043: Transforming Dysfunctional Creators into Cross-Functional Designers with Peter Markatos


Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Spotify | Deezer

Peter Markatos shares how developing a series of investing tutorials in Flash led him to his career in creative design. He discusses his interest in the storytelling side of design which led him to many accomplishments with his company MM, during his time as a Global Design Director at Uber, and currently in his role as Chief Design Officer at Quoori. Through storytelling design, he discovered that companies are looking for the whole experience. He discusses how compartmentalized thinking and overspecialized designers limit the creativity of collaborative projects.

Markatos states, “I think it benefits organizations to have some hybridization or some team that’s horizontally checking into all these things, even if the sole benefit is to make sure that that system of design at that brands, language and marketing, and product experiences are coherent.” He believes the key is to have various specialists on one team. He mentions how we’re moving towards coherent design as well and consistent design.

In this episode, Peter Markatos discusses the significance of cross-functional teams and the value it brings to an organization. He focuses on the holistic approach when building a team of designers and how the mindset of the team can either contribute to or hinder the brand’s creativity and identity. 

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

  • How myopic mindsets and attitudes can hinder creativity
  • How to ensure the brand is consistent and coherent
  • The value of T-shaped or hybrid designers on a creative team
  • The holistic force behind brand identity

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

About the Guest:

Peter Markatos is the Chief Design Officer at Quoori, a stealth startup based in San Francisco & Hamburg. His focus there is on redefining experiences that respect digital well-being and human attention utilizing the latest in AI technology.

Peter ran MM, an award-winning brand & product design studio in San Francisco for ten years. He worked on high-profile projects for Amazon, XBOX, Nokia, and Discovery Channel, providing design expertise from strategy to design execution. He was one of two designers that made the original Facebook logo, and it was Peter that said Facebook should lose “The,” not Justin Timberlake ;).

While at Uber Peter was the Global Design Director at Uber. In 2018, he led Uber’s rebrand, garnering “Best Rebrand of the Year” by ADWEEK and Brand New. The following year, his team successfully launched Uber’s brand and product experience at the New York Stock Exchange for its IPO. That same year he brought to market Uber’s first fin-tech product, Uber Money at Money 2020.

Full Transcript: Powered by Otter.ai 


Welcome to the Culture Design 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 

This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio. This is where I help creative organizations transform their cultures, from being controlling to being collaborative. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned. Your creative talent demands a co-creative culture in order to produce their best work. But there’s a problem. So let’s see if we can recognize some of these signs.

There’s no framework to move your culture forward. You have high turnover and low morale. There’s increasing toxicity across all levels. There’s t engagement and satisfaction that are on the decline. There’s a misalignment between the employer brand and the employee experience, and there’s poor communication about expectations and values. So if you want to learn more about how I provide facilitation and coaching for your creative team, reach out to me at CultureDesignStudio.com.

Our guest today is Peter Markatos with 20 years as a design leader, Peter continues to bring great work to life, he drives teams to find meaningful connections between brand product and culture, always landing design in the reality of business. Peters currently serves as the Chief Design Officer at the stealth startup Quoori, he leads a product design organization focusing on redefining our relationship with devices by valuing the cost of attention and every interaction.

How does the value of information change for a customer when you consider its impact on well being? Utilizing AI and power design solutions Quoori is radically rethinking what it means to create an essential interface. Before Quoori, Peter was the Global Design Director at Uber in 2018. He led Uber’s rebrand garnering Best Rebrand of the Year by Adweek and Brand New.

The following year, his team successfully launched Uber’s brand and product experience at the New York Stock Exchange for its IPO, and the same year he brought to market Ubers’ first fintech product Uber Money at Money 2020. Peter, welcome to the show.

Peter Markatos 

Thanks, Steve. Glad we finally get to get together on this.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, it’s been great. We’ve stayed to touch, I think we kind of reconnect. Well, we connected initially over LinkedIn and I know that things got hairy here and there. And we finally made it happen where we about a week or so go we connected and shared some of our experience. And so I’m really excited that you’re on the show.

I’d love to hear as we all do for all of our guests if you can share with our audience a little bit about your origin story, who is Peter? And how have you made it to this point in life?

