Beginner’s Manifesto

your best asset as a beginner, is that you are a beginner…

When subscribers email me, I often get the phrase “I like your blog, even though I’m not a UX beginner…”

Which is fine. You see, it’s called UX Beginner not because it’s just for newbies…it’s because I’m a proponent of having the beginner’s mindset.

It means “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.” (Wikipedia, Shoshin). 

This concept is directly related to UX design. When conducting user research, UX practitioners are careful to avoid leading questions and try their best to observe things as they are, not as what those things should be.

In mentoring and coaching UX beginners, I find that 80% of problems arise not from a designer’s lack of skill. It’s from feeling lost and not confident in their path.

If you feel this way, keep reading because I wrote the beginner’s manifesto just for you.

The Beginner’s Manifesto*

1. You are enough.

Don’t feel you’re good enough? Think you’re behind everyone else? Welcome to the club of 7 billion people. Everyone suffers from lack of confidence, self-doubt and not feeling enough. Especially successful people.

Find comfort in this universal quality. There’s no need to suffer in false isolation, thinking it’s only you. Lack of confidence can be even healthy. It makes room for us to reflect and strive for better. Overconfidence, on the other hand, can be blinding.

From the Harvard Business Review:

“…if you are serious about your goals, low self-confidence can be your biggest ally to accomplish them. It will motivate you to work hard, help you work on your limitations, and stop you from being a jerk, deluded, or both. It is therefore time to debunk the myth: High self-confidence isn’t a blessing, and low self-confidence is not a curse — in fact, it is the other way around.”

If you have brain and you’re reading this right now, you are enough.

2. Surprise! You don’t have to know everything.

The beginning journey into any worthwhile endeavor is especially confusing. At first, we “drink from the firehouse.” We clip hundreds of articles to our Evernote and save the top UX books to our Amazon wishlist.

All of that is well and natural. But it can be incredibly crippling to feel like you need to master every. little. thing.

Take an 80/20 approach. Gather 10 UX jobs you’d be interested in applying to. Then identify the most common 80% of requirements from each job listing:

  • Experience & projects you should have
  • Tools you should know
  • Skills

Example: Did you find that most of the jobs ask that you know how to use Sketch and InVision? Voila, focus on those and ignore the hundreds of other design tools out there.

Taking a minimalist, reductionist approach to learning can save you an incredible amount of time and stress.

3. There’s enough for everyone. 

You’d be surprised how many designers feel that when someone else gets a UX job, they had that job taken away from them…

In the face of insecurity and self-comparison, it’s easy to feel like your career is a zero-sum game.

If you look at the rise of technology, computing devices and design, you’ll see that the need for design is growing. Design is problem solving, and problem solving will never go out of business.

“I’m not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.” – Erika Cook

There is room for everyone here.

4. Embrace rejection.

Rejection feels the worst when we think that others are rejecting us personally. It cuts to our core and our identity, and makes us question our value as human beings.

But most of the time, people aren’t rejecting who we are. After all, no one knows yourself the way you do. So it can’t be possible that they’re rejecting all of you. They’re just rejecting what they observe on the surface – what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.

Taken this way, rejection can be insanely productive and instructive. It teaches us to iterate and experiment.

Got rejected from a job? Reflect on what you can improve and other strategies to try.

Someone says your portfolio is shitty? It doesn’t make you a shitty designer or person. Dig into their feedback and see if there’s anything of value there.

To crumble in the face of someone else’s rejection is to value their incomplete perception of you more than how you value yourself. But the more we embrace rejection and try to learn from it, the more we embrace our true selves.

5. Offer value first, ask second.

“Hey can you look at my portfolio?” is probably the #1 question mentors get asked by designers.

It sounds like a reasonable enough request, but realize that it’s really just another way to put the burden of work on someone else.

Instead, offer value first by connecting with someone in a way such that you’re not just asking something of them right away. You can offer value in many ways:

  • Ask for specific advice and show what effort you already invested: I scoured the internet and still don’t have a clear sense of how to show my work that’s under NDA. Can you point me in the right direction?
  • Offer something of relevance: Hey, I noticed that you write a lot about productivity. I’m curious what you think of that recent study on time management. Is it all that it’s cracked up to be? 
  • Help them get their message out: Last week’s article really cut to my core, I shared it with all my friends.
  • Tactful flattery: I’m asking you for advice because you’re an expert in this field, and I’m really struggling with this topic at the moment.

Offering value extends to many different areas of life, beyond increasing the likelihood of someone saying “yes” to your request. By offering to help on a project, you can build substantial portfolio pieces. By volunteering for an organization, you build up good relationships with people.

* This is an incomplete manifesto. Don’t be surprised if it changes on you.