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As a product designer, I’ve always thrived on the intersection of creativity, technology, and user experience. My journey, however, comes with a unique twist: I am dyslexic. Dyslexia, often misunderstood and underestimated, has shaped my career in ways that have turned challenges into strengths. This blog post is a reflection on how embracing dyslexia has fuelled my success as a product designer, offering a fresh perspective on creativity, problem-solving, and user empathy.

Discovering My Dyslexic Superpower

I only discovered I was dyslexic during my first year at the University of Sussex. My higher maths professor, who was marking my papers as part of my Product Design degree, suggested I get tested when he noticed I frequently got equations in the wrong order. The test, which took several hours, ultimately confirmed that I was indeed dyslexic.

Although it hadn’t crossed my mind before, the diagnosis made total sense. Looking back on my education, I remembered struggling with reading aloud, seeing wobbly text, and having difficulty with maths. Despite these challenges, I often found creative solutions to navigate them.

Growing up, dyslexia presented numerous challenges. Reading and writing, fundamental skills in education, were difficult for me. However, this unique way of thinking allowed me to see patterns, connections, and solutions that others might overlook. This unique way of thinking became my superpower in the world of design.

I do at this point however, want to point out that my dyslexia is mild and my personal experience may vary greatly from others. The fact it wasn’t acknowledged until University proves this. So my coping methods may not work for others.

Visual Thinking: A Key Asset

One of the hallmarks of dyslexia is strong visual thinking. While traditional learning environments emphasise textual and verbal skills, product design thrives on visual creativity. My ability to think in images and visualise complex systems intuitively has been instrumental in crafting user-centric designs. I often use mind maps, sketches, and prototypes to communicate ideas effectively, bridging the gap between abstract concepts and tangible products.

I remember someone trying to explain how a motorbike gear box worked and I just wasn’t getting it until they drew a diagram. Seeing the image made instant sense to me. I will often draw out ideas rather than write them down as this is how I best understand them and can articulate them.

Empathy and User-Centric Design

Dyslexia has instilled in me a deep sense of empathy. Understanding the frustration of struggling with tasks that come easily to others has heightened my sensitivity to user needs. This empathy drives my commitment to creating inclusive designs that cater to diverse user experiences. I constantly strive to simplify interfaces, ensuring that they are accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities or challenges.

Creating a strong and intuitive user experience in all my design work is very important. Not only for those with accessibility issues but for everyone. Products should easily allow people to achieve their goals.

Innovative Problem-Solving

Dyslexia has taught me to approach problems from multiple angles. When faced with a challenge, I naturally explore unconventional solutions. This ability to think outside the box has led to innovative design concepts and breakthrough ideas. I have found that my dyslexic perspective enables me to spot opportunities for improvement that others might miss, fostering a culture of continuous innovation in my projects.

When others ask me what my design superpower is, I always say “innovation.” This strength is integral to my design skills, and I believe my dyslexia plays some role in this. Dyslexia has required me to come up with creative solutions to problems others may not have faced, giving me plenty of practice in thinking outside the box.

Collaboration and Communication

Effective communication is essential in product design, and dyslexia has pushed me to develop creative ways to express my ideas. I rely on visual aids, interactive prototypes, and collaborative tools to convey concepts to my team and stakeholders. This emphasis on clear, visual communication has not only enhanced my ability to share ideas but has also improved team collaboration and project outcomes.

Overcoming Challenges: Strategies for Success

While dyslexia has its advantages, it also comes with challenges that require strategic management. Here are some strategies that have helped me succeed as a dyslexic product designer:

  1. Leveraging Technology: Utilising tools like spell checkers, text-to-speech software, and design software with intuitive interfaces has streamlined my workflow.
  2. Breaking Tasks into Manageable Steps: Dividing complex projects into smaller, manageable tasks helps me stay organised and focused.
  3. Seeking Support and Mentorship: Building a support network of colleagues, mentors, and fellow dyslexics provides encouragement and valuable insights.
  4. Continuous Learning: Embracing a growth mindset and continually seeking new skills and knowledge keeps me adaptable and resilient.

The Hidden Reality: Why I Haven’t Been Open About My Dyslexia

Despite the strengths my dyslexia has given me, I haven’t always been open about it publicly. The fear of stigma and misunderstanding often held me back, especially when applying for roles in the highly competitive field of product design.

