August 20, 2022

The People Who Have Influenced My Design Practice and Leadership 

Throughout my career, I’ve been influenced and inspired by many people, books, and experiences that have shaped my approach to the work. But there are a few who’s philosophy and perspectives have become part of my designer DNA and ethos.

By internalizing their teachings and perspective and evolving from them, I can attribute the foundation of my design practice and leadership to these influential people, who continue to inspire me and constantly renew my passion for design:

Charles and Ray Eames

“The details are not the details. They make the product.”

Not only were Ray and Charles an amazing couple well known for their modern furniture design, they pioneered work in film, environments, textiles, and architecture, and pushed the boundaries of what design means and could be. Their bar for quality and attention to detail are why I exude the mantra that the details are what separates good from great.

When asked by Madame L’Amic, curator of the exhibition “Qu’est ce que le design? (What is Design?)” at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais de Louvre in 1972, Charles Eames responds:

Q: “What are the boundaries of Design?”
A: “What are the boundaries of problems?”

Bruce Mau

“Design is the ability to imagine a future and systematically execute that vision. So if you think about what all designers do, they’re all futurists. They’re all thinking about what’s going to happen. They’re going to make something new happen in the world. They’re all trying to make the world a better place. I’ve yet to meet a designer who wakes up in the morning thinking, “I think we could do something worse.” That’s not our mandate. That ability to create a vision is one of the most powerful tools that a designer has. We don’t really understand how powerful it is — it’s an incredible power to create the future by showing somebody what it looks like.”

If you haven’t read Massive Change and MA24 — do it.

Dieter Rams

Dieter is a goldmine of quotes and inspiration, especially his ten principles for good design. Modern, minimal, and timeless, his “as little design as possible” philosophy always has me pushing teams to find the elegance in a solution, paring it back to its essence. Distill complexity, expose simplicity. But I find his approach to life and expectations for designers even more intriguing.

“Good designers must always be avant-gardists, always one step ahead of the times. They should — and must — question everything generally thought to be obvious. They must have an intuition for people’s changing attitudes. For the reality in which they live, for their dreams, their desires, their worries, their needs, their living habits.They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.”

Brigitte Borja de Mozota

“Design is a management tool that creates differentiation in the internal capabilities of the company. Design is no longer seen as the output of design-form, but as a creative and management process that can be integrated into other organization processes, such as idea management, innovation management, and research and development management, and that modifies the traditional structure of process management in a company.”

Brigitte is a researcher in management science, and wrote one of the first books I read on Design Management, which became my handbook. Her work on The Four Powers of Design clearly outlines a balanced scorecard approach to measuring and communicating Design’s impact.

These leaders have shaped my design leadership approach, my practice, and inspired me to shape the world around me. I hope by sharing this it will move others to learn more about them and become inspired themselves.

June 12, 2022

10 Truths From Building Design Organizations at Scale

Observations from a chief design executive that apply across industries and companies.

Photo by Ngai Man Yan

Having the opportunity to build design orgs in some of the largest companies in the world, I’ve observed that even with completely different cultures, org structures, and industries…some things stay the same.

  1. You will never have enough designers. You will never have enough time. You will always be building the plane while it’s flying. Design is a valuable, scarce resource. The sooner you navigate this truth and use it to your advantage, the sooner you build leverage.
  2. Design transformation is company transformation. The work you’re doing isn’t just for the design org. Becoming an experience-led company transforms the culture. Realize that change management is your job.
  3. Chart tomorrow’s vision while building for today. North stars are in the ether if you’re not improving current experiences. Drive impact in the short-, medium-, and long-term. Short-term wins become proof points that build reputation and provide runway. The medium-term is where the magic happens.
  4. Show up as a company leader, not just a functional leader. Design cuts across orgs and teams, which provides a unique view of the environment. When you make that mindset switch, you’ll get pulled into the conversations and decision making you wanted all along.
  5. Always be recruiting. The coffee chat you have today might be a future hire five years from now. You are responsible for treating your talent pipeline like a supply chain, always keep it moving.
  6. Your “first team” is your boss and peers, not your directs. If you only focus down, you’ll realize you’ve been neglecting across and up. That’s where important communication, relationships, and visibility is required for the success of your organization.
  7. Be the matchmaker. Connecting the dots across the company will unearth teams that don’t talk to each other, duplicative efforts, and opportunity areas. Build the network, streamline the work, and unearth new business models.
  8. Trust is the foundation of all great teams. Take the time to build trust with your team, throughout your org, with your peers, and your manager. Take a 360 degree approach, and be the constant gardener.
  9. No one understands what you do, so explain it to them. Don’t leave the design process in an opaque box that produces magic. The more people understand the complexity and rigor behind the work, the more others will respect and champion Design.
  10. As you scale, the talent you hire and the mechanisms/levers you create will determine how your culture evolves. Make sure you’re minding the shop and sharing artifacts that guide decision making and incentivize desired behaviors.

May 15, 2022

Mastering Orchestration: 8 Ways to Drive Business Outcomes as a Design Leader 

Connecting competitive advantage and value to customer and business impact.

As a Chief Design Officer (SVP/VP Design, Head of Design, etc.), you’re responsible for connecting the value and competitive advantage that design creates to customer and business impact. Here are eight ways to drive business outcomes no matter what scale you’re operating.

  1. Decode corporate strategy and connect the threads. Translate the corporate mission, vision, and strategic intent into the differentiating design capabilities that will provide competitive advantage. Develop a clear thread that ties the strategies together — from corporate strategy all the way down through to experience strategy. Illuminate the alignment and connection. Translate corporate objectives into design objectives.
  2. Define an inspiring design vision and clear execution path. Create the design vision, and the three-year strategic plan, principles, roadmap, and operating plan to get there. Define goals that lead to the clear outcomes and milestones defined in the strategic plan. Develop an inspiring vision of the future. Make strategy tangible through narrative and prototypes. Socialize, get feedback, and communicate far and wide.
  3. Drive a dual operating system. Deliver for today while making strategic investments in the future. Orient towards experience maps and roadmaps that paint a clear North Star and define the progress signposts on the way there. Make sure you’re executing short-term responsibilities while also shaping the future. Align your best talent to the most critical work for the company, while making space for exploration to go after what’s next.
  4. Identify beacon programs. Use beacons as the light that guides the organization to new ways of working. These become your case studies and examples of how being experience-led yields better outcomes. Leverage these programs as catalysts to embed human-centered design into the fabric of the organization.
  5. Make teaming a priority and build organizational leadership muscle. The larger and more matrixed the company, the more important this will become. This is a requirement if you want to reinvent any experience at scale. Teaming across the organization will pull together diverse, cross-functional perspectives, forge strong working relationships, increase collaboration, and accelerate the work needed to achieve the business outcomes you’ve defined.
  6. Create quality and coherence mechanisms. Leverage orchestration and governance to create experience cohesion. There’s an interesting dichotomy that happens as you elevate as a leader and your organization scales. You can no longer be close to every program, and yet, you need to be able to hold the quality bar and ensure cohesion.
  7. Show don’t tell. Measure what matters, and align to shared outcomes and metrics wherever possible. Define leading and lagging metrics for all of your priorities/objectives. Benchmark current state and get moving.
  8. Connect design outcomes to customer and business impact. As a [design] leader, there’s a critical difference between stating and demonstrating business impact. How you measure progress and the effectiveness of your plan is where the rubber meets the road. Develop a scorecard, impact reports, narrative artifacts, and ongoing communication. Continuously communicate progress across and up.

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