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What Would Happen If You Hired the World's Greatest Designer? transcript

This is the transcript for the What Would Happen If You Hired the World's Greatest Designer? podcast episode. To listen to the audio please visit the original post

Dan:

Hi everyone. I’m Dan. I’m here today with Tom.

Tom:

Hey y’all.

Dan:

I’ve got a question to ask you today Tom.

Tom:

Okay.

Dan:

That is, what would happen, if you hired the world’s best designer?

Tom:

Oh wow.

Dan:

Actually, let me rephrase that. That actually is more question I like to ask the people we work with.

Tom:

Okay.

Dan:

That’s what would happen if they hired the world’s best designer. Now, you’re the world’s best designer Tom.

Tom:

Of course. Everyone knows that.

Dan:

You were anyway.

Tom:

Yeah. I gave up [inaudible 00:01:07].

Dan:

You were, until the accident. We don’t ask this of clients because … Basically, a lot of people think that what’s missing from their company is just the raw talent, they don’t understand design. They think, “I’ll get a designer, and then out designer will be amazing.”

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

We don’t think it works like that.

Tom:

No, no. They think, “I’ve got design problem. Hire the best designer, problem solved. Simple as that.”

Dan:

Exactly.

Tom:

Uh-uh.

Dan:

Wrong. We don’t think it works like that basically. It’s not actually about talent. The question we asked is, what would happen, if you hired the world’s best designer, is to then show that actually, they wouldn’t get good design done without the right things in place. There’s two parts really. We’re kind of thinking about, what it is a designer does, and does an organisation understand that.

Tom:

Yep.

Dan:

And then, secondly, does that organisation have the processes in place to allow the world’s greatest designer, to do [crosstalk 00:02:17].

Tom:

To do their best work.

Dan:

Exactly. Do they understand what a designer does?

Tom:

Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t usually.

Dan:

No. That can lead to problems. It’s the expectations of what a designer’s gonna do for you. I think a lot of people feel the designer’s link to how something looks, and their perception is, I’ll hire an amazing designer and everything will look amazing.

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

The problem with that being, that’s a very subjective goal. We all know, when we go around different people’s opinions of things, different people think, different things about different designs. When you’re trying to please one person, you kind of instinctively know you’re not doing great design work.

Tom:

Absolutely, yeah, yeah.

Dan:

Is that designer gonna produce something that looks amazing? Well, it depends on who you are. You really shouldn’t be hiring someone basically to make things that you like to look at. They’re not just gonna make things look amazing.

Tom:

Well, they might, but actually that’s not the … That doesn’t get you what you need.

Dan:

Completely. The things you want them to solve are like, the interface problems of your product. You want them to kind of understand users.

Tom:

Yep.

Dan:

You want them to then create value for your product, by improving the design of it. I think people, even if they understand that, okay fine, it’s not just about making it look pretty picking the right colours. I think there’s still a sense that a designer’s just gonna come and sit there and go into a room, come out a week later with a beautiful re-design of a product interface.

Tom:

Yeah, definitely. I mean that, that, we see that time and time again, when we’ve been hired, or seen other people working on projects, the idea is that you come along. The designer does their thing. They’re incredible. They work on their own working silo. They’ll solve all your problems about much input and help from you.

Dan:

It almost feeds back to the concept of spec work, doesn’t it. When you get asked to produce design, before you’ve even won work.

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

That really stresses, someone thinks that your design problems can be solved without really knowing anything about your business, like designs problems of these, kind of universal things, that a good designer’s just gonna be able to go …

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

… you’ve got that button in the wrong place. Your navigation’s too big.

Tom:

Logo’s too small.

Dan:

Yeah. You need more colours.

Tom:

Always more colours.

Dan:

More colours.

Tom:

Yeah, it’s an interesting concept isn’t it. Any designer can figure … Any good designer can fix anything, just by some visuals. There’s nothing more too it in that batch. Design is a process. There’s lots to think about. Good design comes from evaluating understanding problems, rather than just knowing what looks good aesthetically.

