Break the mundane

Learn a new skill
If you’re feeling uninspired, try and incorporate something you’re interested in learning into the task at hand. Many designers and developers fit into only one piece of this , be it applying the right look and feel to the product, creating flows and information architecture, or physically bringing those experiences to life. By finding opportunities to learn new skills, you’re able to not only break up the mundane and keep your work exciting, but you’re also pushing yourself outside the silo of your discipline and becoming a stronger overall designer.

I recently had the opportunity to work this concept into my process. I was tasked with creating the experience for a system that notified users if a process they initiated was successful or not. By working through an IA diagram of how these notifications would look, what information they would contain, and what the delivery mechanism would be, I created this simple set of rules:

Condition 1: If the user initiates a process and that process completes while they are still in context, show a footer alert with a simple message.

Condition 2: If the user initiates a process and then navigates away from it, show a toast notification when complete with a little more context and explicit action to take.

Condition 3: If the user initiates a process and then navigates away from that browser tab/window, when complete, show a browser toast notification.

As I was working through these scenarios and making simple diagrams to help illustrate my point, I thought to myself: this work is the perfect opportunity to actually try and code a technical proof of concept. I knew the code would be rough (I’m not a production developer) but would nonetheless help me tell the story better and show off a semi-functional demonstration of the product.

Above is an example of the logic I needed to write so that notifications would be delivered through the proper channel, with all necessary information and styles.

I’ve coded in the past, so I have a basic understanding of HTML, CSS, and Javascript, but realized that I would need to look into something more for this demo. To properly showcase a browser notification in one of my scenarios, I began looking into browser APIs to see what was available. I also knew that I wanted this notification system to be able to deliver messages to users from multiple applications, so I decided to learn Websockets* — specifically to help facilitate this.

While I won’t bore you with the details of how I learned to use this technology, what I will tell you is that choosing to learn and use something new with a clear intent on how I was going to use it made for a fun challenge and rewarding experience. It enabled me to have a more effective demo that took a simple concept, pulled open the curtains, and demonstrated the complexity of the messaging system I architected to deliver the outcome.

Put some pressure on yourself
Create excitement in your process by applying the right amount of pressure and setting the bar just outside your reach. I’ll admit that early on in my career, this wasn’t my strong suit. I spent half of my time freelancing and would go after contract work that was almost always completely out of the scope of my skill set. I knew that through determination and a desperate need to keep the lights on in my apartment, I would be able to complete the work but that often meant overextending and having an unhealthy relationship with the process. Throughout the years, I’ve become smarter about setting that bar and have become eager to find opportunities that are going to push me in the right way.

Offset your work
Take on a side project in your spare time! This is a great way to stay stimulated and offset the minutiae of your everyday job. It’s important that you don’t try to take on the world, though! Instead, set goals for yourself that are challenging but realistic. I find that I typically self-initiate side projects based on seeing others’ work that I’m inspired by or coming across new tech that I’m excited to try out. That way, I’m continuing to challenge myself and grow as a designer but also have fun with the work.

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