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May 7-10, 2019

Blog Post

How Val Head Developed Self Confidence By Ilise Benun of

On the recVal Headent HOW Design Live Podcast (Episode #72), I interviewed Val Head, Adobe’s design evangelist of UX innovation, on a wide range of topics, from chatbots to confidence, including, of course, her HOW Design Live topic, Designing A New Reality: Chatbots, VR & Beyond.

Val works closely with the teams building tools for the UX design community, including Adobe XD CC, an all-in-one solution for website and app design and prototyping.

But before joining Adobe, she was on her own working as a consultant and realized quickly that she needed to learn how to discuss the value — from a business perspective — of what she could bring to a project or training session. At the beginning, she said, that wasn’t what she was thinking about. “I was thinking about making things pretty.”

The term “value” kept coming up in meetings and it was soon clear that she needed to be able to talk that “value” angle or she wasn’t going to get any clients. “It was a strong lesson.”

So I asked her, “Exactly how do you show value as a creative professional?”

“I would often get the question, ‘What is this going to do for us?’” she explained. “So I would have to tie it to their business goals. For example, if I was giving a workshop, I had to be ready to talk about how I can increase the skills of their employees in one day, whereas it might take weeks or months for them to learn those same skills on their own with blog posts and podcasts. You have to have these answers ready at all times, which takes some practice.”

I love to ask successful creatives what advice they would give to themselves if they could go back in time 10 years. Val said, “I would have had more confidence in my abilities. Early in my career I didn’t think I had what it took to apply for the “cool” jobs. Years later I realized that I had been just as qualified as anyone else for them.”

So many struggle with a lack of confidence and I am always curious about how people get from “No, not me,“ to “Yes, why not me?” – those who do, that is.

For some, it’s an experience or a moment; for others, simply a gradual development.

Val described how, early in her career, she was moving around a lot and looking for (and finding) interactive agencies with amazing portfolios of work, which would make her think, “I’d love to be part of that.”

But her next thought was, “But I am not good enough,” or some variation thereof – always some reason she shouldn’t apply for the job. So she didn’t. Instead, she only applied for the jobs she knew she could get, at agencies that didn’t have the best work.

Eventually she met some of the designers at the agencies that had impressed her and after talking with them, she realized they weren’t doing anything different from her. “We do the same things with the same tools.”

That was the light bulb: “I was the one stopping myself.”

She may very well have been qualified for any number of those jobs at those stellar agencies. But she’ll never know, because she never applied.

Listen and learn.


Val’s Book Recommendations:

  • Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull is a wonderful read on how creativity and business can be intertwined over a long career.
  • Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil was an eye-opening read on how algorithms and data can affect our everyday life.
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson isn’t really about business or design but is a great read for anyone feeling overwhelmed by everything on their to-do list.
  • Technically Wrong Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher