The People Layer

November 29, 2017 11:30 AM
Alamo Drafthouse New Mission

The People Layer is the deepest, most complex layer of any organization. It’s a layer of interaction that persists beyond changes in aesthetics, technologies, devices, systems, tools, and trends. Everyone is involved, and everyone can solve for it.

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Unedited Live Transcript

Una Kravets:

All right. We're going to start prepping for our next speaker. We have Josh Silverman up next as our third speaker in this morning line up. Josh is currently a design producer at Twitter. For 20 years, he was the CEO at Schwadesign. He is the first Visual Design Fellow at General Assembly San Francisco right here in San Francisco and has guest lectured at MassArt, CCA and UCLA. He's been recognized in magazines. We're lucky to have him here today. Please welcome Josh Silverman.

(Applause)

Josh Silverman:

Hello. Okay. Thanks, Una. Hi, everyone. It's really bright up here. I'm really humble to be here amongst so many inspiring people. Thanks to Jina and the entire production team. Please give it up for Jina, she's running around like crazy.

(Applause)

Josh:

Thanks to this very conference, there Design Systems slack, many of us are creating, building and socializing Design Systems. How many of us are paying the same attention to ourselves? To our coworkers? The configuration of teams and how decisions are made? Today, I'm excited to share with you a 1.0 of the people there. I'll point out signals I'm seeing, the dots I'm seeing society.

The people there is the deepest, most complex layer of any organization, not just in tech companies. It's broader than content, message and business purpose. It's a layer of interaction that persists beyond changes in aesthetics, code, UX, UI, operating systems, devices, code stacks, tools and trends.

That's the money shot, by the way. All the slides were. It's independent of any one individual. By default, everyone you work with is involved. Everyone can solve for it.

Let's start with externals and societal. Beth Dean first noticed, we don't stop being human when we go online. There's a desire to relate to software as we relate to other living, breathing things. Lori Voss tweeted that every tech problem is a people problem.

Three weeks ago, I attended the first design ops summit. In attendance were many of you, CEOs, design producers, strategists. We shared our perspectives and approaches about Design Systems and the people who manage them. One of the many things I loved about it was the remarks reflected here, we're still defining this. It's an emergent signal. Every presentation had something to do with people.

Here, we see Kristen prioritizing the organization's shape, the structure of teams in your org chart is the way design is delivered. She's the co author of Design Orgs.

Finally, this tweet from Bo Ren, in silicone valley, I used to think that being too human was a weakness, too empathetic, too emotional, too feminine. These qualities, empathy, emotionality and vulnerability, are argue, are genderness and I love that Bo refers this as a layer in humanists building a human layer.

Let's look at societal signals that are happening right now, even today. But before I go on to this section, a caveat, the opinions expressed in this section are mine and not the views of my employer. We have reached peek bro. Society is visibly reacting to this. He wrote a memo saying that biological differences could explain the difference in tech. The guy on the right, the New York times reporter, his drive to win in life has led to a pattern of risk taking. We have reached peek asshole leader.

(Laughing)

Josh:

One upshot from the current administration is the visibility of resistance movements, occupy, black lives matter, pussy hats. The search term, resist, peeked during inauguration weekend, so far.

Almost as a reminder, there is a 100% T Shirt. It helps protect human rights and sorry. Remembering that we are more than same than we are different. For every 100% human product, they donate to the HRC. Societal values have been pushed to their limits. Political turmoil has excited people to action, to get off their couches and knit and try their hand at expressing themselves.

All this motivation and visibility is good and there's a lot more than what I'm covering here.

So, now let's switch to personal signals. As soon as I graduated college, I joined AIGA. Its network was the key to getting jobs, in house. All these were models for how to configure people to solve problems and to scale or how not to scale.

As the oldest and largest network of design, AIGA continues to open doors for me. I've met a lot of heroes, the people who inspire me to this day. Over the course of my 23 years, I've seen its network benefits 10 fold.

