Yr03, Ep22 :: John Snavely on Questioning Thoughtfully

John Snavely

by This is Design School

On this episode, John Snavely, Principal Design Manager of Xbox at Microsoft, talks about his journey as a series of failures, questioning things thoughtfully, managing teams in no praise zones, and the ethical tensions designer face today.


Chad:

John Snavely, thank you for being on This is Design School with us. We’re looking forward to a really thoughtful conversation with you.

John:

Thank you. Thank you guys for having me. It’s great to be here.

Chad:

So, to start the conversation off, we’re curious about kind of your journey in design and where you’re at now and your journey to getting there. We can take little stops along the way to go deeper on things.

John:

Sure, yeah. I’ll do the two second resume, the resume drop. The walk through here. So, currently I work at Xbox. I’m the principle design lead for the console, which means I work on the OS for the gaming console. That’s where I am now. The journey to get there, I think probably the best place to start is when I was in college. So, we’ll start with my undergrad. I went to Dartmouth. I think it is around 70 percent of the people that start at Dartmouth are, I think this happens a lot, are pre-med. Like, I started pre-med and that’s how they, it’s a liberal arts college, they fill liberal arts with people who fail at pre-med. And, one of those failures was me. When I started out, I was in the intro chemistry courses, in all the other intro, the big leader courses. I was doing extremely poorly. I got a little note from the Dean about the dangers of… And my mom’s a chemist, so failing in chemistry was like a…

Jp:

No, not going in the family business.

John:

Yeah, yeah. You’re not following in the, the family footsteps and so, at that point, I decided to quit pre-med. So, I started a course in Computer Science and I started a course, the intro course in Studio Art, which is a sculpture course and I loved them! They were awesome and I wasn’t a failure in either of them. So, I did super well. It doesn’t hurt that they were taught by incredibly engaging and amazing people. They had their best teachers in the intro courses, so Tom Cormen was the one who taught the intro Computer Science course and John Lee was the Introduction to Studio Art. Because he’s a sculptor, he teaches it as sculpture course. Those eventually became my two courses of study as an undergraduate. And, eventually four years later, I graduated.

When I graduated, I didn’t have a good idea of what I was gonna do or where I was gonna go next. I thought perhaps I’d work in the trades, so I went and started working in construction and gradually worked my way up into cabinetry. I moved to New York to see if I could start to make it as an artist. I worked for a tiny cabinet maker. I don’t even know if he’s still in business—Anton Cundino, who was awesome. He took me in. I worked in his basement just underneath the Brooklyn Brewing Company.

So, yeah. I guess, you know, my resume’s just a series of failing at stuff, so with the Computer Science degree, I applied for a job through a friend that I had known, a roommate that I had in college who knew somebody at the Natural History Museum in New York. They needed someone for this tiny little part of the museum called NCSLET, which is the National Center for the Science, Literacy, Education and Technology. Basically, what it does is this little group who are doing field research. They’re doing all this, all of this work, scientific work that a portion of it results in what you see in the museum. So, my job was to figure out, how do we take the stuff that you see and the scientists are creating, build technology tools, exhibition tools and materials that get into the hands of teachers, the public, etcetera. That’s a very fancy term for what I did. I was a web developer. And most of what I did was HTML.

Jp:

So, you were getting back into the Computer Science part.

John:

So, I went back to the, the left brain part partway through. I was there about 4 or 5 years. Partway through that, there was a huge change and this is gonna date me, but I learned a new program and the program I learned was Flash.

Chad:

Whoa.

John:

Yeah. Exactly. Macromedia Flash. Not Adobe Flash.

Jp:

I remember those days. Yeah.

John:

So, it was an amazing program, you know? Jp, you’re a narrative storyteller. Like, there hasn’t been a tool that allows you to program graphic design and play with time in order to build something that people can interact with. That’s just very rare to find a tool that does all those things. So, when I used it, I quickly just dug right in and you could, if you were a master at it, outpace the ability for a producer and a graphic designer to create stuff. Also, the graphic designer makes still images that has nothing to do with the interactivity or the motion or any of that other stuff. And so, there was a whole creative realm that was kind of unlocked by learning this program. And so, my last 2 years were just spent mastering it and enjoying making all this stuff that, creatively, I hadn’t been able to do before. So, that was super fun.

