Career life Presentation

NSConf: Jamie Newbury – Design Skills that Saved My Life

My notes from @jaimeejaimee‘s fantastic talk at @NSConf.

Rocky Balboa
Credit: Flickr / Scott D Welch

We’re going to talk about burnout.

Before graduated college was dishwasher, waitress, heavy equipment washer, pilot car driver, sign painter, production assistant, bank teller, park ranger, metal sculpture (that was degree).

After graduated realised need to figure out what to do for a living. Decided to be a web designer. Taught herself.

Dad was a U.S marine, sky diver, scuber diver, karate instructor, occasionally big jerk. Taught 1) life is short. Be smart be kind, life is short don’t waste time doing you don’t like doing. 2) love what you do, because life if short.

Loss of 15yo brother at 11, learn – life is short. At 27 lost her mom, reinforced this message. Taking the positive, love her work. In a time of loss, found that work was thing that could poor pain, passion, love energy into. Made her work better. Sure that work saved her life, was a sanctuary.

April 9, 2012. Dad was doing something he loved – riding his motorcycle from her house to his, didn’t make it. Again found, positive from something negative, he died doing something he loved. Lived a life of making decisions to do things he loved, so the odds of him dying doing something he loved were pretty high.

Thought it would be the same, work would be saving grace, everything would be fine.

This time it wasn’t. Work was the balloon, string cut, drifted away. Fell to the ground like a limp noodle.

Thought could just keep going.

It’s important to understand the difference between dissatisfaction and burnout. Wasn’t dissatisfaction. Was different.

When designing experiences for people, you need to be able to connect.

Single mom of two beautiful girls, could not give up, sell everything and run away to the mountains.

Dad was into self help, was so cheesy to her growing up. Thought, dad really found something in it, threw herself into it in search of something that she liked.

Reinforced – needed to pick self up, and carry self through this.

Movie Rocky – unconventional training methods. Drinking raw eggs and punching meat.

Seen movie hundreds of times, “It doesn’t matter if I lose this fight, all I want to do is go the distance”. Realised most important part of the movie.

Started looking design process. Realised. “I am a designer I have 15 years of tools in my Mary Poppins bag for solving problems.” “I have what I need”.

You could design your life, just like your life is a product. We’re making stuff. We pour all this emotion and soul into the stuff that we make, had never before thought of flipping it onto herself.

If my life is the product, and I can control the outcome, what do I do?

No one size fits all, basic process.

Step 1: Understand.

“Breakdown occurs when clarity of vision is lacking.”

First mobile product was the zappos mobile app. Had been working on website for about a year, was approached to look at the mobile apps. 

You can take these questions and turn them at yourself. Her goal: to get unburntout. 

Stakeholders are really important in this too – these are the people who depend on you and you depend on.

Whatever the goal is, have clarity of vision.

Step 2: Discovery.

Context – users – this applies to life too. To be a better mom, did stakeholder interviews with kids. Interviewed teachers, talked to their friends.

Brand – can take that at a personal level. Need to decide what the personality of the brand is.

Existing patterns – hugely important, what patterns exist in user behaviour, what patterns exist in the world.


Behaviours – want to understand the environment, look at day to day rituals, what is working what is not working.

Existing processes.

Once gathered – can brainstorm things that are targeted at a very specific problem. Then you get solutions, and puzzle pieces.

Side-note: What’s good – looking at product, looking at what is wrong, don’t forget what’s good.

Step 3: Design

Once you understand what problem you are designing, you have puzzle pieces. Design is nothing but solving puzzles. 

Problem is carrying stuff. Hate bags. If has a bag, leave it.

Disney came up with a solution – band, magic band, photo ID, credit card, hotel room key. All these things in one magic band, don’t need to carry stuff, they have solved that problem! If only we had that in the real world (apple watch).

The Power of Habit – story of convinving americans to become a nation of people who brush their teeth. Trigger, action, reward.

These are patterns we need to think about when designing products, but also when designing your life. The reward re-enforces the action.

BJ Fogg tiny habits. Improving health. Drinking water feels small and insignificant. Fill my water glass – do it after waking up. Automatically drink the water after fill the glass. Break it down so small, impossible not to do it.

Because of little things, was able to fold this sort of habit form into life.

Break it down so small that you can’t deny it in your life.

Celebrate the little things.

Do some kind of physical manifestation of the reward.

Get something out there – whether it’s your product, a beta, or your life, then you can immediately get feedback on it. That feedback helps you.

Step 4: Iterate

Once you have feedback you can start iterating on things and make it better!

Jesse James Garret – watch, fail or succeed, learn, try again.

We need to iterate.

Really rare that we throw something perfect out there the first time.

“All I want to do is go the distance” – Rocky lost, but he went the distance. Then there was Rocky 2 and he totally kicked ass.

Test, tweak revise. Don’t give up. There’s so much out there.

Wrapping Up

The tools – you have the skills. Whatever you do to build the products you’re building, you can use these.

Worked on products. Works on life. Learned take these skills, and coaching, can not just help people inside companies, can actually help companies. Came back around, now focused on people, not products. Means that people are building better products.

Everything needed to get out of burnout was inside, just had to figure out how to apply it.