When I was 24, I founded my first company, Schwadesign, I ran it for 18 years. I was working in house, free lancing and did a small brochure for a company called IS Robotics. So one day I got a call from the assistant, they said they are doing a rebrand, am I interested? Holy shit, I am. So, that was 97 and I've learned a lot about running a business from being in business.

Schwa is a holocratic network model of designs, strategists, writers, developers, illustrators, typographers. And times we are 2 people, sometimes we're 25. I had to empower one on one relationships and teams. Some client relationships spanned seven years, during which we rebranded the same client twice. We have had another client come back for a rebrand seven years later. I've taught design for two decades. I've talked, critiqued at Boston, here, CCA and General Assembly.

One of my former students asked me to evaluate a startup. I love how they priority teaching fundamentals of design, UX and a lot more.

Startnership was my second business. Each phase of a startup's growth, you can predict what the designs will be. If you can fit that into a workshop and tailor it to the business, boom, you have a repeatable pattern.

One of our first clients was a startup named Logobase. He is doing a card sorting exercise for key messages. The other co founder took this picture. This happened six months into their business. They were trying to raise funds. The co founder is based in providence, road island. The other co founder was based in Boston and it took me, to fly back to providence to have the fundamental conversations they had skipped over. With designers in the room, this taught me how to agree on a tight agenda, prepare for focused work time and take very small steps together.

For nine months, I was part of a startup called the Blue mix garage. We connected workshops for starting up Fortune 500s.

And now, I work at Twitter. I'm the first design producer in the product's team. I'm grateful my role was created because we really needed help with consistency.

(Laughing)

Josh:

One of my first projects was to launch our product design system, Horizon. I helped with the naming, branding. We oriented the rest of it to its use through a series of classes and that work is always ongoing.

Throughout this year, I've been hosting and producing our weekly a product techniques. They receive feedback to advance their progress. It is a transportable and learning environment.

There are lots of variables with critique, including presenting your work, getting feedback, received feedback, acting on feedback, learning, listening, talking, which is different from being heard, facilitation, documentation, collaboration, team configuration, the list goes on.

I'm really curious about marrying stages of work to feedback, so we can set expectations around process.

I'm also thinking about pastries as a variable, coordinated based on who's in the room and who's coming.

Some of our events are cross team. This is a luncheon learned with Andrew about presenting your work. Andrew is @lightheart. He helped me prepare for this presentation and he's a great guy. We host events with the sf design coalition and the general assembly class.

Here's a behind the scenes look that some of my team was profiled for the Design Systems Handbook. Thanks, InVision. I wear a lot of hats at Twitter. It's about what's happening all over the world, now, now, now and now. We ship and celebrate what we've shipped every week. We are a highly experiment driven culture, always Tinkering and improving. Right now, there are probably 1,000 versions of the product depending on what version you have, your app and the algorithms.

Although, the now, now, now is exciting. I'm older than most of my team and managers, I'm fond of things that persist. So, this is where it all intersects. I've always been a fan of beautiful aesthetics and functional decisions, but I'm way more interested in way decisions were made and the environment for making them. Whereas Twitter is highly experiment driven with product, I want to establish a process and that takes time, cross functional team building, leadership buy in, commitment and patience.

I'm always happy to build bridges across teams. A few weeks ago, a design on the marketing team asked if there was someone who could do a UX presentation. Although I'm happy to make connections like that, it's been my experience to think and work horizontally. I continue this work for interpersonal connectivity and efficiency and that is a people problem.

So, these questions can help you diagnose and identify problems of people there. Maybe you haven't noticed or considered these before, but once you do, you'll be a more empathetic person and learn skills that ground you. These skills will persist.
If you're working inside a product that's past its seed stage, the chances is are is more decisions. Look at how these teams collaborate. If you can, find out what the relationship is like between them. Find out from which teams certain projects originate. And how projects flow. Is engineering involved at the start? Is branding left to polish something at the end? If it's more inclusive, you'll get better results with multiple teams involved in the start. The past and the future are horizontal.

