November 4th, 2015

Work on hard, boring problems

At mPath, we are building an enterprise platform from scratch while solving a very real, and utterly fascinating problem. But as we’ve worked to build our team, I’ve found that most designers aren’t interested in enterprise software, and instead are drawn to the sexy, “safer” problems. The problems they want to solve are those that they might have in their lives — getting dates, finding coffee, sharing photos, discovering cool gadgets, organizing their life and optimizing social connections.

A friend and I were debating why designers have a tendency to shy away from the “boring” industries — areas like enterprise software, energy, finance, healthcare and machine automation. The discussion drifted to the Dribbblization of design — where the emphasis is primarily on flashy animation, beautiful interactions, bright gradients and flat™ design.

I get the allure. And in the past I’d fallen into the same trap.

It’s the obvious, “easy to spot” design.

It’s design that non-designers think of as design — a coat of paint, right there on the surface. It’s sexy — and it might get you a lot of likes and name recognition. But chasing the glamorous stuff is a missed opportunity.

That is, the opportunity to make a real difference — and to become a better, more sophisticated designer.

The vast majority of the industries in this world aren’t very glamorous. In fact, on the surface, most of them are downright boring. But inside these boring industries are hard, fascinating problems. Problems that cause real people real pain every day. Problems that cost millions of dollars every year.

Problems that caused a child to die, because seasoned nurses couldn’t figure out the software.

Change the world (for reals)

Many of these problems can be solved by better user research and design. If you want to change lives — “change the world” — work where you can make a real impact. By choosing to solve the really complex, seemingly insurmountable problems, you’ll grow more as designer and develop an incredibly fulfilling career. The work is never boring, because many of the problems you’ll encounter are at the very least, nebulous — and often, unexplored. And once you’ve done the research, solved these problems and seen your work in use — there’s nothing more satisfying than experiencing your customers’ joy. They’re happy – because you just eliminated two hours of daily, repetitive work for them. They can go home earlier, and get a pay raise for increasing efficiency.

On the other hand, if you join an already glamorous company, other designers has already been there and done that. You’re riding their coat tails. Sure, you’ll get some nice portfolio pieces out of it. But you won’t get any of the credit. It’ll be great that you made it even easier to share a photo, for instance. But it’s a completely different thing to transform the way people work, or the way healthcare is delivered.

And that’s the fulfilling thing about boring, hard problems – You not only get to make a product that fulfills the full potential and capabilities of modern software, but you’ll also increase ROI, make real differences in peoples’ lives and always have a challenging problem to solve.