Peter Markatos 

Sure. Thank you. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. I think it all started going way back, I got my first job as a webmaster working for this company called The Online Investor. And it was at that time when Flash was all the rage. And we developed or I developed a series of investing tutorials in Flash. And I was hooked, you know, to see the sort of the reaction that people had to using those, we almost sold them. So that was exciting. And that really, you know, led me into design.

But really, what I started to get more interested in was really a storytelling side of design. And I started my own brand identity firm that I met up with a business partner of mine named Tyler Moore back in the day and we were very inventive. And we came up with the name of MM, for a design firm and we had that for 10 years. And I would say is during that time that I really learned a lot about running a design business. 

I learned a lot about what clients wanted, what they needed. And I think ultimately what it boiled down to was they really wanted the whole experience. They wanted their brand identity. In addition, they wanted to figure out how that would jive with their product design. And so what we ended up creating for 10 years as a random product development firm, what worked with a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of biotech companies, tech companies in the valley, had some moments working with Sean Parker and Peter TEALS Group, early back in that whole process was one of two designers that worked on the Facebook logo.

And it’s just a lot of very memorable moments from that. And I think more than anything, what I took from that, besides sort of the entrepreneurial mindset of running a business was just this idea of the importance of craft and design. And you know, we were inherently cross-functional team, we had, you know, interaction designers, we had, you know, graphic designers in house, and it was just a muscle that we all strengthen, you know.

Working on identity work switching over to wireframes and helping, you know, product companies figure out, you know what their flows and experiences were going to be. And then I know times changed, and it became time to close that business. And I was lucky enough to get a job at Uber back at the end of 2016, I believe. And, you know, this idea of, you know, telling an authentic story for a company or brand stuck with me that I think really was there that I realized this interconnectedness between brand product and culture, and how they’re, they’re really inseparable.

And I think it became galvanized Uber around, you know, 2017, when the whole delete Uber thing happened, and so on that day, did not matter how good the product was, or, or what have you, because the brand and the product were one. And I was lucky enough during that time to lead the brand experience team at Uber, which was a 35 person team at a tight super cross-functional.

I had architects, strategists, product designers, graphic and brand designers. And, you know, Uber didn’t ask me to set this up. It just happened because we were servicing multiple different businesses within one organization. And, you know, that experience led to some really wonderful accomplishments, and of you know, feel thankful for the team that I worked with. They’re also the partners that we work with, as well, some of which, you know, forest has, you know, been one of those guys. That was a foundational time for me. And I really learned the power of what a multidisciplinary horizontal team can do. Especially within the walls of, you know, a major corporation. So I think, in short, that that’s kind of the history.

Steve Chaparro 

Well, I mean, as I mentioned, before we push record like your work at MM, the reason why it came up in our conversation last time was because I quoted Winston Churchill and your eyes lit up. And that quote was, “We shape our buildings thereafter, they shape us.”

And you actually with for one of your clients had that up as a quote, I believe it was on the wall, or as a major part of the brand message. Oh, man, I loved it. I mean, obviously, that is one of my favorite quotes of all time, because I actually think that it aligns so much with, with how I view things, and even the idea of translating what I used to do an architecture regarding the physical environment, the buildings, and translating that to the structures of organizations, and designer selves.

And in what you’re saying even about what you did at Uber, and that is this alignment of a brand, product, and culture. I have a similar sort of trifecta, and it is brand culture and space. So that product, in a sense for the workplace, the product, that’s the product for those that are working in the team in terms of the physical environment. So it’s very interesting to hear some of the similarities and our story and even some of the inspirations we have and to hear you talk about these multi-functional, multi-disciplinary teams.

So speaking of that, I was looking at your feed on LinkedIn the other day, and you made a pretty passionate post that actually gained some traction and has incited some really good conversation, and you linked an article and the article, basically, the title of it was, when did design stop being multidisciplinary? And I’m gonna quote what you wrote down, he said, “I’m concerned that the industry is falling into a state of myopia,” I’ve used that term before, too. I love it. “When it comes to the overspecialization of skillsets. Not just at the talent level, but also at the organizational level,” And use you even give an example. “Apple knows this and look at how they’re doing. Startup naturally began as hybrid orgs. And that’s often where innovation originates,” And this is the last piece here. “Design inherently is cross-functional. Why do we cut it into pieces? Why are you so passionate about this?

