Over the last few months, many people have asked me to help on their respective projects. But I've turned down many. And it's not necessarily because the business idea was not viable. I just did not feel an affinity for that particular product, project, or business.
If there is anything I've learned in my years in developing product, it's that not everything should be worked on by me. It is true that the principles I apply (user-centered design approaches and processes) can work in every situation so it's not about my training or education. It's just that I don't have some sort of connection to that project. The project just does not resonate with me.
What is this resonance? It is an intrinsic feeling and connection that one has for a given project. This may have developed from one's background, or from one's training, or from one's point of view. Some are gender based; should I, being male, work on a product for women? Others can be cultural in nature. The best examples of this are international products. Creating a community based application in the U.S. is something I could effectively work on because I grew up here and lived in the U.S. all my life; creating one in a foreign country is not something I should do alone. Sometimes it's age based - could I create a product for teens, being not a teen myself? It can also be belief based. I was once asked to work on a company who wanted to employ its patents; I declined because my view of the whole patent system is that it is in serious need of overhaul. Morals can come into play as well; For example, I could never work on a email spam generating engine. To resonate means that there is an understanding within my brain, body, and soul which comes from a variety of sources and, I believe, makes me more effective at working on that project than not.
So while my user-centered design training can theoretically create a great product in any situation, I believe that if I resonate with the project, I can take the result beyond just a solution. I can make it better than just whatever comes out the end of a successful application of the process. And it's simply because I resonate with the project.
My affinity for that project allows the "art" to come out in the application of the design process. Consider this: anyone can take a pencil and draw with it. The pencil is a tool; it's simple to use and just about anybody can learn how to use it. But not everyone is a Da Vinci. Da Vinci could do things with a pencil that you or I could never do. He had a natural affinity for art and creating it. It's stick figures versus works of art and expression.
I want the "art" to come out in everything I do. I want to give my projects the best that I can give them. I want them to be the best I can create. And I want that for the people I work for. If I can't give it, I walk away from it.