A couple of months ago I was invited to give a talk to the students of JKLU.
Here are my notes as I was thinking of the content for the talk. As usual, I was supervising some mealtime or the other.
Of course not all of this went into the final presentation. The final talk was well received by the students and they asked really great questions. Here are a couple of the slides.
This is what I heard later: “Soo was so good! So informative but presented with an ease of informality. Loved the sketches.” “Soo cut across generations with her storytelling.” I enjoyed it too and thank you for listening.
I just came back from DesignUp 2019 which isn’t just a design conference, it’s made by designers for designers. This year it was bigger and better than ever. In the conference lineup there was a mix of data+design, the pluralities that exist in India with design for the social sector, design leadership and a number of varied workshops. Here are the sketchnotes of the talks I attended:
Jon talked about four ways in which design leaders can help to enhance creativity of their teams – to acknowledge feelings, tame ambiguity, drive a vision and let teams run wild. For example, designers feel vulnerable when putting up their work for a critique, so respect and acknowledge that. In a critique, he said, there should be no hierarchy. The highest paid person in the room is equal to everyone else, it should be a democratic process so foster trust. Another aspect of a design leadership is to set a vision – frame the problem and humanize it.
“Show the team why there’s a reason to believe. Bring the design criteria to life.”
Dave Malouf: Design Ops – The power to amplify design value
Dave’s talk finally gave me a name to some of the activities I’ve been engaged in over 2019 – hiring and setting up the design team and the comms for Microsoft Edge Design in India. For a long time, until I heard from Dave, I didn’t really think I was doing real “design” – but I realized after this talk, that I was setting the foundation for the team now to start performing at their best.
Design Ops basically creates time for design teams by streamlining effort and communication, to focus and put their best energy on the most creative aspects of the work. For scaling a design team and ensuring a quality practice that creates quality experiences, design ops is a must. Dave’s talk focused on principles and values to guide with.
“So that we mutually understand and value what is quality design output, AND quality practice is. Design Ops carries the burden.”
Socialise design quality
Critical design language
Monitor to learn and adjust
The design process (and proud to say we use the shiny double diamond in our team) that helps to explore multiple approaches:
Dave also explained how should design teams use quantitative and qualitative data:
Methods for collecting the right data as part of the design process
Instrumentation to be built in to capture the right data
Dashboards to turn data into insights
BTW, Dave founded the ixda – and that’s where I learnt how to be an interaction designer way back in 2004…
I had been reading Andy’s blog since 2004, and he was one of the early designers, and his talk was about the roles and responsibilities of design leaders.
An absolutely fantastic talk that made we wish I had a design mentor back when I was struggling to understand how to lead design teams. Now after 5 years or so, I may have learnt all these, only with a few battle scars and heart burn.
Andy talked about 5 things: Hiring the right designers for your team, retaining them and helping them stay creative, giving them the space to thrive and managing up and down.
“Give your team the air cover to support learning and growth.”
Another awesome talk which I couldn’t draw – because my pen had run out of ink – was “Design Leadership without losing your hair” by Param Venkataraman.
“The higher you go, the deeper you need to look.”
What was nice was that lots of speakers recommended books like Orbiting the giant hairball, Design the life you love, etc. There were so many more talks that were happening in parallel that I missed, including Alyssa Naples’s talk. It was really difficult to be at each of them. Plus there were all the wonderful conversations that happened at the edges of the conference.
All in all, a great conference – lots of validation, new learning, new ideas and new people to connect with! Looking forward to the next!
[I first read this book Making ideas happen: Overcoming the obstacles between vision and reality in 2013, and since then this book has been my daily guide, often standing in as a coach for my day job. Scott wrote this book while working at Behance: “I realized that creative professionals are the most disorganized community on the planet! But they are ultimately responsible for <so many things> that bring meaning to our lives…
I saw not only an opportunity but also a responsibility to help them overcome the obstacles to make them happen
…as such I committed my professional life to organizing the creative world.” The book is guidance and wisdom on every page, but here are three of the ideas that resonated with me:
Capitalize on healthy conflict: Use disagreements to foster valuable insights that would otherwise be inaccessible. Make your creative team resilient to advocate for their perspectives while respectfully considering that of others, until breakthroughs are revealed.
