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Liz Fosslien ‘No hard feelings: Emotions in Design’

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February 12, 2019
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February 12, 2019

Liz Fosslien ‘No hard feelings: Emotions in Design’

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Chi: Hello, and welcome to another episode of This is HCD. I’m your host Chi Ryan and in this episode, I’m speaking to Liz Fosslien, designer, illustrator, and co-author of the brilliant book: No Hard Feelings, The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work. Liz spent the last three years empowering leaders at companies like Google, Facebook, and Nike, to create cultures of belonging in which employees feel safe taking risks, asking questions, and putting their ideas out into the world.

Science shows that employees that feel a sense of belonging at work are happier, more productive, and healthier than those who work in cut-throat organisations. Liz’s focus is on actuatable ways individuals at any company in any role can build culture where they feel they belong. In this episode of This is HCD, Liz and I talk about the events that led up to her and her co-author Mollie West Duffy writing this book.

How they managed working together for the first time on a real-live side project, tips on how to work together better with the people around you and being cool with embracing our emotional side. Welcome to the show, Liz.

Liz: Yes, thanks so much. I’m very excited to be here and speak with you.
Chi: We are very excited to have you here. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Liz: I am an author and illustrator. I just co-authored the book: No Hard Feelings, with my friend Mollie West Duffy. Then I also illustrated it and I, for the past three years, have been working, designing, and facilitating workshops for fortune-500 executives. A lot of those are around how to build a culture of belonging for every employee in every role.

Chi: On the book, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the book itself? What’s it about?

Liz: The central idea of the book is that this traditional notion that you should check your feelings at the door when you come into the office is biologically impossible. We are emotional creatures regardless of circumstance. You’re going to have feelings at work. Then once we let feelings into the workplace and since that’s something that no one has really been taught how to do.

For so long, everyone’s heard this message to be a professional, you should not show any feelings. The question then becomes, how do you then show feelings in the workplace, it’s not a place where you can have just a total meltdown in front of everyone, so what’s the right balance expressing emotion in the workplace while still maintaining credibility and not bulldozing over other people’s feelings?

Chi: It’s super important in the design realm, I think, because design to me is an inherent emotional task. Sometimes we’re expected to take that emotion out when maybe there shouldn’t be, but there’s always a lot of opinions in design and when you’re deigning. I think it’s interesting that you’re working with such passionate people, they just love what they do so much, to try to take the emotion out of it, it’s impossible, you can’t.

Liz: Yes, completely. I think I definitely have this in writing and illustrating a book, that there’s a cycle to where you feel really good about your work and then you’ve been staring at it for days and then suddenly, everything seems hopeless and you dislike everything you’ve ever created. I think that’s just, talking about other designers, I think that’s something a lot of people go through.

In the book, we would just encourage people, you’re going to have your own internal emotional journey, but it’s still really important to make sure that if you’re in one of those periods where the work is hard, or you’re just not happy with everything that’s happening in your book, that you don’t take it out on other people and that you just find constructive ways to manage that both for yourself and for your colleagues.

Chi: I think separating the emotions of the work that you’re doing, the thing that you’re creating and the emotions around that from the emotions that might be around you or brought up because of your workplace, those two things are an interesting juxtapose. They overlap. I think that’s something that you talk about in the book, there are a few diagrams that illustrate that. Before we get into that, could you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write the book?

Liz: Mollie, my co-author and I, we both had experiences pretty early on in our career where we were working at stressful jobs and really both believed that you should not have any emotions at work. As we became more and more stressed, we didn’t even know that there might be ways to manage that. We had no idea about how to maybe talk about it with other people. For me, I started to get sick a lot, then Mollie started to have extreme head pain. A doctor told Mollie that it was because she was just so anxious and wasn’t able to channel that anxiety or manage it on her own.

Also, as you mentioned, jobs can be very stressful, there are some work environments that are going to make you anxious because of the way it’s structured or the processes in place. The book really is a lot about that experience, which for both of us caused a lot of reflection of both in the jobs that we had, what was missing in those jobs that we wanted in our next job. Also, what could we have done that might have helped us at least be a little bit more emotionally healthy in whatever environment we’re in.

