Design and pickup basketball.
What could they possibly have in common?
And more specifically:
What can any web designer, mobile app designer, graphic designer—pretty much any type of designer—learn from playing a game of pickup basketball at their local court?
In this post, I’m going to break down 5 key lessons every designer can take away from playing ball:
- Teamwork makes the dream work
- Build a team that works well together
- Don’t be afraid to shoot your shot
- No communication = no wins
- Don’t assume you’ve got it in the bag
1. Teamwork makes the dream work
You’re a superstar on the court.
You can drop 30 points like it’s nothing. You’ve got the crossovers, the hesitation moves, the spin moves—when you’re on the court, the world is at your command.
So when someone yells, “Pass the ball!” …
…you give him a confused look then shoot a three-pointer out of a triple team. Kinda like this:
Sure it goes in sometimes, but here’s the thing:
Even the great Kobe Bryant passed the ball once! No, seriously:
(If you don’t know Kobe Bryant, that pass was a big deal. It made headlines around the world because Kobe never passed.)
So what does this have to do with design?
You don’t have to do ALL the things, all the time.
If you’ve ever played pickup basketball, you know one thing to be true:
One person cannot do everything on the court by themselves.
(Except LeBron James, who is, in fact, a machine.)
We’ve all seen that one guy with the Nike shooting sleeve take 20 three-pointers and pass the ball zero times en route to an embarrassing loss.
So unless your name is LeBron James…
You’re going to need some help from your team!
If you don’t have a supporting cast to work with, you’re going to be on the hook for each and every part of the design process. As much as you’d like to think you can do everything yourself, your chances of success go way up when you rely on your teammates.
If you’re great at mobile app design—lead the charge!
But that doesn’t mean you have to lead the charge when it comes to developing a mobile app or communicating with clients, for example.
Your teammates are there to help. Teamwork makes the dream work!
2. Build a team that works well together
In pickup basketball, you need teammates with complementary skills.
Every teammate should have a different role:
- You need a ball handler.
- You need a shooter.
- You need a big guy down low.
- You need a lockdown defender.
- You need someone who can score anytime on anyone.
If you have five short ball handlers, you’ll get killed near the basket and dunked on the entire game. If you have five 7-footers, the other team will run circles around you.
You need every piece of the puzzle in order for your team to win.
In design, the exact same idea is true.
Let’s say you’re designing a landing page…
If you have five separate headlines on the page, no one will know where to look.
If you have five different videos, none of them will get watched.
You need to build a team of complementary elements to create that winning design. Every element on the page has its purpose, and when each purpose is fulfilled, you set yourself up for success!
3. Don’t be afraid to shoot your shot
If you go your entire life without shooting from beyond the arc, how will you ever know if you can hit a three-point shot?
Sure, it could go south like this one:
Maybe you’ve actually got a knack for it! Maybe your three-point shooting could be the difference between your team winning and losing on the court.
Here’s how I apply this idea to design:
You’ll never know whether something can perform better unless you test it.
Maybe you’ve been using images on your landing page forever and the results have been pretty good.
But what if using a video instead could turn “pretty good” into great?
If you never test it, you’ll never know for sure.
Don’t be afraid to test new things.
(Just make sure you stop shooting if it isn’t working.)
4. No communication = No wins
Bad communication can lead to big mistakes.
Just like this:
Is he shooting? Is he passing? Is he rebounding? Who knows…
All they had to do was communicate. Call for the alley oop and that Shaqtin’ a Fool moment instantly becomes an #SCtop10 highlight.
If you’re not communicating with your team, no one will know where to go or what to do. There’s a chance you’ll all end up doing the same task, leaving something else wide open.
If everyone thinks they’re supposed to create the mockup, you’ll have a lot of mockups and no finished product.
Communicate with your team, win the game—it’s that simple.
5. Don’t assume you’ve got it in the bag
So you’re only one more bucket away from the win?
Maybe you think you’re going to win no matter what.
That’s what JR Smith was thinking in the NBA finals…
Fast forward a few months and here we are:
Here’s the key takeaway:
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!
Even if you’ve just published an awesome design, don’t assume that’s the end of the game and that victory is a lock – there’s always another shot to take. You can always improve and keep your eyes on the next big goal.
So there you have it!
Want to learn how to become a great designer?
Drive on down to your local basketball court and play some pickup ball. The winning strategies on the court are the same ones that will help you build a design dream team and crush every project you take on.
Here’s a recap of the five things every designer can learn from pickup basketball:
- If you need help, ask for help—you don’t have to do it all
- All the elements of your design need to complement each other
- Don’t be afraid to take chances and test new ideas
- Good communication is a MUST for good design
- Don’t assume you’ve got it in the bag
What other similarities do you see between design and basketball?
How about other sports, like football? Volleyball? Soccer? Hockey?
Let me know in the comments!