007 : Going Beyond the Deliverable with Sarah Gibbons


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The world of design is shifting and taking us along with it. Clients are now seeking co-creation and collaboration, inputting their ideas and suggestions to create a process that goes beyond the finished product. The old mindset of design has begun to fade with the change of user experience and new concepts highlighting a cohesive front. Sarah Gibbons, Chief Designer at Nielsen Norman Group, hopes to go beyond the deliverable and change employee and user experience through the power of design. 

Sarah Gibbons, Chief Designer at Nielsen Norman Group, joins host Steve Chaparro on this week’s episode of The Culture Design Show to talk about how she leads with empathy and foresight. She dives into team communication and the importance of building trust among your staff and clients. Her hot take on the shift of design to one of co-create goes beyond just the product; she expounds on the importance of also teaching designers soft skills. Stay tuned.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Sarah describes her daily tasks and role as Chief Designer in the midst of a pandemic. 
  • Lessons in design thinking that apply to real life.
  • Empathy in Design.
  • Sarah shares her thoughts on social interactions through technology. 
  • How do we nurture trust within your team and those new to your structure of command/delegation? 
  • How are you relating to your team in times of uncertainty?
  • What are some of the changes and shifts in the world of design with clients?
  • How does our current environment shift the way we now design. 
  • There’s new importance in going beyond producing a deliverable. 
  • Sarah explains the need to onboard and train a new generation of designers. 

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

About the Guest:

Sarah Gibbons, currently the chief designer of Nielsen Norman Group, is an expert in applied design strategy. Her work with fortune 500 companies and leading venture-backed startups has honed her skills in new product development, executing corporate strategy, and creating innovative initiatives through design. In the past, she has held roles at McKinney, IBM, and North Carolina State University.

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by the Culture Design Studio, a consulting firm that helps people and cultural leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people through a series of facilitated workshops. They provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organization.

Culture Design Studio has worked with organizations like Duarte Design, Design Thinkers Group, Red Bull, USAID, Bacardi, and the Office of Civic Innovation

If you’re looking for more than just a consultant and want someone who can facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, Culture Design Studio is the one for you.

Contact them today to learn more about what they can do for you and your company.

Full Transcript: Powered by Otter.ai

Announcer Welcome to The Culture Design Show where we feature conversations with leaders and thinkers who are passionate about culture and design. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Steve Chaparro Steve Chaparro. Here I am the host of the culture design show a podcast where I feature leaders and thinkers at some of the top creative firms in the world, including architecture, design, technology, and marketing. What’s the one thing they all have in common? They all believe in the power of culture and design.

This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio. We help people in culture leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people. Through a series of facilitated workshops we provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organization. We’ve worked with organizations like Duarte Design, DesignThinkers Group, Red Bull, US Aid, Bacardi, and the Office of Civic Innovation. If you’re looking for more than just a consultant, but someone who can facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, reach out to us at culturedesignstudio.com.

Sarah Gibbons is the chief designer of Nielsen Norman Group and an expert in applied design strategy. Sarah works with leading venture backed startups and Fortune 500 to hone and execute corporate strategy, innovation initiatives and new product development through design. In the past, she has also held roles IBM, North Carolina State University and McKinney. Sarah, welcome to The Culture Design Show. How are you today?

Sarah Gibbons Pretty good. Thanks for having me. It’s nice to be here virtually.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, virtually where we are both recording from our homes and as I understand it, your new home? What’s that been like?

Sarah Gibbons I as if this kind of shift in our climate today wasn’t enough, I decided to also move in the middle of it. So I am officially now a resident of Maine… Kittery. So only about an hour north of Boston.

Steve Chaparro So it wasn’t just across town it was across across the…

Sarah Gibbons Two state lines

Steve Chaparro Two state lines!

Sarah Gibbons Yeah.

Steve Chaparro So how does that impact obviously we’re all working from home right now. How is it impacted you in your, in your current role? What is it that you usually do versus what you’re doing today?

