Nurture tomorrow's product leaders Part II – with Compare the Market
What do designers *really* want? And how can design and product leaders help practitioners find value in what they do and grow into tomorrow’s leaders?
It’s all here in our interview with Compare the Market Senior UX Designer, Gareth Young!
Don't miss Part One of this episode where we chat with best-selling author Trenton Moss to get a leader's perspective on this topic.
Get the audio transcription
Nurture the next generation of product and design leaders: Part II
Please note: this audio transcription is auto generated and may contain inaccuracies and omissions.
Daria [00:00:26] Hi, I'm Daria Lanz, and I'm an Experienced Design Director here at Inviqa. Welcome to part two of our episode on how to nurture the next generation of product and design leaders. In Part One, we heard a leader's perspective on this topic. And here in Part Two, I chat with Gareth Young, senior UX designer at Compare the Market, to get a practitioner's view. I really enjoyed speaking with Gareth about everything from what designers really want to the best types of leaders and how they drive the best outcomes for their team members and the wider business. So sit back, enjoy, and I'll catch you next time.
Daria So, Gareth, welcome. Great to have you here!
Gareth [00:01:04] It's really great to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Daria [00:01:07] Cool! Well, let's dive right in. So we're talking about talent shortage. We're talking about the next generation of leadership. As a designer working in this industry working with leaders, let's let's just start with sort of the process of finding your home, finding your fit, finding something that you feel affinity to.
Gareth [00:01:25] Yeah, I think that’s an interesting kind of question as in finding your home, I definitely think that culture has a big impact, as in company culture, has a big impact on the happiness of individual designers. I've worked for various types of companies, I’ve worked for kind of big corporates, as in very traditional management styles, a lot of hierarchy. I've also worked for start-ups and there's there's no one fast rule. I know that, when it comes to what’s suitable for each designer, as in, you can't say, Oh, I'm a start up designer or I’m a big corporate designer. Each company does have its own culture, which can have a massive impact on the type of people that it hires to manage UX designers. Yeah, it's not a one size fits all. You get different types of design leaders, you get, inn my experience that you get two main types of design leaders, you get sort of more dictatorial leaders and then you also have more kind of let you get on with it leaders. And different people prefer different styles, there's no right or wrong, but I think finding the right leadership is very important.
Daria [00:02:42] And what, from your experience, you've said you've experienced kind of the two ends of the spectrum there, for you personally, what has worked well for you? What creates an environment where you feel like you're thriving and you feel like you're in the culture that suits you?
Gareth [00:02:55] So I think what's important is having a really important sense of purpose. I think the discipline needs to be respected, that that for me is very important. I think if you're a junior designer going into a company that doesn't really understand or respect design, then that's, yeah, then that's a real issue. For me personally? Yeah, it's it's what I find important is having a purpose, being respected, being listened to, and not being thought of as a token designer. So be taken seriously and have a serious voice in the progression of the company and the progression of the product that you're working on.
Daria [00:03:43] Yeah and there's two, almost two players, right? So there's the company itself and how much do they respect design, or how much do they understand about design and the role of the designer or the design team. And then there's also your specific leader or your manager. So there's two aspects there. And I think if you have, well, you could have one against you, or two against you, or both for you, depending on where you're working.
Gareth [00:04:10] Wow! It's very true. Or you can have your immediate leader not really, they’re not for or against, they just let you exist and get on with it. So there is a scale there, sort of like actively against you, letting you get on with it, and then really promoting you and getting you a high profile in the company and giving you a lot of responsibility
Daria [00:04:31] Mmm kind of championing you?
Gareth [00:04:32] Yeah. So I think I think there's a scale there. And if you can get both, as you say, you've got the general management of the company, if you can get them on board, in addition to having a great design leader, then I mean, you will go far generally.
Daria [00:04:46] Yeah. And that's that's sort of, so we're moving into, there's sort of two sides of this as well, which is finding your home, which we sort of started talking about and then staying there, right? So from a leader’s perspective, it's attracting talent and then retaining talent. So you're saying if you have both, then that is a good recipe to to retain your team?
