Using Mindfulness to Create Better Designs (and Designers)

by Sheena Lyonnais

posted on 11-16-2016

Mindfulness has moved from the deep roots of Buddhist tradition into boardrooms and benches across America.

The Cubs credited the practice with helping to end its 108-year World Series drought. “The overriding philosophy is better humans make better players,” Josh Lifrak, who runs the Cubs’ five-person mental skills team, told Time magazine earlier this month.

Google has offered mindfulness-based leadership training programs since 2007, first to its employees and now to organizations around the globe. Psychologists have been devoting increasing resources to exploring mindfulness’s impact on entrepreneurs and CEOs, while companies like Apple and Fitbit have made mindfulness not only part of their corporate cultures, but a more integrated and accessible aspect of their health-related user experiences as well.

Mindfulness may sound trendy, but it’s here to stay. Here’s how you can embrace some of its lessons to improve not only your designs, but your life as a designer as well.

Don’t Hate, Meditate

Meditation and mindfulness are often used interchangeably, but meditation is just one aspect of the practice. An aspect, however, that sets the foundation for what mindfulness is all about—and that’s the art of being present.

What does it mean to be present? It means staying in the here and now regardless of how messy the here and now is. That means remaining present when a client hates the design you’ve been working on for weeks, or when your boss overlooks your contributions, or when you’re sitting at your desk wondering if you’ve even cut out for this line of work in the first place.

One of the best ways to learn how to be more present—to live in that coveted place in time that is all too often occupied by our anxieties, stresses and doubts—is through mindfulness meditation. Apps like Calm, Stop, Breathe & Think, Headspace and Omvana are one way to start exploring this practice.

How does it work? Through guided meditation you can become more aware and accepting of how things are at this moment. You will learn techniques to help you become rooted in the present moment, and breathing tricks to help you get back when you veer off track.

The Art of Non-Attachment

One of mindfulness’s greatest lessons is to not base your happiness on the outcome of your projects.

This is actually how I got introduced to mindfulness. My happiness was so dependent on the success of my career that anything short of my desired outcomes left me feeling like a failure. When I didn’t feel as though my work lived up to my expectations, anxiety and depression consumed me. I say this because as a fellow creative, I know how much weight we place on our work. I know what its like to view your work as a reflection of yourself—and what that does to your self-esteem when you feel like your work isn’t good enough.

But if mindfulness has taught me anything it’s that as soon as you renounce attachment to the results you are free to live in the moment.

To translate this to design means to keep your feelings independent of the work. If you are too attached to a specific idea, for example, and that idea is not the chosen idea in the end, it is easy for your mind to make this all about you and your idea. It’s easy to think that if your idea wasn’t good enough then your work isn’t good enough, so you are not good enough. These are thoughts rooted in fear and insecurity, the building blocks of suffering.

Get rid of those thoughts.

Our work is bigger than us. Being too attached to the outcome of our work makes us blind to opportunities and can prevent us from achieving great things. Love your work, but let it go.

Practice Non-Judgment

It’s so easy to judge, isn’t it? We judge ourselves, our work, our colleagues and even our users. You might even be judging yourself for one thing or another right now.

I’m here to tell you that mindfulness ain’t about that nonsense.

Mindfulness is about awareness of things as they are without judgment. This component is crucial because judgment is often based on the previous point of attachment. We judge ourselves and others based on expectations we carry within ourselves.

The good news is we can learn to be mindful of things without judging ourselves for it. For example, if you realize you made a mistake in your work, rather than ruminating on how “stupid you are” for making that mistake, acknowledge it and move on. Make a vow to be more mindful going forward. Don’t think that because you made a stupid mistake, that you are stupid. In fact, don’t even call it a “stupid mistake.” It’s just a mistake. These things happen—often when we’re distracted thinking about something else.

Are you starting to see how our minds are masters at tricking us? First they distract us then they judge us for it. Learning to be mindful and present not only prevents us from jumping to judgment, but it helps prevent us from winding up in opportunities to judge in the first place by keeping our minds on the task at hand.

Have Compassion

There are many other lessons from mindfulness, but today I’m going to leave you with compassion.

As you practice mindfulness and become more present, you will develop new levels of compassion for yourself and others. Mindfulness helps you to realize that your feelings are not facts, and once this mindset has been cast aside you are free to empathize (not sympathize, which is quite different) with yourself and others.

This means you are better able to connect with your colleagues, helping you to create better projects.

This means you are better able to connect with your users, helping you to create better products.

This means you are better able to connect with yourself, helping you to create better practices.

When all these things are on the table, you’re able to design freely things that help others—and isn’t that what this is all about? Creating the best possible designs for your users?

Introducing mindfulness practices into your life will ultimately result in bringing mindfulness practices into your work. Overtime, you might find yourself feeling calmer, less stressed, more accepting and, dare I say it, a little bit happier. You might find joy in spaces that had once been filled with fear and judgment. You might understand your users in ways you hadn’t before.

I encourage you to shed the thought that mindfulness is just for hippies (judgment) and give it a shot. Like anything else worthwhile, developing this mindset takes time. It might not be easy as to get to the present moment we must often trudge through the shadowy places in our minds, but trust the process.

And if all else fails, just remember to breathe.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

Products: Creative Cloud