Picture the scene. There I am, living my best life, and my phone buzzes with a social media notification. Someone has sent me a direct message! However, I’m sad to admit that my initial reaction to seeing this is usually a groan.

Why? It’s not because I don’t like hearing from people. Rather, the opposite is true. I love to hear from people and find out how they are practicing design wherever they are in the world, and to help them if I can.

I groan because it seems to be an unfortunate epidemic on Instagram and other social media that many of the messages I receive are quite frankly, a complete waste of everyone’s time.

I imagine if this is happening to me, it’s probably happening to other people. I’m picturing a sea of people who really want to ask design questions and a bunch of designers who would love to help, but wires getting crossed thanks to shoddy messaging structure! Argh!

So, to help us all out, I’m going to talk about the types of messages that won’t get you a response  and how to instead optimise your approach for a better chance of hearing back!

The types of messages that don’t work

The first culprits are the one word messagers:

Direct messages examples with one word

I get hundreds of one-word hi’s or hey’s, and it is SO AGGRAVATING. But sometimes, its not just one word. There are those that do ever-so-slightly better, but who basically are still saying absolutely nothing:

direct message examples with no question

Why this is bad:

There is literally no point to this message. You are just saying hi. How am I meant to respond to this!? Anyone who sends me a message like this gets automatically “declined” because who has time for this?

What to do instead:

Please just elaborate on why you’re getting in touch. If there isn’t really a point, save us both some time and just don’t message me.

The second type of messenger is the one that does actually have a question, but it’s just incredibly vague, for example:

direct message examples with vague questions

Why this is bad:

Both of these people have been very polite and approached me with a question – and I always appreciate politeness. But here, the questions that are being asked are so vague that I wouldn’t even know where to begin answering. Again, how am I meant to respond?

What to do instead:

I welcome all questions about UX and design, as long as they are specific and clear. Unfortunately, I don’t have lots of time to respond to questions so the quicker and easier it is for me to identify how I can help you, the better it is! Let’s look at some variations on the above questions that might have been better:

  • I’m an Adobe After Effects beginner, can you recommend some helpful blogs or resources?
  • I’m learning Adobe After Effects and I’m struggling with [specific problem] – do you have any advice?
  • I’m looking to gain more knowledge on UX design – what books would you recommend?
  • I’m interested to find out more about [specific thing] – do you have any experience with this? What would be one tip you could give me?

Lastly, there are the, thankfully small, group of people who take it upon themselves to message me in an inappropriate way:

direct message examples with inappropriate content

Why this is bad:

Regardless of your intentions, I’m not interested in receiving messages that:

  • Comment on my appearance
  • Are aggressive or rude
  • Have sexual content
  • Are overly familiar

My blog and social channels are about UX and design and are controlled by me – my spaces, my rules! Anything listed above has no place in that forum.

What to do instead:

Don’t message me unless you legitimately want to discuss UX and design.

How to ask for advice

So, if you’re thinking about messaging someone to ask them a question or to give advice, please have a think first about:

  • Are you sure you’re approaching the right person? It’s always really important to do a bit of homework to make sure that you’re asking the right person the right query. Is there evidence to suggest that they will be able to give you advice on your query?
  • What are you asking for and what’s the time commitment? There’s a huge difference between typing a fast response to a quick question and asking someone to mentor you or review your portfolio. The way you structure your ask for something quick and low effort will be very different to how you structure an ask for something slow and high effort. For something quick, a simple message over social media may do; for something that will involve more effort, it might be worth trying to build up some rapport and explaining why you’ve approached them.
  • What are your expectations? No matter what you’re asking for, remember that the other person has no obligation to respond, let alone respond with a yes. They’ll probably be inundated with requests and time commitments already so be prepared to not hear back. If you don’t hear back, don’t keep on messaging them – that is a fast way to just get blocked.
  • Is there an actual specific question or piece of advice that you’re requesting? Make sure that’s clear so you’re not wasting your time or the person you’re asking advice from.
  • Is there another way to get the information? Sometimes, a quick search will give you all the information you need – do check other sources like Google first.
  • Are you being polite and appropriate? Make sure that your communications are respectful of that person and the context in which you’re approaching them.

What have I missed? Shout in the comments!

Author

Design lead, watermelon addict, Leuchtterm notebook obsessive. I just enjoy designing great experiences for people that just work, writing about my craft and connecting with designers everywhere. Find me on Instagram, Twitter and Google+.

2 Comments

  1. I love this! Sometimes it’s so hard to hit the right tone when reaching out especially when it feels like a stab in the dark.

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