Gareth [00:05:10] Wow. Like, I so so I joined two start ups and I was the first UX designer at both of them. And it's hard. It's very hard going into a company being the only UX, and it's being low maturity UX designer. Like this whole home thing? It's a lot easier going into an established UX team psychologically. Not even so much like work-wise, but because you're outnumbered. And if, if the company grows disproportionately to design, as in, you're still the only designer as they hire lots of other types of employees, that's a very challenging environment. And I would tip my hat to any designer that constantly went from start-up to start-up to start-up. Because like, you're constantly starting again, you're constantly justifying your existence, and convincing people that what you do is a thing and that it is important, and it's not a bonus and an added extra. So any company that wants to attract talent, they need to prove that they invest in design, and that’s it, designers need resource, they need to know that if they need to get user testing, money for user testing incentives, and things like that, that's available. The right tools, the right equipment
Daria [00:06:33] Freedom to explore too, right?
Gareth [00:06:35] Oh yeah, yeah. Don't get me started on that! Yeah, you cannot dictate what the solution is to designers. So it won't feel like a long-term home to a designer if you're saying: right, here's a solution and you figure out all the details, right? That’s a really number one way of demotivating someone. They say: oh, I've got this amazing idea (not pointing fingers at any particular department, but, for example, product management) here's the solution to, like the high level solution, so it will be something like this: here is something that Google and Apple have done, this is what we need to do. And then you figure out all the details because I haven't. But I think it's got to be like this. And then and then you're basically piecing together a broken solution rather than creating a solution to the actual, that really solves the problem. So, yeah, that's another number one thing not to do.
Daria [00:07:38] Yeah, because it's about, I think, taking a kind of a step back of everything that you're saying. It's around really understanding what what a designer can do right and the role of design. And and so if you want to keep designers, good designers, then giving them the space to be able to do what they do is a win-win, because they're going to be happy. But also what they're doing is is solving some real problems and making sure that the thing that you're creating at the end of the day is is valuable for users and desirable and going to be a success. So really understanding what the role of the designer is and not, as you're saying, like, I've come up with a solution, go and just do, like you're not a production line! You're a thinker and a creator and an innovator and a researcher and a problem solver at the end of the day.
Gareth [00:08:33] 100 percent, you're a problem solver. You're not a solution put together-er!
Daria [00:08:40] Yeah, so come to us with a problem, a well-defined problem. And we'll go explore and together we can all come up with the right solution.
Gareth [00:08:51] Yes, that's that's that's right. Designers want purpose. They want clear objectives. And they want to make a difference to people's lives ultimately. So yes, it's important to understand the discipline of design, but it's also important to make purpose really clear. In fact we actually had a meeting within our UX team. So we have a relatively large UX team at Compare the Market. It's sort of around 20 UXers, you know, and we had a meeting recently where we were discussing kind of the pain points of the UX design process. And the number one thing that came out, with the pain points, was a lack of a brief. Every group put, like, bad or lack of a decent project brief as that, because again, it comes down to that. Like, why are we doing this? What's the objective? What are we trying like? What, why? Why will things be better by doing this compared to not doing it? There's that. But also, you know, UX designers are generally quite empathetic people. So they want to feel like they're helping others and making things better, right? And this is why dark patterns is such a hot topic. Because if if you make UX designers trick their users…product are like: oh yeah, do this so that we basically effectively trick people into buying more stuff. And if you do that, then they probably won't stick around very long.
Daria [00:10:16] Oh I feel like there's a whole other podcast in here around, I think what you're talking about is, or from my experience, has been this merge, the middle of the Venn diagram between user and business. Right? So yes, businesses have their own objectives and their own needs, and they do have to make money for them to exist. But when there's too big of a gap between what the business is trying to do and what their users or their customers or whoever is using the product or the thing need, then it puts the designer in a really awkward situation, especially if there's a lower design maturity, because then you've got business going: well, we just want it to do that, make our users do this. And of course, the designer is coming from the angle of: what the users need, what are their goals, and how can we solve their problems. So treading that line of business and user, business and customer, I think, can be where tension arises.
