My grandfather always told me never to salt my eggs before they go in the pan.
"Too runny," he would say, holding one hand on the panhandle and the other on my head. "Your omelet will slide off your spoon."
My Mom, on the other hand, always added salt before the pan.
And milk. And chives. And maybe some pepper flakes, too.
My sister was rebellious. "Add cinnamon," she would say. "It gives the eggs some bite!"
And my Dad? Don't even get me started on him. I'm still coughing up shells from yesterday's brunch.
These experiences ran through my head this morning as I flipped an omelet over my stove. Next to me, my sister was boiling water in her favorite tea kettle. My dog, Brinkley, was rolling around on the floor with her squeaky toy. I heard my Mom rustling through her latest paperback at the dining table as my Dad bustled to and from the kitchen, preparing for work.
Each of my family members had his or her own uniquely 'perfect' omelet.
So, what was mine?
A few minutes later, my family was finally gathered for breakfast and I shuffled over to the table with pan in hand.
"Hot, watch out!"
I slid the simple, egg-and-cheese omelet onto my Mom's plate, awaiting a snarky response to the absence of chives.
Instead: "Looks great, Jem! What did you put in it?"
I headed back to the stove to get started on another omelet. "Oh, I was pretty mindful about my ingredients. I added feta, but I didn't want to overload — "
My Mom chimed in. "Mindful, huh? Just like that design company you work for!"
I paused for a second to ponder my Mom's message.
A few minutes later, I was cracking eggs again, with the perfect omelet design finally in mind.
Three eggs. A smidgen of butter. A pinch of salt. A splash of milk.
I stood cross-armed looking at my ingredients, wondering what made my omelet unique. I didn't have a secret ingredient, like my sister, or a special process like my grandfather. And I definitely didn't like overloading my eggs with flavor, like my Mom (or adding some unwelcome crunch, like my Dad).
All in all, my omelet seemed patiently simple.
In reality, it was mindful.
I know what you're thinking. Is he really telling me that mindful design is just like cooking an omelet?
Honestly, yes! Let me break my omelet metaphor down into a couple steps. By the end, we'll see that mindful design isn't just something you do in Sketch or Figma.
It's part of our everyday lives!
Step 1: Cracking the eggs
Or deriving golden nuggets of insight from data.
I grabbed the three remaining eggs from my carton and cracked them open along my pan's edge. One at a time, I split them open, carefully allowing the golden yolk to slip into my bowl. Before whisking, I made sure to fish out any loose shells, as well (sorry, Dad — loose eggshells definitely aren't part of the equation).
By the end of the process, I had three yellow globes ready for whisking.
From a mindful design perspective, every egg represents a wealth of information. In our digital age, it can often be overwhelming to come across all the information available to us. What matters to our users? What is unnecessary or unneeded? Our world is full of knowledge and data and it's our job, as designers, to distill that knowledge first into insight that we can then convert into mindful design!
Cracking an egg is just like analyzing a chunk of data, and teasing out the egg yolk is just like deriving insight. And, if you do it correctly, you end up with several golden globs of massive potential.
Tell me that isn't the start of a mindful design!
Step 2: Whisk.
Or transforming insight into story!
With my three eggs collected in one bowl, I grabbed my trusty whisk and began to slowly churn my ingredients together. First, the eggs. Then, the salt. And finally, a splash of milk to tie it all together. Gradually, my solution started turning into a warm yellow and, before I knew it, I was ready for my next step.
When thinking of design, whisking may seem like a high-octane and energetic activity. However, I like to think of it as a very careful process in which I blend together the elements of my design into one carefully-crafted narrative.
That's not to say that this step isn't energetic or productive! But it's simply not enough for us as designers to derive insight and then ship it to the masses. Terabytes of data are transported across the web every single day. In order to deliver mindful user experiences, the second step in our process is essential because it allows us to create stories from our learnings and use those as pillars for our design.
I headed over to my pan, which I'd been pre-heating for a few minutes, and dropped a tab of butter on the cast-iron. Within minutes, the butter was pooled in a sizzling puddle, and I slowly poured my whisked eggs inside.
Step 3: Cook gently. Tilt and rotate.
Or conveying our story with mindful design!
The moment my eggs touched the pan, they started to solidify. So, with gentle fingers, careful twirls of my wrist, and my Mom's favorite spatula, I push cooked the eggs toward the center of my pan and kept a watchful eye on the uncooked remains. As they filled out the skillet and began to set, I added another pinch of salt for extra flavor.
A few minutes later, I deftly folded half of the eggs onto the other and turned the heat off my stove. Another pinch of salt and my omelet was ready to go.
A warm, golden sensation!
Converting our stories into designs is an often time-consuming and fully-involved process. It requires a watchful eye of the entire product and careful attention to even the most minute details. It requires very intentional branding and compelling messaging. Just one missed moment — or pixel! — can turn a golden egg brown! It requires empathy with your customers (or hungry family), and even some creativity too!
But, even more so than attention to detail, empathy, and creativity, design also requires an aesthetic eye.
Which brings me to our fourth and final step...
Step 4: Plating.
I slipped the omelet onto a plate and finally caved into adding some green onions for flavor. I plopped down onto a seat next to my Dad and hunkered down for what looked to be a fantastic meal.
My Dad looked over at my plate with my wide eyes. "That looks delicious, Jem!" he crunched.
I beamed back. Looking around at my family's plates, I realized I had cooked a variety of omelets, catered to each individual family member. My sister had lemon zest, since she preferred a bite-y dish. My Mom had feta cheese, to accommodate her flashy palate. And my Dad — well, my Dad got what he wanted, even if it wasn't what I (or anyone) would have wanted.
In the end, I was mindful to each of their preferences and experiences.
And it turns out that the perfect omelet was always the mindful one!