Design & the power of vulnerability

If you feel vulnerable, be glad and embrace it. It’s a great sign.


Thiago H. Dalcin

3 years ago | 3 min read

It’s the night before the day of a BIG presentation. Everything’s on track, your presentation is perfect, and suddenly, without a notice, you get caught by the MONSTER of anxiety.

It attacks you with feelings of worry, letting you with a diffuse yet powerful sense of vulnerability. The more you push it, the more it pushes you back — there’s no way around it. Your body keeps sending you a bunch of “spam & error messages”, ranging from rapid heartbeats, sweating and butterflies in the stomach — You finally sleep at 4:30 am.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Most of our decisions are based on an imaginary reality. We imagine things upfront to get prepared for every possibility that might happen. Just like other animals, we’re walking around the globe with the same hardware as our Paleolithic ancestors.

We’ve been programmed (for the last +200k years) to value immediate returns of our actions — which is known as “immediate return environment”. For a long time, stress and anxiety were helpful emotions, helping us to solve immediate problems and making us thrive as a society.

But now, for the last 500 years, most of our problems are not immediate anymore, as we created ways to plan for the future, we live now what scientists call “delayed return environment”.

Image by James Clear

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, writes great articles about behavioral psychology, my favorite one is the evolution of anxiety.

We’re all surrounded by uncertainty. It’s impossible to remove it from design processes, business decisions, or to know whether the big product that your team is working will actually have a market fit. So it means we’ll keep being vulnerable and paying the price of it.

But the good news is: there’s a hack that turns these negative feelings into superpowers if you start looking from another point of view. We just need to embrace it to take advantage of the many benefits that it can bring to our life as designers. Here are a few of them, based on what I’ve learned lately:

1. It means you’re growing

While vulnerable we tend to concentrate on the bad symptoms that are brought along, but actually it’s awesome for you. It’s a sign that you’ve just stepped out of your comfort zone. Maybe you’re using a new interaction model, flirting with innovative and unknown concepts. It’s a sign of expansion.

2. It makes you go beyond

Good anxiety will make you create as many drafts and explorations as possible for a given problem. It will make you think of every possibility upfront and make you prepared to present it thoroughly. Being vulnerable will avoid you to be using the same old-fashioned UI elements, or limited patterns and push the experience to the next level.

3. It means you’re building for the future

There’s no such natural thing as being uncomfortable while dealing with future things. Remember, our funny brain is set up to work based on an immediate return environment. Consciously embracing vulnerability in the process will cut you loose and make you happier while building products that will last.

4. It improves your communication

Showing vulnerability as an icebreaker in a talk, for example, is one of the most powerful tools to create a connection with the audience, according to Chris Anderson in his TED Talks book. It puts you on the same level as everyone else, turning the audience into your supporters.

On top of that, on a day-to-day basis, the good anxiety will make you over-communicate, revalidate assumptions and double-check unclear requirements, which are quite important practices, especially when dealing with distributed teams.

Being vulnerable is beautiful and humbling. To make the best out of it, you need to accept being imperfect. Acknowledging failure as a natural part of the process will make you grow faster than you ever expected.

The next time you’re lying awake the night before a presentation, remind yourself that it’s just your clunky brain sending signals in an inconvenient time, and that stomach butterflies are just the effects of your adrenaline. We’re homo sapiens living in the digital age.

If you feel vulnerable, be glad and embrace it. It’s a great sign.

If you want to learn more about vulnerability, I recommend these:

The power of vulnerability — TED Talk by Brené Brown

The evolution of anxiety — By James Clear


Created by

Thiago H. Dalcin







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