What l learned about designing quickly from Malcolm Gladwell and The Queen’s Gambit.

An alert rabbit in a grassy field
An alert rabbit in a grassy field
Photo by Gary Bendig

What do chess, law school exams, and UX design have in common? As it turns out, a lot. They all judge skill — rightly or wrongly — in terms of speed.

Hikaru Nakamura is a grandmaster chess player. Not quite as good as Magnus Carlsen, the greatest chess player of his era, but still exceptionally good. One of the best.

Hikaru’s specialty is blitz chess — he played it 6 hours a day growing up in Westchester County outside New York City. Blitz chess, unlike classical, is ultra-fast. Each player gets only five minutes for the entire game. …

What’s holding you back from sprinting your career ahead?

Runners sprinting
Runners sprinting
Photo: Jonathan Chng/Unsplash

It was more than 20 years ago, but I can still remember it clearly. I was sitting in front of an old cathode ray tube watching a grainy VHS tape of my state’s high school track finals. Kevin, a friend who was one grade above me, had just won the 800m with a new state record. What was really memorable was how he won the race.

For the first half, the pack stayed tight — as you’d expect from a final. But then, on the backstretch, Kevin started accelerating when everyone else was tiring. He looked like a Ferrari against…

The mark of a great designer is their awareness of system thinking.

Image of design system components & documentation
Image of design system components & documentation
Image by Benek Lisefski

When I encounter inexperienced designers, there’s one thing that always sticks out about the way they think. Or more specifically, the way they don’t think.

They don’t think of every design project as a design system. They don’t appreciate the interconnectedness of their design decisions. They solve design problems in isolation, not as a whole.

In short, noob designers lack system thinking, and it holds them back from thriving in the big and meaningful projects they dream of. This worries me because skills and tools can be taught, but new modes of thinking are difficult to adopt. …

How alternating focus between the yin and yang of design leads to the perfect balance of consistency and flexibility.

Ying Yang symbol
Ying Yang symbol
Photo by Brett Jordan

Talk to any design system advocate and you’ll hear the word “consistency” over and over. Consistency in customer experience is what has matured our design field, governed UX best practices, and elevated many loved brands and services to the top of their industries.

We all know that consistency is a core principle of good UX and visual design. It provides familiarity, strengthens intuitive behaviour, and establishes a strong brand identity. Consistent experiences help build trust, while disjointed design erodes it.

Design great Massimo Vignelli describes consistency as “discipline”, and the goal of creating “continuity of intent throughout”. …

Pandemic-induced efficiency is real, and we’re all better off for it.

2020 numbers in crinckled paper cut-out
2020 numbers in crinckled paper cut-out
Photo by Kelly Sikkema

If you follow my writing you’ll know I’m not afraid to tackle the often-taboo issue of money. I freely discuss what I earn as a freelance designer because I believe it’s not done often enough, and being honest about money can help teach immensely valuable business lessons. There’s also nothing quite as compelling as using specific real-world examples like dollars and cents.

So what lesson did I learn from my 2020 freelancing income report? I made 33% more than the year before, and that’s mostly due to COVID.

The pandemic is a disaster. I don’t want to minimise the hurt…

A rebuttal of Dr. Jon Younger’s accurate, yet platform-obsessed freelance revolution predictions.

Photo by Karim MANJRA

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of freelance platforms — Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer.com and the like. I’ve written about it before. I simply can’t understand why you’d want to leave both your income and reputation at the mercy of a third-party who doesn’t always have your best interest in mind. Especially if you aim to build a full-time career from freelancing. It’s your livelihood — you want to be in control of it.

When I came across Jon Younger’s recent article on freelance “revolution” predictions I found myself nodding in total agreement and cringing in frustration in equal…

Artists, designers, writers, and anyone else who produces creative work, this is a must-read essay by David Perell: Expression is Compression.

Some of my favourite passages (emphasis mine):

…people make sense of the world by making it simpler and more beautiful — by making compression progress…creators move towards compression progress not by following their rational mind, but by following their intuition for what’s interesting. In doing so, they compress large data sets into elegant deliverables which are easy to share and remember.

That means to ship something excellent, you have to be willing to cut what may have taken weeks…

If you’re rich, you’re more lucky than smart. And there’s math to prove it.

A new study that claims the predominance of luck over talent in the distribution of wealth has been mathematically confirmed. Two Italian physicists — Alessandro Pluchino and Andrea Rapisarda — and one economist — A. E. Biondo — make the case, and they’ve got a computer model to back it up.

“If it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier…

“Complexity is like energy. It cannot be created or destroyed, only moved somewhere else. When a product or service becomes simpler for users, engineers and designers have to work harder.”

In Why Life Can’t Be Simpler, Farnam Street brilliantly explains Tesler’s Law as it relates to what we’ve all experienced about digital product design.

Simpler isn’t always better

The first lesson from Tesler’s law of the conservation of complexity is that how simple something looks is not a reflection of how simple it is to use.

“People have an intuitive sense that complexity has to go somewhere. When using a product or service is…

Humility and self-confidence lead you to strive for quality no matter the task. Lose that pride, and you’re destined for design mediocrity.

Strong fist pumping pridefully in the air
Strong fist pumping pridefully in the air
Photo by Clay Banks

Do you ever wonder why you can exceed your expectations on some projects, but feel no better than mediocre at others? Why sometimes you put in 110% to get the details just right, and on other jobs you can’t be f*cked to do any more than the minimum? It’s the difference between a job done, and job done right.

There’s one word that describes this difference. It’s the single most important factor in determining if anyone will perform their job well.


I don’t care how well trained you are or how many years of experience you have. If you…

Benek Lisefski

I’m a UX/UI designer from Auckland, New Zealand. Writing about freelancing & business for indie designers & creatives at https://solowork.co

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