I’m a huge advocate for following your passion and doing what you love. And [bonus] I’m one of the people who is lucky enough to be doing just that.
Earlier this week I read an article on Fast Company essentially saying that Steve Jobs didn’t follow his own advice to ‘do what you love’ and instead stumbled into his success with Apple because of other small details that helped him along the personal computing path. I feel that the article is overly pessimistic and states at the bottom of the article that advising people to follow their passion isn’t always useful career advice. Here’s my main issue: people are taking this whole doing what you love thing literally.
Do you think I was thinking about how passionate I was about interaction design when I was hanging out in the design lab in high school? Hell no, I didn’t even know that term even existed. I was thinking about how great it would be to take the print projects I was working and put them on a website. I did some googling; A lead to B, B to C and then I ended up graduating from art school with a BFA in Interactive Media Design with a new focus on usability and user experience.
Shortly after graduation, I rediscovered my love of dance [after a long hiatus]. Dancing began to fill all of my free time and the thought of ditching my education to be a dance instructor became super appealing [thanks family and friends for talking me out of that one]. I looked for ways that I could incorporate my love for dancing and movement into my work; I tried launching a company that focused specifically on dance web design, I bartered with instructors around the city [websites for private lessons], I did social media and online presence consulting for dance studios. Nothing seemed to make me happy, and then it dawned on me, I was actually mixing business with pleasure and it wasn’t fulfilling. In fact, it mad me feel exactly the opposite, empty, angry and tired.
After a while, I gave up on trying to incorporate dance into my career. It wasn’t until about a year or two ago that I realized I AM actually doing what I love [no, I’m not some crazy interaction design dancer, but I have been known to bust out the wobble at company holiday parties]. The core elements of dance completely relate to major components of good user experience design.
Connection. The most important technique in partnership dancing is connection, both physical and mental. Without a physical connection to your partner [the way you hold/are held by the other person] you cannot lead/follow the other. As a follower, every step I take is completely driven by my leader. His movement inspires mine our dance becomes a conversation. This relates exactly to design and layout of a product. As interaction designers, we make conscious decisions on where certain elements live within a product because we want to make sure our users can efficiently complete the task they are trying to accomplish. We are effectively leading our users down the most efficient path, just as my partner leads me around the dance floor. When we stay connected, we work together to create something wonderful.
Personality. Ever watch Dancing with the Stars and notice how much “acting” the professionals are doing with their partner? That’s not competitive dancing, that’s the pro’s best attempt to infuse as much personality into the dance as possible to make it relatable to the audience [in real competitive and show dancing both people are dancers so the acting doesn’t even come into the picture]. When you have a connection with your partner and you feel that rhythm, there is no acting needed, your audience will see and feel your chemistry and personality. As an IXD, this doesn’t completely fall on my shoulders, but I definitely play a part in the tone and personality of the products I work with when I work with our copywriters and marketing teams.
Relationships & Trust. In our line of work, it’s important to develop relationships with our users. For me personally, I tend to work really hard to cultivate connections with users that go a little beyond the typical user-company relationships. This is important because I need people to trust me enough to provide honest feedback about prototypes, ideas, their pain points and their ideas. I don’t feel that I will get true opinions from people without that level of trust in a relationship. The same is true of dancing. If one partner isn’t completely trusting of the other or their relationship isn’t rock solid, it shows when they perform. Imagine Dirty Dancing [I know you’ve all seen it], when Baby is learning to do the world famous lift and can’t seem to get the courage to jump. It wasn’t because she had no idea how to get there; it was because she didn’t fully trust Johnny. Additionally, think back to how they danced in the beginning of the movie versus how they danced that iconic mambo at the end- remember how their relationship with each other changed?
There are so many other connections I can draw between user experience and dancing, but I’ll spare you since I’m guessing most of you reading this are non-dancers. Ultimately, I think it’s important for you to take a holistic view of your passion, your career, and your life goals and see how they translate across each area. I really think you’ll be surprised at the connections that appear. If you’re unhappy with your career, focus on the aspects of your hobby that make you happiest and see how you can utilize them in your career. Then, you’ll be on your way to doing what you love.
…I’ve even incorporated glitter into my job, just ask my co-workers.