Dan:

I guess it is, ’cause there are also some sort of design patterns on there. There are actually some things that you can look at without going completely contradiction-wise, just thinking about …

Tom:

Uh-oh.

Dan:

… which is another great skill of a designer by the way. There are some things, like best practises and things that you can put forward. Really, that’s surface layer stuff. If you’re hiring in the world’s greatest designer, you don’t just want them to do bog standard.

Tom:

Of course.

Dan:

You better see improvements of things, you want them to actually make a big difference.

Tom:

Well, I mean, definitely someone can turn up and design a product, or a website that looks amazing. If you’re a very good designer, you can make something that is world class, from a design aesthetic point of view. It’s a difference when you’re getting the world’s best designer, for them to do a very good job, to do an amazing job, which really gives you the value of employing that person.

Dan:

Completely. The word value is really important there. What a designer’s gonna want to do by solving those problems is create value for you. They want the product to be more valuable to the user, and to the business. While they’re going, they want to create an efficiency in how design’s done as well. No one wants to keep going back around again on things. They’ll want to document how things work, so that the design process can become faster in the future. Really, to do all that, they need to understand the goals of the business. I suppose to put it succinctly, they need to deliver value, they need to understand what value is for the business. It’s just so key, the role of a designer is understood when someone invests in getting a designer in.

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

Otherwise, how will you evaluate them? How will you know you’re getting value from them?

Tom:

Talk about documentation, and what a designer would expect to leave you with. If you employ the world’s best designer, and they do their work and disappear, then what are you left with? If they’ve come along and done a good job, which they would want to, that documentation, the design systems they create, you know, all that learning that’s happened, then goes back into your business. You can use it.

Dan:

Yeah.

Tom:

That’s what a good design team will deliver.

Dan:

You can then go and hire the world’s second best designer.

Tom:

Well, third … I mean, you could fit … You could right down to 10, 20.

Dan:

You can save money by going into the late teens.

Tom:

I mean, why not. With a great design system, it’s paint by number really, isn’t it.

Dan:

Absolutely, absolutely.
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Dan:

Cool. That’s thing number one. Gotta understand what a designer does to get the best out of them. Then, even understanding what a designer does, the other thing that happens when we land on projects all speak to designers that have gone into businesses that weren’t ready, is, do you have a process internally that allows them to do their best work, which will be the world’s best design by defacto, because they are the world’s best designer. Do you have a process, which allows them to do that?

Tom:

Do you only get to that by having a good solid process underneath?

Dan:

Completely. Otherwise, they won’t be able to do anything. Yeah. They’ll frustrated, and you were paying a lot of money, ’cause they’re not cheap.

Tom:

No, it’s a hefty price tag.

Dan:

Completely. For someone to be frustrated and that’s only gonna go one way. The hiring of this person will be seen as a failure. They might even get blamed. What we know is not gonna come out at the end of that, employment tribunals, all those sort of things. What we know isn’t gonna come out at the end of that, is good design.

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

What are the important things about process? What really depend business-to-business, right? The kind of key shape of things for me, would be, have you got someone that can explain what’s required? Is there a brief for what you’re trying to do, why you’ve got this person? Is there a sense of priorities? Essentially, have you communicated to them, what’s important, what’s gonna … Do we have a value, as the same before? Is that well documented? Has it been decided on?

Tom:

It seems obvious, when you say that. Most people will probably be sitting there saying, “Of course we’ve got that. We’re really good at this kind of thing.” We speak from experience. Actually getting good brief out of people is quite rare. We do get ’em every now and then, and that’s fantastic, when they arrive. More often than not, we’re having to pick apart … These are complex problems, you’re generally trying to solve.

Tom:

Anyone that comes to, UX, UI design for products, websites can be really complicated as well. They’re potentially slightly easier. There’s a lot of exploration that we will usually do, just in the phone calls leading up to kicking off a project revenue client. There’s so much to unpack, that most people just don’t even realise what [crosstalk 00:10:02] a designer needs to know, or just haven’t thought about the sort of assets that are really handy to create, to allow someone to do great work.

