What does it mean to be a “team player”?

In addition to possessing “excellent written and oral communication skills,” every job applicant for professional work claims to be a “team player.” Probably because every job description demands that you be a team player.

Depending on who you talk to, however, the term “team player” means nothing—or everything.

There seem to be two ways to interpret the phrase. The popular, naïve definition seen on forums and blogs boils down to, “someone who gets along with others.” Business writers, on the other hand, define “team player” by listing dozens of skills and behaviors—from taking the initiative, to communicating effectively, to being reliable, a good listener, and a hard worker with a positive attitude. Given that definition, how is a team player different from an effective employee?

Continue Reading

That’s why they call them “use” cases

There aren’t too many rooms in the house that have more features and functionality than the bathroom. Which is why, rather than wing it, my husband and I decided to hire a design firm to help us plan a renovation. We’re particularly concerned about clearances between the tub and shower and figured we could use professional advice.

Almost the first thing the designer said when he walked into the bathroom was, “It’s too bad the toilet is the first thing you see when you open the door. There’s not much room in here, but we could probably put a frosted glass partition next to it.”

Somehow I managed to keep a straight face.

And this was after he’d already tried to tell us that a giant tile mural on one wall would give the bathroom that “wow factor.” (Dude. You want to wow me in the bathroom? Figure out how to make it self-cleaning.)

Continue Reading

Don’t be lazy—write that cover letter

I’m amazed that many people applying for high-paying professional jobs submit only their bare résumé with no accompanying cover letter. Yes, a cover letter is extra work—hello, that’s the point. Herewith, some tough love on why you need to write a great cover letter if you expect to get a great job.

Continue Reading

Duration: the designer’s friend

Time may be on your side, but if you’re doing any kind of creative work, what you really ought to care about is duration.

In project management terminology, the number of hours it will take to you do a task is referred to as effort. Duration, on the other hand, is the span of time those hours are spread over.

Continue Reading

Three things I don’t miss about running a business

When I announced I was going to give up my design business after 13 years and seek employment, one of my colleagues said with absolute authority: “You’ll hate it.”

Thankfully, she was wrong.

Far from hating being employed, I actually feel a bit guilty about how much I’m enjoying it. Even though I loved having my own business—and for almost a dozen years I never even entertained the notion of giving it up—the fact is, it was hard work. By comparison (and my employer will probably cut my salary in half after they read this) employment is a cake walk.

Continue Reading

If design could speak

Everyone hates filling out timesheets, right? Well, why would you reinforce this prejudice with cramped, unfriendly design when with a small amount of effort and thoughtfulness, you could make the experience easy and pleasant?

Example 1: Unanet

Why does everything have to be so small? This design feels mean-spirited and stingy, and the interactions are equally stilted and user-unfriendly. If this design could speak, it would say, “Get back to work, you powerless cog!”

Unanet screenshot

"Get back to work, you powerless cog!"

Continue Reading

How to be a confident design buyer

When you buy a car, you can be pretty sure of what you’re getting. You can read expert reviews, look up the manufacturer’s specs, research government safety ratings, visit owner forums online—you can even take it for a test drive and experience the sound of the engine and the smell of the Corinthian leather. You have many ways to evaluate the quality of the car before you make a purchase decision. And as soon as you write the check, you can drive the car right off the lot.

Continue Reading

10 things to do when business is slow

If you’re running a creative business or consultancy, sooner or later work is going to slow down. But that doesn’t mean you should, too. Slow times should be viewed not as a curse, but as an opportunity to do all the housekeeping, strategy, planning, and personal development that you always wish you had time for when you’re busy.

Continue Reading

Three tips that helped me kick ass at the IA Summit

I had ten years of piano lessons when I was a kid and in all that time I went to only two recitals. Both times I strictly forbade my parents from attending (to their relief, I sensed) because I was deathly afraid of performing in public and was convinced that I would buckle under the pressure and make a total mess of my piece.

Needless to say, that pessimistic attitude ensured that I did indeed make an embarrassing mess of it, thus cementing my fear of public performance.

Continue Reading

Anatomy of an info graphic

I recently created a full-page chart for an Education Sector report about 529 education savings plans and thought it would make a good case study for designing successful information graphics. 

There are two problems that most graphs, especially those generated automatically from Excel and similar programs, suffer from:

Continue Reading