Rebuilding Confidence

This year, I’ve been thinking more about the kind of career I want. It’s becoming less hard for me to think of what my long-term goals are in the next 2, 3, and 5 years but I have a weakness that has been pulling me back: my lack of confidence. I’d describe some of my flaws as a mix of meekness, passiveness, and a lack of trust in my abilities. I am surrounded by friends who are supportive and aren’t shy in giving compliments, and it makes me even more aware of our difference in perspectives. How could they think I could accomplish so much, and why could I only see myself as so little? Losing that belief in my skills as a designer was a change that gradually happened, and I haven’t even noticed until earlier this year. I became determined to rectify it, and I’ve made some decisions that are helping me regain that confidence back.

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Find a work culture and environment that fits

I spend around 40-50 hours a week on a full-time job,  which is 50% or more of my waking hours per day. These days, I’ve grown to truly value the influence that work culture and environment has on my happiness scale. People may have said to separate work and ‘personal’ life, but when half of it is spent in the office then it’s easier said than done. I’ve personally come to believe in the impact of an environment that cultivates and improves my skills,  keeps me challenged, growing, and happy. When I was in the middle of transitioning jobs, this was a deciding factor that determined which companies I applied for.

Culture and work environment may not always be visible to a newcomer’s eye on the get-go, but a little bit of research definitely helps:

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Japan: Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe (Part 1)

In between transitioning jobs, I asked Charlie to go with me to Osaka (and tour the nearby prefectures) since it seemed like the perfect time for vacation for both of us. It was the first time I’ve visited Japan in summer (an earlier trip with family happened in May, just as spring was ending, where the weather was cool and perfect). I may have gotten feet tan lines and facial irritations (getting better now, thankfully!) but experiencing two summer festival events made the trip worth it!

Of course, it needn’t be said that everything was made better because Charlie and I finally get to take a break from this Long Distance Relationship thing. 

We just stayed at an Airbnb in Osaka for all eleven nights, then went out on day trips to Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe. We took it slow because it’s supposed to be a vacation, and I didn’t want to be too exhausted just before I start my new job, heh.

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Digging deep to find product problems

Double hatting a Product Design + Management role these past few weeks have pushed me to look at product design in a different perspective. Previously, I admit I haven’t been trying hard enough to understand why “we’re doing what we’re doing”, and my product thoughts were something I treated as merely suggestions I can offer to the team. I used to think that whatever feature has been decided on, I’d only need to focus on finding the design solution to solve it. But these days, prioritising which problems to solve and deciding on what to build for the next two weeks drove me to a quest to dig, dig, and dig some more.

Working on a product that has a huge user base affords me the access to a great number of feedback, which is great on paper but not always so ‘great’ when you have limited resources. I think, it was only now that I truly understand what it means to understand who exactly your users are, in what context are they experiencing these problems, and why these problems are happening in the first place.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been going through a few things over and over:

  1. Finding Problems and Understanding Them – which problems happen most frequently, and affects the biggest percentage of our customers? The loudest of your customers aren’t always representative of the majority, so I have to take qualitative feedback with a grain of salt. At this point, I need to support qualitative data with some user research: who is writing in (or giving this feedback) and why? What kind of quantitative data do we have (which are maybe raw for now, so what kind of questions should I be asking so I could find relevant data)? Are they problems for the target market that we’re focusing on? If not, I don’t immediately set it aside. I still have to ask the next question

     

  2. Understanding the Problem in the Perspective of Different Users – even if feedback came from a small but loud minority, does it actually also affect the majority of our customers? If yes, sounds like solving it will have a big impact for our product! For each feedback we receive, I seek out to know more — who is experiencing this problem, why does this customer care about it, what specific pain point are they experiencing?

     

  3. What are the Possible ways to Solve this Problem? – the fun part about brainstorming: you don’t have to worry about resources or time (just yet!). Coming up with ways to solve some problems also involves people from other teams, and this requires an active effort to reach out because I realised that not everyone is used to just approaching you to share ideas!

     

  4. Narrowing Down Solutions – this part may be tricky. I quickly learned that despite having done as much research as I could, solutions will still need to be tested and validated (and some experiments I couldn’t always do on my own). I read that some teams have a “Discovery track” in their Scrum process precisely to validate and test problems and solutions.

     

  5. Measuring Success – I’ve come across some problems that are hard to measure by just quantitative data (either by clicks/taps, sessions, etc) just because it’s more on the intangible side of things, and for those maybe I could only get assessment through qualitative feedback. But for everything else, finding which metric will show if the needle would move is my next challenge. How will I know this solution worked, and if not how would I know why it failed?

     

  6. Deciding on What to Build, and By What Means – to be honest, this is the trickiest part for me because I just doubt even what I initially thought were “good ideas”, and then try to convince myself through different means. This includes getting feedback from engineers and other teams. Some questions help: does this problem happen frequently, and to most users? After which I have to balance the answer to that with time and resources.

This is still an ongoing process for me but from the perspective of a designer, asking all these questions made it easier for me to understand why I’m designing something: for whom, and what for.

Empathy at Work

I’ve been reading up a lot on what makes people tick and company culture some few weeks back. This is another valuable insight and you’ll see where things in teams can break apart:

“…when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimised.”

What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

It’s a good insight on how psychology, and things like empathy plays into one’s work experience. So those evenings when you ask your teammate how things are, how he/she honestly feels today — those moments are worth it.

I value working with my team and I’m glad to see that these things that I think are important actually do have some kind of research behind their impact.

But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

The behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more.

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

Idea vs. Vision

Before midnight musings: every person that leaves, leaves with their vision.

