The Importance of Self-Care for Designers
A conversation about the personal risks of working in the design industry is long overdue
This story is part of Self-Care is for UX, a series on the personal risks of working in design.
“You often feel tired, not because you’ve done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.” — Unknown
In the early 1900s, some psychiatric hospitals gauged patients’ readiness to integrate back into society through a simple but peculiar test. The patient was ushered into a room with a sink, where the hospital staff would place a plug in the sink, turn on the faucet, and wait for the sink to overflow. As water bubbled over the edge and splashed onto the floor below, the patient was then handed a mop. The staff would leave the room, closing the door behind them.
If the patient turned off the water, unplugged the sink, and mopped up the water that had spilled onto the floor, they were deemed as ready to go home and enter back into society. But if the patient opted to frantically mop as the water gushed out of the sink, failing to turn off the faucet or remove the sink’s plug, they were deemed insane and prescribed more time in the psychiatric hospital. They had failed to acknowledge and address the root of the problem.
Many of you are frantically mopping.
You feel as though the craft you once loved is now robbing you of joy and life.
You feel a consistent and growing tension between boredom and burnout.
You have grown tired and numb to witnessing design thought leaders debate the same👏🏾old👏🏾things👏🏾, only to reinforce branded orthodoxies that, at best, lead to the constant repackaging of ideas into books, blogs, and articles and, at worst, a prideful competition for relevance.
You’ve experienced deep sadness and anxiety during or at the conclusion of long projects and... you don’t quite know why.
If you are part of an underrepresented and/or marginalized group, you feel tired and angry (and rightfully so) at the hypocrisy you see from companies, well-known design leaders, and conference speakers with their lack of commitment to being truly human-centered in ways that acknowledge privilege, power, and injustice.
Some of us are, have been, or will eventually enter a state of frantically mopping because we, as a profession and an industry, have failed to accurately identify and address the problem.
It’s time to change that.
What to expect from this series
This series aims to 1) address issues that deeply impact both the personal lives and careers of UX professionals and 2) provide practical next steps through an activity or challenge for readers to implement in their personal and professional life that aligns with new ways of feeling, thinking, or doing.
In other words, I won’t be handing you another mop.
I want to address the plug, remove it, and start vulnerable and honest conversations around issues like:
- The lack of discussion around the very real and personal risks of becoming a design professional.
- The need for the conversation around ethics to address more than the relationship between design professionals and the rest of the world; they need to address the relationship the design professional has with themself.
- Our truncated understanding of what it means to be holistically healthy and the potential harm we can cause to others if we fail to prioritize in both our personal and professional lives.
- The role of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma in the life of a design professional.
- Developing coping skills and self-awareness.
“Ask yourself if what you’re doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.” — Unknown
So if you’ve grown comfortable ignoring difficult conversations around the role of privilege and power in design, and you’ve become content with the quality of the never-ending debates over issues that prioritize the egos and pride of those constantly clinging to relevance, then this series isn’t for you.
But if you’re ready for this upcoming year to be different, if you’re tired and find yourself struggling with burnout, if you’re ready to challenge industry-held orthodoxies and improve your approach to work in order to create a better future for yourself and others, if you’re ready to begin the personal work necessary to bring clarity and life back into your professional life—if you’re ready to turn off the faucet, pull the plug from the sink, and put your mop to use, this series is for you.
Let’s get to work.
Mindful moment: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” — C.S. Lewis
Challenge: The journey of self-care — understanding ourselves and unlearning and relearning new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing — differs from person to person. Take a moment to consider what self-care means to you and what may change in both your professional and personal life if you increase your commitment to pursuing it. How, if at all, could this impact the way you think about conversations in our industry around ethics, best practices, research, leadership, and collaboration?