It’s showtime! I’m incredibly happy to finally reveal SmashingConf Antwerp , our brand new conference on usability, UX, design systems and product design, taking place in an unforgettable venue in-person and online — on Oct 9–11.
I always learn so much from meeting wonderful people like yourself — strolling together across the magical old town, debating Figma tricks in a little waffles shop, discussing your design systems process in a cozy coffee shop, and sharing enterprise UX challenges in a proper Belgian pub.
That’s exactly what we want to do. A friendly, inclusive conference about how we work and how we fail and how we succeed. Honest and passionate — for people who absolutely love design, UX and the web. Jump to all the fine details →
By the way, we also have our wonderful SmashingConfs in San Francisco and Freiburg which are quite different. And: we have a wonderful free online workshop on headless CMS with our dear friends from Storyblok starting this Thursday.
We sincerely hope to see you there, and in the meantime, let’s dive into the ways of working!
— Vitaly (@vitalyf)
1. The V-Shaped Employee
You might have heard people talking about the “T-shaped” employee. And while the concept is valuable, Jeroen Kraaijenbrink suggests it’s time for a new type: the “V-shaped” employee.
Introduced in the early 1980s, the “T-shaped” employee stands for someone who has deep knowledge in one area (the vertical bar of the T) and shallow knowledge about a broad range of other areas (the horizontal bar of the T). Jeroen’s concept of the “V-shaped employee” goes a step further. They also have deep knowledge in one area and shallow knowledge about a broad range of other domains.
The key difference is the part in between: adjacent knowledge that is related to the employee’s core expertise, but not deep or shallow, but in between, enabling them to be versatile and agile. The more V-shaped an employee is, the better they can flourish and contribute to your organization, so the theory. An interesting concept. (cm)
2. Individual Contributor Career Paths
Brian Lovin observed two things about careers in product design: Career ladders usually nudge designers into management roles as the most realistic way to level up, and most designers transition into management or leadership roles around the Staff or Principal Levels.
That means it’s increasingly rare to see individual contributors with 10+ years of experience. But what about designers who choose differently and stay on the individual contributor path for the long term? To find out, Brian started Staff Design.
Staff Design interviews product designers who chose the individual contributor path instead of a career in management. You’ll learn more about how they level up, what it means to practice design at the highest level, how to track career growth, and what skills are required. Interesting insights are guaranteed for product designers trying to figure out the next step in their career.
Bonus: in Product Design Level Expectations, Aaron James provides a very detailed overview of design levels, based on product thinking, interaction design, visual design, drive, intentionality and self-awareness. You can also find more details in the guide that Aaron recently published. (cm)
3. Tips For More Valuable Meetings
Meetings can be utterly exhausting and frustrating but also valuable and productive. So what can we do to get the most out of them? Vitaly summarized some formats and guidelines that seem to be working slightly better, especially in large organizations.
Apart from good preparation and ensuring that your meetings don’t get out of hand duration- and quantity-wise, it might also be a good idea to always define a specific meeting type, with a custom emoji and color coding for your calendar.
Vitaly also shares a template for a ten-point meeting document that you can distribute ahead of time to get everyone on the same page. Valuable tips that are easy to put into practice and make a real difference. (cm)
4. Upcoming Online Workshops
That’s right! We run online workshops on front-end and design, be it accessibility, performance, or design patterns. In fact, we have a couple of workshops coming up soon, and we thought that, you know, you might want to join in as well.
On March 2 & 3, we’ll be unpacking the world of headless content management systems in a free online workshop supported by our dear friends at Storyblok. We’d love to see you there!