This is the same as products copying other products. You can copy features, but not the vision of the people who made them. So even in an array of products that do similar things, those that show promise have a strong vision behind them.

So for every person that joins a team brings their vision with them. For every person that goes, takes their vision with them. For an individual, where would that person bring their vision to?

Marcos and Martial Law: History that should trigger, except it doesn’t

Every year around this time (or earlier) in September, the Philippines will seem to want to remember Marcos and his dictatorship over the country. Since I haven’t been born during this era, much of what I knew was taught in school or by my parents (them having participated in the rallies themselves). My generation grew up without really knowing, just hearing about what happened. It was part of our history books, even of our Philippine Literature Curriculum in high school. We were required to read Dekada ’70, by Lualhati Bautista, watch the film, and have teachers describe what happened that lead to the TIME-covered “peaceful revolution”.

More recently though, it seemed like every anti-Marcos article published online is swarmed by “supporters”, especially with Marcos’ wife and children are still active in politics and (for whatever reason!) people are still voting them in office.

When I was young, I thought that everyone was taught the same version of history: Martial Law under Marcos was a period of countless human rights violations, with people either getting locked up (most famously Ninoy Aquino) or beaten and killed. The country’s money was stolen by Marcos and his family, shared among their cronies. The movie version of Dekada 70′ was released back then, and it seemed like a given that most people watched it. In the past few years, however, more and more I see published articles about Marcos and his regime swarmed by supporters who continuously defend him and praise his reign. Their arguments would usually include his presidency being a “more peaceful time”, that only people in Manila were fighting against him, and that the economy was progressing because of his leadership. Somehow it was so easy to conveniently forget about the deaths, all the youths that fought for freedom of speech, to forget about all the monopolies formed during his time and all the wealth stolen by his family and cronies. So convenient, even, to forget all the debt incurred and even the reason why the country seemed to be so ‘rich’ during that time.

Under martial law, Marcos suspended then revamped the constitution, silenced the media, and used violence and oppression against political opposition. He nationalized and monopolized increasing portions of industry and further increased spending on patronage. Throughout this time, the US and international organizations such as the World Bank and IMF generously supported the Marcos regime with aid and loans. Marcos was able to exchange solid commitment to the Philippine-US alliance with significant US aid, due to US Cold War interests of having military bases strategically located in the Philippines. It is often argued that a great proportion Marcos’ patronage was funded by US aid.8 The World Bank and IMF regarded Marcos as emulating tactics of Lee Kwan Yew’s successful authoritarian regime in Singapore, making the Philippines a “special focus” area to target funding.

The Political Economy of the Philippines Under Marcos

For us, the younger generation, Martial Law is like a memory to be remembered, a past we revisit a few days in a year. Will remembering the deaths of students who died (or disappeared) during that time inspire us, our generation, to live passionately and die courageously for principles and ideals that are worth fighting for? Every once in a while I’d see published articles locally and globally praising how well the economy back home is doing. But every day living in the city only seemed to get worse: traffic so bad compared to when I was younger, no improvement in public transportation, still a lot of murders and kidnappings first thing in the morning news. Wherever this “economic progress” was, it wasn’t so easy to spot out in the public. I couldn’t really see drastic changes in the majority of the population (which is still the ‘masa’, the lower-income, the poor) and in fact some things only seemed to get worse.

What good is not forgetting when everything stays the same? Looking at the list of candidates for the presidential elections, I have no hope for the country back home. Even if there is no martial law, there is still no justice. No justice for all the massacres and deaths that happened in the past few years, and probably never will be. If back then our parents marched against Marcos, I cannot imagine the same happening with my generation. It could be that some of us are too jaded or are like me who see the system as too corrupt to even fix or change. There was wisdom in those who fought during that time, for they realized the importance of toppling down (or trying to fight) a system that chokes. The government right now, with the same cancer that Rizal died for still deeply ingrained in the system, isn’t all too different from the corrupt government under Marcos. There is no strong political leader back home, but there is also no passionate demand from the people for a radical change. I don’t see things changing for the better in the next five years, and Marcos’ Martial Law will continue to be a memory drowned out by celebrities, movies, short-term gains, and false promises.

Evil by Design: Paying for Coursera Specializations – courses are no longer free

Around 3 months ago, I signed up for some classes on Coursera, some of which are going to start this month. Remembering this, I decided to check online to calendar them. I logged in on Coursera and saw that they had a redesign! Everything looked more professional. But when I checked the course that I supposedly signed up for, I could only see that the classes are now closed behind a paywall:

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Where to Start Doing Data-Driven Design

Data. Big Data. Data-driven. Trending buzz-words in the recent years, and as a designer I’ve heard, read, and witnessed how important data is in making decisions based data. Meanwhile, in reality a lot of companies are still making decisions based on what the CEO or client likes. Based on my experience working with a couple of start-ups, as part of small design agencies and from freelancing, “data-driven design” seemed to be an ideal concept: nice to have, but not always possible. Small teams or clients just won’t have the budget. But if I know that data is important in influencing design, then it must start somewhere — even if that means testing the waters myself.

Armed with this determination, reading about data and analysis online didn’t seem to push me forward. I still felt stuck — I can start adding Google Analytics on a site, for example, but what am I doing with all these data? Week after week, sprint after sprint, I felt like I had a vague idea of what we should measure, but the concepts are still a bit abstract in my head.

Last week, IxDA Singapore invited Cyrille Rentier to give a talk on Data Driven UX Design. His talk was so concise that it gave me a better idea on how to start using data to iterate or influence design decisions.

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