Peter Markatos 

Because I’ve seen what these teams can do. I’ve seen what cross-functional teams can do. And what as I mentioned, Uber, the brand experience team was was definitely one of those teams. I also find it you know, ironic that these corporations will hire such companies, you know, whether it’s different agencies, what have you, you know, the Collins, the Kowtows, and the Waltons of the world. So those are cross-functional teams. When you hire those folks, they’re bringing all disciplines of design to you.

And these companies pay millions of dollars, you know, to these firms to bring brand and product ideas to life. And again, I think Uber what was ironic to me was, we were a high performing team. We were successful in what we did, but the business never really asked for this thing to happen, but it benefited from that. And now that I’m at Quoori, it just reminded me again, just how cross-functional design is.

Because we don’t have the budget to hire those other firms, right. And my team’s having to do a lot of different forms of design, to make, to ship, to ship Product, to Ship marketing, to ship brand. And it’s just been, I think, a palpable reminder, it actually takes me kind of back to the mmm days a bit that, you know, these skills don’t have to be segmented to just product design and product design. That’s all they know.

I think the main thing is this is customers, they don’t experience design, that way, they don’t experience a product devoid of the brand reputation of that company, they don’t experience a brand devoid of the products functionality. So why would we train and nurture organizations trained designers and nurture organizations to think so compartmentalized? You know, I think designs of cross-functional sport, really, and I always try to hire those sort of hybrid designers myself, and it’s becoming harder and harder to do so.

Steve Chaparro 

Well. Yeah, that was gonna be one of my questions is if, if you’re looking for hybrid designers, or where would the T-shaped designer come into play? You know, Yeah, I do. They talk a lot about idea. T shaped folks, we have a breadth of sort of exposure and interest and entry, but then in one specific area, you’re pretty deeply, you know, almost a specialist. So somewhat of a generalist, but more than anything, what are your thoughts about the T-shaped designer? And how and how do you find these unicorns? Because it almost seems like you’re at you’re looking for a unicorn designer.

Peter Markatos 

It’s kind of true. I mean, I’ll give one example where it’s a liability to not have these kinds of folks. So, you know, I’m trying to hire product designers, and their resumes come in. And you know, to me that resume is the ultimate litmus test of how good a designer is. I can and without fail, I mean, I’ve looked at hundreds and hired many, many designers, that if that resume is not nicely designed if the typography is not well executed, then I don’t even need to go to their portfolio.

And I will say, when at Quoori, these designers might some of these product designers, they would send in their resumes and oftentimes, it’d be just like a pages template, or a Word doc template, and I’m like, what is going on man? Like, you’re a designer, like, you should design the crap out of this thing. You know, and sometimes they’ll say it, you know, you will go to their portfolio, and they might have like, good UI skills.

But to me, if you come upon the product design in the current state, you actually might not get that typography training. And really, when you think about interfaces of today, oftentimes, that’s the main thing that’s on there is the typography, that’s how you’re communicating to those customers. So if you don’t, if you’re missing out on these foundational skills, then you’re really missing out on I think, a very powerful tool to make you a much stronger designer. So, yeah.

Steve Chaparro 

Well, I’m going to go down this one rabbit hole, but I’ll give you a little taste of what the little bit of pushback about a well-designed resume. And that is how well do well-designed resumes, at least visually pass the AI sniff test for these recruiters, because I found that many times I’ve tried to do that well-designed resume, but then it doesn’t get picked up by those, those AI bots that just don’t recognize that, but interesting for another day.

Peter Markatos 

Yeah, that is. Okay, yes.

Steve Chaparro 

But so, so multidisciplinary, I definitely understand that I’m gonna as I said, Before, I come from the world of architecture, and by nature, that industry takes on a multidisciplinary approach. In that, yes, we design we coordinate, we set the vision, but then ultimately, we are working with other specialists such as the mechanical engineer, the structural engineer, and all these other different things.