Sarah Gibbons So I lucked out. I’m actually used to working from home so I’m very fortunate and privileged to have the setup and a company that is used to working remotely. I am chief designer. And so that my role Kind of I think spans three general groupings in terms of my daily tasks. So I, some of it is research. So we conduct all their own research that’s self funded. And that’s really something that I came to energy for, which is the idea that I can decide what I’m going to go do research on and find any conclusions. They don’t need to be any specific backing or in support of one thing or another. So research and then a client work.

So this is when I’ll go in and work with a company long term or kind of a five day workshop, where we can kind of upskill them in a particular specific arena. And then the third, which is our own conferences, so these are around the world, where I’ll talk to any kind of design management professionals. And teach them really tangible tactical skills. And so that’s obviously really shifted. So that third bucket, everything we’ve taken online, just been a huge shift for us, and a big pivot as a company.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, especially for those that might thrive and being on the road or being in front of a lot of people and talking. It’s very different experience to be home, right?

Sarah Gibbons Yeah, I don’t think I’m alone here. I think we’re all kind of questioning Where is our value and self worth coming from. And if you’re an extrovert, I’m sure that you’re used to getting value from being with others and providing that energy to others. If you’re an introvert, you may have been gathering it at home, but now you’re at home too much or that doesn’t feel as sacred or everyone’s at home so it doesn’t feel as special. I think that this time, we’re kind of all saying what are we? What are we doing and why?

Steve Chaparro Yeah, yeah, I definitely want to dive deep into that, because I think in some of our conversation prior to the call, I think there’s some areas that we definitely want to explore. But I want to for a second, I want to go back to the very beginning of your career. As I understand it, you attended North Carolina State University to study graphic design, in fact, but you were the valedictorian, what led you to embark on this journey? To in the world of design?

Sarah Gibbons I do any of us choose designers to kind of choose that great question. I can’t ever remember not wanting to be in design, I actually didn’t know what it what it was designed that I wanted to do. I fluctuated between wanting to be an architect and wanting to maybe be an industrial design and actually applied to a lot of different programs all across different design programs. And it’s funny. You know, how I ended at NC State, I don’t know. But it was absolutely the right fit for me. I am from Raleigh. Okay, not really. I it was in my backyard. But I what I think is really special about the program at NC State is the amount of diversity that you can have AI both personally and then also in your learning. So I it was really important for me to go to a college where I was friends with people different than me.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, that’s great.

Sarah Gibbons And, and especially, I think as a designer, it’s easy to hang out with all designers and being designed communities and kind of forget that there are other huge groups of people that exist and have really different interests, but that you have so much in common with. So it was really important that I go to a larger university. And then I wanted a program that I was designed theory based. So that really taught me how to think About my process and how to move through problems, rather than the tangible thing that I was creating. And, and that was NC State for me and I, I could not have had a better experience.

And, you know, for better or worse, I came out and I immediately started working, basically right at IBM. And so it was kind of a really natural transition, right into working with a lot of other NC State alums and learning from them. So that’s kind of how I started and, you know, retrospectively, I think you always look back. And I wonder how you made certain decisions at the time. And I’m not to give myself credit, I’m sure I put thought into it, but it never seemed, you know, like a one big decision. You know, it always kind of pointed me towards the path that felt most natural.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, that’s That’s I can identify it with that so much. It’s I don’t feel like I ever had a grand vision for what my career was going to be. I think it was a series of Yeah, decisions and and even looking back there were some decisions that, in retrospect, it looked like in the moment, they may have been very risky, sometimes even bad decisions. But I take that, as you know, that’s part of my journey. I’ve learned even from some of those hard seasons in life. And I’ve learned a lot in design especially, I’d love to hear from you about this, like, what were some of the life lessons that design education might have taught you because I can think of, you know, a handful of very design led principles that I now apply to life.

Sarah Gibbons Oh, gosh, like, where do you start? I think that design is a way of life. And that sounds really deep and abstract and, and it Doesn’t mean that other people who aren’t designers don’t have a way of life. They’re their own. And it is equally valuable and valid. But I think that the way that you see the world is, is just different. And I think a lot of people see the world differently. But designers have the unique ability to kind of make sense of it in a way that is extremely empathetic, and I naturally problem solving. And to be clear, like I define designers so broadly, right?

