Great design leaders, as I see it, do three things well:
- They attract, develop and retain great talent
- They create and nurture a culture of design in their company
- They provide vision and direction
Here I outline some of my work around 1 and 2 so far, particularly at Lookout, where I held a formal management position. Number 3 happens every day, in one-on-one and group settings, and permeates all interactions.
- At Lookout, I built a fantastic team for a security company — hardly the sexiest industry around. I've provided lots of room and mentoring for growth and have kept them extremely happy and engaged.
- I've made the case (with evidence) and created the new role, for the company, of UX Researcher. While initially an engineering-oriented, data-driven company, Lookout was generally skeptical of qualitative research. But after a few months I was able to radically change our product development process to rely heavily on UX Research and qualitative validation.
- I've worked closely with executives in order to move Brand Design out of Marketing, and into my team (originally scoped to Product Design). I've gotten great buy-in and it's allowed us to better craft a unified visual language, and to bring a structured design process to a part of the company which has had very little exposure to it.
When I joined Lookout, the leadership team was very outspoken about their appreciation of design, but in practice the company had little experience with it — it was regarded as mostly about aesthetics, and included late in the process. I've spent a lot of my time there creating the space for design at the company, in several ways, such as:
- Holding regular design talks for the entire company, explaining either foundational design notions — affordance, color theory, the Gestalt laws, ethnographic research, etc — or walking the audience through design processes, explaining decisions, showing iterations, etc.
- Spending a lot of time with Product Managers, finding with them ways to include designers at the very beginning of product development cycles, and empowering designers with the tools to engage well with other functions (especially PM and engineering).
- Increasing the quality of every visual touchpoint of the Lookout brand, including an internal focus (see The Broken Windows Initiative below)
The Broken Windows Initiative
Some credit the radical decrease in crime in NYC in the early 90s to Rudy Giuliani's no tolerance policy. It's based on the criminological theory known as Broken Windows, which says that if you don't fix small things, like broken windows in a building, people eventually feel confident vandalizing it. It might not hold true for crime rates, but it inspired something extremely positive to Lookout.
I basically empowered my team (and led by example) to identify any small design issues they found across the company – be it physically, digitally or in processes – and go and fix it, irrespective of roadmaps. It's led to an array of excellent projects over several months, from changing the lame background image in our conference room telephones, to other very cool ones:
- A redesigned and polished 'Forgot my Password' flow
- Redesigned and polished internal and external email templates
- Bootout, a Lookout-themed Bootstrap theme, which made hackathon projects instantly look great and on-brand
- A redesigned, responsive support website
- A complete internal dashboard framework, based on Dashing
- Redesigned launcher icons for all of our apps
- Lookout Dingbats, a font with hundreds of vector icons for use across the company, including in products (web and mobile)
- A ridiculously cool Presentation Toolkit (below), which let everyone create beautiful presentations, and make sure that my small team of Product Designers didn't have to spend their time on Business Development presentations
- A fantastic interview package (also below), which gives interviewers an overview of the day's schedule, but most importantly lets interviewees know who they'll meet that day, and helps them feel calmer about the conversations. This is a huge hit with our candidates, and sets the tone for everyone about the value Lookout saw in design.