At the same time, I felt this itchiness about, I hadn’t made any sculpture, I hadn’t made any art. Although I was dirt poor and living hand to mouth as a cabinet maker, as an assistant cabinet maker to Anton. I missed the idea that I would make something that was physical. I liked that, or I thought I liked it. I thought I missed it. So, I took a break and I said, “Hey, I need to, I want to go back to school and try and learn something new.” I don’t know why. Friends were going, but I had a couple of sculpture friends who went back and decided that architecture was the thing. That was the way to actually combine left and right brain. That was the way to get technology and form in one place. So, I applied to schools. Did not get into very many of them, but got into the one that I wanted to go to, mostly because it had a strong computational design program.

So, I headed off to MIT to join their architecture program. They were very small. There were 12 or 13 people in the class. It’s very tiny at this time. It’s sort of grown really large right now, but it was a very small program. Kind of definitely in the shadow of the GSD, but it was great. It was tiny and it was crazy interdisciplinary and we were just kind of in a tiny little wing. So, I spent four years there. So, the master’s program, if you don’t know anything about architecture, is four years. If you do know something, you can get away with a year and a half or two years. So, four years. It’s as long as my professional career, as long as my undergrad. As long as my professional career, so it’s four years of being in this place that’s super long. It’s a chunk of time to go to school.

It was brutal. My first day there, we got a speech from Ann Pendleton Julian who was the, the first year program and she talked about how the school was a no praise zone. And, I used that actually now when I talk to, it’s ingrained in, that culture of criticism and critique is ingrained into how I relate to the work and how I, when I’m working with other people, when I on board new people to my team at Xbox, I also talk to them about, “I have a tendency to do this, this is my own bias, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not incredible and deserve to be here.” But it, it was intimidating at first to go into that place, the no praise zone.

When you guys walked in here, I talked about all the people that we knew in common, have in common. It’s a very small community and you depend on all of these other people to show in your gallery, to recommend you to be on a podcast. So, that was something that I didn’t understand at the time, but the more time I spent in the career, the more obvious it is how there’s like, multiple teams that are all working, that are all playing the same game and trying to further themselves, trying to further the same goals.

Chad:

You’re talking about that in relation to your experience in architecture school.

John:

Yes.

Chad:

So, is that like, a hard lesson learned from your experience in architecture school or something you took away from that?

John:

No. I was just reminiscing about the day one experience, which was really intimidating. There were so few of us. I don’t feel like, I don’t know if I had a, a formative backstabbing or anything, anything traumatic that’s happened that was like, oh God, we should have been working as a team.

In design, there’s often, there’s the natural part of it and then there’s the people that are able to express things which always come naturally. And so, those observations may seem, they seem easy at the time, but then they’re actually good advice. Those, I, part of what I like about your guys’ podcast is, I read through the notes and listened. It’s like, oh, yeah, you should pay attention to your family. Oh, yeah, we do, we do value people, all different types of people and open ourselves up to different cultures. And as a byline, you’re like, well duh. But as a lived experience, you’re like, yes! So, it becomes something that’s way deeper.

Yeah, those 4 years were formative and huge and much more so than my undergraduate time where I kinda had a few things, but I didn’t actually figure out what I was doing. I had some tools and some things I was in, I had some things that I did not fail at. So, those years were formative. I worked as a computational consultant for some professors that were there. And then I worked for a tiny interaction design slash art installation boutique design firm in Cambridge while I was there. I did that all throughout school and I was also a pretty terrible student while I was at MIT. I was not a good, just maybe this attitude is good. Maybe it’s a bad attitude, but my attitude was always to try and challenge the assignment. I think it crossed over the line to just being a jerk about it, but I don’t know. Sometimes it’s helpful to question assumptions. Sometimes you’re going off on a path where you’re not gonna learn what you need to learn. So.

