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Seniority in design

Ben Holliday
March 14, 2019

Seniority in design

Talk from UX in the City, Manchester (March 2019).

Where are you on the path to being a senior designer? How do you think about seniority, and what really makes a designer 'senior'?

Ben Holliday

March 14, 2019
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  1. wearefuturegov.com
    Seniority in design
    UX in the City, Manchester - March 2019
    Ben Holliday, Chief Design Officer
    @benholliday

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  2. We reform public services by supporting
    organisations through digital
    transformation and service design.
    We believe in the power of 21st-century
    organisations to deliver the highest
    quality services that have a lasting
    impact for all.

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  3. This talk is built from the
    experience of hiring and
    working with over 100
    designers in the last 5 years.
    And from being a designer.

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  4. Question: Where are you on
    the path to being a senior
    designer?

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  5. Question: How do you think
    about seniority, and what
    really makes a designer
    senior?

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  6. Check in: What is your
    job role?

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  7. Let’s start with job titles...

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  8. Job titles...
    Digital Designer (in house)
    Product Designer/Front End Developer (agency)
    UX Designer (agency)
    UX Researcher (Government/contract)
    Head of User Experience (Government/in house)
    Deputy Director, Design (Government/in house)
    Design Director (agency)
    Chief Design Officer (agency)

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  9. Job titles...
    Digital Designer (in house)
    Product Designer/Front End Developer (agency)
    UX Designer (agency)
    UX Researcher (Government/contract)
    Head of User Experience (Government/in house)
    Deputy Director, Design (Government/in house)
    Design Director (agency)
    Chief Design Officer (agency)
    Junior
    Senior
    Senior
    Senior
    etc.

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  10. Hypothesis: the pressure
    to be ‘senior’ happens from
    early in your career. It’s
    about validating your role,
    and feeling valued.

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  11. Hypothesis: job titles
    don’t mean very much in
    reality. It’s more what you
    do that counts.

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  12. A design
    state of mind
    bit.ly/design-mindset

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  13. A design mindset is how we
    respond to our immediate
    surroundings and work. This
    means asking different types
    of questions, and requires a
    different set of responses to
    the challenges we face.

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  14. What makes you a
    senior designer?
    (8 things to start with)

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  15. More focus on outcomes
    than process (as a way of
    navigating complexity).
    What makes you a senior designer?

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  16. Complex (complexity)
    means something that
    consists of many different
    and connected/
    component parts.

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  17. Service map (navigating something more complex)

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  18. An outcomes based approach to complexity:
    - Creating simple models to communicate component
    parts of a bigger picture/system.
    - Framing challenges and priorities without being drawn into
    detail too early or in the wrong places.
    - Having a clear goal/vision/proposition to work towards that
    helps us stay focussed on user-based and/or policy
    outcomes.

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  19. Not over-complicating (and
    being able to visualise and
    communicate clearly).
    What makes you a senior designer?

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  20. Complicated is what things can
    become if we don’t design the
    tools, or have the ability to
    create the right conversations
    at the right touch points.

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  21. Storyboarding

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  22. User Experience
    (impact)
    Safeguarding
    outcomes (impact)
    Organisation
    capabilities
    Data security
    Service/systems view

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  23. Asking more questions
    (inc. more obvious
    questions).
    What makes you a senior designer?

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  24. Asking the right questions
    to frame the problem
    bit.ly/framing-the-problem

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  25. Being prepared to take
    more measured risks and
    being accountable for
    what happens.
    What makes you a senior designer?

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  26. Design is about imagining what
    the future could look like.
    Putting sticks in the ground
    bit.ly/sticks-in-the-ground

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  27. A big idea is better than
    having a big plan. People get
    behind ideas, and are inspired,
    engaged and take action
    because of ideas.

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  28. Being able to deconstruct
    your work in order to teach
    or coach others.
    What makes you a senior designer?

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  29. First principles is about
    breaking something down to its
    most fundamental component
    parts, or the things that you
    believe are true. Then you work
    from there.

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  30. “…[a framework or model] is purposefully reductive.
    It takes things away, emphasising only a small part
    of a large whole, so that we can focus only on what
    remains. A world map is a model of earth that
    removes nearly everything about the planet,
    leaving only relative masses, names of countries
    and cities, and overall proximity.”
    Jon Kolko

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  31. Letting go of perfection.
    What makes you a senior designer?

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  32. Being pragmatic (you can’t
    win every battle today),
    while still being optimistic
    (everything is worth fighting for).

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  33. Work to an 80% rule…
    You can be reaching for high
    standards but getting in the
    way of making progress.

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  34. Working with increasing
    levels of ambiguity.
    What makes you a senior designer?

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  35. Ambiguity means being able to
    hold opposing or different ideas
    in tension at the same time.

