Designers are notorious for being the type of person who learns by teaching themselves. While I’ve managed to secure a decent budget for a few days of training on specific areas every year my team has survived, for the most part, on self discovery. Has this approach been good enough? Perhaps until now but it certainly isn’t acceptable any more. Here’s how I’m tackling this issue.
The design industry changes fast, and I think it’s still accelerating. Have you also noticed the recent burgeoning number of articles published about latest design trends, even more methods to learn about users, and keeping up with front-end coding? It’s an important aspect in my work life as I feel responsible for helping my staff grow as individuals. The work I’ve done for this has been equally as rewarding as the designing of a successful product.
My proposal to our MD was a time-to-learn initiative akin to Google’s famed operation allowing employees one day a week to work on personal projects. My team use this time as a way to keep up with their peers in other companies using their own initiative.
Spider charts to the rescue
To make the most of this new learning environment I needed to consider where each designer’s skill set is currently. We used a spider chart to compare our strengths and weaknesses in each of the three core areas of our work :
The chart’s area represents what the business expects us to excel at but I place equal value on what kind of designer each of my team personally aspire to become. This is important as without considering individual needs a team’s morale could deflate.
To discover the aspirations of individual team members we each placed two markers on the cart. The first locating where each of us feel the balance of our skill-set lies. The second to locate what balance of skills we would like to command given enough time and effort.
To score ourselves along each spoke of the chart we listed what activities make up that area and marked ourselves out of ten for each. Using a spreadsheet we output an average score for each spoke that translated directly to the chart’s ten levels.
Humility and ambition
An unexpected benefit was hidden in our method. We had each scored our own abilities and therefore introduced a huge amount of bias into each chart. It’s this bias that holds some interesting insight. Rather than a true reflection of ability what we had actually visualised was our career ambition.
Those who had scored themselves highly must feel they understand that type of work to a high degree and therefore don’t see much left to learn. Regardless of their true ability, a high score shows low ambition, and vice versa. A highly ambitious personality would aim to attain a very high level of proficiency and consequently consider their current understanding relatively low.
Taking a step back, I began to think these charts were unintelligible to anyone outside our team. To give our HR dept. some immediate clarity I felt our pair of markers should be extended to include short, written descriptions e.g.. UI Designer -> UX Strategist.
Combining the two dimensions of the spider chart makes it simple to define what kinds of activities would take that designer’s skill set in the right direction. I added a table of for each designer to describe what they plan to learn over the next six months. From there we used whatever resources were most relevant to the cause be they free or paid.
In doing this I created a structure for our new learning environment whereby we can measure where we were and how far towards our ambitions we have travelled. This makes justifying the budget for paid resources like TreeHouse online coding lessons was easy with all this structure to back-up the spend.
Ok, I’m off to learn something new. Wish me luck 🙂