The book is really trying to give people, one, permission to not always supress emotion but instead, acknowledge it. Admit that you’re feeling it, then you can start to do the work of examining what that emotion might be trying to tell you. Then also giving them some tools, there are sometimes in your life where the work environment will be hard, or your work will be hard. What do you do in all of those to stay emotionally healthy?

Chi: What was the process like when you were writing the book? Were you working at the same time? Was it a side-hustle-type situation?

Liz: We both were working and then I have taken the last few months to just focus on the book and the promotion around it. Yes, I think it was really a labour of love. We spent a lot of time on the weekends on the phone, or just passing drafts back and forth, so we were both working.

Chi: You mention in the book that there were times where working together on the book, you had to figure out how to work together. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

Liz: We were good friends before we started on this project. We definitely were worried, you hear all of these horror stories of friends who start working together and then their friendship implodes. We were both very open and we made it clear at the beginning, if that ever starts to happen, we need to talk about it. What we did realise though is that I think it was about three months into the process of writing the book. We were on the phone, we were emailing every day, multiple times, we would usually talk maybe once or twice a week for a long time on the phone.

We were just interacting with each other constantly. Then we realised that we had no idea what was going on in the other person’s personal life because our interactions had become just about work. It felt like we were really close. Yet, I just realised, I was like, what is Mollie doing? How is she feeling? How’s her husband? How’s her life? After that, we said, whenever we get on the phone, the first 15 minutes, we cannot talk about the book. We can only talk about our personal lives just to make sure that we’re still building in time to maintain our friendship.

Why I think hopefully the book is very affectionate and light-hearted is because it was written by two friends who also really enjoy working together. We definitely took steps to preserve that friendship. We used a spreadsheet, so we had a list of ten things. I’m feeling good about my contribution, I’m feeling good about the other person’s contribution, I feel happy about the direction that the book is going in. Then we would each rate how we felt on a scale from zero to ten, ten being the highest. We would also rate how we thought the other person felt.

I might say, “I think Mollie is really happy about the direction the book is going, so I’m going to write ten.” Then we would swap spreadsheets and see what the other person has actually written. If I perceive that Mollie was at a ten, but Mollie had actually written a four. That meant that there was a really big gap between what I thought she felt and what she was actually feeling. That would highlight that there was something there that we had very much miscommunicated, and that we needed to take the time to talk about that. I think also just making our feelings explicit and writing them down.

I think it’s just so important to carve out time for the personal aspects of a relationship, then also to carve out time to just check in on each other’s feelings. So much of the feedback we get from people is, I know it’s important, but it just seems like when there are deadlines, there’s no time, and it’s a waste of time and money to have a feelings’ check-in. It’s really not, it doesn’t have to take a long time, just five/ten minutes. Once a week/twice a week, it can save you a lot of grief because you don’t want to be six months into a project and suddenly, realise that everyone’s been harbouring a lot of resentment that’s been slowing the work down, when you could have just addressed the problem months ago and have it be a non-issue.

Chi: How do you think that you can carve that time into your own? You can carve it into your own work processes and your own way of working, if you’re someone who is maybe managing other teams, how can you carve that time into what you’re doing?

Liz: We really recommend a great time to do this is at the beginning of a project or at the end of a project, because those are natural points at the end for reflection and at the beginning for setting some expectations. I think it’s really about bringing the team together and maybe taking a half-hour to an hour, whatever feels good and having everyone answer just some questions. Some of the questions we have in the book. A lot of it too is just greasing the wheels of communications, so that you don’t accidentally bump into each other’s feelings.

Questions to have everyone answer is, what’s the best way to communicate with you? Are you an emailer? Would you rather get feedback in person? What are some honest, unfiltered things about you? What are things that people might misunderstand about you? These are just, again, ways to make sure that you have a full understanding of the other person to, again, avoid miscommunication.

Then at the end of a project, I think it was really good to ask what happened here, what could we have done better? What didn’t go so well? One question, too, that each person can ask is just to say, what do you think if someone’s working with me on another project? What do you think they need to know about me that would be useful in working with me?

Chi: Yes, it’s like a set of rules for emotional engagement almost.

Liz: Exactly. It’s, again, so much, I think so much workplace misunderstanding arises because we haven’t taken the time to just quickly get a sense of the other person’s preferences. A great example of this is introverts and extroverts. If you don’t know that someone’s an introvert and you’re an extrovert, you can drive them crazy by just always wanting to talk and always popping in and always asking questions. You have the very best intentions but because you don’t know about their communication preferences, you’re probably actually going to make them feel completely drained and exhausted at the end of the day.