“Sometimes it’s helpful to question assumptions. Sometimes you’re going off on a path where you’re not gonna learn what you need to learn.”

 

Chad:

In hindsight, what would you have done differently and why?

John:

There were a few moments in which I think I could have been more self conscious about, and deliberate about the questioning. Did it get me to a spot that was better than following the assignment or did it just get me to a spot where I could be a punk about it and kinda pretend like I was rejecting it?

Jp:

Was it because you were curious to expand on the project or it was, as you had said, the, you didn’t like being told what to do?

John:

It’s funny. The places that I think I was most a jerk are to my advisor and the person that, one of the people that was my mentor throughout the experience. Meejin Yoon was my advisor. She taught me as my mentor was, a lot of it was based on the foundation of, you have to work X number of hours for it to be good, period. That’s just the way it is. I really didn’t like that. It does not, the amount of work, the equation of amount of work leading to something that’s good, it’s like, “Wait, aren’t there exceptions to that rule? Does that really, is that really the case?” And, I think while technically I was correct in that assumption, I was missing the lesson and the lesson was, you’re gonna work fucking hard to make it in this business and you gotta work harder than anybody else in order to find things. Like, you get used to it, which also I didn’t like. It was part of the architecture discipline is all about just being brutal. So, that was me also just struggling with architecture.

“I was missing the lesson and the lesson was, you’re gonna work fucking hard to make it in this business and you gotta work harder than anybody else in order to find things.”

 

Jp:

But, I can tell you that as someone who’s been through a VisCom Program. It is also equally really hard. When Chad was thinking about going to grad school, the thing I told him, as I tell every student is, be prepared to be beaten down to nothing.

John:

Yes.

Jp:

So, that way they can mold you into everything.

John:

Yeah. They wanna break you up so they can build you back and I appreciate that. That, that’s true. You should let some of that process happen. You should know that some part of you has to remain intact or it’s not gonna work. Like, they’re just gonna break you down and you’re gonna be in little pieces, but you won’t survive. You’ll be a copy of them or, or the true you won’t make it through. You’ll just be crying under your desk and tired and yeah. We saw, there’s a couple people who like, it just hurt too much like, so it is, yes. Probably anyone who’s in the program, anyone who’s listening who is in a program like that where they’re like, I think this is not the profession for you or are you sure you wanna be in X school? Have you tried blah? Like, those are the little stabs that they give you to test your metal and they hurt. They hurt a lot. They are not easy to walk away from. So, yeah.

“You should know that some part of you has to remain intact or it’s not gonna work. Like, they’re just gonna break you down and you’re gonna be in little pieces, but you won’t survive. You’ll be a copy of them or, or the true you won’t make it through.”

 

Jp:

So, after grad school.

John:

Yeah.

Jp:

Is this where you move to the Pacific Northwest?

John:

So, after grad school, I moved to, I moved to Seattle. I got a job working at Microsoft Office. So yes, worked for the Envisioning Lab for, Envisioning Team for four years. Worked on hardware, software prototypes, physical space, video and we were partly a marketing team, partially an innovation team. We were attempting to be a product team, but it was very difficult to have that happen. I had done it for four years. It felt like I was doing the same thing again.

After those four years and I left for a year to go to, I went to the Valley and worked at a tiny team that was just getting started called the Think Tank Team. It was housed in Samsung CISA, which was in San Jose and it was, I was like, the third or fourth person on the team. It was started by Pranav Mistry. After a year, it was really fun to work in a more, in a more product focused way. Like, I wasn’t gonna make a video or a space or to try to argue or explain something that wasn’t gonna happen. This was gonna happen. But I wasn’t feeling the Valley and I had a little trouble adjusting to the, I loved the culture of my micro team. Pranav built something amazing there, but I had a lot of trouble adjusting to the culture of Samsung—the corporate culture there. So, I decided to just hit the reset button, come back to Seattle. We missed the Northwest. My wife and my kids were all, hey can we just go back to where we were?