Dan:

Well, and a second issue is, you do have good briefs. You’ve got three or four of them from different people. There is no singular voice, right?

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

You have the marketing department, that wants more users onto the site. You’ve got the engineering department that wants an easier to implement design. Yet, you’ve got … There’s no sense of who’s voice is loudest, [crosstalk 00:10:36] voice, no singular vision for what the plan is.

Tom:

Certainly, when you’ve got a designer, or a design team sitting there, listening to all those voices, it will very hard for them to know who they should listen to. In most instances, they’ll listen to the most senior person …

Dan:

Yeah.

Tom:

… which is, that can be quite dangerous as well.

Dan:

Yeah, completely. Again, it may not lead to the optimum outcome. Then there’s kind of, an issue. I suppose that actually feeds into that sign off. I think it’s probably what we just covered. What is the process that they’re going to use to do their work? They got a brief, they’re gonna do an iteration, or a Y frame, or some piece of work. Then, what happens to that? Who’s gonna say, it’s ready? Is it the dev team? Is it the … You need a process around how that work gets from then, into a live environment …

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

… how it goes and gets built. That needs to be there and needs to be consistent.

Tom:

If you’ve got a well defined process for sign off, and amends, that’s great, ’cause again you know that should be quite quick. You should be able to give feedback, succinctly to your design team, or your designer. They should understand that, and then they can make those changes easily. If you’ve got, say, three different teams all coming at it from a different angle, not talking to each other, your feedback’s gonna be all over the place. That designer will get confused very, very quickly.

Tom:

It’s just so important to have a well structured feedback process, that involves everyone that needs to be involved. That’s really important. The Dev team should be giving feedback, if they’re a part of it. The marketing team should also be given feedback. It’s really important, all those people have a voice, but there needs to be some way of managing that, to make sure that the project doesn’t spiral out of control, or just turn into complete confusion.

Tom:

Tom here. We’ve been working with a bunch of larger clients recently, to build bespoke digital upscaling programmes. This is usually creative workshops, where we come in, help people understand top skills that they can use in their everyday, work life. Many of the main stars, and entrepreneurs around the world will use. If you wanna find out more, head over to wearelighthouse.com.

Dan:

I think it’s also … This was a difficult one. You can tell its difficult by the amount of products out there, that attempt to solve this problem. It’s really important to have a central source of knowledge, of the products, the business, the users. Some way of saying, “Well, here’s the decisions we made on this product, and the design of this product. Here’s why we did them. A designer’s gonna need to learn that, know that history, and then as they move forward, update their history with how things are. Things like, we’re talking about a design system. That’s something a designer … If you haven’t got one, a designer’s probably gonna wanna create one.

Tom:

Yep.

Dan:

If you have got one, make sure it’s somewhere that people can see. Otherwise, you’ve wasted time making it.

Tom:

Yeah. And that it’s not been created two years ago.

Dan:

Well, yes. Again.

Tom:

All your libraries have fallen out-of-date. That’s not been updated. I mean, if you’re gonna do this stuff, you’ve got to see that as an ongoing concern, something that’s like a living, breathing document, that does get updated as things change, as they should and will.

Dan:

Having some way of storing that knowledge, and the things that have been learned about users, because you know, I’ve been in places where you find out about too months into a project, that, “Oh, we did the user ability test on this product six months before you arrived.” Fine. Some of that may not be relevant anymore. Make sure it’s somewhere that people can see it, and data as well. You got Google analytics, and things like that. Make sure this designer knows where they are, they know where to go when they wanna learn things, who to speak to.

Tom:

We always record our use interviews for instance.

Dan:

Yeah.

Tom:

When we deliver that to a client, those recordings will be given to them in a place, so they can store that and refer back to it. Now, most people will mad to listen to them all, because there’s no point. We summarise that stuff and hand over the insights. Just having that stuff on file, you know, like you say, coming back a year, or couple of years later, having a place to store all your assets, all the, you know, all the important work you’ve done is just really important to not lose it all.

