Design for impact through defining moments

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Our role as designers isn’t just about impacting users; we should strive to craft meaningful moments in our own everyday lives.

9 min read

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Thinking back over your career, what stands out?

Sit with this question and chances are certain memories come easy, while others are fuzzy. And most of it is completely forgotten.

In a single year, we work somewhere around 1,700 and 2,000 hours. Whether you've been working for one year or 30 (that's 60,000 hours), it's surprising how few memories we can quickly recall from our careers. Sure, we could press ourselves to remember more, but the things that stand out are arguably the things that mattered most.

For better or worse.

I'll take a guess that the memorable moments look something like this:

  • Times of transition and change The start or end of a job, a role, or those very early (or very last) days of your working life.

  • Low points you might rather forget Times when you clashed with a difficult boss, got let go, or were in a dark place questioning your own value and abilities.

  • High points that still give you a buzz Times you were especially proud of your work, had exceptional support from a mentor or supervisor, or got a big promotion or bump in pay.

These memories impact us as individual professionals. They shape how we work, how we think about work, and how we think about ourselves.

What makes these moments memorable? And why is so much of this time spent working so utterly forgettable?

Moments worth remembering

The NYT best selling book, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, offers insight into answering this question. In it, they explore the concept of defining moments, or short experiences that are both meaningful and memorable.

Memorable experiences are made up of moments that fall into one of three categories: peaks, pits, and transitions. The highs, the lows, and the times of change.

Your boss mentions you by name in an all-company meeting to praise your work (peak). Your toddler throws up all over the rental car on the way to the beach (pit). You meet someone who inspires you to do a thing, leading to the start of a new career direction (transition).

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Something about these memories that we might overlook is that there’s always someone behind them. An actor, orchestrating your moment. The mentor, the colleague, the speaker, the friend. The one who, intentionally or not, allowed this moment to take place through their actions, words, or the environment they created.

Life is a string of memories created by people we come in contact with. Our work lives aren't too different. Meaning-making at work is just as important as in any aspect of life. Our pits and transitions are meaningful. They help us grow as individuals and professionals.

Playing this role in others’ professional lives is profoundly meaningful, both for you and those you impact. These actors—the peak-builders—impact us and our organizations. In many ways, they are the meaning-makers of our work lives. And through their meaning-making, they create teams, cultures, and companies that we want to be a part of.

Creating peak moments for the organizations and teams we work with is a critical, yet overlooked, opportunity for us.

Anyone can create peak moments at work, and due to work environments often lacking in meaning, there is plenty of opportunity to create them. Everyone—from the CEO to the interns—should. In doing so, they not only impact the organizations, but countless individuals within the organization.

And you? Well, as a designer, you're uniquely equipped to identify, design, and implement activities that create peak moments for others. It's who we are. So why do it?

Designing for impact

Designers, like anyone, want a career where impact is possible. Most of us want to make a difference to something outside ourselves.

But what do designers talk about when we talk about impact?

So often it seems we focus on how the outputs of design drive impact. How design can be utilized to impact market expansion or brand expression. Or how design's success metrics (on the output) must align with those of the business to make an impact.

We look at design's impact on improved usability or consistency in complex systems. Or how our design helps end-users achieve something they couldn't have done without what we've produced. Or how design impacts the bottom line. It seems that design's impact is intrinsically linked to what comes after the doing of design.

First, this all makes total sense. The advice out there is often practical and actionable. But there's more to design's impact than what comes after we produce a deliverable.

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