So, we came back and this was 4 or 5 years ago. There was an opening at Xbox and so, it was great to go back to a place like Xbox. I started working on mobile. I was really interested in mobile and ecosystem plays and how multiple devices, multiple things work together to build a singular experience. Xbox was unique in that respect, is that they’re a company that built their own hardware. They built their own software. They had their own culture. So, it was a place to kinda dip my toes in everything or try all these little different things and so, I’m still there now. I love it. It’s a great culture and I’m very happy. Yeah. So that’s, that’s my resume. I’m sorry. That was a long, long answer to that question.

Jp:

And now for the second question. What is it that you have seen change in the people that have come after you by way of like, degree or education or experiences that you wish that you could have found perhaps a quicker way to get, maybe not quicker way, but a more streamlined way to get there?

John:

Yeah. This is a question that you guys asked before about if you were to hire somebody now, where you, that’s the question. What do they need to do to get hired?

Jp:

That question is something that a lot of students always ask. What am I missing right now that I’m not doing in school that I should be doing?

John:

Yeah.

Jp:

Or, am what I’m doing now, is it going to help me in the long run?

John:

Yeah. How do I get a job? We are so freaked out about getting a job. Just get involved in technology cause that sector’s growing like ape. Or get involved in biotech and you are set. The job market is growing in those areas.

When we get down to think about specific people that we would hire, there are skills that are very rare and that get demonstrated. Well, one of them is not rare. One of them is more rare, but there are two skills which are hard to come by, even if you have a beautiful portfolio. The two skills are critical thinking and communication and they don’t sound like they’re not super shiny, but those skills are the ones that are worth their weight in gold. We talk about growth mindset at Microsoft and at Xbox, those are the ones that help you grow. So, those are the things that help you learn, those two skills. Being able to talk about your experience and listen to other people’s experience and absorb it in some way. And then, to be critical about your work, the other work or what’s happening around you and think critically about it, those are the two things that we, we will take anyone at any, we will hire, we will make strides to hire those types of people.

“There are two skills which are hard to come by, even if you have a beautiful portfolio. The two skills are critical thinking and communication and they don’t sound like they’re not super shiny, but those skills are the ones that are worth their weight in gold.”

 

Those things are extremely important and so, often when I look at someone’s portfolio, I talk a lot to interns and young designers in our, in our space. We, those are the two things that I talk to them about. Usually the entry point is communication and I look at their portfolio and I ask them what story are they trying to tell about themselves. And they didn’t know that they were supposed to tell a story. They thought they were supposed to show their work and they’re not the same thing and this is gonna take me back to grad school. One of the things I resented, here’s one of the things I resented, but at the same time, it was so healthy.

So, in grad school, big part of the work was arguing for the work. You had to be able to defend it. The culture of argument was, I struggled with so hard because people who were able to intuitively make beautiful work would struggle in our program. Is that, is that the way this course works? Is that the way we talk about design? Is that the way we communicate it, and is that the right way to nurture someone who maybe English is their second language? Which it was for this guy. Maybe he actually just comes in with more raw talent than anybody in this program, which was the case again for this guy. And, it was just, it was stunning and surprising to me. That was one of the moments where I was just so frustrated with the way the school and everything felt in that program. It still resonates with me today and it’s still incredibly important the primary job of a designer is to communicate something and being able to talk about your work or the work or any work is the way you build teams and make other people around you better. It’s the way you grow and learn. So, having skill in that area is good.

“The primary job of a designer is to communicate something and being able to talk about your work or the work or any work is the way you build teams and make other people around you better. It’s the way you grow and learn.”

 

I do have a bullshit alarm. Like, you don’t want the, you know those people who come in and they’re like, “that is terrible work!” You’re talking a lot of words. They’re really long. They’re, you know, they’re multisyllabic. I appreciate that. But, that is not good work. And so, we want to be sensitive to the designer bullshit, but at the same time, we wanna be able to communicate honestly and openly about what we’re trying to do, what our goals are and why we did things and whether or not we could have done them better or differently and that’s super hard. And, we give young designers the hardest task. Like, oh don’t crit any work or don’t try and communicate any work. Communicate your work. That’s like, the hardest thing. Even in the work itself, the story hasn’t been fully, has not gestated fully. So, often I’ll ask them like, hey let’s just talk about what you think your favorite website or whatever your, show me the last five apps that you used on your phone. Let’s talk about the stories that are happening there or something else that you did.

