From the Drawing Board to the Board Room

From the Drawing Board to the Board Room

When Lisa Lindstrom and her co-founders were first starting design firm Doberman in 1998, the world was a very different place: Adobe Flash was hot, Google was not, and the iPhone was still nearly a decade away from existence.

But while technology has transformed design over the last few years, the fundamentals of Lindstrom’s business philosophy have remained the same. At the top is the notion that employees should have a say on how the company is managed, not only for their own sense of wellbeing and engagement, but for the firm’s overall success.

That’s why Doberman allows all 100 of its employees in Stockholm and New York City the chance to be part of the company’s management committee. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a designer, a developer or an office assistant — for 12 to 16 weeks, you’re asked to make important business decisions alongside the CFO, managing director and other top execs.

We caught up with Lindstrom, 44, to talk about this unique strategy and why she as CEO feels the rewards far outweigh the risks.

You allow all of your employees to rotate into the management committee. How does this work, in practical terms?

We have two rolling seats in our office in Stockholm and one in our office in New York. We have people sit in those roles for 12 to 16 weeks in addition to their regular job. Each committee does it differently — in Stockholm the committee meets every third week and also communicates in Slack. In NY, which is a smaller office, they meet every week. We’re a fast-moving company, so within that time a person will have gone through lots of interesting decisions. (Employees aren’t required to participate, though most do.)

You’ve been doing this since the earliest days of your company. Where’d you get the idea?

We were seven founders when we started the company, and we were focused on how to avoid the hierarchy and really co-create the company. It was one of the other founders who said, “I think it would be so good if we include people on the management team.”

What is the thinking behind it?

When we started off 20 years ago, we hadn’t gone to management school; we had gone to design school. And we felt that the business world was kind of awkward, fitting people into roles but not really recognizing the capacity that talent has. So we said to ourselves what if real quality comes out of investing in your people? We set up this triangle idea — we wanted to balance quality with profitability and wellbeing. The core thing is that wellbeing comes out of feeling included, feeling that you have a say, knowing that people listen to you and that you can be a person within a company, not just a role. How to execute on this has been a constant exploration. There are no books on this type of management. It’s just trying things out and seeing what works.

Why does it work?

Some people mistake this as some sort of consensus culture where everyone decides everything. That’s not what we mean. It’s also not about deciding what coffee to have or what colors we should use on the floor. The core thing is to include in your employees in the really tricky, important and difficult decisions. To get people there, I always ask myself: In what way can I be explaining the complexity of an issue to make sure that everyone understands that issue, and will be able to contribute to that issue?”

For example, 15 years ago I wanted everyone including designers to contribute to the budget strategy…when I asked them to join the discussions, you can guess what they said. (Laughs.) What I did was I translated our budget into Legos. I showed them, in different colors, the costs we have today and how it all fits together with our income. And I said to them, if you want to change something, show me in Legos how the whole equation goes together so it’s not just me getting this wishlist that I can never deliver on. What they were able to come up with was so clever. They had great insights and contributions just from seeing what was at stake.

From a business leader’s perspective, it seems you’re giving up a lot of control by letting employees have a say on major decisions. How do you manage against that risk?

I actually think it’s a larger risk that you delegate all decisions to the CEO. I don’t think that any CEO in the world is smarter than their employees. For this to work, you have to make people understand the full complexity of an issue. If you only give halfway — if you only tell people on the surface that they can contribute — it’s a bigger risk because they’re acting without full information.

I don’t think control is a good steering mechanism at all; I actually think trust is a better steering mechanism. Because what I get in return is people’s engagement, I get their passion, I get lots of ideas, I get their sense of responsibility. So I would call this management by trust. When you see management by control, you get fear, you get anxiety, you get people who just deliver exactly what they were asked to do but not more because they were only asked for that… that is more a risky scenario than the one I’m exploring.

Has it ever backfired?

I have to tell you — I’ve been doing this 20 years and no one has ever misused the trust they have in the management team. Sometimes we have pretty important decisions and tricky things — no one has let us down. Each time it brings new perspectives.

What’s one example of something your employees came up with?

Opening an office in New York! A few times a year we close down the office and we all go away for a couple of days. We call these “exploration days” and we use it to talk about really important things. On one of these days, we had discussion with 60 of our employees about what we should be doing as a company; they said we should open up an office in New York. If it was my call as CEO, I would have said no. I thought it was a bad idea, a very difficult market. Instead I said “OK, how should we do this?” We delegated to the people who were ready to move – asked them to give us a business plan – and they came back and said here’s how should we do this. Today, we have a fully functioning, super quality, super profitable studio in New York. Just imagine if we had trusted my gut feeling?

What advice do you have another company wanting to employ a similar strategy?

