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Pick Your Fight

May 19, 2022

A conversation with a designer friend brought me to this realisation that as much as you can’t make everyone happy, you can’t fight everyone as well. You have to pick your fight well.

This friend was saying that his team is having issues with requests from marketing team: no matter how much guideline the design team provides for the design, the marketing team always breaches it. He was unhappy. When I asked him if supporting the marketing team was his or his team’s core assignment, he said no. Their primary job was to support building the core product with product managers and engineers, the marketing team was an occasional request.

So here’s the thing. Designers need to know where they are positioned, what their key priorities are, and what their primary “clients” or “needs” are in the organisation. They have to decide whether fighting for (or sweating the small stuff for) the projects or teams that they are not supposed to pay 100% attention is worth the time and effort. As a designer, would you rather be supporting a team or project that’s the key focus of your team?

Of course, we have to—sometimes—go the extra mile of supporting everyone, especially in a startup or smaller team, but in this case, my friend is working in a more established tech company. There’s no reason why he couldn’t say no or just provide the most detailed guideline and pass over the accountability part to other team member (in this case, can the designer in the marketing team takes shared accountability?).

Think about it. You fight at least one big battle every quarter and ten or twenty smaller “battles” every week or so, sometimes more. You can’t win all and everything, no matter how good your proposition is. For sure you can’t win battle with legal, because if you do, it’s a financial or legal risk to the company. The best you can do is nudge and if possible find a tricky balance between a good experience and adherence to the law. Sometimes no matter how you think a design is good for the users, you’ll still “lose” the battle when we hear or observe the truths from the users either through user testing or feedback. You might also “lose” temporarily and regain your case later, when the time is right.

Does it sound like tech job (or any job) is this political, or it’s always about winning or losing?

Probably.

But, my point is: take care of your sanity and mental health. The purpose of an individual contributor or a team is to serve their primary priority, find a balance with other team, decide, prove the thing out there, then validate and learn. It might not be perfect at first, but we’re moving there.

By all means, fight for it, but pick your fight wisely.

Also on Substack

This article is also posted on Substack.

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