So by virtue of you think of a building is a collection of systems that are working together to make things happen, we have to work that way. But in design, actually working with other types of functional departments, such as even marketing in some cases, it looks like marketing organizations at firms, as they begin to grow, they also become more specialized. And I wonder if on one hand, there is a need for some degree of specialization.

But then to your point, it’s attention, right? How far do you go to specialization versus generalists? What are your thoughts about as the teams began to scale? And you know, like, in a startup that is in stealth mode, you have to wear multiple hats? Yeah. But as you scale a team said, Uber, how do you avoid that overspecialization?

Peter Markatos 

I think it’s a really good point. It’s a really good point because I think you have to have some specialization like for example, When I look at social media and folks that run social for major organizations, that’s a very specific skill, and you kind of have to know it really, really well, I think to make sure that you’re getting, you know, positive impact through the content that you put out on your social channels, as one example, and even in product design, or product marketing, you know, very specific.

That I think that the key is, is don’t divide up all of your design teams to do that. You’ll need your specialists. But for me, I think it benefits organizations to have some hybridization or some team that’s horizontally checking into all these things, even if the sole benefit is to make sure that that system of design at that brands, language and marketing, and product experiences are coherent.

Not necessarily consistent, because I think we’re moving into a world where it’s not just about consistency, I think coherence is very important. But if everybody is specialized, and looking at their own thing, without anyone sort of overlooking that, you kind of have a hydra situation, right, where, you know, you see these inefficiencies and these mistakes. Where like, you know, this happened a lot of Uber, back in the days before it got organized, where like, the marketing team might say this, and then all of a sudden, the rest of the like, what the heck, yeah, you know.

Steve Chaparro

So I don’t think it’s an either-or, I think you bring up a good point, you do need some specialists, for sure. I am not going to kid you know, I know, social media expert, right. I would never profess to be, I would want a social media expert to sort of own that domain. But that person should be checking in to a horizontal, you know, team or entity that’s making sure that it’s all wrapping up together. And in a good way.

Yeah, it definitely is a tension. And I and I definitely see that it. On one hand, yes, it’s very specific to design. But I could also say that it is a similar challenge or similar tension that as any functional team, whether it’s design, marketing, Product Management, whatever it is, as you begin to scale, there is that tension of like, let’s have at least the ability to have maybe, you know, maybe it’s a certain person, a team that has ownership horizontally but is able to still allow for that specialization. What are some of the benefits that you would say, of having this multi-functional approach?

Peter Markatos 

So, I mean, coming up more on the brand side. A brand is basically, you know, it’s an empty vessel, right, that accompany fills with promises of some sort deeds. And if you don’t have someone that’s making sure that all of those deeds are tied together to back up that promise, then you’re going to have a broken down experience on the customer side. So I think that’s one major benefit, especially now, as brands are not seen one-dimensionally. They’re not just seen on social media, or in a TV commercial. It’s multivariate. Like they’re seen in many different ways.

And I’ve definitely seen the cost of two organizations where a brand behaves badly on some channel or says things on some channel that’s not in line with sort of the rest of the ethos of what the company is trying to do. So that kind of gets back to the coherence statement I made earlier. So I think that you know that that’s a big one, right? There is everything’s transparent now, right? No company can do something over here, and you don’t sort of no one, no one sees it. Like, that just doesn’t happen anymore.

So yeah, and it’s also I want to say to, you know, on the brand side, it’s not about brand, police like making sure that everyone’s just like dotting their eyes, and so forth. It’s really about how do you harness the power of all of these different aspects of the company into one, you know, one force one holistic force? So yeah.

Steve Chaparro 

I think where that resonates for me is, you know, going back to say, the architecture world where, you know, there were several disciplines along the development of any major project, you know, you’ve got sort of the real estate focus, land development, then you have the architecture piece, and then you have the construction piece. The firm I used to work at before visionary studios, they call out It took a lot of cues from Disney Imaginary. And, and they realized that if they were hired early on in a project almost as a master planner, and then handed it off to an architect, and then that those plans were then handed off to a contractor that the original vision that these master planners had what erode and you would lose some of that initial idea. So we call that vision erosion.

