Why are we still playing games with hiring practices in design?

Last week I had a call with a potential employer that I thought had gone well. The role they are looking for is akin to an XO for the team at large. Someone to run the day-to-day details of the design program primarily through the director level. Almost exactly the job I had at USAA.

In addition, the directors were looking for a senior leader who had experience up-leveling designers and directors. So, I told the recruiter about previous times (again at USAA) when I had helped designers and a design leader get to the next level. The person seemed to be content with the stories I provided, and we moved on in the conversation.

A few days later, I received the rejection email. When I asked what it was about our call that the team didn’t like, I received this response:

The team was hoping to hear more specific examples around career growth and development, primarily as it related to more senior members of your team.

Now, I’m not sure how to interpret this, and I would love to have a direct conversation with the design leaders because if they wanted more stories, I could have provided more. Or, maybe they were looking for anecdotes about how I have coached many senior people in different career growth areas like thought leadership or skill development or relationship management. Hard to say, given the conversation I had with the recruiter—someone who is not part of the team who ultimately made the go/no-go decision.

And this is where I am left wondering why we are still using this broken system of depending on a single individual to play the telephone game to determine who is or is not a good fit for a team.

Many months ago, I interviewed for another design leadership position. The person asked about design transformation because the company’s senior leadership wanted to embrace design and bring it into other areas of the business. I recanted my experience at both IBM and USAA, where I was in unique positions to help teach design thinking to a wide array of businesses. Next, I was asked if either business had transformed, and I replied saying it was going to take more than a few years to completely transform either company considering their size and resistance to change. Can you guess what their take-away from that conversation was?

[Candidate] was unable to successfully advocate for design transformation at either of two prior employers and found that design was perennially marginalized.

In other words, “Sorry, Greg, but because you didn’t change IBM or USAA within two years, you just don’t have what it takes to be a VP of Design at a company of 300 people with a design team of twelve.”

And so it goes.

It’s well known that communications between individuals or teams break down due to a lack of alignment around language, and that results in poor interpretation of what was said. I can’t tell you how many times I have led workshops or exercises between teams to align on language as the first collaborative activity. We do this to avoid pour communication that eventually leads to poor information and false expectations.

So why then, in 2020, do we still rely on recruiters to play the game of telephone with job candidates? What is it about the job practices within human relations that our hiring processes are stuck in the 1960s? Why is it taking senior designers like Melissa Kark five months and 130 applications to get to three offers?

How many good, talented people have didn’t make the cut because the recruiter did not have the adequate language and the nuance to relate a candidate’s perspectives and experiences to the hiring team? Where is the genuine curiosity that would help uncover new and potentially intriguing insights that could inform the candidate’s viability? Especially if their “shape” is slightly different than what the team had in mind.

If there is any group at the Enterprise that can fix this, it’s design. And we are unique enough to get away with a break in protocol to execute different methods and experiences to find a much better process for both the “user” and the “business.” Hiring is so important (even more so now), and to continue leaving the process up to the status quo is holding back the maturity and progression of the industry at large.

#practical / The eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life.

On his way to his next venture, health and wellbeing columnist Oliver Burkman sums up years of writing and research.

What follows isn’t intended as an exhaustive summary. But these are the principles that surfaced again and again, and that now seem to me most useful for navigating times as baffling and stress-inducing as ours.

Some very useful and practical advice. You’re all going to want to read through this and likely save a copy to Pocket.


Au revoir InVision! Voici ce que la vie a à offrir!

As of last week, I am no longer with InVision. As the business makes adjustments to strategy and tactics, so does the team’s shapes and sizes. I am joined by some of the smartest and hardworking people I have ever worked with thus far. Layoffs are never personal. That’s what makes the whole process a big shit sandwich for both sides. I can assure you I’d rather be let go then to be the one to initiate the conversation. I am in a good place. During a time when so many people are hurting and in need, I am fortunate to be where I am in life.

This event marks almost five years to the date since I stepped down from Happy Cog and closed the Austin studio.

Looking back at the last five years spent at IBM, USAA, and InVision, I have learned so much and had the honor to work with so many designers, product managers, engineers, and business leaders. I have earned a unique perspective having lead teams at every scale of company size—from five to five hundred thousand people. I’ve worked with people all over the world, collaborating at all hours of the day. Where remote working was not an option, it was required. In five years, I’ve worked on Enterprise, fintech, cybersecurity, cloud, HR, software, and education-related problems. Digital and design-led transformation initiatives. And I got to work with hundreds of designers, design leaders, product and business leaders, and engineers. There are many experiences to look back on, probably a book or two to write, but for now I’m going to take some time for reflection.

Five years ago, I had to lay off several employees—including one who started to work from home and I had to ask him to come into the studio. He knew right then and there what was going to happen, but he came into work with a smile on his face and a calm presence. After the others left, the gentleman stayed behind to chat. He extended more grace to me than I deserved. I asked if he was going to be alright, and he laughed and said that he’s learned that life is not defined by where we work but by what we do, how we act. As he began to leave, he told me that he had called his significant other and made reservations at the nicest restaurant in town to celebrate this occasion and what life has in store.

Sam, if you’re reading this, then know that moment had a profound impact on me. I’ll never forget that conversation, your perspective, composure, and the joy that empowers you. Thanks to you, that is how I feel right now. Happy to be in a good spot and excited, almost anxious, to see what is around the corner and what I will do next. Be well and take care of someone who needs it.

Also, if you’re looking for a design leader, I happen to know a great candidate.

#newsstand / Issues of design discourse past.

And on this day the design community received a gift from the heavens in the form of Emigre magazine, for free.

The final six issues of Emigre magazine, co-published with Princeton Architectural Press from 2003-2005, are now available as free PDF downloads from the Emigre website. These six pocket-book sized volumes were a final effort by Emigre to highlight and encourage critical writing within graphic design. We believed that design, as a cultural force, was worthy of an evaluative look, so we turned an inquisitive eye on our profession. All six issues have sold out years ago. We’re now making them available for free to anybody who’d like to revisit or who missed the excitement of the often heated debates that were circulating within graphic design during the early years of the 21st century.

If you liked Emigre and want more of that type of writing consider the digital publications Design Observer and Brand New, and Eye magazine—which just published its 100th issue.