There’s a pervasive concern that disclosing my dyslexia might lead to being judged or underestimated. I worried that potential employers might see it as a limitation rather than a unique perspective that enhances my design abilities. This fear extended beyond job applications; it also influenced how I interacted with colleagues and clients, constantly worrying they might treat me differently if they knew.

Additionally, there’s the challenge of proving my capabilities. The thought of having to justify my skills and competencies because of a label is daunting. In a field that values precision and detail, admitting to difficulties with reading or writing can feel risky.

However, I’m learning that transparency about my dyslexia can foster understanding and acceptance. By sharing my experiences and the innovative strengths dyslexia brings to my work, I hope to challenge misconceptions and promote a more inclusive environment. Embracing my dyslexia openly is a step towards advocating for others who face similar challenges, proving that diversity in thought and experience is a powerful asset in design.

It’s also noteworthy that some of the most talented, creative and innovative individuals I have had the pleasure of collaborating with in my career have been dyslexic, have dyspraxia, ADHD and other forms of neurodivergence.

Supporting Dyslexic Employees in the Workplace

Creating an inclusive workplace that supports dyslexic employees is crucial for fostering a diverse and innovative environment. Here are some strategies employers can implement to support dyslexic employees effectively:

Treat Everyone as Individuals

It is essential to recognise that each person with dyslexia is unique. Dyslexia can manifest differently from one individual to another, so avoid making assumptions based on the label alone. Instead, take the time to understand each employee’s specific strengths, challenges, and needs.

Avoid Special Treatment Unless Needed

While some employees with dyslexia may require certain accommodations, it’s important not to single them out or give them special treatment unless they specifically request or require it. Creating a supportive environment means offering help and adjustments based on individual preferences and requirements, without making them feel different or isolated.

At University I was given extra time in exams but I ended up opting out of this because my personal perspective was that I didn’t want special treatment, that at the time I didn’t think I would be given special treatment post University and that I would need to adapt to the world around me. However, I also strongly believe this does not and should not apply to everyone. Everyone is unique.

Educate Yourself and Others

Don’t make assumptions about dyslexia. Educate yourself and your team about what dyslexia is and how it can affect individuals in the workplace. This understanding can help reduce misconceptions and foster a more supportive and inclusive culture.

Focus on Individual Strengths

Dyslexia should not be seen as a weakness. Many individuals with dyslexia possess unique strengths such as creativity, problem-solving abilities, and visual thinking. Recognise and leverage these strengths in the workplace. Encourage dyslexic employees to take on challenging tasks that align with their abilities and interests. There are plenty of high-profile people in the industry who are dyslexic. A quick google search will prove this to be true.

Relevant Job Measurements

When evaluating performance, focus on skills and abilities that are relevant to the job. In today’s workplace, for example; spelling and grammar are less critical due to technological aids like spell checkers and grammar tools. Instead, assess employees based on their overall contribution, creativity, critical thinking, and other strengths that are pertinent to their roles.

Provide the Right Tools and Resources

Ensure that dyslexic employees have access to the tools and resources they need to succeed. This might include software for speech-to-text, text-to-speech, or other assistive technologies that can help them manage their work more effectively. Tools I personally love to use are Grammarly , text-to-speech for complex problems and reading, and now with the raise of ai tools I see more and more support to level the playing field.

Foster an Inclusive Culture

Promote a culture of inclusion where differences are celebrated, and everyone feels valued. Encourage open communication, where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs and experiences. Providing a supportive environment can help dyslexic employees thrive and contribute their best work.

By treating everyone as individuals, avoiding unnecessary special treatment, educating the team, focusing on strengths, and providing the right tools and resources, employers can create a workplace where dyslexic employees feel supported, valued, and empowered to succeed.

Conclusion: Celebrating Diversity in Design

Being a dyslexic product designer has taught me that diversity in thought and experience is a powerful asset. Dyslexia, once seen as a limitation, has become a source of strength and innovation in my career. By embracing my unique perspective, I have been able to contribute to the creation of products that are not only functional but also inclusive and user-friendly.

As we move towards a more inclusive society, it’s crucial to recognise and celebrate the diverse talents and perspectives that individuals bring to the table. Dyslexia is not a barrier to success; it’s a unique lens through which we can view the world, leading to richer, more innovative design solutions.

By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to embrace their differences and harness them as strengths. Together, we can create a world where diversity is celebrated, and everyone has the opportunity to thrive.