So I think that a lot of people in the world are designers and our mediums are all different. So I politicians are designers of policies and engineers or designers of code, and we know the list goes on, but I think that what I learned really early on is that I have a unique way of thinking in that unique way as valid. And that is a gift That I learned so much earlier than so many years because of design. I and the ability to kind of think through why I potentially think something’s the best solution, and then being able to articulate it to others is is just like a lifelong skill I always perfecting, but I think the groundwork was really laid in my education that an empathy I and and not just not sympathy, empathy and and and how and what it means to actually be able to gain empathy for someone right and how hard it is right? Um, and those are two like really invaluable lessons that I learned earlier than I deserve to.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, well, so speaking of empathy, I wanted to ask about that because all designers especially with as people in non traditional designers, or you know, people Who would not call themselves design, you know, the, with the onslaught of discussion about design thinking. And obviously empathy is part of the human centered approach. There’s a lot of talk about empathy. And as designers we are taught that that is the only way to do things is to bring that human centered approach with empathy. I have also found though, that we are not always well versed in using empathy within our own firms or within ourselves, what has been your experience in terms of that duality?

Sarah Gibbons I am a firm believer. And to be clear, I work at energy, which is like the UX firm Don Norman, early on user experience. I have made a really concerted effort to stop using user experience and use human Human Centered Design. And the reason being is I think it creates this siloed of background of who we are To apply all of our techniques and understanding to and as the problems in our world become more and more complex, I think that we don’t have the affordance to only think about who we’re delivering things to. And more and more. It’s the people who are creating the experiences. It’s the people who are actually delivering what we’re trying to create and design for. And that includes us. That includes our peers, that includes any kind of volunteers, I think about this so much in our current kind of current scenarios, right. These are extremely complex systems with repercussions that we have yet to even comprehend. Right. And yet, that’s a design system. It’s it’s a designed healthcare system. It’s a design testing system. And I the idea that we would only be thinking about the people who are getting tested and not the people delivering the test and not the family members of people. People get tested in the family members of the volunteers and medical staff. Right. And that parallel can be applied to a lot.

But I think if you’re truly practicing design, the idea that you don’t apply empathy to those you work with, is, quite frankly naive to your stakeholders. If you want anything to ever see the light of day, you have to have empathy for what they care about. And then I think the latest challenge for me personally has been having empathy for myself. I we’re in this really new place in life. And we’re all kind of redefining in finding ourselves or maybe not finding ourselves and that’s okay too. And just having compassion for how we approach daily life, I think is really important. So I think that that’s kind of where I am in my, you know, journey is that one user experience And should really be Human Centered Design or human experience. And humans innately means Me too. So I think that that’s kind of where I my thought stream has been. Yeah, I in the past couple months.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, that’s so good. People need to hear about that. Because I think I remember I was part of a project that we were trying to help an organization, a nonprofit that was focused on helping people that were suffering from Musk, muscular muscular disorders, like Parkinson’s and things like that. And it was focused on the patient, the people experiencing Parkinson’s. But then when we started to look at this as a system or as an ecosystem of a challenge, we realized that there was so many other stakeholders that were involved it was the caregivers and the caregivers aren’t always the same as the family members and the family members who are trying to give care trying to be patient but also experiencing the frustration of of their life being disrupted as well and feeling guilty. For being angry, and then we were talking about the caregivers and the caregivers. I mean rather the the the medical professionals and how they were overloaded. And they were stressed and suffering depression. And we realized, oh my gosh, if you really truly listening, that this is not just a one person problem. There’s an ecosystem behind this.

Steve Chaparro And I think as we look at our, our, our individual contexts, you know, that solution is not just the user, it’s what’s one degree of separation from them, us that we’re providing, because I remember, at a firm that we were at, we were delivering these frothy client experiences, but we were doing so to the detriment of our team. Our team was getting suffering from creative burnout, maybe even physical burnout. And I just feel that sometimes we in the, in the creative world, don’t always practice what we preach in terms of empathy and things like that. And that’s a real challenge.

