Innocent Eyes

In the web industry we have this funny thing where we like to call people Junior, Middleweight and Seniors. Those aren’t all the terms by any stretch, but they’re the main ones.

They’re designed to dictate people’s level of experience: a junior is somebody who’s just starting out in the industry, and it’s probably their first job.

That isn’t always the case though. Sometimes a junior designer could be somebody with 2 or 3 years experience, but the lack of consistency with the terms is another discussion for another time.

No, the main thing I want to get to is the mind of a junior. The mind of somebody who’s fresh-faced and dewey-eyed who enters the web industry. Let’s take a look at them.

The mindset of a newbie

I’m not thrilled by the word newbie, but it explains what I’m referring to. A junior. A person new to the industry.

What I’m talking about here isn’t really just about the web, it could be about any industry that has a similar structure.

That mindset we have when we’re new to something is special, and it’s one we too often lose to bitterness and negativity.

When somebody first joins the web industry, they are passionate with a capital P. They’re engaged with the industry, they’re reading everybody’s blogs, they tweet, they blog themselves, they go to lots of conferences and they spend 24 hours a day learning new stuff.

Every new thing discovered is genuinely new. They’ve never seen anything like it before. Each new thing discovered is a new synapse fired and connected and it feels amazing.

I still yearn for new learnings like this, and when you genuinely learn something completely new there’s no better feeling on the planet.

There’s an innocent curiosity with everything that’s seen, and an ignorant, child-like attitude to everything that’s discovered. Nothing is good or bad, everything is there to be analysed, tinkered with and expanded upon.

There’s no previous data to draw upon, so every new task is an opportunity to create a new and exciting workflow.

A lot of what makes the mindset of a newbie really special is the innocence. There are no mental models to follow. There’s no concept of right or wrong. There’s no limits to what could be achieved because no limits are known.

The no limits, the innocence and the concept of right and wrong are the things we lose way too quickly when we learn the rules.

“New” doesn’t mean “Wrong”

The new people spend their entire lives consumed by their jobs. I was there, once upon a time. We all were.

Over time the surprise and awe of the new fades into a melancholy. An attitude of Seen It All Before and It Was Better In The Old Days.

This attitude leads to a preconception that new = wrong. Or that new = old pointless addition. We see new things and frame it in old ways. “Oh, this New Thing is just like this Old Thing but more complicated”. That kind of talk.

But what if that New Thing isn’t anything like what we already know? Well, we call it rubbish because we don’t understand it.

I try hard to keep this attitude at bay, but sometimes it’s really hard.

It’s hard to sanity check new things and decide whether a new way of working, a new piece of software or a new programming language is worth investigating. I’ve lost count of the amount of things I’ve learned only to discover it wasn’t worth it in the end.

The price of keeping your knowledge up-to-date is you’ll learn some stuff that’s not useful. The price of keeping your knowledge updated is that you need to keep your knowledge updated. You need to wade, filter, digest and sift. You need to delete, clean and bin. It isn’t an easy process and one that increasingly becomes more challenging.

As a designer I’m constantly trying to find new and better ways of working. I’m looking for new mental models, new pieces of software and new methodologies to make me work faster and better. I might wade through and try 80 things before 2 stick. That’s the price of being a knowledge worker in one of the fastest moving industries on earth.

Fight to stay new

Even though I’ve been doing this thing for nearly 13 years, I still open my eyes wide to every new thing I see. I fight to keep my innocent eyes, because I know it’s important.

The more experienced I come, the more important I realise that I need to become less experienced.

The more years I work, the more I realise I need to go back to that year one and fight to stay there.