badass attitude I live for and I love to see it!

And it’s not that the band didn’t care about anyone’s opinion of what kind of record they were making, they wanted to take the risk of putting music out there that would push themselves to become the musicians they wanted to be in a fully realized way. Turned out that doing so catapulted them from a band with a cult following to one of the biggest bands on earth at the time so I’d say it was pretty worth it!

I can think of a time not too long ago where I was working on a second iteration of a project that I had first worked on after joining Ncontracts. Based on customer feedback, we decided there needed to be some updating to the UI. However, when I started reworking what we already had, I came to the conclusion that we needed to basically redesign what this feature looked like. No one told me that was what we should do but I just started exploring a different way this could look. And then the feeling of doubt comes over me where I’m like

I eventually finished the new design and I remember asking Ryan (Director of Product Design), “does this design make any sense?!” Eventually from there I socialized the design to others until one day Bill Davis (Director of Product Management) pulled me aside and was like “Hey, this new design is right on the money and is going to address so many of the pain points our customers are having with this particular feature!”. Just that moment was enough for me to see that maybe going off the deep end is not so bad!

But that’s only one moment out of so many other moments that didn’t go so well. And one thing I’ve struggled with is realizing that I’ll probably fall short at times and I have to accept that. Brené Brown, author and queen of vulnerability, says, “you measure [vulnerability] by the amount of courage to show up and be seen when you can’t control the outcome.” It’s hard when you think you’ve done your best and it wasn’t enough but to not take the risk at all would be so much worse even if it leads to a bad outcome because there will be lessons learned in the end. There are many times where I want to retreat and just not push myself but a) that’s not who I am and b) that would never lead to anything great.

As a designer, not only do I feel like I owe it to myself to be vulnerable for my personal sake, but I owe it to our customers to be vulnerable with my work. One quote that has made its way around the Research & Development department is “don’t let perfect get in the way of good”. I feel like one way to take that would be to not be afraid of putting an idea out there, however good we feel about it, and see how users react to it. If not, you’ll never know when you have a hit on your hands!