Gareth [00:11:23] Hmm it's been a difficult problem, especially. I mean, I can't imagine what it must be like to work for, you know, I don't know, Ryanair in the UK, or Amazon obviously is another one where you know, they do have quite, I don't know, the tactics for example, like when you’re unsubscribing from Amazon Prime, I think they ask you three times whether you actually want to leave or not. And I can imagine a UX designer in that position sort of, you know, being told: you have to reduce the number of people unsubscribing from Amazon Prime, and we want you to do it this way! You know, and I have no idea, you know, how that solution came about, of course, but I'm sure there's so many examples of that happening, and that is that is generally going to put your team off. I think anyway
Daria [00:12:27] And it comes back to purpose, right? And kind of the empathy of the designer, the people who usually end up in design from again, from my experience, and it sounds like from your experience of fellows, we want to help people. We want to problem solve. We want to to make the world, we want to contribute to the world in some way and stopping people from unsubscribing or doing something that that they want to do goes directly against that.
Gareth [00:12:55] Exactly. And I know a number of designers that have actually gotten new jobs to be happier rather than being paid more, and that includes myself. So yeah, yeah, I hear it more and more these days, a lot more than than I used to. And yes. So, for example, you know, people leaving, you know, corporate to go to work for a charity organisation, or if a company has a particularly questionable reputation in ethics, then I've I've heard of UXers choosing a lower paid job over sort of a higher paying, higher profile company because of various aspects, not just ethics, but like the happiness factor. Right? Because I think people are a lot more conscious of their own wellbeing and their own happiness. So it's it's not all about the money I think these days, or even the name, even the name, I think I think the whole pride of saying you work for Google, Apple, Facebook, or whatever, I think, I don't think that has as much strength, personally. I mean, there's always going to be that demand for those big companies. But I think, yeah, I don’t know.
Daria [00:14:10] Yeah, because that's a whole other side, is the influence of money and what are the different levers that would influence a designer to choose to work somewhere versus somewhere else. And really, if we get all UX nerdy on this, I think what we're saying is, as a company, or as a leader, it's understanding what your users care about, and your users are your designers, and it might not be what other…you know, it might not be the same as what other people within the business care about.
Gareth [00:14:49] I mean, don't get me wrong, they like money!
Daria [00:14:54] Yeah! Pay your designers, well!
Gareth [00:14:57] Yeah, I think it's like, the thing is, it's like, if you go into a start-up and they give you a generous amount of money. The thing is, like, will the start-up respect you and will you, you know, when it comes to redundancies and things like, are you going to be the first to go? You know, so it's like, there are so many other factors other than money when it comes to sort of choosing the right sort of place to to be. I think reputation is a big one as well, you know, so if if you're telling your designers to do something that they know is wrong, or just bad design, they’re going to worry about their reputation because if that design goes out, if it's not implemented, you know, as in if someone, a stakeholder, changes the design without telling the designer and it launches and it's, you know, doing badly, it reflects badly on the designer. It doesn't reflect badly on product or engineering. If there's a design team and a designer on that project, they will assume that it’s the designer that caused the design issue. So that's another sort of red flag to designers and a sign to move on as well. It's like, don't have a dog and bark yourself, type thing. If you're hiring design, you've made that commitment that you're going to trust them to make the decisions, right? And you can make them accountable if the design fails, but then, yeah, don't hire the designer, do the design yourself, and then blame the designer when it goes wrong, you know! That is probably one of the number one things to get rid of your design team.
Daria [00:16:36] Yeah, OK, so we've got, this is good, because we've got a few kind of pointers here, do's and don'ts, if you will, or what motivates and demotivates, so: purpose, giving your designers the space to be able to explore and truly problem solve, not just solutionalise on an idea that somebody else has come up with, and creating kind of the proper brief, a good brief where you can actually go in and that kind of leads into that problem space. And I would add, don't micromanage as part of that?
