Alfonso Morcuende

re-new Orleans


The rocky road to becoming a good designer

Photo by sjrowe53

Do you think you’re smart? How smart? Assuming that you are a normal person, your intelligence quotient (IQ) would be around 100 points. A person with a severe intellectual problem could obtain around 65 points in this same test. The difference of 35 points makes you an extremely intelligent person with respect to another person with mental retardation. Christopher Langan has an intelligence quotient of 195 points. Albert Einstein had an IQ of 150 points. The difference between. Einstein and Chris is as great as the difference between a person with mental retardation and you.

Who is Chris Langan and what does he dedicate his life to?. Chris was born in 1952 and he began to talk when he was six months old. Before he turned four, he could read. He skipped ahead a few years in school. He grew up in poverty and his stepfather physically abused him from the age of 6 to the age of 14, when Chris threw him out of the house after a fight and told him never to come back again.

In high school, he hardly ever attended class, studying advanced mathematics, physics, philosophy, Latin and Greek on his own in the library. After getting the top score on his exam for access to university, he enrolled in Reed College and afterwards in Montana State University. After a problem with the university’s administration, he thought he could teach his professors more than they could teach him and he left the university. What happened to Chris after he dropped out of college? What does such a privileged brain dedicate itself to?

Chris spent the next 20 years working as a construction worker, a cowboy, a forest service firefighter, a farmhand and a bouncer in a bar. After he was discovered on television for the American public as “The Smartest Man in America”, he obtained a certain amount of prominence in the media. He currently heads up an organization that helps children with high intelligence quotients.

To many people, Chris Langan is an example of how the environment, social skills and perseverance in professional development play a determining role in attaining success.. Previous intelligence does not determine the level of success you can achieve.

Today I want to talk about Seniority and the skills needed to reach this Nirvana. This is not a self-help post. What is written here does not guarantee anything, but I’m sure that these are the steps needed to be able to achieve it (or that’s what I believe). I decided to talk about this subject after reading the fantastic post by Jon ParroWhat disciplines should a UX designer know?” and shortly thereafter finding a funny thread Pau ValienteSeniority“:

Focusing the discussion on professions involving user experience, design, team coordination, customer relations, etc. how can one’s/someone’s level of seniority be assessed?

If you are a senior member of a profession that is comparable to one of those mentioned, what rule of validation can be applied?

Pau Valiente


Learning Systems

Let’s first talk a little about how we learn. Daniel Wilingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, conducted a simple experiment with his students to measure their speed of mechanical response. The experiment is a videogame in which participants sit in front of a screen showing four boxes. Below them, on a table, there are four buttons corresponding to each of the boxes. Upon starting the test, crosses appear intermittently in the boxes. Your mission is to push their corresponding button as soon as possible.

If you were told the order in which the crosses were going to appear before starting the game, your response speed would increase drastically. In the first few minutes, your reactions would be slow and careful, but once you learned a sequence, your responses would be faster and faster. This is what is known as “Explicit Lerarning“.

Now imagine that no one tells you the order the crosses will appear in. After starting the test and after some time has gone by, you would start to increase your response speed, despite not having memorized the correct sequence yet. Your responses would get increasingly faster, but you wouldn’t yet consciously know the sequence. In this case you have learned the sequence but it is in your subconscious. This is what is known as “Implicit Learning“, knowledge that forms outside of your own awareness.

These two learning systems are found in parts of your brain that are far from each other and unrelated. When you learn something for the first time, the whole process is very mechanical. Observe a boy when he is learning to play with a ball. He places the ball on the ground, takes a few steps back, moves closer to the ball again, looks at the ball, looks at his foot and kicks.

As you improve in any discipline, the implicit system takes more and more control of your actions. After some time has passed, the boy plays ball without thinking about the movements he needs to make. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, this is a very gradual process which requires time and practice. This is the knowledge that someone at a senior level has—a knowledge based on repetition and practice.

How can you differentiate between knowledge acquired by someone who has reached a senior level and knowledge acquired by someone who hasn’t? Easy: in mistakes caused in stressful situations. Stress erases short-term memory. People with enough experience in stressful situations do not succumb to panic, since they still find enough resources in their experience, and their implicit knowledge will act as an automatic pilot.


