Giving a damn

In a fast-paced world dominated by deadlines, budgets, and client or market demands, why should designers pour their heart and soul into each and every design? In an era where quantity often prevails over quality and information overload shortens our cherished audience's attention span, how can designers be inspired to consistently care about seemingly short-lived design production work?

A lasting lesson

At Chainlink Labs, I had the incredible fortune of crossing paths with the brilliant Roberta Carraro, who joined as a Design advisor in 2020. Throughout the years, I was honored to learn from her never-ending wealth of knowledge in the form of invaluable insights that she unconditionally shared. Among the many gems, one piece of advice consistently echoed in my mind: "Everyone should give a damn."

It always intrigued me how often the most meaningful things go unnoticed. This simple yet powerful phrase gradually transformed from a quiet whisper to a resounding anthem, and before I knew it, I found myself advocating for this philosophy with my team and others I collaborated with. But what is it about these simple words that makes them so compelling and transformative? Why should anyone give a damn?

Reason 1: Because you care about what you do

While I won't dive into the debate of whether design is art or not, let's agree that, like art, design is a creative expression, for instance, of a brand. As a creative expression, design holds the power to influence emotions and ultimately shape perceptions amongst those who engage with it. For both art and design, that transformational moment occurs when the piece is being consumed. This moment presents a sacred opportunity. For art, the environment when this happens is usually more controlled, as people intentionally engage with it. However, for design, it gets more wild.

We like to believe that we know our audiences inside out and that we have total control over all their interactions with our brand. But do we? The truth is that, in a multidimensional world, people experience our brands through countless – and ungovernable – combinations of forms and environments. For example, the audience we most care about, the one that we may desperately need,  might be looking at us through our website, their social media feed, or an advertisement. They might be on their computer, or their phone, maybe in an airport, or while watching something on Netflix. The possibilities are endless. So, when does the transformational moment occur for design? It happens whenever it happens, so you better be prepared for it.

A significant part of success lies in making the most of the opportunities we are given. Everything that a designer touches should be treated with the idea that, perhaps, just perhaps, their work may be the decisive factor for someone else. Designers own a big portion of first impressions and conversions, and with great power comes great responsibility.  By default, always expect the unexpected, and care about every single output and each step of any process. 

Reason 2: Because you care about your users

One of my favorite definitions of design comes from Jared M. Spool, who said, "design is the rendering of intent." This idea implies not only that design is intentional, but also that our users are. Users interact with our brand in many ways, and ultimately, as designers, our primary responsibility is to advocate for them and serve the people who engage with our brand at any point.

The quality of the experiences provided to users is one of the strongest reflections of the brand itself and its products, and designers are responsible to care about every single detail. Imagine that you are climbing a nicely curated walnut wooden staircase. Halfway through, you find a step that doesn't look that good – it's decayed, crumbly, a bit warped, and has some cracks. Sure, you might decide to keep going upwards regardless, but you definitely won't have the best possible perception of the journey. Or you might decide to go back down.

Every step is important. From key features to edge cases or 'nice-to-haves', everything, absolutely everything, matters to users. And designers, we only exist because of them. In design, oftentimes, 20% of the work ships 80% of the result. Work within this scope falls in the "good enough" category. However, good enough should never be good enough. Know that the remaining 20% is what separates the good from the great and the memorable from the clutter.

Reason 3: Because you care about your team

The butterfly effect is a term often used in the realm of chaos theory, which refers to the idea that small changes can lead to vast, unforeseen consequences. In the workplace world, we can think of the butterfly effect as the way a single attitude can ripple outwards, shaping the entire culture, regardless of the organization's actual cultural maturity and whether it’s designed to nurture this or not.

When you commit to caring about every aspect of your work, a domino effect takes place. Your passion becomes contagious, inspiring not only your fellow designers but also external colleagues, contractors, and every individual involved in driving success. Ultimately, your designs become a reflection of your commitment to excellence, and even end-users usually can't help but take notice.

Teams that give a damn are happier and more committed with their Organization’s mission, and organizations with a highly engaged workforce experience a 59% lower turnover rate. More importantly, a team that gives a damn is unstoppable and will likely always succeed under any circumstance. Who wouldn't want to be part of a team like that?

Reason 4: Because you care about yourself

Giving a damn is not just about the impact on your brand, users, or team; it's also about how it reflects on you as a professional. In the heat of a hectic week, where designers might be producing a large volume of assets or pushing through a process as fast as possible, we sometimes feel that nobody is really watching. This is a mistaken assumption; the truth is that there's always someone observing. And no, I'm not talking about a manager or a boss. It might be a fellow designer, it might be a recent hire from a different team, but it's certainly always yourself.

Also, and more importantly, if you give a damn not only will you develop a stronger, more reliable professional persona, but you will also be doing a favor to your soul. On average, a full-time employee may spend over 10 years of non-stop work in their lifetime. That's a significant amount of time. Giving a damn might be one of the most important factors in fostering a sense of purpose and meaning in a big, and oftentimes unavoidable, part of your life.

Everything matters

In this day and age, where things expire quickly yet leave a lasting record, where everything is subject to scrutiny by everyone, where brands are shaped by collective perception, and where technology evolves faster than the human brain can process, giving a damn is more important than ever. Every detail matters, and everything – quite literally everything – has the potential to heavily influence making or breaking a first impression, a conversion, a team, or even yourself.

So, why give a damn then? In essence, giving a damn is the best favor you can do for your users. Giving a damn is a genuine way to add real value to your team's culture. Giving a damn is the best gift you can give to your past, present, and future self. Giving a damn is the fastest way to make design invisible… and some say that great design has to be invisible. I agree with that, since  it always intrigued me how often the most meaningful things go unnoticed.

Thank you, Roberta.

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