Gareth [00:17:08] Oh, 100 percent. No designer wants to have someone over their shoulder saying: oh, that should go there, or that should go there. The leaders that I enjoy working with the most are the ones that let me get on with it. And they also, the best ones, they let me get it wrong as well. And that is so effective, I think, because you're not being a dictator. And, you know, and as long as it's not catastrophic, I mean, obviously, if a junior designer is going to do something that you know is going to lose a lot of money, then obviously you step in at that point. But if it's something that's not fundamental, then you know, you just give them that autonomy and you let them. It might not be the 100 best percent best solution, but if it's like 80 percent there, let them run with it. Because because like, you don't want to be annoying your whole design team and be constantly watching them on their back because design doesn't really happen nine to five. This is the thing with any creative role, right? You can't wake up, start work at nine, and then figure out all the designs between nine and five. Right? There’s going to be times where a designer is basically just staring at a screen doing nothing, kind of, and then they just do all the design in four hours, rather than, you know, the nine hours or eight hours in the day that they've got allocated, you know. But it doesn't mean that, it doesn't mean that it's bad and you're not getting your money's worth out of a designer because they're not constantly drawing on a screen for like, eight hours!
Daria [00:18:53] Oh, so much of what we do is thinking like just space to think and problem solve in your head. And it might look like you're just staring out the window, but actually, like you are a thousand miles away.
Gareth [00:19:06] Yes! Designers work in mysterious ways. So I always, I always think judge a designer by their results. And then obviously their methodology is very important, don’t get me wrong, having all the right research techniques, making sure that you're doing user testing, your interviews, you know, you've got all that going on. So it's all informed. Looking at analytics, obviously, it's all of that. But ultimately, you can't you can't judge a designer by how long they're constantly in Figma.
Daria [00:19:39] No, no. On your point around it's not a nine to five, it's also, what's the word? It's a continuum. As in, you keep building, right? Every time you do user testing, you learn more about people, you learn more about the product, you learn more about your customers or the different personas, and you learn more about your own process in your own craft and what works and what doesn't work well. So what might take you an hour to solve a problem, you know, 10 years into your career, it's that hour plus your ten years of your career that allows you to get there. Does that make sense? So it's like with a musician. OK, you hired a band to play for an hour, and you pay them for the hour, but it's actually the hour plus all of their entire life of learning the instrument and practising, and writing the songs.
Gareth [00:20:36] Oh my goodness, that's such a good point. Because yes, this is the bane of a UX designer's life and this is why we always have to keep justifying ourselves, right? And proving to the business our worth. It’s because what we present is very simple. It's like, oh, here's the solution, and it's literally two lines of copy and two buttons on a screen, right? And it's like, so you spent a week doing that! And for low UX maturity organisations, they're going to be furious! It's like, well we've given you all this money. Like, I could have done that! And so, yeah, so that's what it's like. And that's why I think a company has to look at the whole process that a UX designer is going through and I expect there are so many examples where a company has made a UX team redundant and then realised, oh wait, everything is now terrible. No one can use our stuff, ah so they were doing something, actually.
Daria [00:21:44] Yeah, yeah. And appreciate how hard it is to make something simple. You know, it's like the Olympic athlete who does something that you're like: oh, they make it look so easy. And then you go and you try and you're like: oh, this is incredibly hard. That's the skill. So, yeah, it might just be two lines of copy and a really simple design, but there is skill behind that. That's why it looks the way that it does!
Gareth [00:22:16] That's it. And that's why I said judge them by their results, you launch it, and then you find everyone's using it, and everyone likes it’s like, oh OK, well, we got what we wanted. It wasn't what we expected, but that's why we've hired this person. Yeah, because they know this stuff and we don't. And yeah, because what a lot of managers think is, they don't have the same mindset as a UXer. They will think, well, if I like it and I find it useful, then that's how it should be. So getting outside of their own head to put themselves in someone else's shoes that does not have the background, doesn't work in software, and it's a struggle sometimes for them to do that. And so that's why often it does take a leap of faith with design. Look at the results. If customers are loving the product after it's been designed, then you know that it's been a worthwhile investment, right?
Daria [00:23:21] Yeah, so well put. I want to just circle back to something that you were saying before, though, because I think it’s a really important point as well. So you're talking about how really, really good leaders that you've worked with have given you the space to get it wrong, as well, which I think is so important. Because at the end of the day, we learn through our failure, like in life, right? All of the things that you learn, you learn by getting it wrong the first time and the second time, or even the third time. And so if you have a leader that doesn't give you that space, then you're essentially robbing your team of the opportunity to learn and grow. That is my opinion. And you know, you said, well, maybe it's 80 percent. It's not 100 percent right, but it’s 80 percent right. So let it be. I think it's like, the other side of that equation is, for the 20 percent that's maybe not quite on the mark, that is worth all of that space for learning and growing and evolving. And then the next time you might get to the 80 percent faster or, you know, you'll have learnt as a designer, you'll have grown as a designer. So that's only a positive thing.
