There are some professions where the more time one spends at their station yields greater amounts of productivity. I imagine this dates back to the dawn of the industrial age where the longer a factory worker spent at his post, the more stuff was manufactured. This “work ethic” has transcended time and found its way to the information age. Even in the most enlightened software companies there is still a belief that hours in front of a monitor produce greater output (of whatever it is that you output).
Perhaps with software engineers this might be the case. I can see an argument being made that more lines of code are written as more time is spent at the keyboard. In a waterfall development environment, managers can argue that more time at the computer produces more deliverables and specifications.
I don’t believe these arguments hold true for design.
Designers can spend hours in front of their monitors and produce nothing. Does that mean this time has been wasted? Does it mean that no forward progress was made? No. It means that the optimal solution has not yet been found. It could also mean that the monitor has not yet been used. Sketching, researching, and whiteboarding along with other forms of ideation can take place during the course of a “normal” day inching the designer closer to a convincing design solution.
In addition, design is a creative pursuit and, as such, is subject to the wills of each designer’s creative muse. There are periods of time (sometimes minutes, sometimes days) where the inspiration has not yielded the right approach or has simply not “been there.”
Does this mean designers have no work ethic? Does that mean designers are unreliable when it comes to producing as part of a team? No. It means that the forces that drive the best solutions for designers aren’t necessarily at their peak between the hours of 8am and 6pm sitting in front of a monitor. Designers’ processes need to be articulated to their teams and respected by their teammates.
So what is design work ethic? I believe design work ethic is deadline driven. Each designer knows their process for creating their best work. Mix into that the project requirements and deliverables and the designer should be able to articulate a timeline for producing a desirable outcome. Sticking to that deadline, communicating constantly, being available, raising awareness of challenges and risks — those are elements of a good designer’s work ethic.
Companies that recognize the unique needs of their designers and provide them with the flexibility to exorcise those needs will ultimately reap better output from those designers along with more successful products and services.