Chi: It’s interesting because it feels like a lot of the time, especially in design, we tend to just focus on the work. We don’t necessarily think about all of the things that you have to take into account that happen around it. It’s where you draw a diagram, it’s almost like what I think my work is but what my work really is. It’s the pie charts. realistically, 99 percent of what you do is probably actually a bit more like all of the other stuff, then it’s not 1 percent, but maybe 10 percent of the time is actually doing the thing that you’re supposed to do.

Liz: Yes. I think that when it comes to feelings, there is a lot of stuff that you need to do that’s not strictly the work that will actually help the work get better. Yes, definitely. I think the diagram is the one that I thought work would be working and work is actually going to lunch, checking email, printing, having printer problems, having email problems.

Chi: Yes, or just talking to people.

Liz: Yes, exactly, just communicating, emailing.

Chi: That’s actually something I find personally is that a lot of my time is just spent talking to people. It’s something that’s far less acknowledged even though it seems obvious when you say it out loud, it’s not always acknowledged as much. Of course, when you go to work, what you do is the work but actually, there’s a lot more to work than the thing that you do.

Liz: Yes, definitely.

Chi: You talk about seven rules of guidelines for thinking in this way or guiding you through thinking this way. Do you want to tell us a bit about how you got to those seven rules?

Liz: That’s a good question. I’m trying to think back on it. We knew we wanted to write about emotions at work. We started with just a sweep of all the literature. That’s both academic literature, articles that we have read at one point and really loved and that resonated with us. People like Adam Grant who are really leaders in the space and Susan Kane who wrote Quiet, what they were talking about. We had this, I think it was a 50-page Google Document or something, like really crazy, just listing all of the ideas and all the things we wanted to talk about.

Then went through multiple iterations and kind of what came out of all of that was, that we could bucket all of these ideas into the seven aspects of work. In the book, those are health, motivation, decision-making, team-work, communication, culture and leadership. I think it was really just a process of moving things around, again, figuring out these buckets that we wanted to talk about and what best fit into those buckets. Then once that became clear, it also just made sense as a framework for the book of, emotion affected everything you do, it’s going to affect every aspect of your work.

We should try and cover the main aspects of work. Yes, it came out of a review of everything that was being written about, that we also wanted to talk about and then it made sense that it would be a quick, comprehensive look at the central aspects of being an employee somewhere, even if it’s for yourself, too.

Chi: Another thing that struck me about the book is the fantastic quizzes and anecdotes that you’ve got in there. On your website,, for everybody who’s listening, you’ve got some of those assessments. How did you land on those?

Liz: Assessments, some of them are, do you feel a sense of belonging at your organisation? What is your emotional conflict tendency? Some people are seekers and they seek out disagreements, so they’re the ones that really love to have intellectual debates, that love to always question. Then there’s avoiders who just do not want to experience conflict and they will do anything to avoid getting into these disagreements. For example, that assessment will help you figure out which one of those you are more often. The assessments were really a way of… so, first and foremost, we wanted this book to be really practical.

I think especially with emotion, we just wanted it to be something, here’s high-level what’s going on in your brain, what’s going on in your body, what might have triggered it, but then what do you do with that? How do you talk about that? The assessments are really intended to help you learn the vocabulary to talk about your tendencies, but then also give you greater insight into your own emotions and your own emotional state, then also within your organisation, what might be going on.

Chi: With the assessments, did you apply this thinking to yourself along the way? Were you testing these assessments on yourselves as you went? Were these tools that you were using to essentially eat your own dog food?

Liz: Kind of. The assessments we created toward the end of the book process because it was really a culmination of all the research we had done. Earlier on, Mollie and I were friends again and we hadn’t worked together in a professional context before writing this book. We didn’t take the assessments because we hadn’t written them yet. The topics of the assessments became really relevant to us. It was this kind of varying meta process of, we’re writing a book about the emotions of working with other people while working with each other on a thing that makes us emotional.
I think one of the earliest ones was, again, about what’s your preferred conflict style. I would say that Mollie is probably much more of an avoider and I’m more of a seeker. In that, I really like to get feedback in the moment, I like to talk about it. If there’s something that someone thinks about be better, just tell me right away, so I can course-correct. Mollie very much prefers to get feedback in an email, so that she can digest it and think about it and then talk through it at a later point. She wants to have that time to reflect on it by herself. That’s something that we naturally had to figure out.