Sarah Gibbons It’s funny, I think that that maybe, actually like as wonderful as critiques and the design school process is, you know, I feel like we’re all kind of part of the same community once we’ve gone through that. I also think that a strict and intense and almost borderline combative as they could be at some times, is where we kind of created or out of necessity a thick skin, and that thick skin is also hard to penetrate. Even being ourselves. Right.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons And, and I think that, that, you know, takes, I think, a life long pursuit of truly understanding and having compassion for where you are, where others may be, and knowing that there’s so much that you don’t know. Yeah, I forget a book I was recently reading, but I heard a new term and I think there’s something author’s term saunder, which is the concept that anyone you pass on the street, or in this case, you may see walking outside, I has a whole unique story that is completely their own and that you will never know.

Steve Chaparro Right.

Sarah Gibbons And I think that that is just like such a fascinating concept of your peers, your friends, the people, you work with that annoying person who is like in a slightly different discipline that just like feels like they are always against you. Like, they all have stories, and you may never know them. And I think that even it’s just such a pivot in men, like mental approach to working with other people.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, yeah, things are changing so much, I think. I think sometimes when we are in physical proximity, it’s easy to take things for granted. And I think sometimes we don’t listen to visual cues or emotional cues or non verbal cues as before. It just interesting now That now that many times our interface with people is through what we’re doing right now a zoom call, and things are on full display. What are some of your thoughts about how we’re interacting with people differently now and how either one or sensors are either on fire now about some of those things or less? So what are your thoughts about that?

Sarah Gibbons Oh, I think everyone’s going through a learning curve right now. And I think that the best thing about our learning curve is the grace. Yeah, is that people forget each other. So I wish that that would continue. Yeah. Because I, I really, really love that about anytime you’re in, you know, a learning curve all together is that there’s a an amount of kind of space that you give someone to kind of be in perfect.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons Which I think is really nice. So I in that sense, I think we’re still in the like imperfect state. I and I think that we We’re all okay with it, given that there’s so much going on in the world that, you know, this is, in the grand scheme of things pretty insignificant.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons If it’s not perfect, and if you’re in exchanges aren’t perfect, and if you don’t look perfect, and if your home’s not perfect, yeah. And so in that regard, I kind of want to drag that out. Because I think it’s a really nice, a human way to interact with people. I think what’s interesting that I actually think has always existed and it just has never been at the forefront are how we create relationships with people that we’ve never met in person.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons And so I think a lot of people are still transitioning from people that they’ve met in person and working with every day and for six and now working remotely, but they’ve already built the trust because they’ve been in person. So I think what will be really interesting is when, you know we’re forced to start to build trust, because of how long we’re in this Unique scenario where we’re having to start to build trust with new people and potentially people we’ve never met in person. And then my hope is that this kind of triggers people to think about how they’re creating connections and building trust with people who are culturally different than us. And that someone being really warm and open isn’t perceived the same way. Or maybe they’re just not their natural disposition is not such.

And so what I’m really interested to see is kind of how, and I think designers can lead the charge here, because I think we’re uniquely positioned to do such but how we can start to kind of cross those cultural lines in how we like build relationships and rapport with people, even over chat, like slack. How are we like actually starting to build that trust virtually first? I went in person may not because I know a bit tangential Hear, but because like that’s really what we want. And it really is diversity of our field and diversity of the people we work with. And we can only gain that I, through forming relationships with new people.

It’s funny, Jacob, who was one of the principles and founded nmg with Don Norman I, he has this kind of statement that he keeps reiterating, and it has really stuck with me, which is, what does, obviously in person is so lovely, and we’re human. So it’s so natural. But there are so many things that technology and virtual circumstances afford us that being in person does not. And so how can we lean into those things that are virtual I and that we would never be able to do in person and I truly think that’s collaborating with more people around the world.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons And not like diverse perspective and building trust with different people. I With different opinions and different cultural backgrounds and different experiences. So in my long story long, that’s really my hope is that we’re all still in this imperfect state that this imperfect or I would say, being okay within perfect interactions being extended, and then that allowing us to kind of form these new relationships and trust with people that we maybe never would have thought out. Had we had in person exchanges.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, I truly believe that in this time that we’re in it’s it’s it Yeah, it’s absolutely imperfect in for many of us, not ideal. But I also do agree that this time period could also afford us the opportunity to become more human. That technology rather than making us less human, it can actually make us more human so that we could focus on certain things. I went through a program at Parsons, and it was an online cohort for graduate work, and I was really leery frankly Going into the program because it was going to be all virtual except for to one week intensives throughout the two years.

