Advice from Mig Reyes: Be a better person first, and a becoming a better designer will follow.

Jessica Tenuta

Today, the Lightbank Designers were lucky enough to visit 37 Signals, (creators of Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire) to meet with designer Mig Reyes.  With a background that includes both agency work and start-up work as the designer for Threadless and now 37 Signals, Mig has a unique perspective that bridges the gap between the “traditional" design path of agency life and the uncertain, ever-changing world of start-up design. 

His advice was unlike the usual recommendations given to hungry young designers, which generally advises attendance at as many design events as possible, creating portfolio work and constantly self-editing, taking classes to improve hard skills, and submitting work to design competitions.  All of the “usual" advice focuses on self-promotion, passive absorption of information, and keeping your design methods driven by pure, inwardly focused design for design’s sake.

Mig of course still recommended being an active participant in the design community, and being unwaveringly dedicated to honing your hard skills, but first and foremost he recommended that always we strive to be better people.   I was incredibly impressed his advice and want to summarize and share my takeaways from our meeting today.

Write More He emphasized the importance of writing, and learning how to communicate more effectively.  By writing down thoughts in a way that allows them to be shared, allows them to be used elevate our collective knowledge. He elaborated on this point by saying that many of today’s thought leaders and design heroes did not set out intending to be such, they just started with an insatiable desire to share their ideas and knowledge through writing.  Design is so much more than just “styling", it is about creating effective communication regardless of the medium and being able to articulate why certain choices support the goals of the client.

Understand Why  Mig reccommended that we read the book, “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions" by Dan Airey, which dives into the psychology behind human behavior, decision making, and the patterns most people typically fall into.  When designing for the web, the best way to improve any interface is to really take a deep-dive look at human behavior to explore how and why people interact with an interface a certain way.  We can talk until we are blue in the face why a round button looks better, but ultimately it is about understanding what truly works better, and being humble enough to change. So much of design is about understanding how the typical person approaches a problem, and about making the solution as intuitive as possible.

Teach Others   He stressed that giving back and sharing knowledge, whether you are a thought leader with 30 years of experience or a recent design school grad, is essential to the betterment of the design community and allows you to learn more through teaching than you ever would through passively learning.  I was particularly impacted and activated by his statement,  "Even if you only have one day of experience, that is one more day of experience than many other people have…and one day of experience you are able to share with others". 

Be Humble  Everyone still has so much to learn, and the only way to truly fail in your design career is to assume you no longer have anything to learn.  Surround yourself with creative and intelligent people from all different industries, and be open to learning new things outside of “your field".   Great innovations happen at the intersection of different industries, when multiple opinions, experience levels, capabilities, and priorities collaborate.  Be self-reliant enough to get your hands dirty trying to solve a problem, but be humble enough to ask for help when you need it. 

Always Keep Creating   The projects created out of passion and interest are the ones that truly define you and contribute to making the community more vibrant.  Mig’s personal project, “Humble Pied",  in which he video chats with his role models and mentors and asks them to share their wisdom and advice on video, was the reason why he was initially discovered for the 37 Signals position.  Jason Fried saw a self-starter, who could write, create, and articulate his thoughts, with a passion for providing knowledge to the masses and elevating the understanding of design.  It was not his concrete past experiences, but rahter his initiative and passion that made him stand out.  People can smell a dual agenda a mile away, so be authentic, passionate, ready to learn, constantly following your passions.

Mig’s advice transcended how to be a better designer, and truly outlined how to be an empathetic, generative, giving human being.   He clearly lives by his own words of wisdom, as he is an active blogger on the 37 signals blog, Signals vs. Noise, a teacher at the Starter League, the founder of the Chicago chapter of Creative Mornings, while remaining humble, hungry to learn, and willing to help.  

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The author  [  Jessicagandham.com  ]

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