Gareth [00:24:34] That's right. And you would have got some insights for free as well, right? And you would have proven that it doesn't work and you never know, you might be pleasantly surprised, and it might actually work really well, right? Because we cannot predict what users are going to do and how they're going to behave and how they're going to react. So yeah, I think another way of retaining talent is to take risks, is to allow people to take risks. Because that's how the individual learns and grows, but also the company as well. The company can learn how to do something by allowing the designer that level of autonomy to go and do their own thing.
Daria [00:25:25] Yeah, and again I feel like there's a whole other episode on how to be that leader and create the space where your team has enough space to experiment and fail, because that is hard in itself when you are in charge of something and ultimately accountable for something, right?
Gareth [00:25:44] Yes, it can be challenging. Not that I'm the authority on this, but a tip, I suppose, for an organisation to attract talent is: things need to change. If you have a website that hasn't changed for 10 to 15 years generally, then a designer is going to be like, well, if I come into the organisation, none of my designs will be used and therefore my sense of purpose is gone. It's like you could give me any amount of money in the world. Okay maybe that’s an exaggeration! But you can pay me a good salary. But if I work for your company for, say, two or three years and I've got no results to show for it because you've been too scared to implement anything of significance then I'm going to struggle to get my next job because they're going to say to me: what have you been doing for the last three to five years? And I would have to say: well, not a lot; I had a lot of theories, I had a lot of stuff that could have been amazing, but they didn't get implemented for reasons x y z. So there's a commitment, I think, with design, that you are going to change things and take risks. And, as you say, give your designers room to grow and fail and learn. Obviously, there's a balance, right? Don't want to lose all your money by crazy things.
Daria [00:27:07] Yeah, absolutely. I was even thinking, you know, from my experience, I've got quite a bit of experience from consultancy and agency side. And even there, you know, when you’re working on something that you just know is never going to see the light of day, for whatever reason, that's outside of your control. And it might be a very valid reason. That doesn't matter. The point is, as a designer, you're working on something and you start, with enough experience, you start to tell which ones are going to see the light of day and which ideas aren't, or which projects aren't. It's a common feeling. We need to feel like what we're doing has purpose and it's going to go somewhere.
Gareth [00:27:43] Yeah, it's not pointless. It's not a waste of time. I mean, wow, how demotivating would that be? Imagine you're constantly building houses knowing they're going to be knocked down straight away. But if you do want designers that actually care about what they do, you've got to actually try out some of that stuff, basically. Talking, you know, again more do's and don'ts, or recommendations to motivate and attract and retain. This is a good one: a career framework. So recently at Compare the Market we have established a career framework for UX, so the UX maturity of the organisation has actually increased. I've only been there just over a year. But you know, there was a strong UX team before that as well, and the UX maturity of the organisation is continuously rising and we now have a proper career path established. So effectively we have a spreadsheet and we have columns in that spreadsheet assigned to different levels of a UX designer. And a separate one for UX research. And each column has its own criteria of how to meet that level. And that's shared with everybody. So there's a lot of transparency there on sort of, you know, why someone is a mid, why is someone a senior, lead. So yeah, I think our levels are something like: mid, junior, associate, senior, lead, and then UX manager, right? And so each one has their own criteria. So, you know, oh, OK, so if I want to get to that level, I need to tick these boxes. And so, yeah, just having that transparency and having that, just being very clear what this organisation expects of you, of a certain level, I think that motivating. It's almost like gamifying your UX career a little bit as well, to throw another UX term in this! And yeah, so I think that's a real selling point. So if a company said to me, oh, we have a proper UX career framework and this is how we structure our teams, and the criteria for each level of the team, that like, oh wow, you take this very seriously!
Daria [00:30:00] It's showing you, look, if you come and work here, you will have a prosperous career path, right? There is room for you to grow and develop. And it's essentially saying, look, you can have a long career with us and you will not get bored.