So, yeah. Storytelling, communication. Those are huge and the critical thinking. That’s a tough one too.

Jp:

Yeah.

John:

Cause that’s like, maybe you guys feel like this too. Design culture has a very, we go to black and white really quickly. That sucks. It’s awesome. There’s only two. There’s no like, middle ground.

Chad:

For being a gray kind of discipline…

John:

Yeah. Yeah.

Chad:

… we make it very black and white.

John:

Like, when it comes to design, everything’s moderate, but when it comes to viewing the work, I got an opinion and there’s only two of them. I have two cards. I can just whip one or the other. That gets in our own way sometimes in being able to like, tease it apart. Like, okay this is your project now.

So, on my own teams, we exchange files and like, okay, is this the right problem? First of all, is this the right problem? Yeah. You know problem setting. But, is this the right problem? Okay. How would you solve it? Well, how would you solve it? Okay. You did solve it over here. Can someone take that file and turn it into something else? And so, this ability to take any work, treat it like it’s not black or white. It’s just in the gray area right now and your job is to push it into something which is everyone looks at that says this is good. That’s a tall task, but it, it’s good.

Yeah, so that, that skill is rare and it goes hand in hand with communication. I see some people able to critically think with their, they hand storm on their way to a more powerful things. Those, those would be the two.

That was question number two. I’m doing terribly here. We’re never gonna get through this interview. (Laughs.)

Jp:

I think I had read somewhere that you have a patent or you were part of a patent with Samsung and an article that you were identified as like, a futurist in the way that you design.

John:

Yes.

Jp:

How do you see the future of design moving forward?

John:

Oh Lord.

Chad:

Jp, I thought we were supposed to ask the short questions.

Jp:

Yeah, just yes or no.

John:

The answer is yes. It’s awesome or it sucks. It’s one of those two. So, futurist was a way of saying I don’t work on shipping product and I’ve since changed that. My last four years has been to flip the equation and say I work on things that people use, not on rethinking the way people could use things, which I think they’re both incredibly valuable, but that is the difference. That’s where I came from.

The future of design? Things I could say about the future of design are the things we already know in a way. Like, it’s very, very interdisciplinary. That’s just happening period. It is being turned inside out by technology.

I think it’s still, we don’t treat it this way, but design should be a foundation like learning English. It’s like the basics of learning a language, the language of the things that are around us. So, I’d love to see it enter school curricula extremely early. We have art classes and I love art classes, but I’d love to see design classes be taught in elementary and the earliest ages just because we’re in, we’re a virus invading, humans are a virus invading the planet. We don’t live in the natural world anymore. We live primarily in the built world and we don’t give ourselves any educational understanding of how that world came to be or why. Like critically thinking about that Eames Chair over there or the molded Styrofoam that’s in it. Is that the right thing or the wrong thing? There’s a history to that, to their production methods, which were all about saving the environment.

“I’d love to see design classes be taught in elementary and the earliest ages… We live primarily in the built world and we don’t give ourselves any educational understanding of how that world came to be or why… The future [of design] is interdisciplinary, tightly interwoven with the trajectory of technology and foundation, it’s part of the foundational human experience now. You can’t avoid it.”

 

So, yeah. The future is interdisciplinary, tightly interwoven with the trajectory of technology and foundation, it’s part of the foundational human experience now. You can’t avoid it. At some point, we would be like, well yes. People already live this way. At this point, I am watching YouTube videos of a person who is emulating primitive human experiences and making a living at doing that. It’s like a totally different experience. Yeah.

