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Designing Happiness

uxdesign.cc – User Experience Design — Medium | Gabriel Valdivia

How to achieve happiness in your career and create experiences that inspire happiness in others.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to give a guest lecture at a California College of the Arts design class. The week’s topic was happiness.

Happiness in design comes from contributing to a greater good — getting rid of your ego and aligning yourself with a goal that’s bigger than you.


From left to right: Shalin Amin, Daniel Burka, Soleio Cuervo, Mia Blume, & Brynn Evans

Earlier this year, Google hosted a design conference called Form. There was a panel about Talent & Hiring — a topic that I am particularly excited about since I’ve been very involved in it at Facebook. In the panel, Daniel Burka mentioned something that was particularly insightful, so I tweeted what he said and added the conference’s hashtag:

“If you’re a senior designer, put in the fucking time to have a coffee with a junior designer and mentor them” –@dburka #FORMSF14

 — @gabrielvaldivia

Thanks to Burka’s unapologetic poignance, the tweet got a bunch of attention from other conference attendees, so a lot of people saw it… among them was Benny, who replied with a slightly more aggressive tweet:

I don’t follow Benny and he doesn’t follow me. In fact, we have never interacted on Twitter. Yet he felt the need to attack me personally.

But it didn’t stop there. Benny kept going, digging through old dribbble shots and mocking them. This went on all night, without any response from me.

Maybe Benny was jealous that he didn’t get invited to the conference. Maybe he saw my work and was enraged that it wasn’t to the standard he thought Facebook deserved. Maybe he was just drunk for attention.

It really doesn’t matter why this happened. The point is:

Adversity doesn’t always come from a place of reason, or a place you can control.

Gaining validation and respect from your peers is important, but it shouldn’t be your primary motivation. Too many people are distracted by follower counts, likes, and comments.

If you put all your self-value in your personal image, you’re bound to find disappointment. In order to achieve happiness, you must pursue ideas bigger than you, bigger than any single one of us.

True happiness is not attained through self-gratification,
but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. — Helen Keller

I believe you should always be vulnerable as a designer. You should assume your work is not perfect, expect that you have not yet found the best solution and welcome criticism along the way. However, this can prove to be very taxing, especially if you see your design as the end goal of your contribution to a project. Visuals will quickly become out of date and interaction patterns will change and fade away (remember those sexy carpet textures?). What should remain constant is your commitment to a worthy cause. Happiness is almost always linked to purpose — the reason why you do something, not necessarily the praise you’ll get (or not) for the way in which you go about doing it.

Purposeful Design

At Facebook, that purpose is to make the world more open and connected. This is a map of all the connections made through Facebook as of 2010:

It’s amazing! You can almost see the whole world drawn through these connections. However, there are parts of the world that are still missing; China is almost completely absent and there are large portions of Africa that need to be filled in, too.

Here’s a video that better illustrates what I mean:

That was internet.org, a project led by Facebook to bring the internet to everyone in the world and give them access to the knowledge economy.

These and many other ideas alike are what drives us at Facebook. This is important because we constantly sacrifice our ego in service of these aspirations. You could put a ton of time into something and it could suddenly get killed, goals might change, or team members might leave or lose interest. This is obviously frustrating because you immediately question the time you’ve spent on that project: I now have nothing to show for the work I’ve done. Did I just waste X months of my life?

But the bigger goal is more important than your individual output or whether or not your name gets attached to it. Unveiling a new product is sexy, but the true learnings lie in the things we choose not to ship.

Every individual step you take informs the company’s path towards achieving its mission.

This is why choosing a mission that closely aligns with a future in which you’d like to live in is paramount to achieving self-realization in your career.

How to inspire happiness in others

So, once you’ve defined your goal and are ready to go, how do you create experiences that inspire happiness in others? The answer lies in this book:

Designing forEmotion, by Aarron Walter.

This is one of the best design books I’ve read. It’s part of the A Book Apart series — a must read for any designer out there.

In his book, Aarron Walter tweaks Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and adapts it for product design:

At the lowest level, a product has to be functional. If a product doesn’t work at all, users wont use it. Once a product is functional, it has to be reliable. If your product is only available intermittently, users won’t trust it. They’ll leave for other sites that can do the same thing more reliably.

UX deals with making products usable and pushing them beyond that to pleasurable. Without the underlying layer of reliability to build upon, a site won’t ever get to the stage of being usable. You can’t use a site that you can’t access, and you certainly can’t enjoy it!

Ok, that’s great but… how can *I* create experiences that inspire happiness in others?

Cue in Ira Glass, an American public radio personality and the host and producer of the radio and television show, This American Life.

He talks about the gap between your work and your taste and how the only way we can get through it is by continuously doing a lot of work.

Let’s take a look:

I swear I think about this every day. I’m not yet the designer I aim to be, but I have been lucky to work on projects that have touched a few lives in a modest way. I’m happy to continue the pursuit of a mission I feel passionate about and motivates me to get up and go to work every day.

Follow me on Twitter and tell me what motivates you to get up every day!

Gabriel wrote this story to share knowledge and to help nurture the design community. All articles published on uxdesign.cc follow that same philosophy.


Designing Happiness was originally published in uxdesign.cc on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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