It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything for Johnny, which I apologize for. I’ll keep this as a short observation piece on what I’ve seen in the last several years and what I’d like to see moving forward. I’m Interested in any comments others might have.
Sometime ago, I watched a video of a Microsoft developer conference where one of the speakers was discussing the Expression Blend applications; tools to help the designer/developer workflow. When it was time, the presenter turned around, put on a beret, turned back around, and pretended to be a designer. Referencing arrive to work at 10am, doing 15 minutes of work before it was time for an espresso and a break before lunch. The talk and subsequent online video infuriated designers at Microsoft [and other companies], who accused Microsoft of not understanding design; what we did, how we worked, and ultimately our value to the company.
Three years later I saw a talk from a design group at a software company with several other people from Microsoft. The presentation discussed how the group worked separate from the rest of the team (Project Management, Development, QA). How they had a cool office with coffee makers, Eames chairs, and different spacious layouts with designer desks. They talked of taking funny pictures of themselves with mustaches and goofing around with each other at work. They noted it was a “designer” culture.
The irony of the two talks seemed to escape most people…
All the designers at the second talk were enamored and wanted to be part of that team… except me. Perhaps I was the odd man out. It’s not that deep down I wasn’t slightly jealous of the cool space and fancy presentation, but I’ve found that creating a separate culture in a team can create animosity between internal teams and can separate the desired outcome (what design wants) from the real outcome (what the team can build).
The best teams I’ve worked with have been inclusive of all disciplines. In the case of my company, we’re all here to raise the price of our stock and we do that by making great products that sell. In that way, I look at myself as a designer who ships things, not just creates them. Steve Jobs once said “real artists ship.” I’m not surrounded by Eames chairs and typographic magazines. It’s not that I don’t want those things, but I don’t require them to be creative. Great creativity comes from a great team, not great things. It comes from great partnerships, and with those, it determines the quality of the product and experience. It’d be great to have a creative area for my team, but it’s also be great to have a creative building for the entire product team. Why limit it to just a few people?
Great creativity comes from a great team, not great things.
My ask to fellow designers is simple. For those of you who work in software companies, or any large corporation where there is more than a design team. Think of your success measured for what you do with the entire team. Don’t state success as the coolest concept you can make, how much design furniture your office has, or how the design team in particular has a great culture. Don’t segment yourself or think you somehow deserve something special because you’re creative. Create a culture that focuses on the creative and experience. Create that atmosphere, that feeling, for the entire team. Measure your success on bringing great products to market and creating amazing experience. Get creativity from great partnerships. Give other people a chance to be creative, give other people a chance to share ideas and inspiration. Let in the ideas from the developers, from the marketing team… don’t worry that you’re not creating it all. Yes, we are unique, but so is everyone else, and we need to leverage that. A lot of people have really good ideas, and sometimes we miss them because we get so wrapped up in where the idea comes from. Use everyone around you to be more creative. Form those great partnerships, and change the culture.