How running helps me be a better UX designer

Training for a marathon while making a major career transition into UX design is hard. (Not to mention, holding down a full-time job while writing on a daily basis and making sure I spend time with people I love.) But I must say, both have complemented one another extremely well. The beauty of being a runner and a designer in parallel is how much I learn from each discipline. Running made me a better designer. Designing made me a better runner. Here’s why. 

1. I exercise a testing mentality
I test everything. From energy chews to low-fidelity prototypes, it’s crucial to test to see if things work and identify where flaws are before making the final debut. As a runner, I never try anything new on race day whether that would be gear, fueling or racing strategy. I could risk acquiring injuries or experiencing a bad race. I apply that same mentality to UX design: everything should be tested before shipping. Testing minimizes risk and is an inexpensive way to predict success – I don’t see it getting any better than that.

2. I work efficiently and effectively
Creating a marathon training plan requires me to account for everything else in life. I want to commit 100% of my efforts to everything without burning out. Over the months, I’ve learned that the most effective way to work and live efficiently is to set immediate and long-term goals and design a strict, yet manageable framework to get there. I always plan my workouts ahead in two-week increments and allocate time for freelance design projects around them while considering my overall energy level. I also reflect on time drainers and eliminate those as habits.

3. I adapt quickly when goals change
My goals are constantly changing. In order to keep up, I often reflect on what worked and what didn’t. I don’t rely on the same strategy to achieve my next goal so I regularly refine my process and quickly adapt to those changes. I lowered my average mile time by incorporating cross training. But to shed more time, I need to do speed work and change my diet. With design, I evaluate my end-to-end process during projects and apply new learnings as I go along. Complacency is comfortable but I’d rather put in the effort to climb high and speed up.

4. I see challenges as opportunities for success
As a runner, I have a lot of bad days but pain is temporary. Similarly, design challenges are just manifestations of innovation. It’s discouraging when I hit a wall mid-race or when stakeholders give pushback. The silver lining in such adversities, however, is that they are opportunities for success. Final products are great because of the frustrations experienced during the process. I sharpen my approach to better advocate for users while prioritizing for the business. Setbacks and resistance are signs that success is possible.

5. I realize the importance of microinteractions
Microinteractions can make or break the overall experience. Runs have been ruined by poorly constructed gear that caused irritation and chafing because of a dangling thread. Messy Sketch files are the worst because I spend a lot of time cleaning it up. For this reason, I’ve become a detail-oriented designer, focusing on improving the experience of microinteractions, especially copy. Design can’t always eliminate burdensome occurrences but providing users with magical moments that promise assurance could make all the difference in the world.

6. I set higher goals before accomplishing existing ones
Even before I qualified for the NYC Marathon, I set after chasing my Six Star Finisher status. I want to complete all six World Marathon Majors, including the prestigious Boston Marathon. During UX projects, I celebrate major benchmarks with my collaborators but encourage each other to set higher goals before reaching our existing ones. I do this because I always need something to go after. I don’t know of a more effective way to learn about myself and expand my capabilities to deliver value to others. Plus, I get bored easily.

7. I balance individual and collaborative efforts
Running is an individual sport, while designing is very collaborative. What may not be as obvious, however, is that a running support network is incredibly valuable and independent designing is a necessary part of the process. This balance is critical for success. I’m exposed to vastly different ideas when working with others and they help alleviate the weight of the struggles. But I also love doing things at my pace without judgment and ideating freely alone. The ultimate goal is to get work done so I remember to always keep that in mind when working alone and with others.

8. I diversify my activities to keep myself engaged
I don’t like settling for mediocrity but it’s easy to get sucked into a routine. In order to keep moving and stay challenged, I make an effort to diversity my plate of activities. For marathon training, I incorporate a mix of long runs, tempos and recovery with HIIT, kickboxing, spin classes and crossfit. I like embodying that versatile “broken comb” designer who does everything from market research to usability testing, prototyping to measuring analytics. I expand my toolbox while keeping myself engaged and excited. It holds me accountable and I need that.

9. I blur the lines
Designing for UX requires a lot of compassion for others, something that does not stop once I finish working on projects. Committing to my training workouts is important but it doesn’t stop there either – active recovery and diet are crucial too. I used to have the tendency to compartmentalize my activities but now, I’m blurring the lines and drawing inspiration from each pursuit. I say that I apply humanistic principles to the design process and to me, that’s about taking a holistic approach to my work and life.

10. I complement technical skills with passion
Skill and spirit go hand-in-hand. I don’t want to be a technically brilliant designer who is difficult to work with but I also don’t want to be that enthusiastically naive runner who doesn’t understand the physics behind the sport. When evaluating my racing strategy and design process, I look at both the technical skills that I need to improve and review my emotional state through introspection. An imbalance can be dangerous so I keep myself in check. But if at any time, I’m not being passionate enough, let me know. That’s one thing I don’t ever plan to lose.

11. I speak in human language
In running and design, there are commonly used industry terminology that is frequently tossed around. I talk about how my superpower is taking complicated and messy ideas and turning them into compelling stories – part of that involves understanding what aspects of the industry-specific language need to be changed so that it can be widely recognizable. Design teaches me that I have to ask a lot of good questions in order to communicate effectively like a human but I find the process to be rewarding and it’s getting easier as I practice it.

12. I focus on the art of storytelling
My mission as a UX designer is to help users be protagonists of their own lives. I want to design products and experiences that allow them to be the best they can. The secret is in the magic of storytelling. The running community is filled with compelling stories. I’m learning how runners use their life’s circumstances to become better versions of themselves. I’ve struggled to find my voice in the UX and running worlds but as I become wiser, I’m confident that my perspective is remarkable and worthwhile. I want users to feel exactly like that.

In my journey, I’ve come to learn that running and designing are both creative expressions of the self. Running is how I become stronger and show that limitations are simply societal placeholders that are meant to be shattered. Designing is the most compassionate approach to solving problems and creating value for others. For the kind of person I am, the marriage between running and designing is intriguing and as I delve into both, I’m finding each to be a significant contributor to the other. It’s a beautiful thing and I love growing in both roles.




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