I think it was just that I was sending her all of these emails, different emails with random pieces of feedback about the writing, then she was finally like, “I would just prefer one thing and maybe you can write it all up?” We just had to figure that out. Underneath all of that was this willingness on both of our ends to be very open about our preference and always be open if the other person said, hey, I want to talk to you about this, even if it’s something – I remember Mollie called me once and said, “This is not an issue yet at all and I’m not upset with you, but I think we should talk about this just to make sure that it never becomes an issue.”

I think that was such a great thing on her end to do. Just if you notice something about someone else’s tendencies and it hasn’t become an issue yet, but you think it might, just flagging that and being like, “Hey, you’re doing this. I prefer to do things this way. Just want to let you know, not an issue yet, but it’s good for both of us to be on the same page.”

Chi: It reminds me a little bit about the book: Radical Candour. What are your thoughts on that type of approach?

Liz: Yes, I love that book. We interviewed Kim Scott in our book. She talks a lot about challenge directly but care about the person personally. I think that’s a wonderful structure. In the interview that we did with her, one of the things that she told us that I – it’s one of my favourite quotes in the book, and it’s about feedback. Again, some people prefer to get feedback verbally in the moment, others prefer to get I over email. She said, “The effect of your words, so it’s not measured at your mouth, but it’s measured at the other person’s ear. You really need to treat people not the way that you want to be treated, but the way that they wanted to be treated.”
You can, again, have the best intentions, but if you’re not aware of – if you don’t care personally about that other individual and understand how they want to hear the words, then, again, you’re just probably going to butt heads. Even if both of you have really wonderful goals and care a lot about each other.

Chi: She tells a story about being told that she said “um” a lot. It was a story that made me laugh because I had a boss who told me once that I said “um” a lot. Thinking about what you say is measured at the ear of the other person. That kind of feedback can be really hard to take and taken very personally.

Liz: Totally, yes.

Chi: When someone says it in a way that is meant to be caring, but when you think about it being something that they said because they really deeply care about you and they want you to be your best, you can look at it in a different way. It’s very difficult to do, because we are conditioned to take things personally. Especially when it comes down to something so personal as the way that you speak. Something that I think is very interesting when it comes to feedback. Feedback is a huge part of design. It can be very painful when feedback is personal.

I like to try to help people understand that particularly when you are designing something that doesn’t belong to you, little bit different when you’re making a book of your own, to take feedback. When you’re making something for a client, it’s not for you, well, hopefully for the people that you’re designing for, but also for the client that you’re working with. Sometimes with feedback and design, there are ways that you can take out that taking it personally aspect and focus on it being about critiquing what it would be like for whoever it is that you’re making it for, rather than for yourself.

It’s not an easy thing to do, it’s not an easy thing to retrain your brain to think that way, but a very important practice, nonetheless. You’ve worked with lots of big organisations in this space, what’s that been like?

Liz: It’s been interesting. I think that at any big organisation there’s so many different emotional cultures that can exist within a large organisation. Emotional culture is just the small gestures and signals that people give each other and how those all aggregate to give a feeling. I think if you’ve ever walked into… let’s say you work at a big organisation and you’ve walked into a different floor or a different area of the office and it just feels different. There are maybe different things on the walls, or people are just interacting, maybe they’re not saying thank you to each other. Maybe they’re talking a lot and in your part of the office, it’s very quiet.
I think one thing in big organisations is just trying to navigate all of those different emotional cultures and keeping an eye on how they form and making sure that they’re health for everyone. It’s totally fine to have different emotional cultures. I’m in San Francisco, so something I hear a lot is that in open office floor plans, the area where the engineering team is, is very quiet and people really value that quiet time. For the sales team, they’re on the phone a lot, they’re usually much more extroverted, they’re talking, they’re goofing off.

That’s totally fine. I think that’s probably the best environment for both of those types of people. Not to make broad stereotypes but this is just a trend that has emerged in places I’ve been and people I’ve talked with, but then also just making sure that if they sit in close proximity to each other, that you’re still carving out spaces within the office for people to go if they want quiet time that they’re not getting when they’re sitting.
Let’s say an engineer is sitting right next to a salesperson. That’s something that’s really struck me is just all the different emotional ecosystems that exist within one organisation and I think a good leader is able to navigate between those and make sure that people are getting their emotional needs met.

