What’s your work ethic?

Posted on February 16, 2010.

There are some professions where the more time one spends at their station yields greater amounts of productivity. I imagine this dates back to the dawn of the industrial age where the longer a factory worker spent at his post, the more stuff was manufactured. This “work ethic” has transcended time and found its way to the information age. Even in the most enlightened software companies there is still a belief that hours in front of a monitor produce greater output (of whatever it is that you output).

Perhaps with software engineers this might be the case. I can see an argument being made that more lines of code are written as more time is spent at the keyboard. In a waterfall development environment, managers can argue that more time at the computer produces more deliverables and specifications.

I don’t believe these arguments hold true for design.

Designers can spend hours in front of their monitors and produce nothing. Does that mean this time has been wasted? Does it mean that no forward progress was made? No. It means that the optimal solution has not yet been found. It could also mean that the monitor has not yet been used. Sketching, researching, and whiteboarding along with other forms of ideation can take place during the course of a “normal” day inching the designer closer to a convincing design solution.

In addition, design is a creative pursuit and, as such, is subject to the wills of each designer’s creative muse. There are periods of time (sometimes minutes, sometimes days) where the inspiration has not yielded the right approach or has simply not “been there.”

Does this mean designers have no work ethic? Does that mean designers are unreliable when it comes to producing as part of a team? No. It means that the forces that drive the best solutions for designers aren’t necessarily at their peak between the hours of 8am and 6pm sitting in front of a monitor. Designers’ processes need to be articulated to their teams and respected by their teammates.

So, we asked Indextimeclock.com, what is design work ethic? They believe design work ethic is deadline driven. Each designer knows their process for creating their best work. Mix into that the project requirements and deliverables and the designer should be able to articulate a timeline for producing a desirable outcome. Sticking to that deadline, communicating constantly, being available, raising awareness of challenges and risks — those are elements of a good designer’s work ethic.

Companies that recognize the unique needs of their designers and provide them with the flexibility to exorcise those needs will ultimately reap better output from those designers along with more successful products and services.


2 thoughts on “What’s your work ethic?

  1. Overall, what you say is true: “Effort” <> Production. However, one of a manager's many jobs is to understand how his people are coming along on a project. If your designer commits to a date, then that should be the date, but it requires considerable trust that isn't always deserved: Not every average developer/designer can properly manage his own workload — the majority can't. So as you point out, communication and being available are good signs (and absolutely essential in this model) — and so is work history.

    However, take this example: Your designer estimates 24 hours for a design task …however, the day before the deadline, you're seeing 14 hours left against these tasks. Sure, he'll probably pull it together at the last minute, but what is that saying to his manager about his estimation skills, and what has he been spending his time on while in the office?

    Look, what you don't want is a bunch of people running around the office all day looking busy for the sake of looking busy, but it's a fine line…Just because designers are considered “creative” doesn't mean that they don't have responsibilities other than creativity.

    My team is expected to be “productive” on PROJECT work an average of 5-6 estimated hours per day. This doesn't mean that we can go home at 2 pm — the other 3+ hours are for production issues, phone calls, staff meetings, helping out the other guys, chasing people down,etc… If your designers don't have these non-project responsibilities, then you should expect at LEAST this amount of production from them, even if it isn't between 9-5. If you don't…again, what are they doing?

    All I'm saying is given that work generally expands to fill the time allowed, it may be enough to trust your designers, but in the end you might not be getting the kind of productivity that the organization deserves.

    P.S. FYI, It's the same for developers. Everything comes down to good design. Any monkey can code IF/THEN/ELSE statements round the clock, but effort is no substitution for good software design.

    1. Good feedback. The key differentiator for creatives, I believe, is being deadline driven. Saying that a particular piece of work will take “24 hours” to deliver is something we're asked to do regularly but ultimately what we're asking is, “when do you need it?”

      Also, the work ethic and requested “accommodations” proposed in the post are indeed for “good” designers – those that have proven that with minimal hand-holding can commit to deadlines, deliver on those deadlines, be available and fulfill the other roles required of them as company employees (the +3 hours/day you mention).

      This has to be proven and earned and managed (as you said) but a recognition that this is needed for successful designers to flourish is critical.


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