I tell you what, though, it was because of the intentionality of certain professors to bring us together to demonstrate a tremendous amount of empathy. We got to foster and develop some really great relationships that when we got together that first intensive, the relationship soared in a powerful way. So this combination of virtual and in person was really great. And I remember a couple of people who said they experienced both the on campus and online versions of the program said that the online program was far more rich, the connections were far greater. And I was trying to figure out why that was. And I think what I what I landed on, was that and I may have described this in another episode, so I sorry for the listeners if they’re hearing me say this again. But I think it was because we just had to be so much more intentional being able to Communicate and relate through technology.

Sarah Gibbons I think that’s really interesting. I also would advocate that it brings voices to the table that otherwise wouldn’t have been more as comfortable in person. Yeah. And, and I think that that’s something that I can’t wait for a research to come out about this like crazy tampering, right, like three years down the road. But I, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on that. And I think that in a way, I, I am someone who is always the first to like, put the Sharpie in my hand and help a group. And I think that a lot of people’s natural tendencies are not the same. And I think that’s fine, and it’s great and I want a collection of different kinds of thinkers in the room. I think there’s something about virtual that levels. everyone’s voice in it allows quieter people, introverts more reflective people, different kinds of thinkers to kind of sit at the same table in a way that I then I think that diverse thought ends up impacting the group for the better, obviously.

And that’s kind of been my latest. I also wonder, there’s physic, there’s restrictions to being in person, right cost, I the like actual resources time spent, versus so I hear that trust is built I in an equation of shared experience and shared experiences and in time, so number quantity. And what a virtual environment allows you to do is actually while it may not be as rich in the experiences, you can Put in far more time over a longer amount of time, just due to it being less resources all together.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons So I think, you know, in that sense, it kind of makes sense that this bond actually may be stronger. Because if you look at it, like an equation, you’re upping, you know, one of the main variables. I and so that, to me is just like a pretty fascinating concept. Um, I also think, you know, a huge piece of that is co creation. And I think that people are still kind of figuring that out. And, you know, we we know that as soon as people start co creating in a truly like democratic way, that that is a huge proponent of trust and kind of like this cohort Miss feeling. And so that that’s also an interesting concept is how can we take a group of or a virtual group, who may not even have the same shared principles, but if they co create together does that Kind of even it out, I think, interesting places to learn from here.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this is there’s been virtual communities existing for a really long time, you know, and what lessons can we take from them? And what do they all have in common? And, you know, where is something really strong and weak and I think about this in any kind of gaming is like largely virtual networks. You see this in like really big interest groups where the shared denominator is some kind of interest. I you see this in people who, at some point shared something in common and then now are looking for a group to share it at those new experiences with like, I think that there’s a lot of interesting things out there and we kind of need to scrape through them and see what can be here.

Steve Chaparro Yeah. And find, like you said, these might be spaces that are not normal to us or allies. Not not a space like say gaming. Not everybody’s a gamer, not everybody has participated in that space. But what can we learn from all those different areas is a really interesting thought. You’ve used the word quite a few times throughout the conversation so far, and that’s the word trust. It’s an interesting thing, because I think I was in a conversation with design leaders earlier this week.

And I had one principal at a firm who said that, you know, he’s a very hard driving person and, you know, wants to make sure that we get as many billable hours so the utilization rates is a big topic and in different types of design firms. And he was having a hard time trusting that his employees were actually doing work, you know, the entire day and been able to utilize their hours as much as possible. So he was saying, Man, this is forcing me to learn how to trust My employees. And so it was an opportunity he was he was sharing that, you know, whether or not our culture was healthy before in person, we’re having to be so much more intentional, I have to actually let down some of my guard and actually trust people more. And he said he was kind of revealing some of like we talked about before revealing some of his insecurities, and was actually helping him grow as a leader as a product of all of this. And it was just interesting. And so when you say, we’ve already built trust with people in our current environments, sometimes that absolutely is the case. In some case, it actually could improve but to work with different people. What are some ways that we can do you think that we can nurture trust within our teams and with with with people that we haven’t worked with?