And so visionary studios eventually says, said we want to own the entire process end to end literally from Real Estate to construction, we want to have the ability to literally be in the driver’s seat. So they become a, they became a multifunctional family of companies. And they took some of those cues from even the world of film, or in some cases, they have what they call continuity editors, or they want to make sure that the entire story, the integrity of the entire stories intact, and that in-between scenes and in between takes that everything is flowing together.

And so there’s someone like you use that word myopic, that we’re not being myopic about just that one scene overlooking back at the entire story, making sure that everything is coherent, everything that is consistent. And I think sometimes it’s a matter of mindset, like, okay, for this half-day, I’m going to step back, and I’m going to look at it from, you know, like a 10,000 foot level at certain points. And then maybe I’ll go back into my task-oriented, and that’s the thing we’ve learned even in architecture is that you can be so task-oriented, literally doing the details on drawings that you forget to pan out and say, Oh, my gosh, but we’re losing the overall intention here. And I think the same could be in design could be in marketing could be in any organization.

Peter Markatos 

Yeah. Well, I agree with that. I think you remind me to have I remember where I read this, maybe it was in the Steve Jobs book. And he was talking about the Pixar Campus. The Pixar Campus was intentionally designed to allow for sort of cross-pollination of ideas, right? Yeah, this collision Exactly. They run into each other. And I think, really, it’s about a diversity of thought will lead to a stronger work product, or whatever you want to call it, right? A stronger piece of architecture, a stronger design.

And I mean, just look at Pixar, great, great example of a company that their throughput is exceptional. And yeah. And how much of that is attributed to sort of the architecture in the space of the campus? Who knows? But clearly, something’s working. Apple being another great example to especially certain teams there are horizontal on purpose. All right. And, you know, again, exceptional work that comes out of that organization.

Yeah, I, it reminds me too, speaking of Pixar, and it may be similar to what you said about Steve Jobs, or at least his story, but also the co-founder of Pixar, Ed Catmull. And his creativity Inc. and, and there are certain principles that he espoused that you know, what contributed to the creative culture at Pixar. And one of the things that he said was this idea of, I’m not sure if this is the term he use, but the idea of candor or creative abrasion, and the idea that people need to be able to have this tension, this abrasion of like, different ideas, and like, Hey, I disagree and have these passionate discussions that no man used to having those.

It’s amazing what can happen when a team or a piece of a team is so focused on something, and then they share that work with the broader organization. And you know, when or if they get that wrong, you’re like, wow, how did this happen? It multiple people making the same bad or contributing to the same bad decision. I’ve definitely witnessed that and I think it’s just you know, it’s as simple as making sure that you’re, you’re checking in with those around you that, you know, might look at that situation differently or might approach it, you know, but my approach it differently.

Steve Chaparro

Yeah. I don’t recall and looking at your profile, did you go to design school? I didn’t check.

Peter Markatos 

No, you know, so I went to Kansas University, and I majored in psychology. In particular, sort of the psychology of religion, I was pretty fascinated by what belief systems empowered people religion being a big one. And then I get a minor in computer science, that’s about as close as I got. There was no interaction design.

When I was in college, you know, there was a strong graphic design department there. But even there, you know, we ended up making a website with a small group of people that was about think, learn and act on local and national issues. That was actually the first time was that terribly designed website that got me the job at that company out here in California at The Online Investor. That was the one thing I had to show for myself. But yeah, no, I was definitely intrigued by what the internet had to give the world.’

Steve Chaparro 

The reason I asked that is because I mean, I went to architecture school and it was brutal. In terms of, you know, you have these critiques where you present projects, put them up on the wall, and you basically open yourself up to criticism. I mean, it was almost like a rite of passage for any one of the visiting critics or even your design studio professor, you would present them this physical model that you literally labored over all-nighters two or three all-nighters, if not more, to make this physical model of your design. And then they would say, you know what, no, I don’t like the design, I’m going to take literally rip your physical model apart and kind of like reorient how things should be.

And that was the, the thick skin that we develop, even in architecture school. And so I feel like in some ways, that was part of the upbringing in the creative, the architecture world. And I think the more and more you get into the profession, at least in some cases, depending on the firm, you lose that type of feedback, you lose that type of candor and the ability to push back and have that difference of opinion, is lost. And sometimes it’s because you weren’t taught that in either in your training or even as a culture, what are some cultural elements that you have found to be useful in developing creative teams?

