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Eating the Elephant

As the digital photography field matured and became commoditized, I directed my career into the design of other complex (and sometimes emerging) technologies. However, that posed a new challenge: diving headfirst into a new industry or trying to learn the intricacies of a new technology can be incredibly overwhelming. There is so much to learn; how could I possibly learn it all or even know where to start? I felt inadequate. If I never studied it in college, how would I ever know if I was learning the right things? I knew I was going to be working around people who knew the subject matter inside and out, and I would constantly be left in the dust. How could I possibly catch up?

If I was going to grow as a designer, I had to embrace the emotions. They were real. But I couldn’t let them stop me.

Emerging technologies can be very complex systems that contain many moving parts. Often, these parts are rapidly evolving and it can be hard to feel like you have a grasp on the state of any of them at any given time to be able to begin designing a desirable product or worthwhile service. That’s OK. You typically don’t need to be up-to-date on everything, but it is helpful to attempt to acquire a general historical sense of how things came to be, what trends are actively unfolding, and what the trajectories are for the future.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

— AFRICAN PROVERB

At the beginning of a new project, no one expects you to show up fully versed in all the lingo and domain knowledge. Thus, you can quickly break down the framework for understanding the subject matter and becoming an “expert” into three main components:

  • 1. What you need to know
  • 2. Where to find it
  • 3. When to stop

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

 
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