Photo: Doug and his son, Owen. Doug has been in the creative sphere all his life, and has always had his greatest successes by incorporating a user-centric design approach. A Designation alum, he’s been a content creator, manager and change agent for some of the world’s largest creative organizations.
What’s your favorite part about being an instructor at Designation?
The conflicts! Or rather, the resolution of things that go wrong. I used to think that things that are difficult and emotionally painful were to be avoided at all costs, but on reflection, there’s an enormous amount to gain from the modeling of behavior that leads to solutions. There are soft skills that can get you ahead faster than ever if you’re willing to take the chance to exercise them, especially as our designers grow in their careers and think about management positions. I’ve seen plenty to the contrary, but I think fully realized and empathetic people make the best leaders, which is really what we’re teaching here.
You lead the Immersion Phase of the program. What is that phase like, and what should future designers expect to learn during it?
It’s probably not what they expect to learn as they walk in the door; they’re already primed for the hard stuff—the hard skills that advance them and land them jobs immediately.
The thing we teach in Immersion—probably more than a range of opportunities to exercise hard skills—is the necessity of teamwork. And prefacing that is the self-realization that teamwork can’t happen until the individual learns to be selfless, to forgo the “gimme” attitude that they may have been raised with. They have to be subservient to the process and learn to be humble in the face of a three- to four-person team grappling with different comprehension of that process. And they have to learn to be empathetic to not only the users they’re researching, but one another.
You went through the Designation program too. Based on your experience, what are some of the best ways future designers can prepare for the in-person phase before they get here? More generally, what advice would you give to future designers?
Assume that you’re going to learn at a faster pace than the Virtual Phase. That’s why it’s in person.
The density of information and learning is multiplied because we teach with lots of feedback, lots of attention, and therefore you should expect to bring your A-game. They should also be expected to work a lot more than they might expect. It’s a rare chance to be given to focus solely on yourself for 24 weeks, and slacking off is just not beneficial to you and your team. The output of all this is that you surprise yourself in terms of what you can do.
There’s a reason we call them design sprints. Marathon runners can train for 26-mile races through running 26-mile training runs, but the best athletes train in sprints.
There’s a reason we call them design sprints. Marathon runners can train for 26-mile races through running 26-mile training runs, but the best athletes train in sprints. Stretching themselves to the limits of their endurance so they can know themselves better, and know what makes them perform better. That’s what the best designers get out of Designation.
From your perspective, what differentiates Designation from other design education programs?
We iterate and make it better and better every time; we acknowledge our weakness and work to learn from our mistakes. We constantly improve because we’re passionate about improving. There was a talk with someone from Hack Reactor recently and he said that their virtual program was so highly rated because the people were so great. That’s what I feel we have here–the people here are great. And that translates to an amazing product. I don’t think I see that level of passion and commitment in other programs. Even the academic bachelor and masters programs.
What do you think is the most fascinating part of the design process?
Well, empathy, for one. But I think the fascinating part of the process is when the switch occurs between the different phases of the design process.
For example, when you have to translate research into insights, you must activate all your senses and understanding. You have to point out the anomalies as well as the aggregate consensus. Then there’s the switch from understanding what a concept is to a product. What differentiates those two? The researcher’s perception and mental model of that thing, even before it’s a thing. Those are the moments in the design process when people come to define these things meaningfully for themselves, which is truly the only way that someone learns.
And of course, there’s the making of the product as a prototype. Huge, monumental changes occur in the designers’ perception of the product at that point, and they really learn what they didn’t know at that point. So it’s these breakpoints where the process changes that’s the best part. They happen at different places for every team in each cohort, and for each individual.
It’s a bit of a copout, and I’m not being overly specific, but it truly is the moments where people learn to fail with grace.
You have an extensive creative background. What were some highlights of your career before joining Designation? Give us the scoop!
I would say that there were a few moments that I felt were pretty special, one of which was developing a program at Disney that tried to institute a mentorship model in the Consumer Products group. It was designed (albeit self-interestedly) to give me and others access to some heavy hitters in the division.
With the help of some amazing HR professionals, a team and I rolled out a mentorship program that paired me up with an SVP that I’m sure found me a little annoying in my earnestness. But ultimately it became part of the whole DCP program and led to my next job.
Other highlights were meeting John Lasseter who came onboard as the CCO after the Pixar acquisition. And probably the most dedicated and passionate people were at the Girl Scouts, where I first learned about this mysterious thing called user experience. There was a lot of content that we developed around design thinking for Girl Scouts, and I believe we did a stint with an IDEO team to help us flesh out some material.