A case of the blegh (and chicken soup / rocket fuel for the designer & entrepreneur’s soul)

I love my job. I’m a designer-entrepreneur at a startup. Every day is fresh. I am constantly challenged and always learning.  Our team works hard, but each day, we also always find something to laugh about.  A good number of our customers love the value our products provide and sometimes they even write us fan letters (!!!). I get to create a tiny ding in the universe. Most days, these thoughts alone make me dizzy with joy and gratitude. But even so, I will admit that there are times where I get into a funk.

And not in that maddening-struggle-through-the-dark-night-of-your-creative-soul way, but just a case of what I call “the blegh”. The work that designers and entrepreneurs do is difficult stuff so it should come as no surprise that there are frustrating phases, but how do we get out of the blegh? (And into the win?!)

My development team recently showed me Bret Victor’s fantastic talk, ‘Inventing on Principle. Bret’s personal principle is the belief that, “Creators need an immediate connection with what they’re creating. […] [W]hen you’re making something, when you make a change, or make a decision, you need to see the effect of that immediately.” He discusses several fascinating engineering examples from his academic work, but mentions that this applies to any creative pursuit. I think Bret’s principle is especially true for designers and entrepreneurs.


Bret Victor – Inventing on Principle from CUSEC on Vimeo.

Soon after hearing the talk, I came to the realization that I begin feeling uninspired when it’s been far too long since I personally chatted with anyone who uses our products.  Ouch…as a designer & entrepreneur, I can’t do a very good job of solving problems if I don’t take the time to understand people.  

When I feel blegh, it’s usually because I stopped collecting inspiring moments that allowed me to learn and empathize with the people I serve, our customers.

Why do so many of us avoid talking to our customers though? Because putting yourself and your product out there for judgment is terrifying. Terrifying. Even after having coached countless others on the value of talking to people, I’ve still been guilty of making excuses that stop me from regularly contacting our customers. “They are hard to get a hold of and scheduling is such a hassle.”,  ”They don’t want to be bothered.”, and worst of all, “I don’t have time for this right now.”

But the fact is, we can’t afford to make excuses. When we don’t talk to our customers: Our work feels disheartening instead of fulfilling. Our decisions are arbitrary and directionless rather than grounded in real insights and feedback.  And worst of all, not talking to our customers and seeing our impact on them makes it easy for us to get distracted and take shortcuts that do harm instead of good.

“Consistently not talking to our customers puts us “in the suck”.

What you have to recall now is how amazing it felt when you spoke with a really thoughtful user who gave great feedback and you learned some new insight. Or remember the burning sensation and motivation you felt from thinking “Oh sh*t, I need to fix that” as you watched a user struggle with your design. Or remember the looks of delight on their face (and yours) when you’ve successfully solved one of their pain points and they’re asking you, “When can I buy it?!”. Those moments are chicken soup for your soul and fuel for your crazy rocket ride. And in the startup world, you definitely need chicken soup and rocket fuel to get by.

Regular human contact is essential to a good life. Regular customer contact is essential to good design and good business. Not all conversations are going to be amazing, but you will never get to an amazing moment if you don’t increase your chances by making a habit of talking to your customers.  As the LUXr team says in their ten principles of Lean UX, users are the best source of information & inspiration.

So don’t forget to continue asking yourself this very important question: How long has it been since I had a real conversation with someone who uses my product?

If your answer makes you disappointed then it’s time to own up and get out of the building.

P.S. Don’t know how to get out of the building? The awesome team at LUXr can show you the way. → Shameless plug. icon smile A case of the blegh (and chicken soup / rocket fuel for the designer & entrepreneurs soul)

Shuqiao Song is a member of the LUXr family and a past intern. You can follow her on twitter at @ShuqiaoS.

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