This first episode of the “Redesign in the open” of my portfolio and services was introduced in March by a first post and covers the initial exploration part
I started my own “design of the self” process in December 2015 through a talk given at an IxDA Lyon meetup. Through the definition of an “objective / purpose”, I then found a way to make it easier to present my work and services to new clients as well as decision making around my online identity. I matured the process a little more one year later with “Designing the self” given at BlendWebMix. I figured out the process could be easily applied to many situations, be it for persons or companies.
But it is a different story when you want to design yourself and your public image. I have started this process again last March and I will try to relate its intricacies here with you.
It is not comfortable to design oneself. In order to decide how you want to appear to the world, you first have to confront yourself with your reality and go through its inventory. Depending on where you are in your life, this can be more or less pleasant.
I am clearly on the “less pleasant” side these days. I have been plateau-ing for the past few months and I am now looking at the next step to climb without being able to distinguish its top. Since I chose to become a freelancer two years ago, my services and clients have changed from top to bottom. So did my ambitions, methods and design philosophy. Looking back at what I was doing through my years in design agencies, not much is left. I barely do graphic design anymore to focus on mentoring (through lectures and student support), systemic thinking (through my Fundamental Workshop) and experience design (naughtily getting rid of “user” in “user experience”). These three segments did appear by themselves and built along as I was saying “yes” to proposals I was getting, like teaching at Digital Campus or being invited to give a talk about design of the self at BlendWebMix. My next task will be to check if they resonate with my aspirations, adjust them if they don’t and communicate them the clearest way in order to perpetuate them.
The start of this redesign made me dive deep into anxiety, for a reason that I didn’t understand at first. This anxiety is made of uncertainty and discomfort. Uncertainty to not being able to know if what will emerge from this redesign will fit me and the design industry, discomfort to have to face my own issues and this never-ending recovery from burnout.
Uncertainty. The Interaction 18 conference is over and she leaves behind her a sheer vacuum. This massive event, the biggest I have organized yet, asked for one year and a half of my life, thousands of hours through our little team. Its birth was an incredible 5 days of insanity after months of planning every single detail. Especially when you are, like I was, in charge of production and that these little details had to now unfold exactly as planned. After the euphoria of the conference itself, I knew I would need rest, therefore I booked 2 weeks off. No projects, nothing planned. Anyway, during the last few intense months before Interaction 18, I had already set most of my business aside.
After those two weeks, I was left with no immediate work (even if I had planned so), no deadline, only facing the emptiness of the gap to jump, bathed in a fuzzy fog. I was not part of a team anymore, no routine, no emails, no providers and sponsors calls every 20mn or so — my partner had even started to express his irritation towards the fact that we could not even have a proper meal anymore without being disturbed by a phone call. Now it’s all gone. There is nothing left.
Discomfort. Of course I had planned that this post-conference time could be useful to get back to some beneficial introspection. What I had failed to assess was the unfortunate combination of post-Interaction 18 feels, anxiety of having no contracts planned and no proper schedule anymore, and the unpleasant feeling of facing my professional reality that I would have to translate into words and colours. I had forgotten to assess the amount of discomfort brought up by having to spend several days, several weeks facing every single aspect of my life, the way I am present to the world, things that worked and things that did not, my strengths and weaknesses. Having to put a price tag on services, trying to express inner feelings, intimate feelings, values and beliefs. I now have to inventory, sort, translate, formalise, deconstruct, name, give shape… Everything is left to be done. I feel exhausted already.
It is now the beginning of the third week of close-to-daily research. Close to, because my days cannot bear more than 2 or 3 hours of focused work due to anxiety. My brain races back to procrastination faster than I can see as soon as I try to tackle the big picture. Procrastination is a natural process: when the brain foresees something difficult or unpleasant, it lures us into something more comfortable. During the past two weeks, I could at least fill a few A3 panels with notes, but far from enough to feel satisfied about the work accomplished and no feeling of a “good day of work”.
What is already here
I found myself sweating through the observation phase which contributed to feed my anxiety to come. My current website (the one you’re surfing on until further notice) was done during Summer 2016, right after I decided to give a go to freelancing. Almost nothing here reflects who I am anymore. I walked back the path to see what I had started to formalise 3 years ago. Reading this “purpose” again left me with mixed feelings. I was sad at seeing how fast things become out of date, but happy to see that I have moved forward a lot since then.
Starting from here, I can already sort out what I can leave behind. For instance, I don’t want to “make the world a nicer place”: I want to make it more inclusive and fair, reflect what it is in reality: a place of diversity and richness. I don’t only want to work on meaningful projects, I want to focus on how they nurture their own sustainability and how they tackle a real life problem, not just some minor worry of a rich person from Silicon Valley. Furthermore, I think these changes express a deeper need, a need to eventually promote design for what it really is –a systemic approach– and use this facet of my discipline to emancipate humans.
It’s already a start when you know what you don’t want, right?
There are things for which I don’t apply any method and leave room for whatever emerges. Not because a superior power, a greater Karma will bring us all that we need, but rather because I believe in the human brain’s capacity to absorb and link things together unconsciously so that they can be born at the appropriate time. What we have to do is to learn to listen when it is time and be able to listen to what wants to emerge.