My advice would be to start first by creating a more transparent culture. The only way for a CEO or a managing director to ask for an organization to be more open is to start being more open themselves. You cannot ask employees, “Can you be more open, please? Can you be more trusting, please?” The way to start digging into this culture is for the top person to show some vulnerability, ask for help. When you do so, you’ll get paid back with trust. You can’t be the executive who knows everything — you need to pay attention, show some realness.

from 99U99U

Jon Hirschtick Aims to Upend a Market Dominated by the Company He Founded

Jon Hirschtick Aims to Upend a Market Dominated by the Company He Founded

Entering Tannen’s Magic Store, a New York City landmark of the prestige scene, feels like walking into a 1990s VHS rental store to grab a movie on a Friday night. The man behind the counter sports a half-zipped sweatshirt, a ponytail, and a skull ring. He pulls decks of cards and boxed tricks off the shelves, demoing them for tourists and fellow magicians looking for a new taa daa moment. He shrinks a penny to half its size and illuminates a lightbulb off of a lamp like a cigarette.

“I used to demonstrate a similar version of that trick,” Jon Hirschtick muses as he watches a quarter spin in mid-air to gasps from the store patrons.

Hirschtick may be the founder of two product manufacturing system companies, but he cut his teeth on smoke and mirrors. In the 1980s, he was both a professional magician and original member of the MIT Blackjack team, which inspired the movie 21. We’ll leave you to separate the fact from fiction in that film, but Hirschtick was able to use $1 million of his winnings to start SolidWorks, a software company which became the industry standard for computer-aided design (CAD). Now, when most executives would have their eye on retirement, Hirschtick is anteing up again. Aiming to disrupt a market dominated by his own company, Hirschtick has launched a new CAD startup: Onshape.

Why? The opportunity he has spotted is that CAD tools for designing products haven’t really changed in 25 years, leaving engineers to fight everything from install problems to workflows that not only discourage collaboration, but lock teammates out of the design process.

Hirschtick is betting Onshape can unlock the gridlock – and so is Andreessen Horowitz, which led Onshape’s $105 million series D. That might sound like a lot but it’s a drop in the  $8.7 billion CAD industry ocean that almost no one talks about.

Surrounded by fans of cards, top hats, wands, and the coin trick books he studied as a teenager, Hirschtick discussed why he’s trying to disrupt the same market twice, what it takes to be a great designer, and how to wow your audience every time.

A successful card player might get up from the table after playing a successful hand. After selling SolidWorks to Dassault Systèmes for $318 million, why get back in the game with Onshape? 

All engineers, me included, try to see a better world through some sort of product.  Once seeing that vision of the future, engineers are very driven to realize it. Our job building great CAD was far from over. I felt an obligation; nobody else has shipped a true modern CAD system besides Onshape.

What exactly are you making with Onshape?

CAD are computer software tools that are used by engineers to design things. We’re a meta-designer. Engineers have always had tools. In the age of the pyramids it might have been papyrus, then paper, quill, ink. 50 years ago, it was pencil and paper. Today, most engineers use some form of CAD software. If you’re manufacturing a new product, you build it twice. First you build it in the computer in CAD. You make sure it’s right; the pieces fit together. And then you build it in the real world. A CAD system is like a script or a rehearsal.

Why market need does Onshape address that SolidWorks doesn’t?

I founded SolidWorks 25 years ago with five other people in my home. There’s millions of users who use it. Around five years ago, I’d visit designers and watch people use the system and I could see they had problems. They have problems just installing the stuff. It only runs on Windows. The next set of problems is that the data is stored in files. I don’t mean one file. I mean one file per part. If you’re making a snowmobile with 3,000 pieces, that’s 3,000 files. Everyone needs a copy of the 3,000 files to look at the design. With design the whole goal is speed and creativity. We want to make changes, iterate, and find the best answer.  But the tools say, “Wait a minute, before you make a change, do you have to latest version of, for example, File 1920?” That’s a good way to slow the team down. Things crash, people lose work.

So, those things were a top priority to fix in the launch of Onshape?

We felt we could design something where others could design their stuff faster, have better ideas, and honestly, have more fun. No one ever had any fun typing license codes and overwriting files. We borrowed from Google docs, who inspired us with real time collaboration. You go in and two people are in the document. Now, do that with the 3,000 parts. Those 3,000 parts are now all in one place in the cloud. We can work on it at the same time. We don’t have to lock anything and I don’t have to ask, “Where’s the latest version?” If I change the shape of the front fender of the snowmobile and you’re 1,000 miles away, you see if instantly. We allow concepts of branching and merging. So, I can try five different ideas and I don’t have to worry that I’m overwriting work.

Looking at how the industry has changed since you founded SolidWorks, is an engineer or a designer’s job easier or harder now?

Harder. You have to master many more technologies than you used to. Engineering is a broader subject with fewer clear lines of demarcation. Same with design. As a designer, you still have to know about print, because there’s a lot of a lot of print in the world. But you also have to know all about computing platforms, HTML, mobile devices. It’s an incredible palette of technologies you have to learn.

Where do you think the future of design is headed?

I think more of the world’s GDP is generated and differentiated by design than ever before. I’m not just talking about competitive differentiation. I’m talking about how the number of products is exploding. If you go to the store to buy laundry detergent, when I was a kid there was a ‘big box’ and a ‘small box’. Today, there’s 41 products from Tide: plastic bottles, the Tide Kick you throw in, a special spray. A category that had a few products, now has an enormous amount. There’s so much more choice. The SKU explosion is crazy. You used to go to the store to buy a stapler and it was a bent piece of metal.  Today, there’s three different cool designs in 18 colors. So, I believe the amount of design as a share of GDP is growing.