Peter Markatos 

Yeah, that’s a good one. I there’s two major ones, one I’ll just kind of go with first is The Wall Crit, we had that in MM we, you know, painted these magnetic walls up, and we’ve pin our work up, and we’d all talk about it as a team. And I took that same practice with me into Uber. The building admins were very confused as to why we would do this. But we took one huge wall there and put up these magnetic whiteboards every Wednesday. So we are a global design team. So we would actually evaluate the work of other design teams at Uber and other parts of the globe.

And so every Wednesday morning, we would put all the workup. Some folks would maybe broadcast over zoom, and we’d talk about the work. And I actually, I would try to not talk too much. I actually wanted to see how the team would react, right? And I remember once this guy came up to me, and he said, He’s like, oh, man, this is kind of brutal. Like, why are you? Why are you critiquing the work in front of everybody? Like, why not? Like, just talk to them individually afterward? Like, because that defeats the whole purpose.

You know, we all can learn together from each other’s feedback. Not just my feedback, but like everybody’s feedback. And so the whole team’s bar of excellence gets higher and higher. And honestly, like, there was very few times where people were like, hurt by that, or what have you. I think, I think genuinely, designers are curious people. Yeah, right. They want to grow, they want to get better at their craft, I’ve never met a designer, it’s like, you know what, I’m pretty good. I’m done.

Like it doesn’t, it doesn’t work that way, they always want to get better. So this idea of critique in the studio culture, that’s what I’ve talked, that’s what I mean by Studio culture. That’s a big one. I think the other one for me, is, and it’s important to me that the design that any organization makes is meaningful. You know, I think it MM, we made a lot of really beautiful stuff. And sometimes though, it was just stuff that we were into, you know, it didn’t necessarily, like, make a whole lot of sense for the client. But damn, it looked good, right.

And as I matured in my career, I wanted to make sure that the design, when I talk about you mentioned in my bio landing design, and the reality the business will, to me, that means that design system needs to be bit, you know, built on some kind of strategic insight. And that strategic insight should be expressed in design in some way. And I think the way that you do that, the way that I do that, is I write a design charter for that organization.

And that design charter is basically taking the mission of the company, the business priorities to the company, and creating a halo around the work that we do. It makes the design team feel invested in the work, it’s helpful to help prioritize what you say no to when you say yes to, and then when you have to work on something that might not be the most exciting thing, you at least know that you’re contributing to the business, you’re contributing to the overall mission of the company.

And so design charters, I think are really important. At Uber, it was designed to include we’re very much about wayfinding for a moving world. So we had to make sure that all of our touchpoints and surfaces were triple A or double A to triple A, you know, visible in terms of contrast ratio and all that good stuff signage. We wanted to make sure the illustration system was was cognizant of the folks that we serve make sure that you know, for making something for, for Latin America that it felt of that of that region.

And the typeface, we you know, we developed a typeface there with Jeremy Mikkel, and that, you know, there’s 13 plus languages, right? So all of a sudden, it builds meaning and purpose into the word.  And I think those two things between like, let’s have a studio culture, let’s talk about to work together. Let’s try and get it off your hard drive to that’s one thing I hate about today’s design, you know, it just gets lost in the Figma file or some illustrator, and then it’s designed charter, you know, to bring the team together.

Steve Chaparro 

I love those and I, you know, I’ve kind of shared a little bit about my, you know, early workings of the studio culture and but the design charter like that is such a fascinating thing. And now that I, you know, I remember you, you brought that up the very first time we talked about, and I found that so fascinating. Thomas use design as a cultural language. And I think it reminded me of some of the work that I saw at Herman Miller. I grew up in the Holland, Michigan area, and recently went back to go visit the Herman Miller HQ. And I noticed that they literally have, I’m going to, I’m going to say it’s their version of a design charter.

