Laying the Groundwork for Fulfillment

The Designer in Focus

Connecting creation with collaboration

A column by Justin Dauer
October 4, 2021

In early September 2021, I gave the opening keynote “Our Imperatives: Connection and Fulfillment,” at UXPA International’s conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The crux of the talk revolved around how creating with a deep level of fulfillment translates to connection: both our own connection to our work and the connection of those who engage with our work. Really, in both cases, it’s all about connection, and this connection is no coincidence.

When connection is at its strongest, our personal values are also at their highest level of fulfillment. In this column, I’ll explore more deeply just how powerfully our value system drives fulfillment over the course of our career.

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Valuable Framing

Your values are essentially anything that you deem important to you personally. They apply to the way you live, as well as the design solutions you create. They’re your North Star in determining your sense of fulfillment, inform your life’s priorities, and ultimately drive contentment.

Before we can begin aligning our values to our work, we first need to be able to define them. Pause for a moment to think about what fulfills you outside a business context, in your personal life. What satiates you to your core and aligns to your sense of self?

It might be, for example, the act of

  • helping people
  • learning from your mistakes 
  • utilizing your gifts
  • giving back to the community

What would happen if you were consistently neglectful of those things? Would you be able to sleep soundly at night or find yourself lying awake all night because something seems to be missing from your life? Leveraging that list of possible sources of fulfillment, let’s look deeper at what values drive fulfillment in each of these cases.

Helping People

Have you stopped to give someone directions when they asked you for help—rather than just passing them by? Why did you feel compelled to help? Perhaps it was because you’ve been that person who needed help, know what it feels like to need someone’s assistance, and understand that it can be hard to ask for it.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand how they feel is all about demonstrating empathy.

Learning from Your Mistakes

We all make mistakes. “To err is human,” as Alexander Pope wrote. But there are just two ways to respond to a misstep: we either process and learn from our error and evolve, or we let the opportunity to learn slip by and periodically repeat the same error.

Having a focus on improvement and being mindful of your evolution is all about growth.

Utilizing Your Gifts

Sometimes, it feels good to take care of a straightforward, even commonplace task, chore, or project. We all have a lot to do, so checking items off our to-do list—whether metaphorical or literal—can be fulfilling in and of itself.

At other times, being tested by a more challenging project or endeavor satiates us at a deeper level—for example, running a marathon, building a piece of furniture, or putting together a complex puzzle.

In such cases, you appreciate leveraging your gifts and push yourself to employ them fully. This is all about meeting challenges.

Giving Back to the Community

The oxytocin boost we get from doing things such as volunteering our time to causes that are important to us is natural—giving back feels good.

If you’ve always made a point of looking beyond yourself, doing your part to better other people’s—and the world’s—condition, this is all about making a difference.

Defining What Matters Most

When you’re looking for a best-fit role—for both you and your work—it is essential to be crystal clear on just what are your most important values. Therefore, it is vital that you be able to prioritize them. In the context of a design project, this lets you get a clear sense of not only the must-haves for that design work but also for your given role, your organization, and the process by which you create.

Sometimes, your work satisfies certain values more than others, making it even more imperative that you weigh what you really need versus what you could potentially function without—or at least in a diminished capacity.

For example, would you want to take on design work that made the user’s workflow more intuitive—because the solution would be strong on empathy and connection—but is part a larger SaaS product whose development is driven by capitalistic goals, but not so much on making a difference?

If you’re unclear about your most important values, you might take on work or roles that, over time, disconnect you from your career. (The tale of my earlier work with a Web-hosting company fits that notion.) So take some you time to think through which of your values have been most fulfilling to you over the course of your life—both personal and professional.

Prioritization Begets Fulfillment

We’ve all likely been part of a forced ranking–workshop exercise at some point during our career. When these exercises take place in a group setting, they usually revolve around concepts or themes on a whiteboard, with the people in the room assigning priority to each of them by putting a star or a dot next to them—at either one end of a spectrum or the other.

At the end of the exercise, the group can see which concepts have the most stars or dots at the important end, which yields a broad consensus on which are the most important things—whether for the environment, people, project, or business.

What this does is create a distinct order of priority or plan of attack for what to work on first—for example, what features of a minimum viable product (MVP). Take on the spirit of this exercise as a solo initiative and prioritize your values. You know your values best and can force a ranking on them.

Give each of your values a score, depending on how intensely fulfilled you have felt by leveraging that value over the years through a variety of experiences. Forced ranking is never an easy exercise—whether on your own or in a workshop setting. So go easy on yourself as you work through your analysis.

The beautiful thing is that you can then leverage your prioritized values in so many different ways—for example:

  • deciding which questions to ask during your next job interview
  • serving as an objective gut-check when you feel your connection to your work is waning
  • determining whether the business that employs you is operating ethically, in unison with what’s most important to you

Your personal values are your North Star throughout your career. They are always your best guide to finding fulfillment by doing your best work. As you grow through your life and career, you can extend these values to everything you do. 

Vice President, Human-Centered Design and Development at bswift

Founder and Creative Director at pseudoroom design

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Justin DauerJustin is a multi-faceted designer, author, and speaker. Over the past 20 years, Justin has immersed himself in tangible and digital media. A perpetual student of design, observation, and the creative process, Justin builds teams and cultivates cultures around the perspectives and skillsets that designers use daily in their work: empathy, objectivity, and creativity. With Josef Müller-Brockmann and user advocacy claiming equal parts of his creative heart, Justin graduated from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), earning a BFA in Visual Communications. He is the author of the celebrated book Creative Culture: Human-Centered Interaction, Design, and Inspiration and speaks internationally on culture and design.  Read More

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