After 37 years in the CAD business, what advice do you have for designers?

A designer is never executing the status quo. Good designers are always moving forward. Many people have great jobs, but they don’t change the way people do things; they don’t envision a different world. Like, if you run the train system in New York, your job is to keep those trains moving from the 34th Street station to the 14th Street station. Your job is not to move the stations around. Zero designers are just operating the existing world. You have to see something that doesn’t exist. You have to engage in creative hallucination. Visions and hallucinations look the same until you try to build them.

Was your background performing magic tricks useful to you as an entrepreneur?

Magic is where I learned to demo things. When you start a company, you have to demonstrate the product. The demos need to be interesting, clear, exciting, and you want them to work. When I ended up building design projects at MIT, my friends would make elaborate designs that they could never get to function. They didn’t really appreciate what, to me, seemed obvious: the premium on shipping something that worked as opposed to fooling around with big ideas.

With demos, there are a few things to keep in mind. Practice it so it works. Most people don’t practice enough. Part of it is so it’s really reliable, and part is so that you have plenty of mental capacity left to talk. If you’re too dominated by remembering which button to press, then you won’t be able to think about the ‘patter’ of presentation. Practice a lot more than you think and practice from a cold start.

Anything else?

Have a backup plan. A trick I learned from magic is: don’t tell people in advance what you’re going to do. For instance, I can show you a trick with a deck of cards and I might ask you to do something which requires you to make a choice. If you pick one choice, I’m going to do a mind-blowing effect. If you pick the other one, I’ll still do a good magic trick. But you don’t know which I’m going to do. Similarly, I carry a video when I demo Onshape. If my browser crashes, I can bail to that video. You don’t know something’s gone wrong because I never said whether I was going to show you a video or not.

from 99U99U

The Best and Brightest Ideas from the 10th Annual Adobe 99U Conference

The Best and Brightest Ideas from the 10th Annual Adobe 99U Conference

If there is one pervasive theme that has taken hold of our work lives, private lives, and digital lives in the past year, it’s that challenges are always present — and they demand confrontation. This year, the Adobe 99U Conference focused its theme around tackling challenges by exploring new approaches to creative leadership, overcoming hurdles that limit our own work, inventing and reinventing formats, and using creativity to effect social good.

From 99U founder Scott Belsky to CreativeMornings founder Tina Roth Eisenberg to John Maeda, speakers dug into how to design the immersive experience of our future, how to replace job perks with passion, and why the future will be crafted by those who do the work beyond the scope of what their job title requires.

We’ve rounded up our speakers best and the brightest ideas so you can incorporate their insights into your career and reshape, upend, and nurture your creative life.

Lead fearlessly and from the heart.

You get to mindfully pick what kind of leader you are—whether you lead from fear of failure, or are joyfully driven by your vision. For CreativeMornings and Tattly founder Tina Roth Eisenberg, the best method is to make your work a playground for your future best self. “I am learning everyday to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire and not terrify me,” she said.

Don’t protect yourself from failure.

A culture of consensus building can kill any chance of disruption and innovation. Instead, Todd Yellin, VP of Product at Netflix, encourages his team to challenge convention, even if there is the risk of failure. “You want to lean so far forward that sometimes you fall on your face,” said Yellin. “You can never make it to a true utopia, but you should keep on pushing.”

To be a creative leader, start silly.

Whenever we begin a project we tend to also begin with an ambitious goal and that can make the whole project feel super serious and pressure-filled right off the bat. But what if we sometimes began with play and discovery rather than metrics and objectives? According to Google Creative Lab’s Tea Uglow, there is no reason that approach also can’t yield a successful result. “You can start with stuff that feels dumb and stupid, and play with it and you will get to places where it becomes potent and powerful.”

John Maeda and Adobe VP of Design Jamie Myrold/Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

Be inclusive.

“Being inclusive means welcoming the unknown,” said Automattic’s John Maeda who has made it his mission to rehabilitate the design world with a broader and braver sense of who we’re designing for. And when we design for everyone, we can reach everyone.  “Better products are created in tech when we’re inclusive-minded because the total addressable market increases,” he said.

Do, delegate, or drop.

In order to write compelling new chapters in our career, we have to give ourselves permission to drop a ball or two. Or better yet, learn to delegate—even if that feels totally unnatural. “If you want something you’ve never had before you’re gonna have to do something that you’ve never done before in order to get it.”said Drop the Ball author Tiffany Dufu said, So either do it, delegate it, or drop it. (And, as Dufu reassured everyone, if you drop unrealistic expectations, nothing bad will happen.)

Make your message the focus of your work.

Artist and author Adam J. Kurtz admitted he doesn’t necessarily aim for by-the-book visual perfection. Instead, he embraces an unpolished aesthetic and a habit of churning out a lot of ideas for the internet to either adore or ignore. “My work looks bad, but I have a lot to say,” he said. “My visual voice, the handwriting that I use, is emotive and disarming and it allows me to tackle difficult topics.”