Behind the chart, how do teams work together? Do they share their road maps and strategies not only vertically within the team but across teams? Do you feel like everyone is working towards a common goal?

Chances are, different teams make decisions differently. But what would you do if you knew how and when teams decided on something? Large or small? Some decisions you make may have effect said beyond the meeting, the week, the month, the quarter or the company.

How might you go about you days differently if you had both qualitative and quantitative criteria for your role?

Before you begin a new project, is the team that's going to kick it off multi disciplinary? Are all lines of business in the room? Do you know how they were elected to work on it and why?

When the project kicks off, are the appropriate people in the room? Is there a working agreement? Do they have any roles or responsibilities. For example, what tools will you use to get this particular job done? What's the frequency and cadence of meetings?

This is one of my favorites. For each meeting, are the appropriate people in the room? If not, has someone elected to follow up with them? Should the meeting take place if all the participants and not just key decision makers not available? This is a Google plug in I'd love to see shift. It calculates the value of the meeting based on billing rates of people in the room.

(Laughing)

Josh:

If you're jumping into a product mid stream, is there a brief you can read on and is someone able to answer your questions about it? Has the meet agenda being socialized with enough time for input? During the meeting, are the loud voices overtaking the quieter ones? Could a facilitator help and ensure that all perspectives are heard? Yesterday, Cameron spoke about the importance of protocols and facilitators. Maybe you could use a talking stick.

What's the culture of giving and receiving feedback? Is it published and is it visible? To me, feedback is a gift and this is how we do it in our space. It's a little cut off, but this is how we set expectations around giving and receiving feedback in product at Twitter.

People who believe their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies and good input have a growth mind set. They tend to achieve more than who believe their talents are innate gifts. In the context of learning, you can never be wrong.

I'm sure you've all heard someone say, this is on brand or this is not on brand but do you understand what that means? Are there other words or terms that might be new to you? Might it feel more inclusive to pause and ask for a quick definition? Or would a glossary help? Some common mistakes are some people say, of course, and obviously. What's obvious to you might not be obvious to someone else.

So, here's the list of assessment and now we're going to move into putting those ideas into practice.

Each of these suggestions can be in a city, but they can influence your performance and optimize your team.

Ask yourself, under which conditions do you do your best work? Are you a morning person, like me, who has peak energy between 6:00 or 2:00? Do you prefer kick offs at 4:00 on Friday? Does it take blocking off chunks of time or could you could you indicate it by putting headphones on? Plan this out for yourself and your team. How would you collaboration change if you knew this? What if you had this data for your entire company and published it on an internal site?

This is from CassieRobinson.org. She's open sourced. It helps you think through performance measures for yourself. I'm sure you've been a state of flow where you're in a zone and you're getting great work done only to be interrupted by a text or by a tap on the shoulder. There are myriad of ways to work. Email, hip chat, phone call, text, hangout, Skype, the list goes on. If you knew someone's channel preferences, the message you sent would be a message welcomed.

If you're planning a workshop, account for frequent breaks, snacks, fresh air. Nothing's worse than sitting in a meeting without knowing when is the next breather.

Think back to your first days at your company. The excitement, the eagerness, the orientation, the culture, core values, introductions and likely the schwag. If you had an onboarding buddy, how long did that last? Who paired you? Did you read something? How quickly did you feel like you were a part of the team? There's a tremendous opportunity for flow for employee onboarding and offboarding. Deeper than an onboarding buddy, is there a mentoring program and what's the cadence of match making? Being mentored helps develop leadership and confidence skills. The right pairing can be a catalyst for personal bonds beyond the workplace.

On design tools and your Design System, are there principles that govern your team's decisions? When they were last updated? Knowing how a set of principles shape your work can remove decision by influence, ego or committee. Culture team activities can open up non work channels of socialization from off sites to day trips.

