“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
The biggest advantage of starting something new is a fresh perspective, whether it be a new job, a new hobby, or traveling to a new country for the first time. You have fresh eyes and are curious about everything. But, not knowing anything can often leave you feeling uncomfortable and out of your depth. I recently joined Automattic as a Product Designer and I experienced this feeling over the last few months.
For the first 3 weeks after joining, every new employee works with the WordPress.com support team. You spend time answering tickets and talking to customers over live chat. You face a wide range of questions on many different topics so it keeps you on your toes. As soon as I started to feel a little confidence, I would encounter a question I had never seen before and the panic would set back in. I would feel frustrated when things that I thought should be easy would take me down a long rabbit hole.
Not knowing the answers was an uncomfortable experience, but it gave me so much insight into the day to day challenges our customers are facing. As a new user, I was able to approach each of the questions from their eyes and understand the points they struggled with by getting stuck in the same ways.
A few weeks after my support rotation I volunteered to help with the Miami chapter of an event called Rebrand Cities. Rebrand cities is an initiative to help get 10,000 small businesses online across cities in the United States. Each volunteer paired up with a small business owner and had the task of developing a website in 2 hours. We started with a 30-minute call where we learned more about their goals, and what they hoped to achieve with their website. This conversation was inspiring and got me excited to see what I could come up with.
This was the first website I had built from scratch on WordPress.com and it turned out to be extremely challenging. I struggled with the website customizer tool and the result was disappointing. I had built many websites in the past and assumed it would be a piece of cake, but it left me feeling defeated. Through this challenge, I was able to put myself in our users’ shoes once more and relate with their difficulties.
The theme that has stuck with me throughout these experiences is the feeling of being uncomfortable when I didn’t have the answers. Not having the answers helped me empathize with the people I was trying to help, as I felt the same frustrations they face every day.
We should seek out more of these uncomfortable experiences, approach them with curiosity, and start to fill more gaps in our understanding. As designers, we assume a lot based on past experiences and established patterns, but it’s important to step back and get a fresh perspective every now and then.
Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.
Photo by John-Mark Smith