Finding joy in the work of design (even when projects don't launch)

Stick figure drawing of 3 brightly coloured children doing cartwheels
After being a user experience (UX) designer for almost 25 years, I've worked on a lot of projects and designs that have never launched or that changed significantly prior to launch. I truly believe that what has kept me sane and happy is focusing on designing, not launching. 

When I get frustrated that things I design don't launch, I can forget how much I love the creative process and designing for users. I have had designs that tested beautifully completely rejected for a variety of reasons including budget changes, project cancellations, and worst of all "users don't know what they want." It's probably the most frustrating part of being a designer, to be honest.

But sometimes, as leaders, practitioners and especially as external consultants, these decisions are out of our control. All sorts of factors come into play that we might not be able to influence: UX Theatre, competing priorities, financial decisions, and the like. 

It's easy to get frustrated when our designs don't launch. When I've been on failed projects, I've questioned my career choice, my job, and even the move from private to public sector. Inevitably, I always end up reminding myself that I truly love to design. That no matter what job title anyone tries to give me, somehow I always end up turning it into a design job because that's my passion. 

Now, if launching is what *drives* you, you might be happier in delivery or product management. However, if your job satisfaction comes from creating and researching, you can find a lot of joy by focusing on the design process and not delivery itself.

At those low moments, when projects get de-funded, cancelled or completely fall apart in other ways, focusing on the joy of creativity and design has saved my sanity. Here are some of the wins I use to remind myself of why I love being a UX designer:
  • If I put in my best effort, I can still be proud of my contribution to the work whether or not it launches.
  • Every project is an opportunity to teach design to non-designers.
  • Evangelizing user experience helps to build capacity and space for design in my organization. 
  • Progress is made every time we lobby for user research and user-centered design; this is a long game to influence culture change and even change the vocabulary to be more user-focused. 
  • I am fortunate to be a part of and contribute to the rich and active design community.
In the day to day, when frustration hits, if the big wins seem too far away, I make a list of the small wins. These can include successful: workshops with stakeholders, a design the team is working on, hearing user-centered language from an executive, etc. Anything that reminds me that design is the process not the end goal, and we are making strides every day. 

So if I can encourage you in those moments to focus on the joy of creativity and design, I promise it will make things a little easier. It might even help save your sanity too. 😊

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