Sarah Gibbons You know, that’s a really good question. I think there’s so many different components to trust. I think I kind of view it like an onion, right? I got the most like outer shell or layers is really like the culture in which that trust is being built. And you know, you can have two people who, you know, really want to form a relationship really want to build that trust, but if they are inside this, like I’m in that culturally, has behaviors or habits that impede that trust, then it’s going to be really hard. And then like you in it, so you have this like organizational kind of cultural layer, and then you have the group for pre-determined role layer. And then you have the two individuals.

And I think oftentimes, we see it from the inside out. So we’ll see two individuals form trust and then that trust because they have have weight within their teams and they’re trusted on their teams extend that. And then hopefully that becomes a behavior that then attracts like minded behavior, which then kind of creates this like, really healthy onion. Yeah. Um, but but I think a lot of companies, I put up blockers usually like through legacy or these outside circumstances like billable hours, that then kind of put up these really hard shells around layers that then make it hard to kind of expand that trust broader. Um, so I think the first thing to like really help create trust is that it be an intention by all and I say intention because you can’t tell someone to trust you can’t tell people to trust each other. Right? So I think it has to be like an openness Yeah, to trust and then pass that, like, openness to trust. I think, I think it’s through,

I’m thinking of Patrick Lenccioni, these Five Dysfunctions of a Team. And I think he builds his triangle in a really nice way. I and trust is a component of it, but I kind of also view the whole triangle and dysfunction. And I think at the root of it, it’s being vulnerable. And, and being okay with being imperfect and not to like, you know, push a theme too hard here. But I do think that that’s a huge piece of it, that being open and transparent with someone on expectations on what your hopes are, on being empathetic towards where they are, and then that communication being open. I think builds trust. I think people have this perception that trust is perfection, right that someone did something that you expected of them, and thus you trust them. And I don’t think that’s right. I think that trust is built through an openness, a vulnerability, an ability to communicate positive and negative with someone. And I think that that is really how trust is built.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons So…

Steve Chaparro Yeah, I mean, I love I love that because I think even in this particular case, like for a manager to say, guys, you know, on a team call, say, you know, this is a whole new environment for all of us. Every one of us is dealing with this in a different way. You guys know how I am. I’m pretty, you know, anxious about things and I’m having a hard time here. And you know, I’ll be honest, part of my concern is, is everybody working a full eight hours at it and but I’m also embracing that and knowing that I need to, I need to and why. To trust you, but at least I’m being open with that sort of anxiety, that vulnerability that you’re saying. I think that would do wonders for a team for a leader to express some of those anxieties and worries, and making that leader be more human. Now, I know that’s asking a lot for some folks. But I think that would go a long way.

Sarah Gibbons And I don’t think, you know, a good leader also shelters. So I don’t think that it needs to be transparency in all in everything.

Steve Chaparro Right.

Sarah Gibbons But I think it’s intentional communication in a way that resonates with the people you’re communicating with, is a huge way to build trust. I also keep when you’re mentioning this leader I keep thinking about so have you heard the quote, and I think it originates from like early early like British Army, and it’s that leaders are made in war and And it says concept that during peace, no, no one has to prove themselves. Right? Because good things are happy, there’s no promotions. And then it’s interesting as then war comes and I’m using war really metaphorically, but I think, no, these times are worse right now. Yeah. Very we’re like, and I think that that’s, um, in this in the saying is basically that that’s actually what people waited for because that’s when they could actually prove themselves. And and that’s what I think a lot of leaders are being challenged with doing right now.

