Seeking out differences and changing

If you’ve ever had to do anything moderately hard over a long period of time, failed at it, tried again, found some success, failed at it, tried again, and so on, looping on and on, you’ve probably in some way gone back to your first principles. Those foundational building blocks that lie deep beneath any project of any merit whether it’s trying to learn something really hard, build something really big, or strike out in some new frontier you’ve never gone into. “Just how the heck am I going to do this super hard thing? What’s really going to get me there? I mean, really going to get me there, when everything just seems nuts.” Principles are important.

We’ve been building out a design system for and as part of that effort we’ve dug deep into ourselves and our work to draft out some foundational principles. One of these draft principles is this: “Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.” This is a good one. It reminds me a lot of the first line of our Automattic Creed: “I will never stop learning.” (Check out the hyperlinks on that page for more on what that can mean.)

Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.

I’ve lived that principle recently as a designer at Automattic. I had the chance to meet, so to speak, via video calls over Zoom with small business owners in the United States and to follow along with interviews, and data from those interviews, of many, many more Small Business Owners. I’ve heard from Individuals who have started to put themselves out there, on their own, with skill and effort, to make a go of building up something bigger than themselves. People who are holding down a 40-hour a week day job while seemingly putting in another 40 hours on top of that with their own thing. (I don’t know when they sleep.) And people who have everything humming along in a finely tuned machine.

What have I learned? These people are different than me. I thought I knew something about their lives and I think I’m naturally a curious individual — but no one is ever as curious as they think they are. Getting a chance to hear from real people, learning about their lives, that effort will change you. As a designer, someone whose job it is to help shape product decisions in concert with colleagues, that changing effort is invaluable. It allows you to start to think like another person. It allows you, backed by research, to see the outcome of decisions made through the eyes of someone else. That’s a force multiplier. You want to seek those out.

It’s worth making that effort in your life and relationships. Definitely in your work. Especially if you’re a designer. Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference. Get out there.


By Ian Stewart