And they talked about 10, or 12, different sort of guiding principles that they employ in their design, and I found it so fascinating. And I see so much benefit to that, in fact, the idea of a charter itself, I think it’s a fascinating concept that if you use a design charter, we’ve talked about in some of my organization design work as a culture charter, or a project charter, a team charter.

Like, okay, let’s take all of the guesswork away from the middle of the process, and let’s predetermine the what that’s gonna look like, at least in spirit. How fleshes out could kind of change along the way. Why is it important to have some of those things like charters, whether it’s design or otherwise? What are the benefits of that for work that comes after that?

Peter Markatos 

Yeah, well, one, as I mentioned, like, you know, it grounds the team, and makes the team feel like they’re contributing to something important. But I think the other side of that, too, is, you know, in this day and age, I think a lot of people feel like they’re designers, right? There’s, there’s, you can build a website, and Squarespace can look really good. And you might not know anything about design, right. And I think a big part, especially when you’re working in a matrix organization, the narrative around the work is hugely important.

So if the work is based on something meaningful, that relates to company goals, relates to the company’s mission, all of a sudden, you go into that room, and you got to convince that leader, that business group, hey, you know, we’re gonna do this. And this is why you’re all of a sudden, not really, in the subjective realm of design, you’re actually like, Okay, well, I see how this lines up to our business goals. And I see, you know, how this lines up to the mission, and that narrative around the work becomes, I think, more successful when it’s based on something like a charter.

You know, Uber, one of the things that, that my team was responsible for was safety was a huge priority at Uber. You know, of course, we’re moving millions of people every single day. And we needed to figure out how do we visualize safety in a consistent and coherent fashion so that when someone sees this thing on product or season an ad, we know that we’re talking about the same thing? Well, you know, Uber has the rides business, the eats business, the freight business, well used to have the autonomous vehicle business, etc, etc.

And so safety touched all of those different lines of business. And, you know, because we were starting in a place that made sense for the, for the, for the corporation, that was very important. You know, when we go and we’d have these conversations, we just, we started off on the right foot, because we had, you know, a charter that had principles that aligned to safety, you know, the CEOs up here talking about this around safety, we’re taking that same language into the charter, all of a sudden, we’re just starting in a different place.

I think, when you’re having a design conversation that’s not founded on a belief of some sort that’s relevant, you’re gonna have a hard time trying to convince those people unless you have the same taste, right. And that’s where that’s kind of when I meant earlier on like, everyone is designer, I think a lot of people feel like they have an understanding of tastes when it comes to design. Well, if you don’t agree on what’s tasteful, man, you’re gonna have a hard time trying to sell that idea through. Right.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah. I mean, I, it seems to me that it’s such an absolute benefit to have this design charter to influence those things, as you say. So there might be some people and I want you to respond to this. There might be some people that say, Man, we’re you know, we’re a scaling the high growth organization. We’re like just trying to get things done. Like where the work is just so fast and furious. Like I’d love to have a design charter, but like, I don’t we don’t have the time to do that.

It almost seems that a design charter might be something that a chief design officer would lead and how many companies have a chief design officer so so respond back to me like I’m basically saying, or going too fast, too furious. We don’t have to like it. Have a design charter is like a luxury that most companies don’t have.

Peter Markatos 

So yeah, I think. the main thing is, you’re right, it does take time to figure that out. But I think it saves you time in the end. Because I think, you know, just let’s say you’re a designer, you’re given a design task. And let’s say it’s wide open, make whatever you want, Oh, my gosh, you’re gonna spin your wheels at some point, right? Unless you have a vision, and it’s the right vision and you execute on it.

I think the same goes on an organizational level, if there is a binding document, a charter, a belief system with principles like we’re going to do this, but we’re not going to do that. You have reasons for that you have a rationale to design against, that saves time. And so yes, it for upfront, it might take some time, you might feel like oh my gosh, this is too much time investment.

But down the line, like here’s another example, when we would evaluate work, whether it’s at Quoori right now, or at Uber, we have a language in which we evaluate the work through, and we all share that language. And I can say, hey, that’s not x, whatever it is, right? They know exactly what I’m talking about. They know how to fix it. They know how to, they know how to zag against what they’re doing. That’s a huge time saver.