After the discomfort of facing what existed, I let things be and wrote down whatever came to my mind (not after having spent a couple of hours reading inspirational Medium posts and having watched some of Simon Sinek’s talks for the bazillionth time. Serendipity, I said!)
I roughly outlined my planned outcome:
- redesigning this website needs me to come up with a new narration and strategy,
- those which will reflect my values and purpose,
- I would take the “value / purpose / objectives / tone of voice” pack and translate it into something written and visual.
What follows is not a miracle recipe. I will diverge and gather ideas, then trim through and converge towards the essence of what I want to say. On big sheets of paper, I got a few sticky notes together. Five sheets will gather notes about “myself”, my “services and clients”, my “portfolio, my “projects” and the infamous “Fundamental workshop”. I added random notes made of keywords, references to talks or posts, key sentences etc. These boards intend to be my panoramic view.
You can find miscellaneous things such as “One day per month focused on business development” or “Should this workshop’s pricing be fixed?”. I will add other ideas along. Some are not there yet, like the one to build a series of workshops for startups and companies to help them foster an experience design culture.
The main black board is focused on me and my identity. It is mandatory to start with oneself and the exploration and selection of deep ambitions and values. I allow myself to edit my thoughts thanks to sticky notes that I can move around and reorder. I can already see things trying to emerge and ways of formulating ideas that suit me already.
I wrote on a red note a sentence that Alan Cooper used during his talk at Interaction 18: “Be a good ancestor”. Through it, I can build a whole set of actions and facts which will help me develop my strategy and my practice: “If I want to be a good ancestor, maybe I should spend more time mentoring young designers”.
Through the last few months, I noticed how beneficial it was for me to design with people. I wrote that down on a note too because even if I wouldn’t change my freelance life, I need to feed on interactions with my peers. I could benefit from this “mental ping pong” during the agency years (heads up to Goulven, Lisa, Sébastien & Thomas!) but I have to admit I miss it a lot now.
Even if quite uncomfortable, I had to dive and list my strengths and weaknesses. Nothing more important that knowing yourself from top to bottom when you aim to be a freelancer. I try to remain both lucid and benevolent towards the person I am today, weaknesses included. Right now, my big hurdle is focus and ability to reach a state of flow. After Interaction 18, I had already started to change the way my phone interacts with me and breaks my flow. I changed the home screen and reduced it to 8 applications, I entirely modified the way notifications would pop up: no more sound, no more red dots with figures. Information must make its way through me during relevant moments, not whenever an app or a service wants me to. I started redesigning my daily routine, waking up to a big glass of honey and lemon water, yoga and meditation. Headspace always got me covered with their amazing packs, I’m going through Productivity and Prioritization right now. My friend Sara Thom and me are going through “Your Best Year” by Lisa Jacobs in order to follow monthly our business and strategy.
The idea is to go deep down into who I am and extract the foundations of my future updated communication. I dedicated a board to this research around my self. Words are still naive and not final, but I can now rely on a first version to iterate on. The crazy thing is that 3 years ago when I was still an employee in a web agency, I would not have dared to write half of what’s here. I would have barely called myself a designer and ripped off half of the philosophical aspects. Maybe I would have added a shy “speaker” but not more. Since then, I nurtured and developed so many soft skills that I had always under appreciated. I am now comfortable calling myself “facilitator”, “mentor” or “connector”.
Next step: iterate on this board + the black one to draw 3 or 4 key values, a purpose and objectives that can resolve said purpose.
. . .
I could not leave my Fundamental Workshop apart for this research. One year ago, I was experimenting with the first workshops (many thanks to the clients who trusted me with it!), now it is time to improve and refine it. It may change a lot in the coming weeks, both in form and intention. My biggest issue for the moment is to successfully convey its purpose and benefits to people so that they understand how it works and what’s in it for them.
I started to throw ideas around like I did for the rest. A workshop: why? for who? How? Which promise, which results? Which methods? Which pricing model?
Today, the workshop is made of 3 main phases : a first step where clients and me use natural conversation to diverge and collect information around a mesh of key points, flexible enough to be adapted to any case. Then we reflect on what has been collected and I let them make the data theirs. The third step is me going back to my designer lair, from which I pop back a few days after surrounded by glitter and glory with a verbalisation structured around values, purpose, objectives and tone of voice.
My ambition is to make the whole process more lively, interactive and supported by methods which help me collect data more efficiently. I also need better physical artefacts in doing so. Last but not least, I need a stronger structure to render my advice, strengthening the consistency across my mission, but always remaining adaptable to the specificity of each customer. I had the idea of going back to my former clients who underwent the workshop and interviewing them to have an idea of how they perceived it. I also tested my workshop on colleagues who will be my guinea pigs for the next coming weeks.
Still a lot of work to be done, lots of unanswered questions. Version 1 is still in the pipe.
See you in May for another follow-up on the collection / research phase. I don’t want to set myself goals that would constrain me too much. The only one is to keep you folks updated. Through this exercise of open design, I want to share the discomfort of letting go, but also all the confidence that we can get from it. Nothing more beautiful than contemplating what we allow to emerge.
Since then, I am back to my boards and sticky notes, see you later for the 2nd episode!
Thanks a lot to Sara who supports me daily in this new exploration of who I am