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  36. Working with ambiguity in design is:
    - not having the answers before you start
    - taking intuitive leaps to explore different ways of solving a problem or
    shaping a product, service or experience
    - being bold enough to hold strong opinions and ideas while working to
    prove yourself wrong
    - holding and developing ideas that are in tension with how the world and
    existing models work today
    - being confident enough to let go of detail when dealing with complex
    systems
    - being prepared to work around or challenge existing constraints and how
    things work right now (using creative thinking/methods).

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  37. Seniority, anxiety
    and dealing with
    confidence issues

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  38. “People assume that I’ve
    always been confident and
    comfortable speaking in front of
    a room full of strangers…
    Nothing could be further
    from the truth.”

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  39. Everyone can have an on/off
    switch, but you have to find
    it first (we’re all different).

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  40. Some working principles (for coping)...
    - Lean on other people
    ie. knowing when and how to trust others to take the strain for you at the
    right times.
    - Have a drawbridge
    i.e withdraw from situations that don’t help you manage negative feelings
    or worry. It’s okay to retreat occasionally.
    - Know your own coping mechanisms
    i.e. if you can’t work through anxiety you need ways around it. But don’t
    ignore how you feel.
    - Be yourself

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  41. There isn’t a leadership style for
    senior designers that always
    works or defines ‘good’.
    Finding your own voice and
    style is important.

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  42. Find an outlet for your thinking.
    Working in the open is a
    reflection of your leadership,
    and seniority.

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  43. Design is about constraints,
    so this is how we should
    shape how we lead.

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  44. Build on your limitations
    and make them your strengths.

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  45. The importance of
    feedback (and how
    to manage/ask for
    feedback)

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  46. As a designer, you’re only as
    good as your feedback loops.

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  47. Self reflection.
    Be your own feedback loop -
    make time to reflect on how
    you lead design, and make
    adjustments.

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  48. Progression, or taking on more
    senior roles (in design and
    elsewhere) is about personal
    responsibility

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  49. - Autonomy
    i.e taking responsibility for how your use your time, energy and focus
    (recognising any constraints around this).
    - Asking for support when you need it
    i.e not waiting for someone else to notice that you’re not okay
    (focus on how you are).
    - Asking for feedback when you need it
    i.e not waiting for feedback from other people
    (focus on your work inc. outputs, way of working and communicating).
    - Looking out for other people
    i.e. always being aware if the person working alongside you is okay
    (focus on how other people are).
    - Being proactive
    i.e. not waiting for someone else to offer you a promotion/opportunity.

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  50. Don’t mind the gap(s).
    Work in the gaps around you.

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  51. Getting unstuck.
    (Something practical)

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  52. Design a tool that helps
    you have the right
    conversations

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  53. Capability Canvas:
    Service Design (example)

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  54. Working principles (things that work):
    - No checklists
    i.e. avoid progression conversations based on job descriptions/lists
    of skills and tasks only.
    - Understand where people start
    i.e. benchmark a foundation level.
    - Talk about what it means to be increasingly senior
    i.e. be clear about responsibilities and behaviours you expect.
    - Use different lenses

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  55. Different lenses for a capability canvas:
    - Outputs
    The things you are actively doing e.g. designers should make things,
    and be able to make things happen.
    - Self-presentation
    How you present yourself when working with others e.g. designers
    needs to think about energy, focus, confidence and communication.
    - Time/projects
    How you manage your time and responsibility for tasks that you own.
    - Responsibilities
    Your responsibilities as part of a team.
    - Feedback/progression
    How you manage feedback and the personal responsibility you take.

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  56. Capability Canvas:
    Service Design (example)

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  57. Leading design
    (and not just being
    a senior designer)

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  58. “…design leaders are still designers,
    but they design different things.
    Teams, processes, and culture. ”
    Kim Goodwin
    UX London (2016)

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  59. Design leadership is making
    sure that other people have as
    much space and time to do
    their best possible work.

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  60. Proximity is where you position
    yourself in relation to other
    designers.
    Closeness is the distance you
    are from the work itself. The
    attachment to solving the
    problem.

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  61. Empathy both ways.
    How we can start to understand
    decisions, motivations and even
    the politics that we don’t
    agree with.

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  62. Things I haven’t talked about…
    - Money
    - Equity (when things are not equal)
    - Toxicity (when you should leave)

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  63. Some final advice…
    - Be interested
    - Focus your time and energy
    - Be prepared to say ‘yes’
    - Work at being a better communicator

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  64. Thanks
    Ben Holliday, Chief Design Officer, FutureGov
    @benholliday
    wearefuturegov.com

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  65. For more, read and follow the blog posts at:
    medium.com/seniority-in-design
    Get in touch:
    [email protected]
    @benholliday

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