Rule # 1: Time

Geniuses, highly gifted people and innate talent do not exist, or rather, they are not enough. Even if he has better starting conditions, without constant practice, a designer will not reach Seniority. The complexity of our profession is sufficiently great so as to have to dedicate no less than 10,000 hours to its practice. I am talking about hours in a qualitative sense, not a quantitative sense. A designer’s practice hours have to be carried out TRULY practicing your skills, checking your progress with your environment and colleagues and above all working on the aspects you are not good at yet.

The number 10,000 is based on studies by psychologist Anders Ericsson, although popularization of this idea was carried out by Malcolm Gladwell. . In order to illustrate this idea, Gladwell, in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success” discusses a study of violinists in Berlin´s Academy of Music.

The violinists in this study started to play at the age of five. When they began, all of them practiced the same number of hours, but when they were eight years old, some students practiced more than others. At 20 years of age, the best students—the elite—had fulfilled the rule of 10,000 hours. The good students had completed 8,000 hours of practice. The worst students had accumulated just over 4,000 hours. Ericsson and his colleagues discovered a general pattern in other fields and professions. The idea that excellence when it comes to executing a complex task requires a critical number of practice hours appears time and again in different studies.


Rule #2: Effort

It’s not enough to say that you have 10,000 hours of experience in order to state that you have reached Seniority level. Designers who add effort and deep care in details follow the path to reach Nirvana. I’ll tell you a story that I love. We all have in our minds the cliché that people from Asian cultures are more hardworking, are more successful in the business world, are better than us at math, etc.

If we give a math exam to western students and to Asian students, under equal conditions, Asian children always have better results than western ones. Can we draw the conclusion that Asian children are gifted with some power that makes them better in relation to mathematics? Obviously not. The only thing that is going on is that with math problems, they take three times longer than western children before giving up. A western child, after reading the problem once, decides that he or she doesn’t know how to solve it and goes on to the next exercise. An Asian child multiplies the amount of time dedicated to this same problem by three, thus managing to get closer to its solution. What is the reason for this difference? RICE.

Rice farming is intensive work that allows for multiple harvests in one year, but requires constant attention, planning of the rice paddy design, continual care of its water levels, etc. If you are attentive to all the details, you can have a few harvests more than your lazybones of a neighbor, and thus be more successful than him. Now think about how cereal is grown in the west. You have one single yearly harvest. How successful it is lies in the hands of the inclemency of the weather. The difference in harvest outcomes between your dedication, care and work and your lazy neighbor’s slackness is minimal. According to a researcher from the University of Michigan, Richard Nisbett, the practice of rice farming has created a cultural legacy among Asians that rewards the value of effort and its connection to the reward achieved.


With an Open Heart

Now I’m going to get myself involved. Am I at a senior level? NO, but I’d like to think I am on my way…


  • Many hours of experience and many of them QUALITATIVE
  • A tremendous spirit of effort. Design is my life and my passion is part of who I am. If I saw it just as a job, I would not be in design.
  • I’m curious, which has served me to discover new worlds and fill up my backpack a little more.
  • I have worked on many varied projects. I believe I have taken things from each of them that have made me a better designer.


  • Many times I’ve been alone in the design department or working as a freelancer, so I haven’t known how to surround myself with people who have the same intellectual curiosity as me—people who would push me and would represent a challenge (in the best sense of the word).
  • I currently spend more time managing and coordinating than with my hands in the pixel. A lot of times I think that I have lost my MOJO.
  • For some time now I have felt that I need a mentor, a tutor who would give me a kick in the butt and would help me to focus in the world of murkiness that I often find myself in.

I’m in love with the concept of “SISU” that Juan Leal described in his last post “tenerlos bien puestos [having boldness]. “, I’m sure that a good professional’s path is behind this concept, and I will not give up…

“Sisu” is tenacity. It is also bravery and courage. It is the ability to keep fighting when most have given up, to fight with the hope of winning. It is what we call here “having boldness.”.

Juan Leal

Last Minute

Just today, when I was going to publish this article Javier Cañada published his list of People Chosen for the Vostok 4 Program. Congratulations to everyone and especially to Pau Valiente who was my inspiration to write this post.

Das Beste Oder Nichts