Applying punches and kicks to the everyday product designer
I recently started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and can’t help but reflect on the many strategies used to get out of a choke hold. Having trained in Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and boxing for the past 16 years, I’ve had my fair share of training with many talented martial art geniuses. Throughout my journey, my ways of thinking have constantly been tested and refined because each art approaches offensive challenges differently. While there has been a lot of overlap in “how to be the best defensive fighter out there”, I’ve began to notice how succeeding as a fighter is quite similar to designing great products.
Fluidity in movement creates a better end-result
With many different ways to instrument kicks and punches, each movement had meaning behind it. When it came time to test for a higher belt, my constant stream of movement was solely based on logic and practice that helped me succeed each test.
Moving around blocks of copy, pictures, and components in design is something I am learning is quite similar to how I once moved in Tae Kwon Do. Every component placement has logic behind it and each Option +Shift command helps create a fluid experience for the designer to do their best work. This knowledge did not come overnight, and to be honest it’s taken me a few projects to get used to Sketch’s commands but I’ve found it to be completely worthwhile because I am able to move around Sketch faster.
Be curious — without losing technique
The sound of pounding mitts combined with call outs as you are moving around can be exhausting. Oftentimes, hitting mitts becomes so tedious that technique is easily lost because finishing the combination to catch your breath is much more desirable. Other times, you don’t realize the difference between reacting to a punch and auto-pilot mode.
The early stages of the design process call for curiosity. Spending more time in the discovery phase in order to build and ship products is something that should not be overlooked (just like losing technique when doing mitts)! It could be so easy to get caught up trying to complete a task during a sprint, that oftentimes the fundamentals get overlooked. To measure and optimize well, products need to be backed by the curiosity of the designer — through asking the user/stakeholder questions, deep-diving into the problem, drawing out the potential solution, designing in low fidelity, and seeking inspiration!
Work is work
I believe that in boxing, most of the people you get in the ring with regardless of skill level are work. Working with a newbie? Great, it’ll help you improve your fundamentals. Working with someone beyond your skills? Scary, but it’ll teach you to toughen up and refine what you have been training for.
In most stages of the design process, collaboration and alignment are key to delivering a great experience. Teaching someone how to master their craft or testing that craft are both great lessons for the new or seasoned designer.
I’ve been in some tricky situations in the ring that I’ll overwhelm myself so much I’ll forget everything I learned prior. In times of uncertainty and discomfort in the design process and BJJ, stepping away from the problem to observe what has and could be done helps cure an overwhelming situation.
Discomfort can (literally, in sparring) hurt. Yet, this doesn’t have to be the case for designers. Feedback and critiques are key to improving and overcoming new challenges in the future. Embrace the failure, embarrassment, and uncertainty because chances are it won’t hold you back in the future!