This is a confession. I have come to dread parts of my work day lately, and this is no fault of anyone at Sift. (I continue to think that everyone there are all kinds of amazing.) I think I need to get a new set of metrics for how to evaluate my work, and a new way of feeling about it. And I am not there yet.
Here’s the backstory. Sift Science is a start up, and like other start ups it is in a constant state of brokenness. We try things, and sometimes it even works. Indeed part of the enterprise is trying to figure out what works as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
This forces compromises. Compromises that designers (read: me) tend to be uncomfortable with, like shipping UI before it is ready, and showing unpolished work to get early customer feedback. In my recent meetings with Jason (the CEO) and Sripad (the PM), they have both consistently emphasized that we need to just get the work out there. When I am in those meetings, I agree with them. The purpose of getting the work out there is to learn which of our assumptions are right, and which of the assumptions are wrong.
The purpose is not to ship “good, polished work” – work that I like, or work that other designers like.
This week we had a product and business team demo session, where Sripad and I showed the business team the mocks and designs that I have been working on. The business team at Sift work with our customers day in and day out, and they know well what the customers’ asks are, and how the customers perceive our product.
Naturally, the business team had lots of questions, and many suggestions. This being the Sift team, they had lots of good questions and good suggestions.
I felt like shit. Many of the questions they raised were questions I knew about, but have not had time to address. Many other questions were ones I never (and probably could never have) anticipated. Both types of questions made me feel like I was not doing my job.
And then I felt angry. If only I had more time to work on these designs, these questions wouldn’t come up, because I would have addressed them already. These mocks are really rough, and are not at all representative of what’s going to be the final product anyway.
I felt silly after that. That’s what this whole meeting is about. Feedback is the source of good work, even if they are a tough pill to swallow at the time. So I move on with my day, trying to get rough designs out quickly to stay ahead of engineering.
The feelings don’t go away though. “Move Fast and Break Things” is a mantra in the start up world. The idea is when you break things, you learn things, things that are valuable to the team, the product and the company.
But when you break things, you feel bad, and feelings are real. Today I went to a meeting with the PM which I dreaded the whole time, even as I nodded in agreement to the aggressive deadline I am putting myself under. This weekend, I am going to do design work that I am not going to completely happy with, in order for us to ship the next iteration of the UI, and continue our journey in learning and growing the product. I am going to do work that’s not my best work, and the company will be better for it. The ironic things is, if I insist on doing my “best” work, the product will probably be worse off in the long run.
All of this I believe is right, but feels wrong.
So where does this leave me? Frankly, for now, I think I just have to suck it up. In the longer term, I need to associate my feelings not with whether I am doing good “design” work, but whether I am learning to build a better product, and whether I am making our customers successful.
For my own sanity though, I must confess, I am moving fast, breaking things, and feeling bad about it. And the next thing I need to break is my overly narrow conception of what it means to be a “good” designer.
And, frankly, parts of my ego too.
p.s. Jason, Sripad – if you’re reading this, don’t freak out. I promise I am sticking around.