Set your own house rules.

Sound artist Christine Sun Kim viscerally feels the effect of sound when it invades her home. Rather than be a passive player, Kim builds house rules and art projects like performances and sound diets to wrestle with the role of sound in her personal space (including asking a nearby church to cut back its bell-ringing schedule). “For me home is where my deaf identity and deafness are one and the same,” she said.

Walk your stakeholders through your ideas, literally.

Duncan Wardle, the former Head of Innovation & Creativity at Disney, recommends printing and posting your ideas around the walls of a conference room and physically walking your team and clients through them. “People sitting behind tables will judge you, they can’t help it,” says Wardle. When you walk with somebody, a presentation turns into a conversation.”

Tiffany Dufu/Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

Start your business with a problem you want to solve.

“Sometimes when people talk about their business idea, they jump to the benefit of their business,” said Emily Heyward, Red Antler co-founder.But people are not sitting around wishing your business existed—no one is sitting around wishing for a crunchy cereal with raisins.” However, they might be wishing for a quick answer to breakfast, or to lose weight—their motivation for buying the product you’ll make. “You have to go deeper to the actual problem behind why someone might care about this idea.”

Mindlessness is an affliction. Mindfulness is the cure.

These days you’re either at a company that is disrupting, or one that is being disrupted. As a leader, embracing change starts at the individual level, said SYPartners’ Rachel Salinas, who advocates for scheduling time for mindfulness into everyday life, through things like meditation or setting down your phone and disconnecting from the always-on mode. “If you don’t let your thoughts control you, you can be responsive, not reactive,” said Salinas. “That is hugely important for leaders.”

Risk-taking is an art…and a playground.

Our most valuable contributions can come from the times when we launch into untrammeled territory. But risk-taking is uncomfortable, awkward, and frightening. To keep creatives from shying away from going out on a limb, Good F***ing Design Advice co-founders Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher recommend adding partners-in-crime to share the burden of your risk, injecting playfulness to energize your process, and to embrace—not avoid—a sense of fear. “Pride and insecurities are responses to vulnerabilities,” they said. “They are telling you something. So listen!”

Don’t be afraid to ask the obvious question.

Iteration through prototyping is one of the most integral steps in the design process. It’s often the best way to bounce around new ideas, question creative solutions, and unearth new problems. But we often skip the most important piece in the prototyping process. As we rush to dream up new solutions and ideas, we often forget to ask ourselves ‘why?’ Why do it this way? Why prioritize that? Adobe Creative Resident, Natalie Lew alongside Donors Choose, said to ask three ‘why?’ questions after someone gives an initial answer, so you can get to the heart of what is really driving the change.

Attendees workshopped their own ideas during break out sessions/Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

If you’re not designing for the future, you’re designing for the past.

Brand strategy firm Lippincott highlighted three key human experience design trends to help us plan ahead: a world of devices and systems treated as intimate resources and friends, which will set higher and higher bars of trust in order to access with your product; an increasingly customized world, where every moment and experience is designed for each individual; plus a new synthetic reality where the real and virtual meet and blend. In order to keep pace with the future, designers must address these shifts now. After all, the Lippincott team points out, “If you’re designing for today’s customer, you’re probably designing for the past.”

Think forward with your feedback.

Feedback is one of the most valuable and yet unspoken gifts we can offer our colleagues. Why is so much left unsaid? ustwo believes we don’t have the roadmap to manage our fear of crossing the line from feedback into critique. The most important thing to remember? “Be actionable,” said the team from ustwo. “Effective feedback is specific, relates directly to the goals of the project, and suggests a possible next step.”

Sometimes the most effective tech is the most old school

Stop motion animation brings to mind whimsical characters navigating a bumpy existence. But animation studio Mighty Oak says there’s more to stop motion than a wink and a smile. Major brands, from Volkswagen to Sun-Maid, have put animation at the center of their campaigns, embracing the personality that animation can add to the simplest shapes and images. According to Mighty Oak, animation keeps viewers engaged for longer lengths of time than live action. Even more importantly, the simplicity of the medium makes more complicated messages possible. “It allows us to discuss tough issues, explain complex information, remove barriers, cut through the clutter, and make memorable impressions,” said Mighty Oak CEO Jess Peterson.

99U founder Scott Belsky/Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

The messy middle of a project can hold the biggest rewards.

99U founder Scott Belsky is no stranger to launching new endeavors. His current focus? That mysterious middle no one talks about in between inception and shipping; the time when you can’t see the finish line and you’ve forgotten what got you into the project in the first place. “Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that long-term vision is enough to keep us motivated,” said Belsky. But that’s not enough. In order to stay motivated during that muddle of a middle, Belsky advises building a team that accepts the burden of processing uncertainty, enjoys being together apart from product success, and to set whimsical milestones that lead to team excitement when there are no formal rewards in sight.

Deliver your wordy message in a visuals.

An audience’s attention is one of our most valuable resources. How can we make sure to keep it long enough for them hear our whole message? Data journalist Mona Chalabi transforms numbers into witty, incisive visuals that both delight and surprise and drive home serious facts and figures.