These are some pictures from our third annual design day. We heard from behavioral scientist, Seth Fully and Jen Northrup and Scott Kennelly. We witnessed powerful, personal stories from some of our teammates. And this is our full research and design team.

The idea of failure is really an opportunity in disguise. An instance in error is a point of data. This always growing, always learning approach can be Exhibited in small ways by asking, how might we? And, what if? And, help me understand? It can also be exhibited in bigger ways by hire team and giving feedback.

What would happen if we don't take a look more at the people there? Let's think about that. Perhaps continue job dissatisfaction? Perhaps ongoing attrition. Cost of recruitment whether your hire someone or do it yourself. What if you repeated the same mistakes you've made before because there was no history of what's worked or not? What if you were trying to invent processes that have already being tried? So, instead, let's imagine what's possible. We can do our jobs better. Over time, organizations will get better at what we're doing. We'll have deeply purposeful conversations about design across teams and internal alignment within teams and have easier onboarding, clear process, a record of success. We can establish models for project teams. We can have decisions driven design principles, not ego.

Even though this is not exocentric, we can have people at their jobs longer than 18 months.

In the midst of so many frequent changes, here's what persists, design is for people. Having a purpose, starting with why, practices safe design by having a concept, things that are not traditionally aesthetic persists. Research, data, hypotheses, a story, being able to give and receive feedback from diverse people, needing to contextualize and socialize your work and being humble enough to collaborate and learn at all levels.

Working at the people layer affords you, the opportunity to hone your people skills, become a more empathetic person. People skills will ground you amongst change and serve your long term. People persist more than products and companies. Once you take care of people, then you can take care of product.

Thank you.

(Applause)

Una:

Thank you, Josh.

Josh:

No, thank you, Una.

Una:

Please, go take a seat. That was an awesome talk.

Josh:

Thanks.

Una:

I loved it. So inspiring. So, a few questions. The first question throughout your talk, you talked about AIGA talked about how they inspired you. Do you think everyone should get involved in the organizations?

Josh:

AIGA was the first so it's the oldest and largest. I think there's more AIGA members in California than New York even though New York is the headquarters and is the origin of the organization. There's so many organizations that are for networks and like minded things. We mentioned meetups yesterday. I do like to network. As I get older, it can be a little exhausting, so making sure you have your own personal time, Josh time, Una time. This is a great network. You should turn to your left or right and introduce yourself. This is an amazing opportunity to network whether it's on the Slack later or in person now. Meet people you haven't net. I think Cameron said yesterday, tap me on my shoulder, I'm on my phone because I don't want to be interrupted. It's a great idea to meet somebody new when you're here.

Una:

Joining the communities around me, I felt like I made a lot of connections that way and I grew my ability and my network and now I've built mentors out of the people I just met.

Josh:

Absolutely. It can be a full time job or it can feel like it. But the more you do it, sometimes the easier it gets.

Una:

Do it while you can. Don't overwhelm yourself. You started your own company. What advice would you give?

Josh:

Find a good co founder. You can't go it alone. Find somebody who either wants to help you build what you're building or has an X to your y, that can help augment help build what it is you're building. I made this mistake, when I was 24 I wish I had changed how I went about it. I worked a lot. I worked evenings and weekends. If you have a co founder or two co founders, knowing you can share responsibilities and not have it all on yourself makes it easier to not ignore your own self. Mina's stack of pizza boxes was familiar. Sharing the responsibility is a great idea.

And also, if you if you have always dreamed about having your own business and you haven't yet done it, my advice about that is don't wait. Start it. Get it going and see what you can do with it because if you don't know it now, you might. And you don't want to be 90 on your death bed

Una:

How do you know if your idea is solid? There's so many businesses out there.

Josh:

I think if you treat it like a product and don't put all of your resources into it. If you test your hypotheses and then start it and maybe I mean, my own path could be an example. I don't want to sound egotistical. I was evenings and weekends and had a full time job and then switched. Now that I'm in house, the focus is Twitter and my free lance stuff is on the side. Maybe ease into it is a good approach.

