Professional Growth and Development Meets the Butterfly Effect

January 12, 2023

The butterfly effect is the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can cause a typhoon on the other. My story is not quite that dramatic, but you can never be sure what impact your small actions can have. This story starts as one of personal and professional growth but becomes one of accidental organizational change. 


The Start of My Professional Growth Journey at SEP

I started working at SEP as a designer about two years ago. A short while into my career, my manager asked me to teach him something. I thought, “what could I, a newly graduated designer, teach to a manager who had been working in software for a long time? What would I know that could be useful to him in his work?” 

After some thought, I selfishly picked the Neilson-Norman Design Heuristics and the Gestalt Principles. These were foundational UX design concepts I knew I needed to learn. I knew some of them from art classes, but I wanted to understand them in a UX design context. 

I had read through articles about Design Heuristics and Gestalt Principles, but the information never lasted long. Since I learn best by doing things, I decided that the best way for me to retain the information was to practice the heuristics and principles somehow. Thus began the creation of my UX Foundation cards. 


Bringing a Professional Development Resource to Life

Every week, I tried to make one flashcard for one of the Design Heuristics or Gestalt Principles. I wrote a description of it in my own words and created a few visual examples with my own flair. When my recurring one-on-one with my manager rolled around, I taught him about the most recent cards. 

This gave me a chance to explain what I had learned and deepen my understanding by answering his clarifying questions. I had to think more critically about what choices I made on my cards or different applications of the heuristic/principle. Finally, the information began to stick! 


Enter: The Butterfly Effect

As I taught through my UX cards, I became more confident in my design decisions and could explain design concepts to others better. My manager’s original experiment was a success! 

However, the experiment had a bonus effect: my manager was now able to ask better design questions and give more detailed feedback on our designs. Since he is less involved in the daily design work, he is always a good fresh set of eyes for what we are working on. After learning with the cards, his feedback was able to go from “something is weird here” to “This feels off because of the proximity between these elements.” 

The UX Foundation cards gave us a shared vocabulary to discuss design work and collaborate more effectively.


How My Professional Growth and Development Experiment Impacted Company-Wide Change

I thought my little UX cards’ story would end here, but they kept going. I shared the story of how these UX cards had helped collaboration between me and my manager with another designer during a one-on-one, and both she and my manager began encouraging me to share the story on a bigger stage: the weekly managers’ meeting. 

I don’t love presenting or public speaking, but I threw anxiety to the wind and went for it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they were all very engaged and excited to hear my story. Even more exciting was that they wanted their own copies! 

After a few revisions based on feedback I had received, I began getting ideas from others on more ways to share. Once the cards started to get into the hands of others, more Makers wanted them. They have even become a part of the official welcome pack for new designers joining SEP.


Reflecting on Finding Unexpected Success and What I Learned

I have been very impressed with how something that started as a simple professional growth activity to improve my design skills has impacted so many others around the company. I’m so proud any time I see other makers with my cards on their desks or referencing them while they collaborate. I’ve also shown these cards to my brother who works in an entirely different industry. After looking through them, he’s able to notice things on his company’s website that don’t meet the heuristics and principles. The cards are a quick and easy-to-understand primer for UX ideas that impact everyone, regardless of profession. 

Creating these cards has been a great learning experience. It has helped me gain confidence in both my design abilities and my ability to impact others. In short, if you have something cool and interesting that you think would help others, don’t waste time debating about it. Go out there and share it! You never know what butterfly effect you will cause. 


Learn More

Check out these resources or download my UX Foundation Cards to learn more about the Design Heuristics and Gestalt Principles.