“Charts don’t connect the subject matter with the visualization themselves,” said Chalabi. “I try to connect the subject matter with the depiction of the visualization.” So if she’s been assigned to design a chart showing a major world event, she surely isn’t going to a ho hum bar chart. “If you’re talking about an economy that’s in freefall, that’s diving, why not show a diver?” she says. “The surprise is meant to hold your attention.”

Speaker Mona Chalabi/Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

Fun fact: Alternate realities are the product humans desperately desire.

Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek didn’t plan to get into one of the fastest growing economies of the 21st century. He originally set out to build an arts collective. But the immersive installations he launched at Meow Wolf fed into our desire to experience the avante garde. Kadlubek sees a growing opportunity  between reality and design as the two shape the world, and he challenged designers to think of themselves as shapers in the new freedom of this landscape. “The world has felt limited by previous infrastructure that we can’t affect,” he says. “That’s changing. All creatives around the world should start thinking about how together, over the next 20 years, we can create a beautiful new world.”

Replace perks with passions.

It’s no secret: tech and media are great fields to work in. Entry level talent can get unlimited vacations, three free meals a day, and workspaces with Kombucha and nap pods. But Audrey Liu, Lyft’s Director of Product Design, cautions against emphasizing all-day fun, not fulfillment, to attract talent. “We’ve lost sight of the one perk we should all care about,” Liu said. “A shared sense of passion for the problem we’re trying to solve.”

Inspire the dreams of others by chasing your own.

Super Heroic CEO, and former Nike Senior Global Design Director, Jason Mayden is driven by the philosophy that if we can play together, we can live together. Through his company, Super Heroic, he’s created a world of play that coaches kids toward creativity, agility, and perseverance. But to raise a new generation who can play and dream together, adults have to set a good example by tending to their own dreams. In order to inspire new generations, we must follow our own dreams. “You being comfortable with your dream,” said Mayden, “Allows someone else to be comfortable with their dream.”

Speaker Audrey Liu/Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

Shoot for the mundane, not the moon.

On a trip to Cuba to work with local start-ups, Marcelino J. Alvarez, founder of Uncorked Studios, discovered an entrepreneurial culture that, unlike in the U.S., wasn’t obsessed with profits and products, but with contexts and communities. Inspired by them, Alvarez advised designers to zero in on the everyday needs of systems and communities, “There are way more opportunities to scale impact through the mundane than through moonshots,” he said.

Unbury your greatest hopes and fears.

Ashleigh Axios, design exponent at Automattic and former Obama White House creative director, wants us all to be a little more self-centered. Not in the way that makes us design unnecessary products for a quick buck. She means self-centered in a more introspective, vulnerable way. Axios challenged designers to dig deep into the things that frustrate us—whether it’s hurt about racial inequality or an experience being bullied as a child—and create products that address those problems. “Every frustration,” she said, “every fear, every hope that you’ve buried really deep down inside thinking there was no way for it to change into something positive, I want us to pull that back up. Those are the things that will make us better off.”

Resistance at its best will slow the pace of change. Resistance at its worst can decimate a company or career.

The key to understanding why people resist change, said NOBL’s CEO Bree Groff, is to understand why exactly people are resisting. “I would argue that people aren’t resisting change—they’re resisting loss,” said Groff. Based on NOBL’s work with brands and agencies, Groff pinpoints six types of loss employees feel during organizational change: loss of control, pride, narrative, time, competence, and familiarity. Her advice for someone who is trying to enact change is to follow three steps: Honor the end of what you’re saying goodbye to, address the loss, and celebrate the beginning. Most people start with celebrating the beginning, noted Groff, but first they need to lay the proper groundwork for turning the page.

Learn to speak the language of every medium you touch.

We can’t be an expert in every medium, but our jobs require often require us to go beyond our speciality and work in new formats. What’s a creative to do?? Make sure you learn the language of the medium you’re in charge of. For instance, if you’re the brand director on a photoshoot, have a palette of visual language to communicate with your photographers so you can articulate direction to them. The best tactic for framing the initial conversation? “Make multiple mood boards,” said photographer and Adobe Creative Resident, Aundre Larrow. “A mood board for how you want expressions, how you want the light, and for the general feel.” You might not be a photographer, but you are still in charge of the photoshoot.

Attendees participating in Google’s break out session/Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

Get to the point (and then you can embellish)

What if you only had five seconds to sketch out your idea? What would you put down on paper? Some intricate design? Or the bones of the problem you’re looking to solve? In her breakout session, Adobe Creative Resident Jessica Bellamy challenged her audience to draw certain objects in five seconds to show how, when you get to a design’s essence, function precedes form “Beautiful design does not mean it communicates its function,” said Bellamy.

When in doubt, do as Google does.

Over the last 10 years, Google has become one of the largest and most important companies in the world. Even though its employee count has quadrupled during that time and its reach spans the globe, the company’s philosophy today remains the same as it was in the early years. “Focus on the user and all else will follow,” said Jens Riegelsberger, UX Director, Google, sharing a mantra that, come to think of it, companies of any size can follow as the golden rule of business.

