HOW INDIVIDUAL STRENGTHS MAKE the whole team better
Illustrations by Shawna Kirby
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about superpowers. Not the comic book kind, but the kind that make designers brilliant at what they do. A few weeks ago, I read Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers, and now I’m taking her 30-day leadership challenge. It starts with “genius watching”—looking for people’s superpowers and identifying projects where they’ll thrive.
As I’ve been genius watching, I’ve realized that every designer has a superpower. More than a strength, your superpower is the combination of your design skills and the way you naturally approach problem solving. Take some top-notch customer empathy and presentation skills, combine them with a knack for analyzing detailed data, and you’ve got a superpower for storytelling.
Great things happen when you pair complementary superpowers and match them with the right kind of project. When I think of my UX team at Intuit, I can see why sometimes we click on a project and other times we don’t. Here are our superpowers:
These designers can’t help but have new ideas. The more, the better. Every meeting is a chance to bring new ones to the table and see what sticks. They thrive when it’s time to brainstorm because they see potential in every concept. And they excel at pushing boundaries to make sure that the team is innovating.
Actualizers are makers. Once they have an idea, they need to sketch, wireframe, or prototype it as fast as possible. Turning a concept into a usable product is what keeps them fulfilled. They care a lot about the details of an interface, but only as it relates to functionality. They don’t get hung up on stuff like beauty. They’re obsessed with making things that work, watching people test their prototypes, and fixing what’s broken.
Refiners can spot from across the room when something is one pixel off. They question every detail, making sure that designs are pixel-perfect and that nothing is purely for design's sake. They’re at home in the details, but that doesn’t mean they’re blind to the big picture. In fact, they shine when it’s time to evaluate all aspects of an interface and see if you’re telling a beautiful story or inspiring the right emotions.
Analyzers are thinkers. They pore through user research, craft experiments, and weigh design options. They’re excellent at evaluating designs and explaining rationale behind decisions. That usually makes them great at building pattern libraries and managing large UI ecosystems.
Connectors like to create frameworks and principles that enable others to design great interfaces. They see connections that others don’t, and they help teams turn those opportunities into meaningful design and business outcomes. They’re always thinking of the big picture, and they know how to bridge gaps in large organizations or complex systems.
If you’re a designer, recognizing your superpower will help you spot projects where you’re likely to thrive and be fulfilled. An Analyzer, for instance, will probably enjoy projects that involve a lot of up-front research, competitive analysis, information architecture, or pattern library work. A Connector will love ambiguous business problems that require influencing others and building consensus with frameworks and design principles. Knowing your superpower doesn’t mean that you should avoid projects that take you outside your comfort zone. But it will help you anticipate the kinds of projects that will energize or challenge you.
If you’re a manager, understanding your team’s superpowers will help you see why some designers complement each other perfectly, while others seem to butt heads. Imagine, for example, that you pair a Generator and Analyzer to design a new feature. After some initial concepts, the Analyzer is ready to narrow. But the Generator naturally wants to keep going broad, suggesting new ideas and other possibilities. In situations like this, tug-of-war often ensues, slowing down the team and delaying timelines.
Now imagine what happens if you pair a Refiner and Actualizer on the same project. They brainstorm some concepts, and the Actualizer quickly builds them to see how they’d work. He shares them with the Refiner, who evaluates them with an eye on the details and the story they’re trying to tell. Her feedback helps the Actualizer narrow and improve, and they keep at it and deliver awesome results. When designers with complementary superpowers tackle the right kind of project, magical stuff happens. They’ll help each other excel and deliver exceptional results—whether it’s a research deck, new product feature, or lean experiment.
When designers with complementary superpowers tackle the right kind of project, magical stuff happens.
It’s important for managers to recognize the team’s superpowers and talk about them openly. That creates an environment where each designer feels valued for what they bring to the team. Even better, it establishes a way of communicating that prevents assumptions and defuses tension or conflict. When the Actualizer has a hard time generating new ideas, the team will know that it’s because she’s probably itching to build something, not because she lacks creativity. Superpowers can become a great shorthand when people give each other feedback.
The next time your team is hiring, think about how you might identify a candidate’s superpower and what kind you’re looking for. As an industry, we tend to focus on disciplines, skill sets, and general cultural fit when we hire. Those are important ways to screen candidates, for sure. But they don’t help us understand whether a candidate will thrive on a project or complement the rest of the team. By looking for superpowers, you’ll find the designer who will do both.