I recently spent a week vacationing in Jamaica, returning home with a bit of a tan, a taste for coconut rum and pineapple juice, and an idea for a new blog article. Surprisingly, this idea was not based on my time on the island, but was thanks to an incident that happened before my vacation had even really begun.
I Love Airports
The start of a vacation is always so exciting and full of possibility. As my wife and I walked through the airport towards our departure gate, we happily discussed how we intended to spend the next 6 days of our time away.
As we talked about eating good food and relaxing with a book on a sun-soaked beach, I mentioned that I needed to use the restroom before we boarded our plane. Completely engrossed in our conversation, and paying too little attention to what I was doing, I proceeded to head straight for the Ladies' room.
Thankfully, my wife stopped me from making an embarrassing mistake and I made my way into the Mens' room instead. Crisis averted – this time.
As pathetic as this is to admit, this is not the first time this has happened to me in an airport. In fact, on the last trip I took with my wife, this exact same situation occurred. The only difference was that last time, my wife was not around when I made my embarrassing gaffe.
On this previous trip, my wife was sitting by our departure gate reading when I got up to stretch my legs and use the restroom. Apparently I have some airport restroom malfunction in my brain, because once again I marched straight into the Ladies room.
Once inside the Ladies room, I quickly realized my mistake and exited before anyone saw me – or so I had hoped. My head down, eyes to the floor, I sprinted towards the Mens room, only to see an older couple pointing at me and laughing as I raced past. Awesome - they had witnessed the whole embarrassing display.
Distractions Are All Around Us
Ok, I’ll admit that this mistake never would have happened (either time) had I simply been paying attention to what I was doing, but that's the point here – distractions are all around us! Whether we are walking towards an airport bathroom or working on building out a website design – we are often distracted when we should be focused. If we’re not careful, these distractions can cause us to embarrass ourselves in front of our fellow airport travelers or in front of our clients.
So how do we combat the potential pitfalls of being distracted? We use the buddy system.
A Lone Wolf or Part of a Pack?
A few weeks ago, at An Event Apart in Boston, I had a discussion with some fellow attendees about the difference between working independently on a freelance-style basis to working as part of a team in an agency setting. One of the main points that we discussed was the benefit of team critique and contributions to a project when in a team setting.
In my role as Creative Director for Envision Technology Advisors, I am able to direct the visual design and the overall user experience for all the work that the company produces. I love this aspect of my job, but the communication and feedback at Envision is a two-way street. I certainly give my input on the work of my fellow designers, but I also welcome their feedback on my own creative output – whether it's to offer a view or idea I may not have considered, or whether it's to catch something that I have missed due to a distraction. In the end, being part of a team makes my work better.
Envision a Team Approach
This team approach is something that permeates everything we do at Envision. In addition to using team feedback as part of our design process, every project, prior to launch, requires the lead designer to complete a quality assurance checklist for the site. Once completed, another team member must also complete the checklist – a second set of eyes to ensure that nothing was overlooked.
This buddy system approach is not unique to our Web Department either. In fact, we adopted this method after seeing our Networking team's success doing something similar with their Virtualization deployments. Each of the company's Virtualization projects has a lead engineer who is responsible for the overall effort, but when that project is completed, another Envision engineer – one who has had no meaningful contact with the project before this time – must complete a peer review and sign off on the project before it can be considered complete and ready to release to our clients.
Everybody Needs a Buddy
While working in an agency setting certainly lends itself to this buddy system approach, the benefits of peer review and feedback is something that freelance designers should be able to enjoy as well - even if you don't have a trusted colleague sitting in the cubicle next to your own! The first step? - identifying ways that you can expand your circle of valued associates:
Web design conferences are a great place to meet other designers and developers. The first step? – being willing to introduce yourself to someone new. Many conferences serve breakfast or lunch (or both!) - grab a seat at a table with a group of people you've never met, introduce yourself and exchange business cards. I have met some excellent people at the various conferences I have attended and even though I work in an agency setting alongside other designers and developers, I routinely bounce ideas off some of these contacts to get a fresh perspective on my work.
Social networking sites, especially a site like dribbble.com, are often great vehicles for getting some feedback from the community as a whole. While this type of community feedback can be a bit too congratulatory instead of constructive (something dribbble is often criticized for) or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, unnecessarily harsh, there are still plenty of users who will offer really excellent feedback on your work. The first step? – becoming part of the community by being willing to offer your own feedback and suggestions on others' work. In time, if you're a contributing member of the community, you'll see that others will start viewing, and giving quality feedback on, your work as well.
There are always going to be projects that aren't a fit for you – projects that you may ultimately refer to someone else in your local marketspace. These business relationships you forge can be about more than simply referring work to, or getting business from, each other, they can also be about helping each other produce the best work possible! The first step? – realizing that your “competition” can also be your colleague. Hang out after work sometime and exchange stories about more than just nightmare clients – talk about what creative challenges you may be experiencing – odds are that your situation in not unique and your “competition” may have the exact solution you've been searching for.
There are many ways, in addition to these few examples, to make meaningful and valuable contacts. Whether you are running your work by the person in the cubicle next door or someone you met at a conference who lives and works across the country (or across the globe), the point is that we all get distracted and we all make mistakes because of those distractions. While we should certainly strive for better focus in our work, we must also accept that distractions are inevitable. Getting a second set of eyes on our work will help us ensure that we are proud of the end products we create. After all, no one wants to get caught walking into the wrong restroom – trust me.