Bottom up in the new top down.

Brands today have more dimensions to them than ever before, and experience, experience, visual, and verbal design must connect to each other, and to a brand’s purpose. This means companies have to be built in a whole new way, said the team at R/GA. “Modern brands are built from the bottom up because today, behavior is as important as belief,” said R/GA’s executive creative director Mike Rigby. “Bottom up means starting with designing the system and thinking about all of the interactions the audience has with the brand first instead of pushing a brand directive from the top to the bottom.”

Take Time out for Pen and Paper

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Effective Brainstorming = Frame > Open > Close

Who hasn’t been in an ideas meeting that has gone completely off the rails? Sure, we want to be open to any and all concepts, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use a strategy to keep us on track. “The best way to brainstorm is Frame -> Open -> Closed,” said Jason Cha, director at The Design Gym. “Frame is where you figure out the challenge or problem; open is where you think of ideas—anything goes, you can just spitball the broadest ideas. “Closed is where you figure out how to actually solve the challenge using your open ended ideas.”

Bring in new voices and onboard them to lead the conversation.

General Assembly advised creatives to open up the pearly gates of design to new voices and new experiences. After all, the collective is stronger than the individual. The new mindsets General Assembly looks for? A full systems approach to design, and people who think ahead to design for evolution and adaptation. To bring those new voices in, Tyler Hartrich advised, “build a culture that allows newcomers to contribute to the way you do things.” The more we open up the doors, the better we will be as an industry.

When you demo new tools, demo new ideas too.

When working with new products, your key ingredient is the desire to try new things. That means, lead with a wish to learn, not a desire to be perfect. “Be inspired to make something you’ve never made before,” said artist and designer, Jennet Liaw.

When it comes to branding, sound matters.

Design is often thought of as a visual journey, which leads us to overlook one of the most powerful ways to connect with an audience—through sound. Emotional response to sound is strongly linked with the desire to engage or avoid an experience. “Our role is to score the brand experience,” said Kristen Lueck, Director of Strategy for Man Made Music. “If a product or experience makes a sound, it will have personality – you have no choice in the matter.”

Go with your gut.

It’s tough to evaluate and critique a partner’s work. We worry about hurt feelings, or possibly squashing the germs of a good idea. But DKNG founders Nathan Goldman and Dan Kuhlken say lets your instincts guide you. “Whatever your initial reaction to your partner’s work, don’t take it lightly,” they said. “It’s quite possible that anyone viewing the work will have a similar opinion.” Be upfront and honest, and, if you have to have a hard conversation, better it coming from you than a client who feels the same way.

Make thinking and making the same thing

Artist Jon Burgerman has crafted a career out of doodling. But there’s more to that practice than whimsical lines. “Doodling is thinking and making at the same time,” Burgerman said. Sometimes the best ideas, with the biggest impact can come from the very simple, silly, and quick, so find ways to remove the barrier between your thoughts and your attempts. “Allow your imagination to be your raw material,” advised Burgerman.

Attendees toasted two days of ideas with a dance party at MoMA/Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

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Does Your City Need a Chief Design Officer?

Does Your City Need a Chief Design Officer?

There’s no disputing design’s growing contribution to the evolution of cities. From ambitious public art projects to the rise of the global “design district,” both private and public sectors have begun weaving aesthetics into daily life. This has led to the ascendancy of the “Chief Design Officer”—a figure who often works within tech companies, non-profits, even government agencies, to improve the overall design culture.

Recently, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne left his role at the paper to step into the newly created position of Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles. According to L.A.’s Mayor Eric Garcetti, Hawthorne has been tasked with “bringing a unified design vision to projects that are shaping Los Angeles’ urban landscape,” collaborating with city officials, departments, and architects on a wide range of public projects, from housing to transit. Los Angeles isn’t alone in creating this position. Helsinki, Finland and Edmonton, Canada both recently appointed Chief Design Officers to encourage local governments to reimagine their cities. But what exactly do these CDO’s do? Will all cities one day need them? And can design, let alone a designer, really have an impact on something as big and sprawling (and complicated) as a major metropolis?

To answer the first question I reached out to Anne Stenros, Helsinki’s former Chief Design Officer. One of the first to hire a CDO, Helsinki recruited Stenros, in part, because of her experience as former Managing Director of Design Forum Finland. “The City of Helsinki is going through its biggest transformation in 100 years,” she explained. “There is a new organization and leadership model.” In 2000, Helsinki became the Cultural Capital of Europe, and in 2012 was appointed a World Design Capital. “They realized they needed a leadership-level representative for design to go further,” she explained.

Does design-first public policy stand a chance in the U.S.?

Her role, ultimately, was to help bring new ideas and design approaches to the city’s strategy process and develop and implement standards and best practices. She quickly learned, however, that most of the issues afflicting cities can’t be easily fixed. “They are so-called ‘wicked problems,’ open-ended and complex. The only way to try to solve them is through [collaboration] across disciplines.” She explained that designers “cannot do it alone”— they must also work with the public, and other organizations, to strategize what’s best for a larger population. “We need to join our forces with other professionals.” Scandinavia’s government entities are notoriously progressive, but does design-first public policy stand a chance in the U.S.?