And it’s it’s being vulnerable in the right ways. It’s creating a certain amount of trust and transparency with the people that you’re leading. And I think it’s leading. I think it’s creating a vision and an understanding that like, this is our goal right now. And I think companies are having to do it really fast and it’s going to be uncomfortable. And I think that that’s kind of where we are right now. But I think those that are meant to lead, and we’re seeing really good examples of this all over the world right now, but leaders who are not meant to lead and leaders who are meant to lead, yeah, we’re kind of seeing them. Right. And we’re seeing and we’re seeing how they all adjust. I and I think it’s fascinating, you know, leadership expands all different horizons. So I’m sure everyone’s leading in some way, whether it be their family, their child, a child, a partner, a team, my dog.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, that’s so good, that leaders are made in war. Like, I’d need to look that up, because I think there’s so much to them. I think there could be a full long blog post that you should write just about that because there’s something really powerful and an opportunity for leaders to really step up in a vulnerable way right? Not to say, I’m going to have it all right in People are going to tell stories of what I do. It’s not so much that that’s there’s no ego. It shouldn’t be ego involved. So there’s there’s a last question. I think we have enough time for one more question. Unfortunately, I think for me, it’s a two part question, which potentially lead to a completely separate podcast episode. Here’s a question. So what were some of the the changes and shifts that you’ve been seeing in the world of design? Maybe expectations of clients, maybe expectations of of team members? So what is that? That’s, that’s the part one, and then the Part two is how is our current environment shifting that even more?

Sarah Gibbons Yeah, that’s a really great question. So I think at the core of it is a lot of people are designing really well now. So good design isn’t unusual. And I think that that’s kind of pushing the envelope in how we need to view our role as designers I, you know, traditionally, and I think a lot of college curriculum even is still aligned to this, which is producing a deliverable. And we’re gonna we’re going to teach you how to produce a deliverable with a skill set really well. And I think the interesting thing about that concept is we’re still producing deliverables. So that hasn’t changed, but more people can do it. And that’s not where the biggest needs are anymore.

And so if you go beyond producing the deliverable, the question is, well, how did you produce the deliverable and who produced it? And I think that this kind of tier is really what we’re seeing in terms of client needs client asks. I view it I call it largely service design. You can call it Human Centered Design. We call it ecosystem design. Doesn’t really matter what you call it, in a nutshell means not just what are we delivering, but How are we delivering it? So those qualitative processes, that service design who’s doing it, how the onboarding and teaching them to do it? And then how are we creating a sustainable environment, that this can be so important?

And so, I think if you think about it in that way, you know, it’s not at all that we don’t have the skill set as designers, I think we are the last leaders were most able to actually step into this role of connecting, visualizing and teaching others. But I think the kind of way that we do that is more, I would say, nuanced, and that we’re not just delivering something, you know, with a current “Tada!”

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons But but we’re actually inviting others to co create with us and and empowering them to be able to continue it and train others and This to me is essential. most interested in kind of design, working with a company. But that has call centers all over the world. And they have a really interesting a case where they have multiple end users. And then they have call centers, which kind of can be for either side of their end users. And that’s a really interesting design system because I need to teach them and their service managers Well, how do you design for these third parties to be trained on answering these support calls? And how can you do that consistently across different countries with different cultures when you’re not there? Right. And that, to me is the most interesting kind of design challenge is that I need to understand how to educate and onboard these managers who are then educating, onboarding, their support centers. Who are they eating there?

Steve Chaparro That’s so amazing. I hadn’t thought of that. For That fourth degree that you’re talking about, maybe I have, in some cases thought about, okay, train your clients so that they can train their team members. But I hadn’t thought of it of that extra level out of then training their users as well, which is…

Sarah Gibbons Right, their teammates are on-boarding someone. Right, right. Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting concept. And I think it’s where the future of design is, especially the kind of design where that we’re talking about, which is not how something looks, and not even as much how it works, but how it evolves. And that to me is, you know, whether, whether we call it ecosystem design, service design, system design, overall experience design, I think that people should be excited designers should be excited to move into that space where we have a seat at a table that we’ve traditionally never had a seat at. Yeah, and that is an executive C suite level because what we’re able to do in orchestrate, AI is something that a lot of companies need, and they need a lot of help in. And so it’s, it’s exciting to be in our field right now where so much is changing. And yet so little is changing because we already have this skill set. Right. And it’s just buying it and translating it into something new.

