Successful design starts with diversity. Having the right team and culture in place is critical and arguably obvious. But today’s war for talent in the technology industry needs to go beyond recruiting for traditional roles. Throughout my experience leading product design teams at major technology companies and startups alike, I’ve identified some effective best practices for building multi-disciplinary teams who can create innovative products and bring them to market successfully.
When hiring, I look for people that don’t just design. I look for real makers. Chefs, musicians, artists, woodworkers, and even yoga instructors have comprised some of the best design teams I’ve worked on. These are people who truly like to create and will bring that unique mindset to the table when it comes to building great products. Someone with inherent maker qualities that possesses the ability to design for people’s needs. They want to build things and bring joy to people’s lives by giving something valuable back to the world through their passions. This is at the core of design innovation.
Human resources and recruiters find my hiring requests to be painful because I don’t have typical job descriptions for roles on my design teams. I find people that have interesting traits, and then align them with the problems we need to solve. In addition, I look for people who have a history with shipping products to market and battle scars to prove it. These people have insights from both successes and failures, and I’ve seen them be more effective than designers who have experience on paper.
When I arrived at Google, I was assigned to lead the design teams charged with introducing early Gmail and Google Docs. At the time there was early concern about jumping into a highly competitive space, so we asked, “How do we change the conversation?” It takes the right team to ask tough questions, challenge assumptions and ultimately redefine an industry. You need an environment that promotes that type of openness in order to be successful. In fact, the charge of my current team is to constantly evolve our practices, and our overall culture of innovation around design and doing so in close collaboration with our teams in Samsung headquarters. As a result, we’ve been able to introduce new product categories to the industry, and it’s paid off in many ways.
It’s doesn’t require a large, robust, well-funded team to do amazing things. It certainly helps, but look at companies like Instagram or Uber, who have brought disruption to the market without major resources initially. It reminds me of when I led design and experience for a startup called DivX. We helped usher in the digital video era back when internet video was born, all started by a team that could fit into a broom closet. That team created a grassroots movement that led to more than a billion downloads, growing the company to more than 300 employees and eventually taking DivX public. As an example, the majority of our projects at Samsung are initially run by small and nimble multi-disciplinary teams bringing ID, UX, Strategy, and Engineering, together. Our teams are built to move fast, iterate, and make things real to validate our ideas early on in the process.
One of the most difficult challenges in business today is creating a product that the world doesn’t know it needs yet. I’m often inspired by how design can be inventive—think Henry Ford or Nikola Tesla. These individuals used an unorthodox design approach that really made an impact on the ways we interact with the world around us. Having that inventive, entrepreneurial spirit embedded in your team is critical to creating disruptive products. For example, with products like the Gear Fit, it was designed from the body outward, which drove the need for a curved screen and battery. Human ergonomics drove the need for technology to be inventive rather than the other way around. We approach all of our design projects by solving a genuine human need.
It’s an amazing time for the design industry. There has never been a time when it has played such a central role in technology like it does today. We need to re-think how to foster diversity and open collaboration to ensure we’re continuing to drive our world forward through design.