Chad:

Well, I think that’s, I mean that’s an interesting concept you’re talking about in kind of an argument of including design earlier on in education and a different one that I’ve heard before. I’ve heard others. But, I think this idea of living entirely in the built world, and we are the ones that have built that world, and even when we think we’re engaging in nature, it’s still built.

John:

Oh, yeah.

Chad:

You know, go out hiking outside of Seattle and you’re on a trail that’s often been highly groomed and formed, you know? And more and more, it’s really interesting how when you first started off, you were talking about, in your education you ended up getting these, the two languages you believe everyone should learn, and it’s interesting that when I came out of grad school, I became much more aware that there was a certain half that felt like, “Oh, maybe I should have spent more time on that.” Like, learning Computer Science and really understanding how that works because it is becoming so ingrained.

John:

Yep. Technology rules everything around me.

Chad:

Yeah. Well, but I also think of like, how much that’s tied to classism in the future, and the future of literacy and, you know, the societal impacts of that knowledge.

John:

Yeah. Yeah.

Chad:

I feel the heavy weight of that often.

John:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s a big deal. It’s change. It’s a big change.

It’s a big change and everything’s exactly the same and the same black and white card. Like, we don’t, it’s actually there’s a lot of gray in there and there’s a lot that’s the same. It’s super hard to tell what is actually different. Some of the things, Ben will probably tell you the same thing. When you’re doing this futurist thing, you’re like, wan to reject all the now. Most of it evolves. There are very few like, hard, hard lines that get drawn. It is weird to think about having to walk a trail. “Oh, I’m out in nature.”

Chad:

Yeah. Well, yeah and I, well I think, just kind of going back to my, well like, including that sort of education at a young age and thinking computers, I think were the first technology that you couldn’t really take apart and understand how it works…

John:

Yeah.

Chad:

….relatively intuitively through way of like, a physical discovery.

John:

Yeah.

Chad:

And thinking about like, the more that in interfaces and the way we interact with technology, the more that is becoming obscured with like, how it actually works.

John:

Oh, yeah.

Chad:

And thinking about, as people are coming of age and kind of, for the first time not really like, in a high way, not really being able to have the curiosity of how something works.

John:

Yeah.

Chad:

And, be able to discover that on their own, and how important that is.

John:

Yeah. That’s huge. We have the same problem with our relationship to food. I never see a dead… I don’t think my kids have ever seen, well we send them to a school and will eventually see an animal get slaughtered, but they, it is abstract. These layers of abstraction help us. They increase our production and technology is like, computers are essentially like, layers of abstraction which allow us to do consecutively more powerful tasks as we move our way up the stack. The problem is that those layers of abstraction obfuscate the actual mechanics of how the thing operates.

“These layers of abstraction help us. They increase our production and computers are essentially like, layers of abstraction which allow us to do consecutively more powerful tasks as we move our way up the stack. The problem is that those layers of abstraction obfuscate the actual mechanics of how the thing operates.”

 

When I went back to, I was lucky enough for my advisor, Meejin, invite me back to the school to talk to one of the Media Labs classes, which was about technology and culture and one of the things we talked about was, I gave a talk, and the end of the talk was all about Siri, Alexa and Cortana. Three voice interfaces that, by default, are you telling women what to do. Which the studies, all of the user research shows that we are more comfortable, for the most part, in that mode of behavior. But, it’s a fucking problem. Like, it is a continuation of a cultural paradigm, which is wrong.

So, I presented this to the class and they were like, well what are you gonna do about it? I’m like, no. What are you gonna do about it? So, there was, there was a moment of intense dialog at the end of the course around that particular topic and it’s super tricky. Like, you might have read, is it Timo Maas who just wrote the article about how we designers are like, totally failing and the stuff we are designing is in service of corporate interest and not in the interest of users? So, our goal, the goal of Facebook is engagement, is to keep you glued to this thing, it’s not to actually improve your quality of life or whatever. And, all of the design, he implicated all the designers who work in every single one of these technologies. Myself, I’m there. Like, my goal is to keep people on the couch playing video games. It, it’s play and play can be great and it can be, you can do it too much, just like anything else.