Chi: It’s a little bit of a Segway, but interesting to me because it’s personally dear to my heart, how much do you think that the space that you’re working in plays when it comes to emotions in the workplace?

Liz: Yes, I’ve looked a lot or talked a lot with executives too about creating a culture of belonging. In the book, we define belong as – it’s different than diversity and inclusion. Diversity is having a seat at the table, and then inclusion in having a voice at the table and belonging is having that voice be heard. Belonging is so crucial to financial success, to innovation, to people feeling good on a team, because if you have a bunch of different people in the room, which is optimal because you want people to bring in their unique experiences. You want people with different skillsets who view a problem from different perspectives to get to the best possible result. If you’re not creating a space in which those people feel valued for everything that makes them unique, not only valued, but feel safe throwing out those ideas or even flagging a problem, then you’re missing out on all of this amazing information that is contained within each person.
That feeling of belonging is extremely emotional. It’s based on emotion. That translates so much to have you behave in a meeting, then that translated into what ideas the other people hear from you. That translates into what goes into the final product. That translates into what you present the client. That translates into, does the client stick with you or not? I think obviously I’m going to flag my bias because I wrote a book about emotions at work. I think so much is profoundly impacted just by how we feel in an office space and around the people that we’re working with.

Chi: Do you think that there’s anything in your experience that you can do in the actual physical space to make it feel better for people?

Liz: I think it depends on your organisation. I think people do have different preferences. In some sense, they will maybe opt into careers that better suit their preferences. One example I’ll give is, I studied economics and math and then worked as an economic consultant. There, I think people tended to be very data-driven, they really valued intellectual discussion, but also were probably a little more emotionally reserved.

That’s completely fine. I think what you can do in a space for those people to make them feel better is different than what you can do in a space for people who like are very emotionally expressive, who want to talk about their feelings, who want to be super close and very vulnerable with their co-workers. Generally, I would say just getting a sense. Let’s say that you’re a manager, getting a sense for what the preferences are of your team, in general, and then also of the individuals on your team.

Then helping them, giving them the tools to create that space for themselves. Again, I think that’s if you have an introvert on your team and they consistently tell you, “I think I would do a lot better work if I had a little quieter time.” I know one company that I spoke with, they got that feedback from a lot of introverts. They turned a few conference rooms into just quiet rooms, where introverts could go and work and you just weren’t allowed to talk in there, that was really nice for those people. Then in the book, more broadly, this can apply to any organisation, to really be mindful of your micro actions. Micro actions are these small gestures and actions that we take that really can make people feel welcome in a space or in a group. Examples of that are learning to pronounce someone’s name correctly. This sounds like such a basic thing but it’s a huge thing.

One story we heard was, there was an executive and he was leading a team on a project, he really wanted – he was trying to make everyone feeling a sense of belonging. He would address everyone in the meeting, he would look them in the eye, and he would really try to facilitate equitable discussion. A few weeks into the project, one of the senior designers pulled him aside and she said, “I know that you really want to involve everyone in the conversation, but you address everyone by their first name and you’ve never said my name. I think it’s because you don’t know how to pronounce it.

My name is pronounced Karishma.” Then she was like, “Again, I know you have the best intentions, just wanted to let you know.” He realised that she was absolutely correct, because he had never taken that split second to be like, “How do you pronounce your name?” He was afraid of mispronouncing it and therefore, wasn’t addressing her by her name. Imagine if you’re in a meeting and someone is like, “Sally, what do you think? John, what do you think? Hey, you, what do you think?”
It definitely sends some kind of a signal and it does make you feel like you’re really truly apart of that group in that moment. Just being so mindful of these little things, spelling people’s names correctly when you email them. Then if you’re sitting at lunch and someone sits down at the table, just taking the ten seconds to pause the conversation and be like, “Hey, there’s what we’re talking about. Just wanted to catch you up.” Someone has done that for me and it’s such a wonderful way of feeling really truly invited into that conversation and into that space.

Chi: Actually, when we first spoke, you mentioned that and ever since, I’ve been really aware of doing it. I’ve been trying to, every time I’m having a conversation with my team and then one of them enters the conversation, I stop and say, “Okay, this is what we’re talking about.”