As always, here’s a quick overview:
- Universal Principles of Typography Masterclass UX
with Elliot Jay Stocks. Mar 2–16
- Go Headless with Your Favorite Framework FREE
with Josefine, Facundo and Manuel. Mar 2–3
- Interface Design Patterns UX Training UX
with Vitaly Friedman. Mar 10 – Apr 7
- The Power of Storytelling UX
with Chiara Aliotta. Mar 14–28
- Figma Auto Layout Masterclass UX
with Christine Vallaure. Mar 27
- Architecting Design Systems Workflow
with Nathan Curtis. May 11–19
- Data Visualization Dev
with Amelia Wattenberger. May 4–18
- Accessibility Testing Dev
with Manuel Matuzović. June 12–26
- Smart Interface Design Patterns Video Course UX
9h-video + Live UX Training with Vitaly Friedman
- Jump to all workshops →
5. The Dangerous Animals Of Product Management
Product managers have a clear vision, strategy, and roadmap for their products. Yet stakeholders often come to the table throughout the product management process with unvalidated requests. To help you master influence without authority when dealing with challenging stakeholders and situations, the folks at Productboard released a handy toolkit: The Dangerous Animals of Product Management.
The eBook and accompanying video series introduce you to the ten dangerous animals you might encounter on your product management journey. You’ll meet the HiPPO, for example, (“highest-paid person’s opinion”), the ZEbRA (“zero evidence but really arrogant”), or Seagull Managers, noisy managers who occasionally swoop in, cause an uproar, and leave your team to clean up after the mess.
The series teaches you a mix of soft skills and frameworks to limit their power and help you stay true to your carefully-planned product strategy. (cm)
6. How To Hire A UX Designer
Hiring a UX designer is easier said than done. First, you need to find a UX designer, then you need to evaluate them against structured criteria, and finally, you need to convince them to join your payroll. To get you through the process as smoothly as possible, Adam Fard wrote a complete guide to hiring a UX designer.
The guide takes you step-by-step through the process of finding, interviewing, and recruiting a UX designer. It compares the pros and cons of different engagement models, dives deeper into what to look for in a UX designer, and takes a closer look at red flags to watch out for. You’ll also learn more about how much you should expect to pay a designer, mistakes to avoid during the hiring process, and, last but not least, what interview questions to ask. (cm)
7. How To Work With Me
How would you like others to interact with you? Leah Tharin summarized everything that matters to her in a readme called “How to work with me” visible to everyone in her company Slack. It clarifies expectations and makes interaction and communication easier.
Leah’s readme is a simple Notion page with four sections: a three-point summary, things she cares about, how to interact with her, and preferences when booking appointments.
Sascha Brossman went a step further and created a “User Manual Of Me” Miro board with a photo of himself and his workspace, conditions he likes to work in, things he struggles with, interests, how he likes to receive feedback, things he needs to bring his best self, and more. By knowing about preferences, little quirks, and habits, team members can show they care about each other and prevent misunderstandings and insecurities. (cm)
8. Better Design Critiques
Design critiques are a key part of every design culture. If done right, they leave you feeling inspired, challenged, and empowered, while a poorly managed critique can cause a team to feel discouraged and overwhelmed. Noah Levin shares valuable insights into how they use critiques at Figma and how they worked together as a team to turn them into meetings they all enjoy.
The Figma team put together six different critique methods, each with its own strengths and purposes. From Standard Critiques to Pair Designs and Silent Critiques, Noah explains how each of them works and when to use which. He also shares ten tips that have worked well for them while running any of the critique methods. For example, a smaller room and a simple timer can already work wonders. Actionable insights to help you get more out of your design critiques. (cm)
That’s All, Folks!
Thank you so much for reading and for your support in helping us keep the web dev and design community strong with our newsletter. See you next time!
This newsletter issue was written and edited by Cosima Mielke (cm), Vitaly Friedman (vf) and Iris Lješnjanin (il).
- Design & UI Inspiration
- All Things UX
- Lovely Little Website Gems
- Inclusive Design and Accessibility
- UX Writing and Microcopy
- Inclusive Design
- Figma Tools and Workflow
- UX Workflow
Looking for older issues? Drop us an email and we’ll happily share them with you. Would be quite a hassle searching and clicking through them here anyway.