L.A.’s newly-appointed CDO declined to be interviewed, but we spoke with Alex Kuby, senior project designer at Hirsch Bedner Associates, one of LA’s top design firms, regarding the city’s attempts to integrate design into daily life. “What was once a blank canvas has become a hub of design and creativity,” he explained. “Creatives settled in L.A. for practical reasons–space and weather. In return, their contribution to the city has been dynamic design that touches every street corner, whether intentional or not.” He believes this boom in great design has enhanced the overall quality of life, not only serving as muse to residents but also revitalizing rundown areas. “Los Angeles commissioned artists to paint murals on utility boxes on city streets,” he cites as an example. “What was once an eyesore is now a piece of art that softens daily life. In this way, design is a means of passively taking care of each other.”

“Every kind of business needs design in some way.”

Detroit is employing a similar, if far more active, approach. While the city’s financial woes over the last decade may have dominated headlines, much attention is now being paid to its commitment to rebirth through design. One organization driving the conversation is Design Core Detroit, a non-profit that offers support to local creators and businesses, and believes design plays an integral role in the development of cities. “It’s the thread that weaves through everything,” said Olga Stella, Executive Director. “Almost every kind of business needs an aspect of design in some way.”

She notes Detroit is the only U.S. city to be named a UNESCO City of Design. Through this, she hopes, it can demonstrate how design is able to drive sustainability and equitable development. “We believe by building a practice of inclusive design, design can become more accessible for all people to live independently and successfully in society.”  As part of the Detroit City of Design Action Plan, spearheaded by Design Core, over 50 organizations have joined as partners, committing to 60+ projects that can help advance design in the city.

“Most designers are motivated to improve human experience and most human experience now happens in a city,” explained Mat Hunter of Design Council UK. “With urban populations continuing to rise, and the negative consequences ever more apparent in our quality of life, more designers are aware of their effect, and therefore their obligation.”

“The good news,” he continued, “is that more designers than ever are being recruited by public organizations, whether local authorities, public health services, charities and voluntary groups or private sector organizations seeking to deliver on a wider mission. This allows them to have a different agency that can deliver on their obligations and motivations.”

“There’s a larger trend towards design in society in general,” stated Justin Garrett Moore of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Program (GSAPP) and Director of the New York City Public Design Commission. “There’s been a broadening of the understanding of what design is and isn’t, and what it offers to society in general—so we see this now percolating into government; the idea of design process as a way to problem solve is something that is gaining traction and weight.”

He believes more cities are seeing the value in design and its approaches to problem-solving, even pointing to former Mayor Bloomberg’s ongoing Innovations Teams. “American society is becoming more design literate, so more people understand and value design.” Moore cited the ongoing global conversations around sustainability and climate resilience, and what role design is playing. “Both of those very large policy objectives and policy tracks have a connection to design work, design expertise, and design process.”

“Most designers are motivated to improve human experience and most human experience now happens in a city.”

“I’ve always felt design is a critical part of how cities and societies manifest themselves and their values,” said Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance. “Especially with respect to public spaces, design can be a place that represents the aspirations of a society for all of its people—or can be a place that signals indifference and disrespect.”

Tompkins, also the founder and previous director of the program Partnerships For Parks, a non-profit that helps parks groups and neighborhoods, especially low-income neighborhoods, receive resources to revitalize their public spaces, cites the lasting impact of Elizabeth “Betsy” Barlow Rogers, founder of the Central Park Conservancy. Rogers made it her mission to restore Central Park to its original glory for the betterment of the entire city. “There was a school of thought within the Parks Department, and the city in general at the time, that there was no point in making an investment in ‘something nice’ because it’ll get destroyed by vandals,” says Tompkins. “But Betsy believed if you make a commitment to design that’s aspirational, and signals respects for people, they will treat it with respect.”

Rogers used her own money and network to fund the restoration of the park’s beloved Bethesda Fountain, which ultimately became a symbol that “beautiful design could be restored. And once restored, and not destroyed, that design itself could change the behaviors and the people experiencing it, as well as the public’s appreciation of design.”

Later, when Tompkins was tapped to help reimagine Times Square as part of the Times Square Alliance, he looked to Rogers for inspiration, shaking off the naysayers who said the area was irredeemable. He was convinced that it could be a place for all New Yorkers, that “if you create design it will elevate the entire city. This is part of a belief I have that design should be exceptional and aspirational. That that can profoundly change a place.”

He points to the fact that 25 years ago the city was in decay, but through smarter design choices, collaboration, and greater resources, the tide changed dramatically. “Fifty years ago, all people could hope for in New York City was a clean subway,” he continued. “Now we have a robust public art program on the platforms and in stations. In general, there’s been an ever-rising set of expectations we have of urban spaces—and that’s ultimately good for cities and good for design.”