Una:

You mentioned research. How can smaller companies do research?

Josh:

Depends on the company.

Una:

If you work in a smaller startup and you want to have a research department but you can't put a lot of time into it?

Josh:

General assembly's a great resource. They teach a lot of fundamentals about data, UX and design. They have events. I'm looking for a researcher on the AIGA job board, you can find that and find somebody who can help you.

Una:

You entered into a new role at Twitter that didn't exist before, can you tell me the story behind that?

Josh:

Sure. I co wrote a draft of my job description, which was amazing. My first manager was like, I've never seen anything like this before. I tried to summarize his expectations of my role but put it in a Google Doc. I learned a lot. I felt like an impostor. I didn't know what I was there to do. But eventually, things started to click, especially starting this year. It was closer to my experience of teaching and educating and looking at what shows up. Helping individual designers, helping the project moved forward seemed like a really good match for my interest and I love that Twitter is super diverse, super talented people work there and I'm happy to be a part of it. I know the slide that Mina put up there yesterday, Twitter's a wasteland. That's what happens when you give every one with an email address an @ handle and a voice. Twitter's an amazing place to work and I'm happy to be there and making it up as I go a little bit but I'm having a 2018 road map meeting with my sorry, I'm having a 2018 road map for my role with my manager, a meeting about that next week. It's good to be in this position where I can see that far.

Una:

Do you get to set your own metrics?

Josh:

Our team the smaller team has metrics and the larger product design team have metrics. We're also redesigning the tool by which we use to assess, so, yes. I'm going to go with yes.

Una:

I also like have you have your own voice and ideas about what Twitter is and sort of how it's a great tool for just having a voice in this world. Do you get to sort of extend that vision into your job?

Josh:

That's an interesting question. I think so. Because Twitter's so highly entrepreneurial and we're Tinkering with features and what you see as users and how we serve that to you, I feel like there's a lot of that define as you go. As an 11 year old company, there are going to be some changes this year. I don't know what they are. I'm not hiding any information but I feel like we're coming into another level of maturity that's exciting.

Una:

You mentioned cross team collaboration during your talk. I'm wondering if you have any advice on how to better foster cross team collaboration?

Josh:

Ask a lot of people. If you haven't met people in adjacent departments, sit in on their meetings. I started going to the weekly brand shares, more out of curiosity and people were turning to me and saying, what does product think about this and I'm like, I don't know. Now there's more of a bridge between it. It's not because I needed to do that work. It was because I was curious and that curiosity has fostered more of a relationship between brand at least from low I think about it. And there's a lot more work to do. It's not 100% on my shoulders. Ask questions, be curious. Drop in on meetings. If you're if you're a VP and you're like Cap and you have all of your stuff marked as busy, you can find out which meetings to drop in on. You can ask enough questions.

Una:

Also, you mentioned pairing and mentoring as part of the ways to improve your your people skills and happiness in your company.

Josh:

Yes.

Una:

What are qualities in effective mentorship program and how can companies start to implement one?

Josh:

Great question. Ashley, who's here, should talk about that. She's running it. Being a mentor at Twitter has been great because I was paired with a really fantastic, incredibly thoughtful designer who I really enjoyed hearing how he approached any one of his mocks. A good program, I think, is thinking about those match makings and either the dynamics between two people or the contrasts. I think it would have a short cadence, like maybe three or four months, if you want to go longer, you could do it in bigger chunks. I feel like regularity is one of the keys, so dynamics between people, regularity, having the time to do it it takes time to think about the match making and setting up time between your mentee and mentor. Visibility, yeah, sort of like end of mentorship get together. What have we learned? What have do you thought? What would you bring to your next mentoring program and consistency. Like, having the program grow every year.

Una:

Yeah. Do you think it's good idea, then, to do a re evaluation of that program?

Josh:

Always.

Una:

Those are all the questions I have for you. Thank you so much for your time.

(Applause)

Josh:

Thanks. Thanks so much. Thank you.

(Applause)