As designers and researchers, we work hard to reduce frustration in users of our product or service, but how good are we at reducing our own frustration?
There are many ways to deal with frustration, but I’d like to share the strategies I have learned over the last 20+ years and which I share with the people I mentor. It has given us satisfying results, and I hope it can help you too.
Understanding is key
Designers and researchers often face challenging problems and constraints we cannot eliminate. Therefore, we need to identify and understand the limitations (what we cannot change or control) and work around them to find a viable solution.
In the case of dealing with frustration, the first step is to understand those constraints, so we can move away from complaining or putting up. The knowledge we gain is what we need to start ideating solutions. It also helps us shift from a negative space to a place where we can let our inner creative problem-solver shine.
Although I’m far from being a stoic person, I have found it very useful to pay close attention to this one essential precept from Stoicism:
- We can only control our actions (what we do, think and say).
- We cannot control anything else, not even how we feel. You may try, but success is not guaranteed. You can only hope to influence things outside your control (which is much better than feeling you can’t do anything).
Once we understand the constraints and what we can and cannot control, we can start ideating solutions. So, the key is understanding the limitations and constraints (what we cannot change or control) and what we can. But how do we gain this understanding and knowledge? Given that we already know how to create a good user experience, it is not a far-fetched idea to apply this knowledge to design a good user experience for us. Knowing a bit about research techniques will greatly help you in this regard. (This is an excellent excuse to start learning if you don’t know much about research ;).
The starting point is self-knowledge. Once you know yourself, you can better understand why you feel the way you do, why you make the decisions you make, why you fit (or do not) in your company, why you get frustrated, etc. Understanding yourself (your bias, expectations, the effect of previous experiences, etc.) also enables you to evaluate your context a bit more objectively.
To understand and get to know yourself, you can use research techniques as you would with any user. Choosing multiple methods will help you triangulate and discover different aspects of yourself.
Here are a few examples of research techniques and methods you can use:
This is an excellent technique for collecting data over a long period. You can use it to collect data on many different aspects: what frustrates you and why, your behaviour in general or specific situations, your pain points, your motivations, your failures so you can learn, your success, your reactions, etc.
You can interview friends, family members and colleagues to gather data about yourself and triangulate that information with your perception. For example, are there gaps in what other people think of you and what you think of yourself? What insights can you uncover from this data?
You can interview yourself using tools such as the “personality tests” (truity.com has the most popular ones. 16personalities has only the Myers&Briggs evaluation but has a deeper analysis, even in their free version). To make it more fun (and triangulate data), ask someone who knows you very well and ask them to complete it while thinking of you.
You can do some observation on yourself by recording presentations on video and learning what your presentation style is. You can observe ticks, mannerisms, etc. This exercise is not a vanity contest; don’t judge your appearance. Be kind to yourself. Look at yourself to learn.
You can benchmark your work history to find patterns and compare behaviours in different contexts. It will also help you analyse
- What frustrated you,
- What you enjoyed,
- Why you joined a company,
- Why you left,
- What was your relationship with colleagues and bosses,
- or any other attribute that will shed light on behavioural patterns?
You can analyse data from each research individually, but the magic happens when you start linking the dots. It will be an iterative process and more fun if you can do it with someone else (a good friend, a mentor, etc.). The objective is to uncover insights, to get to those revelations that surprise you. As in any research project, you must prioritise where you’ll focus and tackle one issue at a time. Or you can just store the data in your mind to analyse future situations and understand why you reacted the way you did.
Understanding your audience
We may get frustrated with users when they don’t read instructions or complain about every little thing they don’t like, but we don’t get angry with them (I hope you don’t). Instead, we do research and try to understand why they do what they do, what they need, etc., and figure out the best way to interact with them.
Our stakeholders and colleagues are our “users”, the first audience of our work. Have you taken the time to know your stakeholders as well as your users?
Getting to know these “internal users” is one of the first things I do when engaging with a new client or starting at a company. I have conversations with them and try to identify their motivations, objectives, pain points, behaviour, preferences, etc. try to identify the value they see in what we do. I observe them in their natural habitat. Over time, I end up with a pretty good “persona” summary, and I use this information to review how and when I engage them and how I communicate with them. It also helps me adjust my expectations of their actions and reactions. Last but not least, it helps me in my efforts to make our work valued and understood.
You should also ask yourself:
- How empathetic are you towards your stakeholders and colleagues?
- Do you understand their “language”? (business, development, finance, legal, etc)
- Are there any cultural differences that may affect our relationship?
Understanding the context
Understanding what is happening around you will give you the knowledge to reduce friction with your context. It will help you empathise with the business, be more aligned with your stakeholders and understand the constraints to work more efficiently and with less frustration. Here are a few activities and questions to get you started:
- Ask questions to understand each project. Do you ask questions before accepting an assignment? (why, for whom, what, etc.), or do you just say yes and get down to it? (and then suffer when the project changes, is abandoned or doesn’t yield the (your) expected results?
- Reflect on how much you understand the business, its objectives, culture, vision, constraints, opportunities, threats, etc?
- Are you aware of the socio-economic pressures on the company or project? Do you read news on the industry sector or the world in general? This knowledge will help you understand what’s going on and what’s coming so you are not surprised when everything gets chaotic or pressure mounts around you.
In the second part of this article, we’ll explore three scenarios on how to actually get down to dealing with frustration in the real world.
I’d love to hear from you and see how this relates to your own experience 🙂