Liz: That’s great, yes. That’s wonderful.

Chi: I think it genuinely does make people feel more included. Recently, over the last few months, at my studio, we’ve gone through some changes. One of the big changes is that the studio that we have, it’s not huge, it’s quite small. It can fit up to about 25-people. When I first started there, it was actually quite quiet, but what we’ve done over the last few months, is handed the responsibility, if you like, over to the team in terms of how we use this space and what we do in it, where they sit, and we’ve changed some things around. We had this big round table that was in the middle of a common space that you could sit at for lunch and you could have meetings at, if you’d like.

It was really hard to use, actually, this round table, it was pretty terrible. We got rid of that and we got some high tables that are square, and you’d sit at them with bar stools. We got a few of those. Now you can reconfigure that space into all kinds of things. Into a workshop space, into a space that you can have lunch at, and we use it all the time for team meetings now. By doing some really simple little changes that weren’t costly, they were pretty low-cost, in fact.

What we’ve done is not only given ownership to the team when it comes to our studio and the way that we use it, but we’ve actually made it more functional and people are being more social in different ways. There were dead areas in our studio, where people just wouldn’t sit. We’ve tried to really set about some things, as well as some rituals, some cultural rituals, where we use those spaces in different ways. Those things have helped a lot to really change the dynamic of our studio.

Liz: Yes, that’s a wonderful example.

Chi: I think that the combination of the space itself, the physical space, and the emotional space are really important. That was what I was thinking about, actually. That it makes me think that there’s something, maybe I’ve heard this before, but something along the lines of emotional design, where we’re actually thinking about people’s emotions and trying to weave that into the way that we design.

Liz: Yes, well, I can’t claim to be an expert on this at all, but I think that’s often what experienced designers do. Let’s say that you’re designing a conference, for a lot of these events, there’s an emotional arc that you want people to have. If you want them to bond and to set the tone of, this is going to be an event where you are going to get to know people and we want you to be human as opposed to just throw your title around and wear a name badge and have this be a networking event.

This is some of the workshops and conferences that I facilitated and organised. This is something that we really do, which is, how do you start off the experience on the right emotional foot? We usually try and bring art into it. We have people do something like goofy on their nametags instead of having just the traditional name, affiliation, title. I think there’s so much that can be done around space to make it feel really inviting. One of the examples we have in the book to is, think about if you walk into a conference room. Imagine two scenarios.

One is that there are signs that have been printed out on the walls that say: Don’t leave your trash on the table. Don’t jam the printer. Don’t print more than four pages. There are all very admonishing signs. Then compare that to if you walk into a room and it maybe has a smiley face on it and it says: We love a clean room. Then there are a few photos of employees at an activity day. Just those really small touches create two very different feelings the moment that you enter a space.

It’s a fascinating domain of how you also engage all of the five senses. I remember hearing one experienced designed talk about one of the most underutilised senses in creating an emotional experience with smell. It’s one of the fancy Four Seasons-esk hotel. They have a very specific scent that they use in all of their hotels. The moment you walk in, you just know where you are no matter which part of the world, you’re in. Super fascinating. Just like the little titbits that I’ve heard or some of the stuff that I’ve worked on. I’m always curious to learn more about that.

Chi: Well, as an experienced designer, which is a funny term. I think it’s hilarious because I also am of the belief that you can’t design experiences, you can design for them, which is a weird thing about experience, but when I’m thinking about the example that you gave of a meeting room where there are signs that are negative: Don’t do this, don’t do that. Then you can flip that and say, well, make it positive, make sure you’re putting your trash in the trashcan because we want to have a great environment. As an experience designer, when it comes to trashcans, sometimes certainly in open-plan offices, there’s not enough trashcans.

There’s been this movement to, hey, we’re not going to have trashcans anymore because we need people to recycle and we need people to put all of their things in the right place. What really needs to happen is, we need to be more mindful about how we design those things too. Having accessible tools, let’s say, for people to use, that get them to do the things that you want them to do. For example, put their trash in the places that it should be, or if it’s recycling and getting them to recycle in the right way, making sure that you’re telling them the right message about how you do that. That’s incredibly important. That makes me think about when you go to a, for example, a parking garage and you go, and you go to pay, and they’ll be a machine there.

