Koan #3

Questions I’ve asked myself many times over the years as I sat in product and design meetings:

  • Are you really arguing over a button or a color or whether an element should have rounded corners and be placed 5 pixels to the left?
  • Are these the things you discuss as your customers, those who use your product, suffer through another session with the very product you are debating these minute details over?
  • Are these the questions that prompted you to hire me, a designer with a graduate degree?

As snarky as some of these questions might seem, they are truthful…


Koan #2

I often find myself wrestling with a design-related issue. It might be something as simple as the selection of a color or font or the placement of an element on a screen. It could be as complicated as establishing the user flow or evaluating user research. Regardless of how large or small the issue is, I find it helpful to ask myself one question.

What will be the impact of this issue on the user experience and/or the product as a whole?

The smallest issues can sometimes have the largest impact and those issues that seem large, often have little…


Koan #1

Let me start with the obligatory, Welcome to Design Koans.

Well, wait a minute…

Such perfunctory pleasantries should be stricken from a publication with a title bearing its roots in Zen Buddhist philosophy. Perhaps a bit more minimalistic language is in order for this forum. More on that below.

It has been more than 5 years since I started a routine writing habit with user experience design as my primary topic. In that time, I have explored a number of different design-related concepts, authoring 99 articles on Medium. This, a stroke of chance and not planned, is the 100th article.


Man with a box sitting over his head so you cannot see his face
Man with a box sitting over his head so you cannot see his face
Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

Protecting Us From Ourselves

I had the new guy figured out. He was late to his interview, late his first week and often came in smelling of the previous night’s party. Yep. I had this guy’s number. Within the first few weeks of working with Alex (not his real name), my impression was set.

But I had lobbied hard to hire this guy and I did think he had the right character for the position. He was easy-going, confident and hard to rattle. I felt we needed someone who could keep their cool in the heated meetings we’d been having with development.

But despite…


A laptop on a desk with a portfolio opened in a window
A laptop on a desk with a portfolio opened in a window
Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

As a Hiring Tool, It’s Failing the Profession

The subject line read “UX Designer — PERFECT POSITION FOR YOU.” It was an email from a recruiter with Mondo, “the nation’s premier staffing agency,” which went on for the length of a Tolstoy novel to describe a position at least 5–7 years my junior. It wasn’t the perfect position for me — not even close.

I get at least half a dozen of these emails each week. Most of them are spammy, spray and pray attempts at recruiting. Most of them are immediately deleted with no response given.

But with that many emails (or more) coming in from recruiters…


In what world?

Aerial view of city distorted to take the shape of a globe
Aerial view of city distorted to take the shape of a globe
Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

I was sitting on the couch clearing out emails one night not too long ago with the news playing in the background when my ears perked up to a headline about Facebook. The headline was something to the effect of the Facebook board to decide on Donald Trump ban.

We all know how that turned out. But I remember becoming incredulous over this whole storyline as the days passed. In what world, I thought, could someone pull the kind of shit Donald Trump pulled and not be immediately banned from a platform?

I mean if this was Donnie Trump Jr…


single drop of water making waves in a larger body of water
single drop of water making waves in a larger body of water
Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

This Is What It’s Worth

Why would anyone want to be a designer? I‘ve wondered this more than once and even written entire articles around the topic.

From the outside looking in, I get it. What initially fuels our desire to become designers is often far different from what motivates us to remain designers. Many of those in the early stages of exploring design as a career option will undoubtedly be swept up in the flashy glitz we only see as outsiders looking in. But there’s a point early in any design career where the work begins. There is a point where reality sets in.


A neon sign with the word “Perfect” in neon lights
A neon sign with the word “Perfect” in neon lights
Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

The Value of Vulnerability in Design

I’m scared shitless of showing my designs. More than a decade as a designer has not cured me of this fear.

I fear the negative feedback I am sure will come. But I fear positive feedback even more. For I will quickly rationalize any positive feedback as superfluous flattery.

It’s a paradox where the negative feedback crushes me and the positive feedback is never enough to quell the appetite of my fragile ego. It isn’t easy to write about myself this way. But it is the truth.

This is still the one key aspect of UX design that can raise…


Your brain and design.

Computer-illustrated female super hero flying through the sky
Computer-illustrated female super hero flying through the sky
Image by Janos Perian from Pixabay

“What’s your superpower?”

I was seated across from the hiring manager in a swanky downtown Chicago office on Michigan Avenue. The interview had been going well until she asked what was arguably a cliched question — cliched even for ten years ago. She leveled her eyes and gave me a look as if this question were the sole deciding factor in her hiring decision.

What was my superpower?

If I could have shot flesh-melting lasers out of my eyes at that point, I might have.

I understood what the question was really asking for. It was a question designed to…


Design negotiation techniques when your team says no.

An image of a wall with “No” painted on it
An image of a wall with “No” painted on it
Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

It’s one of those days where everything went right. The design problems that had been plaguing you for days or weeks suddenly fell away as you found the right solutions. Everything snapped into place like a hand-crafted jigsaw puzzle.

You got it. Now you just have to sell it.

This is where other problems, new problems, typically come to light. Somewhere in the middle of your design presentation, someone says those four words you are all too familiar with — we can’t do that. It might be a developer or someone on the business side or, even worse, a stakeholder.

Chris Kiess

Healthcare User Experience Designer in the Greater Chicago area

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store