Learn How to Escape Your Moment Prisons, All the Time

Note: This is Part 6 of the Ruminations for Aspiring Designers series.

There probably aren’t that many online articles we’d go back to again and again, but to me, Louis Rosenfeld’s brilliant article, Moment Prisons, and How to Escape Them, is definitely one.

The article was written in the context of information architecture and potentially the collapse of Information Architecture Institute. Yet, it offers long-lasting insight into how change and growth happen.

First of all, “[w]e are not very good with time”:

We humans are also notoriously bad at understanding the consequences of our actions, and that might also have something to do—again—with our difficulties with time. It’s hard for us to think ahead when we can barely comprehend the past. Our short term memories are easily distracted, and our longer term memories are famously faulty.

When we do take serious stabs at comprehending the future, we use tools like predictive analytics, based on probabilistic thinking, which itself is also very difficult for most people to understand. Even when we’re confronted with data that suggest factual accounts of the past and sound predictions of the future, stories inevitably trump these data.

As a result:

…when confronted by our poor memories and our inability to understand the big thing—the arc of our experiences—we double-down on the little things: our moments. Those little things are simply too small, by themselves, too confining to reveal much that’s meaningful.

Moments are prisons.

While the real challenge lies beyond the moments:

Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly trying to define yourself. Your resume, your portfolio, your skillset, your tribal allegiance: all will become moment prisons if you allow them to. Can you instead see these things as part of sequences, as unfolding stories of you? Will that make you more comfortable with change?

When it comes to understanding the complexity of us, we need to account for both time and space, for both moments and momentum. It’s time for us to break out of our moment prisons, begin to accept change, and get better acquainted with the drivers of change: principles, beliefs, and deliciously disconcerting uncertainty. We need to explore the calculus of narratives, of overlapping cadences, of the winding passage of time that we experience as humans together.

Let’s stop, as a profession, wasting our time arguing over moment prisons—especially over definitions and metaphors. That’s energy wasted that could instead be spent solving the huge problems that our planet needs us, as designers, to address right now.

A job title is definitively a moment prison.

When a job becomes an identity, you’re in serious trouble.
– Cennydd Bowles (Source)

We can define what we do, but what we do should never define us.
– Simon Sinek

It’s almost always better to focus on what we actually do instead of on what our job title is.

You don’t have to have the job title “UX Designer” to be able to design a website or an app. Likewise, you don’t have to design them when your job title is “UX Designer”.

“UX Designer” used to be my moment prison, in exactly the same way that “Objective-Oriented programming” was to me. I’ve briefly covered my career path elsewhere.

Nowadays I care much less about what my job title is, and I often tell people that I’m a design practitioner.

The thing is, maybe not everyone is a designer, but every designs and therefore is a design practitioner.

I don’t need the word “designer” to appear in my job title to feel competent about or be recognized for designing.

Neither should you.

Be a good design practitioner first.



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