What I’m celebrating 🎉, learning 🎓, and finding challenging 🚧 this month.
🎉 Something I’m celebrating:
- Stepping out of my comfort zone and joining a self defence class organised by Opencast (Yep, we are still hiring!). And enjoying it. A lifetime lived in a body that doesn’t do what others do makes this very much an achievement.
- Great conversations about design, work, the world. There were too many to mention — written, spoken, videocalled, and voicemessaged. I learn and grow through connection. I am so grateful for the creatives and designers in my life who keep inspiring and challenging me. And I’m celebrating myself for building and nurturing these connections.
- Giving a guest lecture to postgraduate students at The Glasgow School of Art on prototyping in the real world. When I started in design, I did not consider this a strength. I worried about my ability to create prototypes, work visually, listen to feedback, and adapt my designs quickly. Today I’m proud to look back on how much I have learnt, and how much this has become second nature.
🎓 Something I’m learning:
Hope is a discipline. This is a quote from the wonderful Mariame Kaba. I’m learning that this applies not only to hope but also to belonging and rest. I have known for a long time that all three are vital to my work and wellbeing. Absolutely not a ‘nice to have when things are good’. Now I’m discovering that while they are feelings, they are not passive. I don’t have to sit here waiting to feel hope, belonging, or rest to set in by magic.
Here’s how I find them in my everyday:
- Professional belonging and connection. My personal version of impostor syndrome is thinking I don’t belong and don’t deserve taking up space. This is a long-term coping strategy I developed to protect myself, my wellbeing, and my sanity. So thank you inner impostor for continuing to offer your help. It’s no longer necessary though. And it gets in the way of feeling confident, connected, and part of something. Which I need to, it’s how I learn, how I design, how I find resilience. And what brings me joy and meaning in my everyday work. So I’m learning to invite myself. To show up. To be visible. To notice when I feel belonging, and to trust this feeling. It’s work in progress.
Much of this progress is thanks to Upfront. I would recommend any woman and non-binary person to join the upcoming Upfront Bond 7. Also, I detest the term ‘impostor syndrome’, but used it for lack of a better word. Here’s why: Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome. This is a topic for another day, but let’s all stop locating issues in individuals while ignoring the power structures we all live in.
- Rest. I have been learning a lot about this for the past months and years. It’s connected to struggling with belonging, and my flawed attempts to earn this feeling. You cannot earn belonging, but you can get exhausted trying! When I look around the design community and how we work, rest sounds like a radical act. Especially if you are a woman, disabled, and an immigrant (see above under no more ignoring power structures please!). Resting is also easier said than done. Apart from the obvious pressures that can make it difficult, what does it actually mean to rest? What do you do? How do you do it? Does it always look the same? Does it have to feel a certain way? Is rest an activity or a quality? Is it still rest if you only do it to prepare for more work? Is it still work if it feels energising joyful? Can you be too tired to rest? I promised you learnings and instead I’ve thrown lots of questions at you. I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m working on it. And I’m learning that we all need to figure this out — for ourselves, our profession and our communities. Start with this excellent talk on recognising and avoiding burnout from my Opencast colleague Jill Evans.
- Hope. When I look around the design community, I see a lot of tiredness, frustration, and burn out. And a lot of criticism of jobs, companies, the whole industry, and of each other. Much of this is entirely justified. We are tired of talking about being human-centred or planet-centred when we work in systems where this is out of reach. Where our skills are used to recreate privilege, power, and injustice, and it feels like there’s no escape. There is plenty to find fault with, but also plenty to hope for. Hope for me comes in conversations with bright and creative people who want to do the right thing. This is a transition, and we have to figure out how design can be a force for good in society. But looking around the intelligence, creativity, and passion in this community makes me believe that we have the right people for the challenge!
🚧 Something I’m finding challenging:
- Finding ways to rest that actually amount to rest. Feeling ridiculous because I find it difficult to figure out rest.
- Making sense of post-2020 workdays. Most consist of an overload of screentime, messages, and calls. I enjoy the work I do, and the people I work with. So I don’t know if it is the context switching, the screen time, the sitting (and being hopeless at maintaining good posture)… But it can be so difficult to maintain energy. And to create time for creativity, collaboration, reflection. All that’s going on is there to support work but gets in the way instead, and can leave me completely drained at the end of a workday. Thankfully, there are antidotes, such as those inspiring conversations and people I mentioned earlier!
- Inclusion theatre. If you have watched season 1 of ‘design theatre’ in your organisation of choice, this is the hot new follow up! Jokes aside. Ethics, accessibility, and inclusion have become huge buzzwords in the design community. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, a lot of this turns into nothing more than a performance. We want to show we’re the good ones and in tune with these discussions, but at best we end up masking exclusion and harm. I actually have a lot of sympathy for this conundrum. Perfectionism and everyone blaming each other for what are systemic issues is not my jam. It is extremely difficult to deliver on inclusion and ethics. And it is rarely fair to hold individuals responsible for (not) doing so in a system geared to perpetuate injustice. Still, inclusion theatre cannot be the way forward. We can learn and talk about the structures that stop us from translating good intentions and values into action. And celebrate each other’s small wins, even when we all know they are not enough — yet.