Chad:

Moderation.

John:

Yes. So, as a great, his little statement was awesome. The, the like, where’s the moral backbone of designers in technology? Where has it gone? And it kicked up a whole little, great little dialog on that. I know, I love his work. I love the work. Berg was awesome. I don’t know how familiar you guys, with Berg and all of their, all of the work they did. They, now I’m gonna be really bitchy. They could not ship a successful product. They were an extremely successful and intelligent consultancy. They had crazy, provocative ideas, but they did not ship a successful product. So, at the same time that we have the critical nature of like, where’s your moral fiber? The other side, we have like, well what is the right, right pathway for a company that, they sell attention? Like, that’s what an ad is. That’s how, that’s how the company operates. So, that is the design problem, in a way. What is the most effective way to direct and monetize attention? So, I don’t know. Like, what is the right thing? Like, that’s a, that is the mechanic. That is how it works.

Chad:

Well, I mean it’s interesting cause I feel like a lot of, I mean you could even probably look at, you know, something like Facebook, but I mean, essentially I feel like a lot of design ideas really actually start from a very good place.

John:

Yeah, yeah.

Chad:

It’s often times when money enters the equation that it becomes a lot more complicated. In that, how does, how does money actually change who the audience is?

John:

Yeah, money changes everything around it.

Chad:

Right. And, especially business models.

John:

It’s one that designers need to be more active in.

Chad:

Right.

John:

I think that’s the big, that’s the big take away from Timo’s little creed. It’s like, well you made this thing. You gotta own up to making it. And so, I think that’s a big personal responsibility, like design is not a service industry any, any more. We can make stuff. We can, we can lead and when we do, we gotta do it with the right values.

Jp:

Which I think ties into your liberal arts education comment to begin with. The importance of having a very broad perspective is what’s going to help design in the future.

John:

Yeah. Definitely.

Chad:

In the course of your career, kind of transitioning between becoming more of like a leader in design teams and that sort of transition into leading a team and kind of mentoring people and things like that and what that transition was like for you and the responsibility you see in that.

John:

Yeah. That’s a really good question. Like the other things, like the other parts of my journey, it’s hard to not see it as just a series or fuck ups, you know? Like, Jesus I did that wrong or oh, my God, I totally screwed that up. The first things that I felt when I started making the transition was the first thing that I felt was the ability, I was losing the time that I was spending making work. So, I was losing skills and the first part of my career was all about, I had gained these skills which gives you a new power, a new position, a new ability to do something that other people aren’t able to do and when you’re in that position where you’re doing things that other people aren’t able to do, yeah. I guess managing people or mentoring people’s not the same as being their parent, but there are some similarities and how do you help someone else grow? How do you help them learn?

So, yeah. My first thought was completely self involved. It was about all the work I was missing out on doing instead of thinking about the people that were trying to grow and learn around me. And the other part I realized is, I’m a designer that has a hard time letting go. And so, figuring out how to do that in a way, in the right ways. When do you tell that person to talk to that person or when do you say something? When do you say something that is a little mean? And when do you say something that’s really nice?

I have a little manifesto that I use, so like, I wrote up these little, little slogans and anytime someone came to my team, I still do it. A little bit less often. It’s more subtle, but like a cult, we would read the manifesto and talk about it and say hey, this is our team culture, we believe in these things. And then, I would use the manifesto as a way to enforce, like, “Hey, quit ragging on that person’s idea.”

That’s probably the advice I would give someone in school like, you’re gonna get people telling you you’re a failure. I got told that multiple times. Had to go sleep under my desk and then this was after pulling, you know, you feel like you sacrificed. You’re like, you’re telling me I suck. I’m working so hard. They might not be entirely wrong, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have something of value to offer and design is way bigger than that, is way bigger than the class you’re in or even the profession you think you’re working towards. There’s a ton of room for you to find your own way.

Chad:

I think that’s great.

Jp:

Well, thank you very much for your conversation today. We really appreciate it.

John:

Yeah. Appreciate it. I loved being here.

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