Gareth [00:30:15] Yeah, actually, and you mention another very good point that’s important to keeping designers motivated, which is variety of work, right? So making sure that you're not asking designers to do the same thing day in, day out. I know that if I was a UX manager, I would ensure that there was rotation between different areas of a product. So not having a designer only do web design for their whole time at the company, and one designer only doing native mobile apps if we do both. I mean, I've heard different versions, from different people, on what the best way of having designers are. Some people think, oh, you know, you want mobile app designers, dedicated mobile app, they live, breathe native iOS, and then you have a separate one for Android, and then a separate web. And then that's their thing. But most UX jobs do want people working in different platforms generally. So I think for career development, I think it's good to make sure you're rotating on the different products that the organisation does, but also the different platforms. So you have that rotation keep things interesting and that's going to stop people leaving as well by doing that. And also, it would attract people by saying they will be working at different platforms and different things. There is a rotation. You won't be doing the same thing for the entirety of your time here.
Daria [00:31:38] Yeah, it makes you more well-rounded. So when you start to design solutions and you understand, OK, well, what's the impact of this a native versus what's the impact of this on the website? You can start to make, I think, better solutions that are more or at least know what things will need to be tackled slightly differently if you understand what those roles are and what the differences are. Yes, of course, then the flip side is, you know, you get your experts in a specific area domain.
Gareth [00:32:10] Yeah, I agree. I would actually consider myself a UX generalist. I've worked on native mobile apps in iOS, Android, as well as web, TV, desktop. So Windows and Mac OS. I've designed for this and VR as well. I've designed for virtual reality, augmented reality, and I much prefer being that kind of designer that's across all of these different platforms. Personally, it keeps and I think this is actually a mistake a company can make as well. They think that because a designer’s only worked on enterprise software, they can't work on ecommerce, right? Oh no, you’re enterprise software, so you're no good for us. A good designer can adapt. And as you progress through your career, you learn to adapt. You apply the same design principles to whatever platform you’re on. And yeah, sure, if you've got a designer who's been working on iOS for five to 10 years and you've been working on various other things during that time, yeah the person is going to know: oh no, Apple doesn’t do things like that, Apple does things like this. Dut you can learn that, you can learn the nuances of platforms. And I would much rather say if I was a hiring manager, I would much rather have a very good UX generalist expert than an average expert in a particular platform. Having the design fundamentals, and the methodology of getting to the right solution, that is so much more important, I think, than knowing all of the guidelines iOS has.
Daria [00:33:48] Yes! And I think also, to go back to your example there of, oh you’re enterprise, you can't do ecommerce, or consumer. I actually think that that is dangerous for innovation, because innovation is when you start to draw inspiration from something, you know, that's three or four steps away, like: oh, what can I learn from, trains, and my experience working on trains, that I can apply to enterprise final mile delivery, you know? Oh, actually, they're not the same industry, and they're consumer versus enterprise, but there's a connection there, and I can solve a problem in a different way.
Gareth [00:34:31] Absolutely, yes. And you'll be missing out on a lot of design talent with that mentality as well. So yeah, and also as you say, you need to have an understanding between the platforms, because people work across different platforms. Like, they look at a billboard, they see something, then they go on the website, then they realise there's an app. And so they're going from all these different channels, and you need to understand how all the different channels work, so you can design a journey. You don't design an interface, you design an entire experience.
Daria [00:35:06] Well, we've spoken a lot about some great tips, do's and don'ts, personal experiences. I feel like I can definitely relate to pretty much everything that you've been talking about from my own experience within the design world as well. So it's been a great chat. Thank you for sharing and for coming and chatting with me today!
Gareth [00:35:26] Yes, you know what, it's been a lot of fun. I've absolutely loved this conversation, actually! So thank you very much for inviting me on. I'm sure there's a lot of things we've talked about that people don't agree with, and there's two sides to every story. But I think, yeah, generally, I think we've covered a lot of good points today.
Daria [00:35:45] Definitely. I feel like it's a conversation we could probably talk all day about.
Gareth [00:35:50] Yes, over a drink!
Daria [00:35:51] Yes! For the sake of our listeners we won't record all of that! Awesome, well thank you so much, Gareth. And we'll speak to you soon.
Gareth [00:36:04] Thanks so much!