Natalia de la Selva

I’m a web designer, blogger and sometimes paper artist.
I like Cats, Coffee and Chocolate.
I used to work at Justia as the design’s team lead but now I’m just figuring out what to do with my newfound freedom.

You can find me on twitter as @NatyLoveMx.

Published Thoughts

Professionalism lessons a doctor taught to a designer

While being a professional has different meanings to different people, I think we all agree that professionalism is the combination of a wide spectrum of values, beliefs and skills, both hard and soft. Even if we know that we must act professionally in order to have a successful career, professionalism is rarely taught in school. We’re supposed to pick it up from people that surround us; people we admire and respect regardless of their profession.

Being the daughter of two doctors, there was a time when I thought I wanted to be a doctor someday. Knowing about those aspirations, my mother encouraged me to accompany her whenever she had to see a patient. That was how I could see a doctor working in her professional environment. And even if I ended up being a designer, what she taught me helped me in my professional development, and what I picked up back then is what I want to share with you today.

1. Finding the root of a problem

Design is all about problem solving, but before jumping into solutions we should first identify what the real problem is. I see sometimes how people start solving only the problems they see on the surface without making sure to know what the real cause is. What happens next is that the problem returns, and needs to be fixed over and over again. 

My mother once told me that a big part of what a doctor does is not just to cure the illness but to find the reason that is making someone ill.

“A patient shouldn’t be coming back for the same reason, even if that means less money from medical consultations. Do not let yourself be fooled by the symptoms of what can be a superficial problem. Sometimes what causes an illness has to do with some habits, alimentation or genetics and we need to find the root reason to get a solution that will prevent the patient from becoming ill again.”

Learning to identify a problem requires experience and vast knowledge, so that’s why it’s important that we keep reading updated information and sharing experiences. On the other hand, it’s important that we gather the most information we can about our clients. Like my mother used to say, we need to ask them the right questions.

“You should ask things that let you know more about your patients. Where do they come from, what do they do, how do they do it, if their relatives had any similar condition. The more you know, the more likely you’ll be able to ask better questions that will lead to a more accurate diagnosis. What we need to do is to try to go deeper and deeper, sometimes acting like small children with their never-ending whys.”

2. Designing a suitable and maintainable solution

Once we have identified our client’s problem and have a complete understanding of it, we can go ahead and work on a solution that is not only suitable for that specific client but also a solution that he is able to maintain. Like what Mike Monteiro said in his book You’re My Favourite Client : “If I design a system that you lack the resources to sustain, I’m not doing my job. I haven’t designed a solution to the problem, I’ve created a problem.”

A solution that worked well for previous clients will not necessarily be the best option for another one, even if their problems are similar. I remember my mother giving different treatments to people who had the same condition. She said:

“Everyone is different, and we must make sure that the treatment we pick for anyone is the best one for that specific patient. It’s our responsibility to find out if people are allergic to some medications, if they can’t swallow pills, if they’re undisciplined and will miss the doses or if they can afford the medications.”

As designers, creating a solution that is the best option for a client is just half the path. We also must be sure that our client will be able to afford and maintain the given solution. If that is not the case, then we will need to be flexible, adapt the strategy and be ready to offer alternatives.

3. Effective communication with honesty and patience

Effective communication is a key factor that not only will affect the success of a project, but also will determine the relationship with your client and co-workers. It’s likely that we’ll deal with a lot of different people from different backgrounds, and it’s our job to make sure all of them understand what we’re saying and why we do things the way we do.

What I admired about my mother’s attitude of service was how patient she was when she explained medical terms to all kinds of people. I was only five when she said to me that I would have another brother. This event led me to ask a question other parents would find tough. I asked where babies come from and how they were made. While I was waiting for the stork story I had heard from another classmates, my mother told me about the real thing.

With that same honesty and patience she had when she talked to a five year old about the facts behind pregnancy, my mother could explain to a variety of people all about their condition. She was also careful to find the right tone that allowed her to ease a worried patient or to avoid offending conservative people.

“I know that some people look at me as if I were giving them biology lessons. But it’s important that patients understand everything I say in a medical consultation. This makes people trust you and also, they will be warned about what can happen if they don’t follow the treatment as indicated.”

4. Be honest with yourself and follow your true vocation.

When the time I had to pick a profession finally came, I wasn’t sure anymore that I wanted to follow my parents’ steps and become a doctor. When my mom saw that I was having difficulties about deciding what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, she gave me this last advice:

“When I was on college, I knew a lot of people who was studying medicine just because they were told they would make a lot of money or because their parents wanted them to be doctors. And now, in professional life, I saw these same kind of people always trying to skip what they don’t like to do. I also see with regret how some colleagues lack empathy. They treat patients just like an obligation and forget they’re dealing with people. If you don’t have the will to serve, you shouldn’t be a doctor. Remember this, all jobs come with things we love to do and things no one wants to do. If you’re not honest with yourself and pick a profession you’re not into, it’s much likely that you’re not going to be successful at it. The worst part, is that you’re going to be unhappy, because you won’t find anything rewarding in what you do.”

My mom just retired after working for almost 35 years on ER. Every time we talk about her professional advices she says that she’s only a naive, romantic and idealistic person. But for me, she’s one of the best healthcare professionals I’ve ever met.

When you realize you hate the job you used to love, don’t you turn your head back in to your past, wondering how did you let it happen?

The first time I heard Milton Glaser speaking about failure, I couldn’t understand how could you could come to hate something you liked. Why would you abandon something that has been part of you for such a long time?

Even if deep inside me I knew I’ve always been afraid of failure, I kept telling myself that it didn’t matter if the clients didn’t like my designs, because I will keep doing my best and keep trying. Facing failure wasn’t that difficult after all, or so I thought.

Frustrations easily vanished when I saw a completed piece of my work on the web, for everyone to see, telling them how much I cared, expressing my values and beliefs; a work I was proud of.

In the middle of this mass produced website industry, I always believed in quality over quantity. I made this statement in my commitment and my passion. Many good and bad clients came, but when I saw their overall happiness for something I did, it became my happiness and satisfaction.

And it was enough for a while.

What happens when you find out that your work does not reflect what your values are anymore? You can see that it looks better, but you know it is not. Although they keep telling you that you should be proud of what you have achieved, you know it is not the best you can do. You’re not happy because an “ok” work is not enough. There is something that is lacking in it, but no one else seems to notice.

There is something that has changed. But what is it? It’s not the company, not my boss, not my coworkers or the clients. It is me.

I can clearly see how many signals I decided to ignore before, and hating what I do is the last one that tells me: “Your time here finished long time ago. Your best work is about to come and you’re not going to do it here. Find your voice and start looking for someone who sees value in your words. Find something that makes you feel proud of your work again.”

The idea I had about failure makes me to realize how small my world was. There is a bigger world in front of me that I couldn’t see before. Now I can understand the true failure Milton Glaser was talking about, and I know that the best for me is to follow his advice and abandon it all.

And I’m afraid.