As I continue to grow as a manager, something I’ve been pondering quite a bit is managing different designers’ personalities, particularly the extroversion/introversion spectrum.
My team is fairly diverse on the spectrum. I (like to think) that I am an ambivert according to the MBTI test, with 56% extroversion and 44% introversion. In team meetings I’m often paying attention to who is talking first, how often, and subtly trying to influence those dynamics so that everyone’s voice is heard.
When summer internships end, we do a reflection together. I send questions in advance like, “What are you learning about yourself as a designer?” One of my more introverted designers noted that they had trouble contributing to meetings and worried that they weren’t as good of a designer as the more extroverted ones.
Together we wondered about the “System of Design” and whether it still favors extroverts. Over the summer, as the team shifted more heavily towards introversion, I had made some changes such as asking folks to send their work over a day in advance for critique, more space for practicing presentations, etc. but it didn’t seem to be enough. The space that are a nightmare for an introverted designer were still tough spaces — group critiques, client presentations, etc. Those aren’t going away either, at least in most organizations.
While I lean slightly towards extroversion, even I have come home from the end of a day full of long meetings and collapsed in social exhaustion. I muscle through it because…well isn’t that how to be a successful designer?
The answer usually is to change the system. But I’m wondering about the in-between space before the system changes, particularly for my young introverted designers that I’m sending out into a system that will favor extroverted designers.
With the system as it is, how can an introvert influence it and shape it, while still showing up well within the system as it is now? Is it a matter of “putting on an extroverted act” while managing up and giving feedback for change towards a culture that allows them to succeed better? That’s basically the advice I gave to my intern, but after further reflection, well that sounds like even more of a nightmare for an introvert.
I can’t figure out how to wrap up this article because I simply don’t know. The only answer coming to mind is that Design leadership needs to continue to mature and creates systems that allow designers of all types to succeed and shine. Perhaps it looks like:
- putting in extra coaching time for introverted designers to practice public speaking.
- making sure that a design is chosen not just because of how eloquently it’s presented, but because that it is actually good and validated by user research.
- offering more asynchronous forms of critique.
- making it normal for a client presentation to be pre-recorded with less pressure.
I’d love to hear from other introverted designers — were there ways you were able to authentically show up? What has made that more possible for you? How can a design team champion each other in all its diversities?
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Ashley Crutcher is the Director of Experience Strategy at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, crocheting/knitting, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.