This article is part of a series of 10 interviews with world-class designers. I’ve interviewed Junior to Senior designers from companies such as IDEO, Dropbox, Visa, Airbnb, Toptal, Shopify and others.
“Questions to your younger self” was the format I used because I believe that it’s easier to give advice to my younger self than to someone else. So, in order to make the life of my interviewees easy, they would just have to give recommendations and advice to their younger selves on what it takes to become a world-class designer and what they should avoid to speed up the process.
Without further ado, meet Adam Reineck, Global Design Director for IDEO, and read the advice he would give his younger self to become a world-class designer.
Before joining, IDEO.org, Adam Reineck spent eight years as a principal designer at IDEO and worked on a diverse set of international projects with clients including the U.S. Department of Energy, Nike, Samsung, LG, HP, and the North Face. He first worked with IDEO.org in 2011 as a Fellow in the organization’s inaugural year. He founded New Factory, a design studio that bridges innovation and craft, in 2012. Adam’s work has been published in Fast Company, BBC, Wired, Cell Magazine, and the New York Times. He has received design awards from IDEA, ID Magazine, Red Dot, iF, and others. He studied Industrial Design at California College of the Arts.
Guidione: How would you explain Design to your younger self with one year of work experience?
Adam: Design is a way of looking at the world with optimism and creativity. It’s as much about the process as it is about the output, and involves a lot of editing, rigour, and sweat, taking you on a journey from questions to solutions. Becoming a designer goes beyond the work — a design mindset gives you the ability to never settle for things as they are today, looking out at a world of potential solutions rather than problems.
Guidione: How would you explain your UX design process to your younger self?
Adam: I’m going to assume everyone knows the basic design process, moving through iterative cycles of research, synthesis, prototyping, through to production or launch. However, the things you don’t read in books or learn in school are how to maintain perspective on what you’re doing and how to adjust your focus from the macro decisions you make (Why are we doing this? What could be some of the consequences?) to the micro details that make for great experiences (What are different modes of interaction? How might the experience flow more intuitively?).
If you can be intentional about shifting between these modes throughout your process, you will move more quickly and create fewer distractions for yourself. One of the rules I like to follow is that if you are in a strategic phase of the work, don’t work long hours. Find ways to break up the days into many different exercises such as going on a walk, doing additional research into related areas, or go somewhere that is inspiring and could be analogous to the problem you’re working on.
When you’re in production mode, however, you really just have to get on and do it. Don’t complain about the all-nighters and amount of things you have to do, doing the insurmountable will make you stronger, better, and faster.
Guidione: Which mistakes would you tell your younger self to make?
Adam: Besides the mantra of fail early and fail often, I would push myself to remember that mistakes are inevitable, and when you really screw something up, make sure you’re not making any excuses for it — apologies, accept the consequences, and move on. Stay humble and optimistic.
Guidione: What would you recommend your younger self to focus on?
Adam: Focus on surrounding yourself with great mentors and great creative friends. You never know what you will learn from people, and if you feel a connection with someone don’t underestimate the potential for creative relationships to shift your outlook and trajectory.
Guidione: What would you advise your younger self to learn (to get extra skills)?
Adam: Travel as much as you can (life skills), say yes to as many opportunities as possible, and find skills to practice that give you creative outlets beyond what you do for a living. Playing music, working with wood, and growing vegetables have all taught me a lot about patience and perspective that complement my work in surprising ways.
Guidione: Which books would you encourage your younger self to read?
- Design as Art by Bruno Munari — such a great intro to the power of creativity and seeing the world with fresh eyes.
- Quiet by Susan Cain — if you’re a creative person there’s a good chance you’re also an introvert — this is an enlightening read.
- Creativity Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull — I always admired Pixar’s consistency but was blown away by the journey they took to get where they are today.
- Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley — an inspiring read and call action for anyone that has felt dips in their creative confidence (we all have).
- Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden — or any of his books. Arden has a knack for inspiring his readers almost instantly.
- The Universal Traveler by Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall — maybe the first book on design thinking? A beautiful Wabi-sabi book on the creative process from 1974.
- Drawdown by Paul Hawken — An incredible collection of solutions to climate change, because it will affect everything we do very soon.
Guidione: Which people would you advise your younger self to follow?
Adam: I like following people that are truly passionate about what they do, and demonstrate originality and excellence in the field they work in. I don’t actually follow a lot of designers since some of my favourites like Castiglioni and Bucky Fuller have passed on. I pull a lot of inspiration from analogous places and love Instagram as a medium for sharing creative work. Some faves are the artist Aaron Dela Cruz, OG pro skater Tommy Guerrero, photographers Haarkon, and of course Snoop Dogg.
Guidione: Which tools would you encourage your younger self to learn (become an expert in)?
Adam: The worlds of 3D and 2D are overlapping more and more, physical, digital, and visual design are going to be intertwined in new and interesting ways. Don’t box yourself into a place where you only do one thing or rely on a specific software package; learn how to manage a breadth of skills and pick a couple to dive deep in. Don’t forget the non-software tools either, it will always be useful to know how to bang something together in a prototyping shop. Build your confidence as a well-rounded maker.
Guidione: What wouldn’t you tell your younger self?
Adam: That most of the world will constantly try to crush the ideas you had when you started design school. Hopefully, my younger self will be in denial that that happens and will continue to trust that a vision for a better world is achievable.
Guidione: In talking to your younger self, how much of your current success would you attribute to hard work and how much would you attribute to luck?
Adam: Hmm… Maybe 50/50, but the key to luck is recognizing opportunities where a bit of hard work can take you to a new place. I don’t think the two exist without each other when it comes to life experience.
I hope you enjoyed the interview as much I did.
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