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Public Speaking is Terrifying—6 Ways to Deliver Like a Pro

Public Speaking is Terrifying—6 Ways to Deliver Like a Pro

Two weeks ago I woke up in a Copenhagen hotel room and picked up my phone to check the time. It was 7 a.m. In six hours I’d be hosting a panel discussion featuring a famous rapper, which would be live-streamed via social media to around 24 million followers. I had a crippling shudder of anxiety and began eagerly fantasizing about a deranged killer breaking into my hotel room and murdering me so I wouldn’t have to take part in the event. 

I don’t know why this still happens. In the last eight years I’ve hosted creative events, lead panels, and given hour-long lectures to crowds ranging from 15 to 1,500 people. But for some reason, it never gets any easier. If anything, the nerves are getting worse. What I can’t get over is how it just doesn’t seem natural to stand up on stage and talk to a room full of people. Many of us are computer nerds, hermitty writers, shy illustrators—we’re not actors! We don’t all have “the X factor,” and we most certainly haven’t been trained for this. It’s ludicrous, yet we politely accept the offer and get on with it, sometimes sprouting a few grey hairs and a forehead crease in the days preceding the event. 

In Copenhagen, I tried to work out just what it was that I was so afraid of. There’s the classic fear of falling over, burping, inexplicably saying something bad that then goes viral, having your skirt tucked into your underwear. Then there’s the fear that your presentation will be too long/short/boring/lame/weird, which is totally valid. We’ve all been to enough lengthy, monotone, heavy-on-the-bullet-point talks to know that the chances of people drifting off and thinking about what to make for dinner are pretty high.

But the clock ticks, it’s time to go on stage, we rise to the occasion, forehead dripping in cold sweat and hands trembling as we clutch the printed-off notes, dying for it to be over. Autopilot kicks in, then, as quickly as the email inviting you to even speak at the event flew into your inbox, it’s all over. People are clapping. You’ve done it. 

I wanted to explore the art of speaking in public, so I decided to contact people in the creative industry who have seen and given enough talks to be considered experts on the subject. What advice can they pass on? Because we’ll gladly take it. 

View public speaking as a career skill, not an exercise in potential humiliation.
Danielle Pender, founder and editor-in-chief of Riposte magazine, is one of those unlucky people who really, really hates to speak in public, but has a job that necessitates it. “The first large-scale presentation I did was at an editorial conference in Munich in front of 600 people,” she recalls. “For weeks leading up to it felt physically sick every time I thought about the talk. I prepared and practiced relentlessly. I took Kalms tablets for days before the event and downed sooo much Rescue Remedy on the actual day. I was so nervous I broke out in a rash and thought I was going to be physically sick minutes before going on stage.”

“I force myself to do it so I get used to it, even though it can be a torturous experience,” she adds. “I don’t always feel elated, but sometimes I’m really happy I’ve done it or even just that’s it’s over. It’s like a masochistic drive because I want to get better at speaking publicly—it is such an important career skill to have and to be able to master.”

Experiment in practice, focus on the stage.
Similarly, deputy editor of Gal-Dem magazine Charlie Cuff admits she has no choice but to put her nerves to one side, purely because she’s aware of the value and impact of public speaking. 
“One thing I’ve honed over the years is working out how to tell a story in the most direct way, leaving out anything that’s boring or irrelevant and only having stuff in there that’s either absolutely essential to the story, or just plain entertaining.” 

Embrace the nerves.
Will Hudson, co-founder of It’s Nice That and Lecture in Progress has been speaking at events and putting on conferences of creatives speakers since 2007. “With regards to nervousness, I heard a great story the other day about Bruce Springsteen which is still great and so helpful to remember,” said Hudson. “Someone asked if he got nervous and he said that feeling you get, stomach turning, heart pounding, sweaty palms, that was just his body telling him he’s ready. Ready to go on stage and do that thing he’s really, really good at.”

And finally a primer on what not to do when speaking in public.
Mr. Bingo, an illustrator-turned-traveling lecturer did 50 talks last year. “I speak at big conferences, smaller local creative meet-ups, and also at companies like Channel4, BBC, and Universal Music. This year I told myself I’d do less and spend a bit more time making work, but it’s addictive and I genuinely love it, so the diary is starting to fill up again!” After touring the speaker circuit for nearly eight years, here is his hit list of things to avoid. 

“Don’t just show your work: “People can usually already see all of this stuff online, so seeing you show it on a stage is kind of pointless.”

Don’t be a show off: “Tell the audience about bad things. Failure and uncomfortable situations are part of life and people appreciate you sharing this stuff. It makes you more human, more believable, and people can relate to it.”

Don’t read your slides: “Avoid word-heavy slides. In fact, if you can do without words in slides at all, that’s brilliant (I’ve never actually managed this). The words should be coming out of your mouth, not being read by the audience from a screen. Slides are visual aids for your speaking, not a book.”

See? Easy. Just remember all these do’s and don’ts and you should be fine. The thing is, we know that hearing advice from professionals is all well and good, but when it comes down to it, you’re still going to get sweaty palms before you step onstage. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to work out how not to be nervous, and maybe that’s a good thing. As annoying, crippling, and embarrassing they are, nerves mean you’re not arrogant or complacent. Just ask Bruce Springsteen.

from 99U99U