Mapping Your Practice

An exercise to help make sense of what you’re good at, what you want to learn, and what you love to do at work.

Presented at World IA Day DC 2021.

Mapping practice demo

If you don't have access to Mural and can't or don't want to do their 30-day free trial, you can drop me a line.

How to Make Your Map

To make your own map, open the template in Mural and click "Create Mural from Template" in the top right corner.

  • Time box your first try to around 10 minutes. The map is meant to give impressions, not a perfectly accurate representation of your skills and likes. Tempting as it is to keep tweaking, don’t drive yourself nuts.
  • The provided cards and categories are only a starting point. The distribution of skills is about you and your practice, as broadly as you want to take that. You could focus only on skills that apply to your current job, or your whole career. Or maybe you’re in a totally different field altogether! Change it up as you need.
  • You don’t have to place all the cards. If you’ve never done something enough to have an opinion on it, then leave it behind. Seeing what’s left is also helpful.

Once you have all the cards you want to sort sorted, start interpreting your map. 

Let me know how it went!

If you do the map, I’d love your feedback — please fill out the form.

Interpreting the Map

Top Right // High Skill, High Enjoyment // Core Skills

These are the main strengths of your practice, where you shine. Spending your time doing these things keeps you in your happy place, and takes you deeper into your expertise.

Bottom Right // Less Skill, High Enjoyment // Growth Areas

These are where you can invest your time. You enjoy the work, so now you can build the skill through training or opportunities to practice.

Top Left // High Skill, Low Enjoyment  // Meh.

These are ...  fine. You’re good at it, but you don’t love it. Minimizing how much of your time you’re spending on these will leave more time for things on the right side of the map. 

Bottom Left // Low Skill, Low Enjoyment // The Wasteland (or Opportunities)

These aren’t a priority. But, they’re still still worth looking at, especially if they’re things you get asked to do often. In that case, putting some energy into getting better at them may at least make you more efficient … and if in the process if you end up disliking it less, bonus. 

Unused Cards // Possibilities

We can’t be experts in everything. But clearly the many pieces of design are interdependent. Learning a little more might help you work more effectively with people who do get joy from doing these things.  


How This Came To Be, or, Why I Needed a Map

I came into this career sideways — from a music degree, through journalism, and on to web. When I first started reading about information architecture, I was incredibly excited to find out that that was a thing you could be, that there was a label that represented a lot of the work I was excited about.

And when I got my first job with that in the title — Information Architect and Content Strategist — it felt great.

Then about two years into working at my company, there was a realignment, and my title changed. Now I was an “Experience Designer.” With that came an emphasis on us being hybrid, multifaceted, unicorn, “full stack” designers…but there wasn’t a lot being said about what was in that stack.

So it made me wonder. Were my skills no longer enough?

And if they weren’t…what would I do about it?

Making Sense

I was reading a lot of articles and listicles and asking a lot of questions to understand what this change might mean, and what I should do now. Should I go deeper into what I thought were the skills of information architecture and content? Or should I embrace a broader idea of experience design?

But along the way I also realized that I might be asking the wrong questions.

In focusing on what I should do, I wasn’t spending a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do. Not just what I’m good at, but what I like doing.

Because those are not necessarily the same thing.
There are definitely things that I do at work because they need to be done, and I can do them, and do them well.

But then there are the other things. The things that make my brain stem tingle. Where I get into flow. The things that spark joy.

And that’s where I wanted to be able to focus. To invest my time and energy.

So….how could I figure out what the things that spark joy are, so I can prioritize them? And what doesn’t, so I could try, as much as I could, to let them go?

The First Map

I made digital sticky notes of all the tangible, do-able tasks that I did as an information architect and content strategist. Then I added other tasks that seemed like I might need to do in UX.

I put all of those things on a quadrant diagram. The vertical axis was how skilled I thought I was at the activity, from novice to expert. The horizontal was for how much I enjoyed doing it, from hating it to loving it.

When I finished and took a step back, patterns started to emerge. I saw strengths that I knew I had, but also noticed that there was a particular cluster of content things that had to do with systems and standards, like workflows and style guides. And along the middle right axis — high enjoyment, but medium skill — were a bunch more things I could spend some time developing — facilitation, and prototyping.

I finally felt like I had a place to start. I could try and find projects that capitalized on my strengths, and gave me a chance to get better at things I was interested in.

Going through the process forced me to put skills in a different perspective. Instead of trying to determine how objectively useful these skills were (which is impossible, because every skill can be important and useful in different contexts, and at different moments), I was putting them on the diagram in terms of their relative interest and value to me.

I was mapping out not my job, or my title, but my practice.

Developing the Map

I first adapted the exercise to share with my studio at work, rebuilding the list of cards for a larger and broader skill set, and adjusting the steps and interpretation. From there I refined it further for a presentation for World IA Day DC 2021.

And now it’s your turn. If you do give it a try, please let me know how it went by filling out a quick feedback form