• Did I lose my voice? Thoughts from Leading Design conference ’22

    Work • 06 Nov 2022

    Seat 11F on my flight back to Amsterdam, next to the emergency exit. I didn’t realise that while I was booking, so I am a little annoyed now, knowing that they will take my bag and store it above my head. I decide to take out my notepad as there’s no one sitting next to me, probably it’s a sign – I really have to invest the next 50 minutes airplane mode to write down my thoughts about this week in London, and the conference I just attended.

    Let’s start by saying that this was my first post-corona conference, and this is already something remarkable. Being back in a room with 100+ people, shaking hands while waiting for coffee, smiling at strangers while reading their name on the badge. I’m someone who has always loved conferences. I’ve invested a significant amount of time and money to attend them, and this paid back big time. I found my first employer in a conference, and the second one too. I got to know incredible speakers that later on became colleagues and friends, people I simply admire for who they are, more than what they do. 

    I was also a speaker myself in my pre-corona life, I’ve been on stage at least once a year for the past 10 years. I presented a really weird and diverse range of topics: from they way people travel in different age groups, to the role of copy and research in dating apps, but also how my broken finger made the phone unaccessible. I felt those talks were really difficult to prepare, but extremely energising and rewarding afterwards. The way people look at you with gratitude, for having expressed something which was in their mind too, they just didn’t have words for it. 

    So what happened afterwards, and why am I writing all of this, that is not the point of what this post should have been about? Well, I thought instead of writing a recap of all the talks, I’d better use this time to share with you what really passed through my mind while I was sitting in the conference room. 

    Define where you’re going and why

    One of the recurring topic during the conference was: what is your real purpose? And your values? I realised the last time I did this exercise for myself was a few years ago. Many things have changed in my life since then: a new job, a new team, a new house, a new partner. Are my own principles still the same? I believe they have evolved, and I should probably revisit them. Knowing what we stand for will help us identify the right projects to work on, the right people to collaborate with, the right language to communicate. It will also help us to…

    Align with leadership

    Knowing WHY you’re doing things is what differentiate a junior and a senior designer. “You are the problem” said Jane Austin (Chief Experience Officer at Digitas) if you only focus on a small part of the problem, if you don’t have sufficient context on what you’re working on, if you are not aware of the full strategy of the company you’re working in. We have to understand our role and our responsibilities, we have to be brave and take ownership. There was one moment when James Stevens (Head of Product Design, Bumble) said:

    “The future of the industry is the people we lead”

    Close your eyes and imagine your future self sitting on a cliff edge bench, what would she/he say to you now? Probably for me it would be to worry less about the small things, and think about the bigger picture, how you can contribute more to meaningful things. There’s a moment in our career when we have to drop something, and often it’s craft, to grow as a leader. As Jose Coronado (Head of DesignOps at JPMorgan) said: the closer we are to the wireframe, the farther we are from the strategy. Our role now is to empower others, doing and telling less – advising and coaching more. How you help the input, create the output.

    (Re) find your voice

    So how come I stopped speaking and conferences lately? Why am I not writing blog articles anymore? What happened to my newsletter? …Did I lose my voice? As Ray Ho (director of design at Back Market) said, we often question and doubt ourselves and our capabilities, then we shut up, and become sad. We keep thinking we have to improve, and we end up forgetting who we are and what we stand for.

    I can totally relate to that, I felt I had nothing good to say, only a lot to work on. But, as Chris Pearce (Managing Director at Clearleft) said: is not about time management, but energy. This was probably the biggest learning for me, during Leading Design conference 2022: I need to (re) find my voice.

    What I take home 

    Keep working on myself as a leader, my role into the organisation, and my personal narrative. Recognise my own privilege and use it for good. Think beyond the pixel, and share my own perspective to the industry, to inspire the leaders of the future. 

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