There’s one that I can think of that I’ve seen, and you go to pay, and it’s covered in signage to tell you have to use the machine. Hand-written signage and stuck all over it because the way that it was designed originally didn’t think about the way that someone was going to experience it. Those frustrations that people have when they try to use something. It says on the sign, don’t use credit card or whatever it might be.

These things could be fixed if we think about the way that people are going to do something upfront rather than thinking about it later on and then sticking a silly sign on it. What’s next? Have you got any plans for another book? Or are you going to do something else now?

Liz: Another book would be amazing. I think that’s a TBD. Next, really is just launching this book and we’re doing together and then separately workshops at organisations and writing a lot of articles around these topics. I think right now it’s really just seeing where that goes. Yes, hoping that… really, the hope for the book is that it gives people tools to no matter what their situation is, like, help themselves be able to work through their emotional states in a healthier manner.

Also, just create, like we’ve talked about a lot, better environments for the people around them, as well. One of the things we talk about in the book is that emotional culture cascades from you. That’s this idea that if you’re putting in energy and you are taking these small steps to make other people feel better, that it will also help you feel better because you’re modelling good behaviour, you’re modelling what it looks like to be in an emotionally healthy work environment. That can go a long way.

Again, the big caveat is, if you’re putting in a lot of work and you’re not getting anything in return and you continue to feel miserable, maybe you should quit that job. We’re not going to it on the never quit a job, it’s always your issue table at all. Yes, I think next really is the book comes out February 5th. Just seeing what happens there and hopefully seeing that it has a positive impact on people’s lives.

Chi: We’ve established that design can be an emotional, passionate, frustrating, rewarding, glorious thing to do. If there was one thing that you took away from going through this process of writing this book and delving into this space, what is it? What would you tell designers?

Liz: I would say, just to take the bad days as part of the process. When I was earlier in my career, if I would have a day when I was anxious or when I didn’t like my work, it would just cause me a lot more anxiety because I would worry that I was never going to like my work again, or that I would always be unhappy. That’s actually a really common dirty trick that our mind plays on us call catastrophising. Usually, if you’re using the word “never” or “always”, that’s a flag that you’ve entered this territory where self-reflection has become self-destructive.

Now, given all of this research and also knowing that just the experience of having gone through the swings, the highs and the lows of creative design. When I’m having a bad day now, it’s much more like, okay, today I don’t like what I’m working on, but that’s okay. I’m going to keep working on it and maybe that will turn into something. Maybe I’ll find some inspiration along the way. Most likely, in a few days, when I return to this, it will look a lot better to me than it does right now.

It becomes more of one bad day in a series of other things, as opposed to this thing that now I’m blowing completely out of proportion and spirals into me just scraping the project entirely. Yes, again, really, just don’t make yourself feel bad about feeling bad. It’s okay, you’re probably going to feel better again soon.

Chi: There’s always tomorrow.

Liz: There’s always tomorrow, yes.

Chi: You can always just have a nap and then get up in the morning and start again. It’ll be fine. Where can people buy the book?

Liz: They can buy it anywhere books are sold. There’s Amazon, your local book store, Barns and Nobel. Again, it’s available February 5th. Yes, we really encourage people to pre-order just to make sure that they get it if they want to read it on February 5th. It should be available where you prefer to buy your books.

Chi: Where can people find out more information about you?

Liz: I think the best place is our website: That’s L-I-Z and the word “and” and then M-O-L-L-I-E .com.

Chi: Well, it has been a pleasure to have you on the show. We wish all the very best of luck with the book launch. It’s fantastic and I feel very privileged to have been able to read it. Thank you for joining us.

Liz: Yes, thank you so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you.

Chi: There you have it. Design is emotional. Remember, keep putting one foot in front of the other because there’s always tomorrow. How do you deal with emotions in design? We’d love to get your feedback or thoughts on this topic. To join in on the conversation, go to: and register to join our Slack channel, where you can get in touch. We use our Slack channel to shape future episodes of the podcast, as well as sharing interesting design-related content every day. You can check out more about Liz and buy No Hard Feelings via: That’s L-I-Z-A-N-D-M-O-L-L-I-E-.-C-O-M. We’d love to read your reviews of Liz’s book. That’s so much for listening to This is HCD. See you again soon.

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John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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