Short-circuiting the rewards system: Achieving a creative vision also demands a long term focus and sustaining your energy for the long term. Scott’s recommendation is to unplug yourself from the short term reward system and the desire to the validated in the long term.
Seldom is anything accomplished alone: One idea that stood out for me was that of Dreamers, Doers and Incrementalists. Find out which one you are, and then find the right partners. Serendipity comes from differences.]
A book worth reading if you’re a senior designer or in a creative leadership role, or a design entrepreneur; whether in product or services or consulting – you’ll find it useful. Follow up with the more recent book The Messy Middle, another useful companion for building resilience, staying inspired and bringing the best of your creative self to the “hardest and most crucial part” of any project.
When I graduated from design school, I didn’t feel equipped to be a designer in the real world. I remember that I even googled for “core skills of a designer” and found that empathy was an important skill to have, so I started to teach myself to be a more empathetic designer.
[Empathy The hardest skill that I tried to teach myself for a decade but finally this is the book that helped, Dare to Lead by author Brene Brown. She clearly breaks down empathy into skills. For me though the number 1 skill is to Listen. I’m so uncomfortable with silence I keep talking and forget to listen. How to listen: 1 – Hear what is being said 2 – Absorb and try to understand 3 – Respond not react
Brene Brown says the top empathy skill is Perspective taking.
“Honour people’s perspectives as truth even when they’re different from us.
Become the learner not the knower. I think this is the biggest breakthrough for me — the shift in mindset from “knowing” to “learning”.
And coming to why empathy is a core skill for designers: It starts with Curiosity, Learning, Empathy, which is used throughout the design process: To understand users better, to create inclusive product experiences, to stay problem-focused, not solution-focused, to grow and learn from feedback, and to be the best coworker and collaborator you can be. And the true test of empathy is in practising it daily until it becomes second nature. So best foot forward towards being a more empathetic designer!]
A woman looking at men looking at women (Siri Hustvedt): I’ve been a fangirl of SH since I read The Enchantment of Lily Dahl and The Sorrows of an American, and I enjoyed this one more than Living, Thinking, Looking, not least because of the essay she wrote about sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who I was just getting interested in.
Feeling is crucial to understanding a work of art. “Einfuhlung” coined by Robert Vischer in 1873 is “a way of feeling oneself into a work of art,” which ultimately becomes “empathy” in English. The meaning of an object influences the feelings it evokes.
Re-read Redesigning Leadership (John Maeda): As always I go back to reading John Maeda’s books at crucial times in my life. I was so happy to read this book while struggling with the leadership role. I think what I liked most was another way of approaching leadership – the artistic approach which I really resonated with. This was drawn on a flight layover.
Every morning I sit and drink my coffee and read a few pages of White in silence and calm, and it’s a beautiful meditative experience reading this book. I feel thankful for life and everything that is still left in this world for me to wonder at.]
Read it for the experience as well as for the content.
Like most people I wake up to the alarm set on my phone. And like most people, I want to press the snooze button and go back to sleep.
And therein lies the twist – have you ever found the snooze button on the iPhone? Exactly. There is no snooze button! Instead there’s a snooze gesture – which is a task for your sleep-addled brain to remember.
Anyway now I use the clock on my Android phone instead.
Some of my sketchbooks are on display in Zones of Privacy, curated by Rukminee Guha Thakurta at Chatterjee & Lal. It’s a show about the visual journals of 25 artists, and is on in Mumbai from Aug 11- Sept 3. Please do visit.
I do a really good job keeping the anteater away from my design work. But sometimes he jumps over the wall and blurs the boundaries. And since he usually has something astute to say I don’t really mind. What about you?