July 25-27, 2018 / Vancouver, BC

Design Does Not Equal Craft - Kim Bost

September 6, 2016

Speaker - Kim Bost

Transcription coming soon

Wow, I’m the last one, huh? A friend told me that I should make a joke about being the only thing standing between you and a beer right now. There you go, Matt, that’s for you. And thanks, Shannon for the introduction and before I go go any further I want to give a round of applause to the conference organizers, today has been really great and there’s an incredible amount of work that goes into organizing a conference, so let’s just give a hand to Shannon and Steve and.

And yeah, I’m Kim, and so just a little bit about me, really quickly before I dive in. The long and short of it is, I am I’ve seen some shit in my career.

I’ve worked at giant news organizations, I’ve worked at global marketplaces, I’ve worked at startups that no one has heard of. And I’ve been at startups that have been acquired. And in some way or another, some form or another, all of this opportunity has eventually led me to Dropbox and I’m super stoked to be at Dropbox. I’ve been there since about October, so almost a year, and this is the biggest design team that I’ve ever worked on. We’re about 80 designers altogether, but that’s not all product design.

It’s product design, it’s brand design, copy writers, and also design researchers, and even though, you know, we have a huge team and it may seem like we have all the resources in the world, the thick that’s interesting to me is we actually have some of the same problems that I had at any of the other companies I’ve worked at and some of the same problems that I think you guys probably struggle with today.

Essentially we’re always sort of asking ourselves the same questions, we are asking ourselves how can design lead? How can we be design driven? How can design be a part of strategy? How could design work better with product managers, engineers, marketing, whomever, and even if you do have a strong culture of design, which at Dropbox we do, you’re still constantly revisiting these questions so that you can continue to foster that culture and continue to grow that culture.

And the thing that’s really interesting to me is the answers to these problems have nothing to do with the still we think of when we think of design.

When we think design, we typically think of the things that we make, but our ability to be a design leader and be design driven has less to do with these skills, and more to do with our ability to step outside of ourselves and work on a team. So these are really the skills that you need to focus on for design leadership. You need to be able to get your organization to value design and understand the design process, like some of what John was talking about. You need to be able to get design involved in decision-making and strategy and get people talking about design.

And most importantly, the team needs to feel like they can take risks. They need to feel like they can trust each other. And so I’m just going to dive into that one today. And I — I think trust is really interesting, and it’s something that I think a lot about, especially from a leadership perspective, because it’s super nuanced, and it’s super gray, and how do you create trust with people? Trust can be defined by four traits: Will you do what you say you’re going to do? What are your intentions? Can I connect with you? And can I trust your judgment?

And when people judge us, because you know they do judge us, they judge us across two spectrums, they judge us across warmth and they judge us across strength and when we’re trying to prove that we can lead, when we’re trying to win people’s trust, we have the tendency to focus on strength, we have the tendency to demonstrate skill, but research has shown that the way to begin to win influence is through channels of warmth. So showing that you can hear others, that you can understand them, that you can connect with them is ultimately how to earn their trust.

So the question is, how do you do this as designers? Like, how do you connect with your team?

How do you share your intentions and demonstrate that you can hear them?

Eve Fairbanks wrote this article for the Washington Post about learning how to surf and it translated to her professional life, and she invested a lot of like time and effort into learning the technical skills of surf willing and she had successes and failures but really she was having a hard time staying on the board and finally her instructor told her, you just have to decide to stay on the board. You just have to make that decision and not worry about the consequences. It’s less about doing the wrong thing and it’s more about your resolve and so often in work situations we’re focused on doing the right thing or the wrong thing or asking ourselves, is this what my training taught me? Is this the right choice? Is this what will make me look good? And I think maybe like surfing, it’s less about that, and it’s more about how to keep going, how do you connect with and maintain the momentum of the team?

A few months ago, I got pulled onto this massive project at Dropbox. We were adding new functionality to our sharing flows, and if you’ve used Dropbox, you know that sharing is like super-core to what we do, and by the time I got pulled onboard, the product had been in flight for six months and we needed to ship in six weeks so there was no time for my ideal design process, what the team needed from me or actually what they didn’t need from me was to come in and flaunt my confidence. What they really needed was just my help. They needed me to stay on the board.

And so I did that. I checked my design ego and I gave them what they needed, rather than what I maybe thought might have been perfect. And that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t great design. It actually was a pretty successful project, and great design, it’s not necessarily about a single designer’s vision, it’s actually more common that great design is about great collaborations and Meghan was talking about this a little bit, but to have a great collaboration, you need to have alignment, and so often we talk about having alignment and we tend to use these two words interchangeably, alignment and agreement.

But alignment is actually the sweet spot, right, so often when you’re working with your colleagues, you’re shoos shooting for agreement, you’re trying to get everyone to agree on the path forward or what you should do, and if you think about it, that’s actually really hard, because you’re asking humans to have total consensus, to have the exact same opinion. And so that’s why alignment is the sweet spot, because if you can operate from a place of alignment, then you can move forward without total consensus, but you can move forward and act as unified force, even if individually you might have done something different on your own, and the thing that allows you to operate from the place of alignment, though, is trust, because trust is what makes the team feel confident enough to take risks together. Thanks so much. A bunch of us from Dropbox are here, so please come say hi to us at the after-party. Cool.