The previous post in this series was prompted by a series of interview questions I’ve answered over the past few months. Those questions have been enough to strip me of my portfolio-clad confidence and prompt some serious soul-searching. But the hunger to make something real, that real people will use and potentially love has kept me determined. I’ve been through a handful of interviews and confidently claimed that this is something I could pull off. I know that my design background has given me an innate sense for what resonates with an audience. But without the product portfolio to prove it, it’s been difficult convincing anyone that I could be a valuable part of that process.
But before you give up and send your resume in to InterBrand, remember that your design skills are an extremely important *40% of your qualifications.
For a while I thought this was an issue of taste: so many companies seem to lack a taste level that would steer them away from building messy, mediocre, ad-laden services that die before they get out of Beta.
But it’s not about taste, it’s about empathy. You’ve spent your whole career trying to communicate as clearly as possible with as wide an audience as possible (the greatest good for the greatest number of people). Every client you have ever worked for wants to be understood and loved by their target market. They are coming to you for your ability to make things that people understand (to inform) and love (and delight).
“Market Opportunity” is biz-speak for “there are a ton of people who really want this thing to exist, because it doesn’t exist, or everything out there is junk, and a painful experience to use.” You have notebooks full of this stuff. If you’re like me, your ideas have typically been design-centric: a funny t-shirt idea (Freelance Ain’t Free), a great web catalogue of some design niche (NoLayout), a crowd-sourced directory of printers (InkerLinker). These are **great, and I am working on one of these kinds of projects myself.
These ideas come from your ability to perceive a need (probably something personal), and evaluate how many other people might need the same thing. When you start expanding your knowledge base, start looking at other industries, other problems, other pain points, you will start to have ideas that could potentially serve a much larger audience. And when you team up with people that have deep domain knowledge in other fields, technical experts that know how to make amazing things but have a ***harder time spotting the greater needs, that is a powerful combination.
*The rest of that make up: 40% your ability to make things (and you have to start making things on your own before someone will want to make something with you); 10% your relentless hustle (getting to know the people that will want to hire you when you’ve proven you have the skills); 10% being a nice person to everyone and showing genuine gratitude (by the way, just want to say thank you for reading this blog).
**Someone once explained that although design is Niche, it is a culturally influential niche that has the power to spread ideas and carry them beyond the design community. Pinterest is a great example of a niche product that has spread to anunexpected and wider audience.
***The Segway was technically a semi-miraculous innovation, but hardly empathetic. The wheelchair that Segway inventor Dean Kamen created using the same technology to enable disabled users to interact with others at eye level — that was a design insight born of pure empathy.