Designers Finally Have A Seat At The Table. Now What?

The very best designers respect the system in which they design, carefully thinking about their work within proper context, rather than trying to leave their individual thumbprint on everything they touch. In addition, those who place higher value on their team are more generous and thoughtful in both giving and receiving feedback, making those around them better (read: no more jerks in your critique). So make sure you’re prioritizing things that make your group of designers function like a team. Add things like reading a relevant book together (at Wealthfront we’d read about behavioral economics) or make time for people to pair up on projects. Tidy up your critique process, ensuring the team regularly meets to discuss work.

4. Self: The foundation for the rest

“Self” can be areas of professional growth and learning (“I want to get more technical” or “I want more experience making product decisions.”). It’s also personal stuff, like making time to go to the gym or taking vacations. It’s essential to a well-functioning team, and anyone who has worked with me knows this is always a major focus of our goal-setting efforts. In fact I just drafted my goals for the year, which include an hour of focused writing every workday (yay, more posts from me). I also committed to helping a team member achieve her goal of coaching more design leaders from our portfolio companies.

So, if it’s so important, why do I place it last?

Designers who prioritize themselves above the user, the business or the team fall into traps like designing products they simply “like” rather than those that align with a greater goal. They also end up ignoring the opinions of teammates and missing out on ideas that could make their work better. Any great team is built on a foundation of fulfilled employees who are growing both in their personal and professional lives. But there’s a big difference between this and a team of people who are taught to put their own personal needs above everyone else.


So whether you’re a design leader getting ready to roadshow your 2018 priorities and asks, or you’re a designer requesting a trip to a design conference on the North Pole, take your project list and place them against mine and see where you land. Are you solving the problems only designers can solve? Are you using your superpowers to propel the business? Are you prioritizing work benefitting the larger good of your team? Are you taking care to identify the things you’d like to improve? Find meaningful connections in all four buckets to keep the team balanced and keep our place as leaders.

Kate Aronowitz is a design partner at Google Ventures, where she advises startups on design management, team building, and what it takes to be a leader in this field. She has previously worked at eBay, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Wealthfront. 

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