I remember Alex Schaefer from Airbnb, who led design there for a while up until I think today, I think he actually, I think he resigned today from Airbnb. But I remember I heard a podcast with him. And you know, they have the mission of belonging anywhere. And he was telling the story, where he’s sitting in a room, and he’s got an engineer to his good designer, product manager, maybe a UX researcher.

And anytime that conversation around the work got confusing, or, you know, muddled, they go back to belong anywhere. And, and obviously, that’s a huge generalization. But you know, that was the founding agreement. And they knew that if they were designing something that didn’t adhere to that, then they’re likely going down the wrong path. So again, I think it takes time upfront, but I think it saves heaps of time down the road.

Steve Chaparro

Yeah, I think that’s so well said, because I think that goes for any of these types of charters. Again, whether it’s design culture, organization, project team, it does it anything that is, that is good, takes upfront time to do. It’s not in the short term horizon. It’s not efficient, and may not even be necessarily effective. But down the line, it’s like, it’s like that whole concept of 1% degree shift over time is a huge impact. Right?

It is like, yeah, you may not see it in a short term, what that one degree shift means. But if you keep traveling for a year, that shift becomes much bigger. And I think the same thing goes for the charters, you’re able to save a lot of time, it becomes a shorthand, it becomes this shared language, like you said, and they say something. Yeah, I get it. No problem. Like it saves. Who knows? Half hour conversations.

Peter Markatos 

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I think another thing too, even even before at MM, when we would work on different, you know, brand generation concepts for clients, I always ask my team, so in that situation, there was not a charter wouldn’t have helped because we’re literally working with different companies all the time, right?

But I would always ask my team I’d say do not get into Illustrator Photoshop for a while, I want you to write down your concepts. And our first meeting where we talk about concepts there, maybe be some pencil sketches, maybe it was mostly like, here’s my concept, this is the paragraph and let’s have a conversation around thinking right just that idea of like thinking and writing it out.  

What is the story I’m trying to tell here? Saves so much time because otherwise you jumped into a digital tool and you just start vomiting all over it and you just wait you just like go and go and go and go I you know for myself you know when I design I tried to do the same thing. How long can I stay in my sketchbook before you know getting into it for me it’s illustrator, I think the new generation and stigma and sketch right

Steve Chaparro

Yeah, no, that’s so good. I think I mean that goes for so many things. I think it goes back to even strategy before you start you know, figuring out what is the actual design Really understanding the clear things in that regard. So I think that’s well said. Man, I feel like there are so many topics that we could create a rabbit hole to go down so I look forward to future conversations. I feel like you know when you quoted that Winston Churchill quote like okay, I’ll be friends with this guy for a while.

Peter Markatos 

That’s great to hear. I mean that it’s funny that quote, so we use that on the client they had this private club has this private club in San Francisco called The Battery and it’s on the door, the battery when you go in there, but other permutations of that quote I mentioned to you have stuck with me.

So even at my current job Quoori, we shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us. And, you know, I think what we’re trying to figure out is like, Okay, what is this tool done in terms of my mental model of how to use it? What if we flip that, like, what if we’re trying to map that experience to, you know, to you? And so maybe the next time we talk, we can get into the subject of ontological design.

Steve Chaparro

That is, that is a fascinating topic. And it goes back to that, like, I definitely like whether you’re an innovator, whether you’re a product designer, whether you are a CEO, your work goes into shaping something, but then you don’t realize how much that in return it shapes us. Like we talked about the phone example, on our last call, like how much is the phone beginning to shape our lives in ways that maybe are unhealthy? And how can we reclaim that it’s done some great transformative things for us, but it’s also created some dependencies that are not necessarily healthy. I look forward to those conversations. Peter, if people want to learn more about you and the work that you do, where can they find you?

Peter Markatos 

Markatos.com is probably a good place to start. I kind of link out from there, so that’d be good.

Steve Chaparro 

Sounds good. Well, thanks, Peter. I appreciate it. Thanks for coming on the show and I look forward to future conversations.

Peter Markatos 

Cheers, Steve. Thanks, man.


Thank you for listening to the Culture Design Show. We’ll see you again next time. Be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes. And while you’re at it, feel free to leave a review of the podcast.