Dan:

As well as having kind of knowledge of the past, you’ve to give your designer, knowledge of where things are going. There’s no point at having strategy sessions or in the board meeting and entirely new direction for the products decided and then that’s kept from your designer. They are gonna be making decisions around how a product is designed, put together, and if they know where things are going, they can make those decisions appropriate to that. I think again, just suddenly dropping on someone, “Oh, you know, we’re gonna do an app of this,” If you’d of had that somewhere out in the open, documented, that’s on the six month roadmap. You get people thinking about it earlier. You get a more efficient design. Again, you extract more value out of that side, that way.

Tom:

Yeah. I mean, we’ve seen in the past, UX and design being an afterthought, that comes from a development roadmap. You know, the Dev team and the senior team, or the product managers, will plan what’s happening next, for a system. And then, it just gets handed off to the design department to make that feature look nice. Actually, they’ll be invested in your product. They’ll understand a lot about the user. You should involve them earlier on, to get their input into where this product might actually go.

Dan:

If I was gonna sum up what you need, because there’s say, process differs, different businesses, different teams, the process is going to be different. You can’t really prescribe exactly how this works. I’d say, kind of, as a goal, you basically want to give your designer, the most information you can, and let them find out that information as well. Give them the freedom to speak to people, tell them who to speak to, who’s important. Tell them what’s happened, tell them where you’re going. Tell them what you want change you want to see, because they’re there. Give them all that information. Tell them their constraints as well.

Tom:

Yep. That’s really important.

Dan:

Completely. Tell them, “We can’t do anything that will lose this type of user,” and they use that type of feature. Give them that information, give ’em the constraints they’re working with inside. They’re not gonna … They won’t mind that. They don’t wanna design something that breaks that.

Tom:

I mean, no designer wants a scope that is, you can do whatever you want. I mean, that’s actually one of the worst things you can have. You’ve got to have the constraints. You’ve got to say that this is some structure to work within. Otherwise, you just have no direction.

Dan:

And then, once you’ve given them those, given them freedom, lighten their constraints, and then within that try, and stay out of the way. Let them get on with it. Show interest. That’s then, their responsibility. You’ve done your best. You’ve set the stage for them to do their work, and then it’s time to kind of sit back and well, wait for the world’s best design to appear, I suppose.

Tom:

I can’t wait to see it. Where would you go and find the world’s best designer?

Dan:

It would be at, wearelighthouse.com.

Tom:

Ah. I hear those guys are good.

Dan:

Yeah. They had former world’s best designer, founded by him.

Tom:

Oh, right.

Dan:

You remember him?

Tom:

I do. I think he was at the start of the show.

Dan:

He was … They have several contenders for the world’s best designer. It’s very hard to tell who … Yeah. They just wanna be a part of the conversation [crosstalk 00:18:22].

Tom:

They’ve hired all the contenders.

Dan:

It’s very contentious these days, where what with the social medias. On Twitter, you’ll constantly find #Imtheworldsbestdesigner.

Tom:

I’ve not looked at that one yet.

Dan:

Those guys and girls are just constantly raving at each other about who is and who isn’t. You know what I say? Let’s just design something guys. Make a site. Make a product. Don’t worry about who’s, the best. They do worry very much.

Tom:

Yeah. That’s quite strange behaviour.

Dan:

Exactly. Yes. You can find the world’s best designers at, wearelighthouse.com.

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

Yeah. I suppose we’ll see you next time.

Tom:

We will.
Russ: Thanks for listening. If you want more product leadership content, then head over to the Lighthouse site, wearelighthouse.com for more podcasts and blogs. To find out more about our product leadership framework, check out, wearelighthouse.com/plf. Find us on Twitter, using @wearelighthouse, and if you’ve enjoyed the show, then we’ve love a rating in iTunes, to help spread the word. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, to see the archive and get any future shows. Until next time, we’ll see you then.

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