Brag doc, a running list of what has gone well, is a great practice for designers to reflect and keep track of learnings and wins. It also helps managers to understand performance and give better feedback.

Three pencils playing a concert piano in front of an audience in impressionist style
Three pencils playing a concert piano in front of an audience in impressionist style, generated with DALL-E

☕ Keeping track of wins

I frequently see designers, even senior ones struggle with having good reflective practice. That is, keeping track of what they have been doing and especially what they learned in their design work. Over time, reflecting on what was learned and understanding why things go well when they go well forms the basis for growth.

This is also a problem for the managers of designers. Feedback should be given based on facts. Having evidence is especially important when doing performance reviews or preparing promotion cases. Working directly together with designers is a great way to collect facts, but product design teams are frequently distributed organizationally and more and more often also geographically.

For designers, the challenge seems to come from being immersed in the daily flow of design work, collaboration sessions, and meetings. It’s not easy to stop and reflect on what’s happening. Not keeping track is also a problem when updating portfolios. Remembering projects done 6-12-18 months ago is not easy. Portfolio pieces embody learnings and experience - and to describe these designers need to have a good and detailed understanding of what they have been doing.

For both the designers and the managers the collection of data, on things that went well is needed. One solution is the brag doc, a journal-like write-up of the achievements, successes, and wins a designer had. Writing them in a recurring way - every one-two week makes it easy to keep track.

Brag docs don’t need any concrete format, each designer can experiment with what works best for them. The key seems to be the regularity and that it needs to be shared. Writing it regularly also develops a good reflective practice.

Another advantage of brag docs is how they give an outside view of one’s performance. Seeing a list of things that went well over time gives a good boost for confidence, and helps deal with the inner critic.

For leaders seeing the brag docs of their teams helps in two ways besides keeping track of things that happened. First, almost all the teams I’ve ever worked with could have done better in celebrating successes. By seeing and thinking more about wins, it will become clearer when and what to celebrate.

Second, by having a good overview of what the team is excelling in, growth areas can be identified. For example, if everybody from the team talks about the great collaboration with engineering, but not about product management, that might make it worth investigating.

🍪 Things to snack on

A great source about this topic is Julia Evans’ Get your work recognized: write a brag document. She writes about how her “brag docs” help in performance reviews as the key use, as it helps to remember all the things that a person accomplished. Reviewing the brag doc also supports reflections and future career development. Since writing or at least getting started to write is sometimes difficult, her idea of a workshop to write and review together as a team seems very useful.

Collecting evidence is also the key when applying to new jobs, as Jessica Ivins writes in An Essential Tool for Capturing Your Career Accomplishments. She recommends not only detailing accomplishments but also including portfolio items - often a screenshot is enough. Think not only pictures of UIs and flows, but also things like Slack or LinkedIn screenshots that offer praise.

I love the enthusiasm coming from Aashni Shah’s take in Hype Yourself! You’re Worth It!. This might come from the term “hype” - might help people to feel the logging of achievements less of a chore. The positive vibe might also help in boosting one’s confidence.

David Hoang also uses the term “hype doc” in Your Career Hype Doc. He adds more forward-looking elements to the list, having mid and long-term goals in the same place. Another good idea to try is how he automates the logging of hype moments as they happen instead of doing a weekly review.

Sarah Doody focuses on the documentation aspect and gives more detailed pointers on what to write in Seriously, you need to start documenting your UX work. While she writes about projects (and how logging supports creating portfolio items), the same question prompts can go into the brag doc. Her questions are also similar to what’s usually asked on portfolio reviews:

  • What worked well in the project?
  • In hindsight, what would you do differently?
  • If you’d had more time, what would you have done?
  • If you’d had more budget, what would you have done?
  • What data do you have to quantify the results of the project?
  • What quotes from stakeholders or users can you include to qualify the project outcome?