“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Career path – knowing what you need

Recently, I’ve hit a situation where I had to really think about my current skills and my current abilities in terms of my career and I think I have some lessons learned for folks.

At my current employer, Motorola Enterprise Mobility, my boss left. All for good reasons and under good terms. Sometimes people have to move on. But it left me without that one person who was really guiding me. Understanding everything I do, and able to engage my work at a level that I haven’t had in my career previously. I’ve always been the “big wig” in UX design wherever I was previously. So of course, my company (see previous post) is looking to replace my former boss (he is irreplaceable though).

Many including myself have asked, “Why don’t you take the position, Dave?”

And thus begins the lessons learned.

Lessons learned
1. Management has many facets and just because you are good at what you do it doesn’t mean that are really ready for all that goes into managing a group, and a collection of humans who are also good at what you do.

I would go further to say that not everyone is actually management material. There are other growth opportunities, especially if you see growth meaning “more money” or “more respect” or “more responsibility/accountability”.

I have been a manager on 2 separate occassions and while I feel I directed my direct reports well to turn out good designs using their own ideas and energy, I don’t think I managed them as human beings particularly well and to be honest i really don’t like managing human resources all that much.

2. Know your limitations and know what is really needed
I really feel that despite my command of theory and critique, and my ability to conceptualize and connect, I’m actually not a great designer. It’s a big thing to admit to oneself, but an important thing to realize (if it is true).

Of course, a statement like that is laden with “what is a designer?” So I guess, I’ll go there for a moment. To me a designer is someone who can at the appropriate level of details at any moment not only conceive of great ideas, but also communicate those ideas by modeling the ideas through form. Yup, I said form. Interaction while theoretically can be articulated without form, it cannot be communicated without embodiment.

What does this mean for me?
I’m a good HTML prototyper and I have basic Flash and now Blend skills, but none of them can make up for my lack of visual design skills. Yup! You HAVE TO know visual design as a craft person and not just theory in order to really be a great (manager/director level) interaction designer. Prototyping is a great nice to have because it gives you control, but a good manager can higher that skillset in if they evangelize prototyping well enough.

So until I’m really able to pull off the kind of visual communication necessary to make my point without silly distractions, I don’t think it really makes sense for me to step up into a manager or director position yet.

Thought leadership, a role I revel in, is all well and good, but it is not a position from which one can take on true leadership of a design group.

So a SmartExperience.org class I would appreciate is Visual Design Studio for interaction designers. Maybe someone like James Spar can teach it? James? I can’t go to college at this stage in my life and most continuing ed programs teach Photoshop. They don’t teach you want your should do with it.

So for now, i’m passing on the management of UX position at Motorola Enterprise Mobility. And I’m confident it is the right decision.

I do think that if I went to grad school in Industrial Design like I thought to do (as my followers may remember) about 3 years ago, I would be ready to NOW take on this role. Of course, now 3 years later and with a baby and a wife in grad school, going to get my masters is not in the cards right now.

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