True & Magnetic North in UX Design

Just going north isn't a strategy. 

We talk and hear about true north and, for most of us, this is still a good way to think about out work, keep ourselves in check, and ensure we're spending time on what matters. We set our lofty goal, our BHAG, our MTP, whatever you call it. When we stay focused on it, we stay on our truest north path.

But what if we don't have these types of goals? Or maybe we do, but they just sit in a slide deck or statement of work, and don't play a role in our design process. Who's to say we're actually moving not towards true north, but towards magnetic north?

creds to Tyson Dudley via Unsplash

creds to Tyson Dudley via Unsplash

Forces pull us all the time. Personal pulls on professional, mundane pulls on sacred, and being hungry or under-caffeinated can make us a danger to ourselves and others. But I’m talking specifically about the forces that pull experience designers in directions that may feel north, but aren’t.

Magnetic north is the direction that forces pull on you as a designer. The client that isn’t as interested in their users as they said, the insanely short timeline that requires you to sacrifice user research and testing, the startup founder that only dances to the tune of their funder.

Or, maybe it’s just us. 

Our desire to play up our strengths, or avoid our weaknesses. Work politics impacting our workflow, outputs, and (sooner or later) our results. Maybe we feel lazy and unmotivated sometimes, and true north seems like too much effort.

This dynamic is frustrating for us designers, but we also need to recognize it as a reality of life that will continue to be a challenge throughout our careers. 

That’s not a cop out. 

It’s inevitability is precisely because we work in a people-centered profession, and people are really complicated. Whether you’re the CEO or a new intern, your direction will always be influenced by magnetic forces.

And rightfully so. 

The question for us is to what extent these magnets will divert us from true north? And how confident are we in our true north to be able to calibrate our compasses to stay on track? And then, do we have the willingness to put our neck on the line when the teams get’s off track?

We can start now by acknowledging the magnets around us, and around those we work with. Have empathy for your people (users and colleagues alike) and the many magnets they’re dealing with too.

Remind yourself of what true north is for you, your project, your team, your client, and/or your company. Pair this with awareness of the magnets pulling on you, and you’ll find keeping true north can be easy and extremely rewarding.