Steve Chaparro Well, to that point, how how well prepared is the design community as a whole to be that trainer, teacher, facilitator, co creator, in this new environment, how one How well are we trained to do that equipped to do that? And then to what are the things that we would need to up in our game in order to meet that challenge?

Sarah Gibbons So there’s been some I think, amazing work already started. I Meredith Davis, Don Norman, I think some key partners at Some larger companies, and that’s really like the future of design education has to change. And I think that curriculum needs to be updated to meet what companies and practitioners even now need. And so I think that that, to me is kind of the first step. But as overwhelming as that is, I think the good part is that, you know, designers are naturally inclined to one learn and relearn. And I, too, I think a lot of our natural like design early way of life is core to who we are identity wise. And that I think, is really kind of like what we’re going to have to call on moving into this like new realm, a leap of leadership.

Well, how fit we are as a community… I’m not actually quite sure. I think that I think that there’s a lot. It’s a complex question. I think that there’s a want and need to protect what we have, and yet still invite others to participate. I think that there is a idea that a lot of people can think New but not everyone’s a designer. I think that there is a really complex needs that change industry to industry and in how we share a cross of those. So like that knowledge transfer, transfer and knowledge sharing within our industry has to improve. You know, I think that there’s a lot of things that can stand to improve and you started this kind of talk in asking like, Okay, how did you fall into what you’re doing and we’ve talked a lot about designing people We work with. And I think that’s also other designers and that’s the design community. And so if we can redesign our community, yeah, then that’s really key. Um, but it’s a complex organism. Right. And and it changes. So yeah, I think that’s a little bit tougher. Right? And so I don’t know the answer to the question.

Steve Chaparro And that and the quest for that answer, I think is what drives me. It’s not so much I’m so much not so much driven by answers as I am questions. Although I’m gonna hopefully we can all get answers in pursuit of the of that question. I think for me, I think of one there’s education in our colleges, too. There’s educate, you know, there’s organic education where if we are learners, as designers, we’re going to be self motivated to learn, maybe on our own, whether or not we have the bandwidth to do that. Will firms make space For that intentional learning, like, say, through a learning and development type of budget, and many firms, depending on the size, may or may not have that in their budget to actually have intentional learning and development. So it’s really interesting. And I would hope that, you know, those who like yourself that we can all speak into, it’s almost like we’re spreading awareness of this need in our community, to upskill and rescale.

Sarah Gibbons I also, I also think that we need to on a kind of large scale, and we’ve seen a couple of reports come out to this kind of effect, but that investing in design and investing in design, not as like a skill jockey, but investing in design as a way of approaching business problems can be extremely effective for a company. And so I think, you know, we’re seeing case studies come out I we’re seeing kind of Tales of success, and I think really fine tuning Not in a marketing way. But those best practices that can be open source and ways to advocate for these things and proof to other companies that it’s worth investing in, is really going to do like much larger good.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons And so I think that that’s key. And what a lot of designers I don’t think don’t really think about is, you know what? The amount of legwork they do an add in advocating for things that their company is going to be rewarded to anyone who joins after them. And your hope is that the next place you go someone has done that legwork for you.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Sarah Gibbons And, and just like we’re all in what we are in together. I think we as a design community are in the exact same thing, which is, you know, common good, the more that you’re able to advocate and show and prove and build trust with these other domains and your leaders. You Know, the more that you’re going to be contributing back to the field and others in the future. So that’s really my grand hope for the world.

Steve Chaparro So good. Man, Sarah. We’ve talked about so many things. And sadly, we’ve come to the end of our time we could I think for myself, I could have explored so many other niches in our conversation. So I want to thank you, folks, we’ve been talking to Sarah Gibbons, the chief designer, Nielsen Norman Group, Sarah, if people want to learn more about you, your work and your firm, where can they go?

Sarah Gibbons At NNgroup.com, I publish articles just about every month. I have lots of videos up on YouTube small snippets of different very tangible things so they can find me there or on LinkedIn, Twitter, all the usual.

Steve Chaparro Thank you so much, Sarah. Appreciate your time. It’s been a joy.

Sarah Gibbons Thank you.

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