Justin Dauer | Design Journeys: Connection, Fulfillment, and Shaping the Future

Jul 3, 2023Dianne Eberhardt

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Justin:           Design at the, at the end of the day, is connection. And any it is, you're conveying information, you're conveying experience. And having that connection severed I feel can have dire consequences. Like I said, varying levels of severity based on what we're designing.

Dianne:         Hello everyone. Welcome back to Pixelated. Perfect. I am really excited today. I have a very special guest. This is Justin. Justin, thank you so much for being here.

Justin:           Hi great to be here, Dianne.

Dianne:         Yeah, so I wanted to give a quick intro and kind of give everyone a little tidbit of what we'll be talking about today. So Justin is an internationally recognized design leader, author and speaker. He resides in Chicago. He has over 25 years experience. He gives unique perspectives on the evolution of design and impact of design on company culture, which is really exciting. I'm really excited to dive deeper into that. He's recently launched Anomaly, which is a design and design leadership company. And he also wrote a book, which is coming out on June 27th, and it's called In Fulfillment, the Designer's Journey. So yes, let's, let's jump in. Thank you so much. Let's just hop right into it. So, Justin, the first question I have for you, which is something I usually ask a lot of my podcast guests, is, when did design come into your life? When was that moment or compilation of moments where you were like, design is, is me. It's where I see my career going. It's who I am.

Justin:           Yeah, I can pin that to a very specific moment. Actually, my mom was a fine artist, so illustrations painting. So I was always kind of surrounded by art, but more fine art medium wise. And it certainly captured my attention and I appreciated, you know, her abilities. But I remember when I was in high school, I believe it was my sophomore year. I was in the study hall and I walked into the classroom and in the back of the classroom were these album cover designs. Not, not, not you know, like professionally released material, but it was, you could tell it was student projects. And rather than go straight to my seat, I kind of went back there and I was checking 'em out. And I thought they were really cool.

Justin:           It was, you know, artistic, but it was, it was different. So I went to the study hall faculty member, and I asked her about 'em, and she said it was her class' work, and she said she taught graphic design. And I said, what do you like, what are you doing there? And she said, we're visually problem solving. And I was like, Ooh, that, that sounds pretty cool. So I didn't have much room in my curriculum, my, my, my track, my course coursework to take on more classes until that point. But I made a shift my junior year, and I took graphic design one, and I remember like doing the work in that class, and it was like, you know, this rudimentary pencil, scissors cutting paper and like the, the weight of the paper and the lettering, which was all done by a hand and color usage and truly visual problem solving, like that lit a spark in me.

Justin:           I've had very few moments of like, pure clarity in my life and career, but I was like, this is it. I knew it with clarity. That was it. So rather than, you know, my, I I was very by proxy grades focused to that point. And now it's just like I'm done with grades. Like I wanna get a portfolio together and go to art school and, you know, young person naive mistake that I made. I like to put all my eggs in one basket and put a portfolio together for the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. And that was the only place I applied to. And thankfully I got in that could have really booked me in the rear <laugh>.

Dianne:         Yes, for sure. But yeah, that was it. Wow. That's awesome. Yeah, that was it. Yeah, I love that story. I know that you have had a lot of experience and you've worked with many designers over the years, but I do think that there's like two types of designers, right? There's designers that, like, they knew they have stories like yours, like, I have a story like yours. It's like, you know, I always was creative. My parents are creative, they own video production. And like, I played with Photoshop and the first time I was like, oh my gosh, like, this is life changing. This is like where I see myself. And so I kind of had that moment of like, this is me. And there's a lot of us out there. And then there's the ones that are like career switchers. They take boot camps, they have a history, they have a whole other career, and then they've kind of shifted into this.

Dianne:         And so I think it's really interesting to kind of hear how design came into different people's lives, but then like where that passion came from. And so, yeah. I love what you said. I also love that you gotta take it in high school. That's awesome. I didn't have that opportunity. I had Rachel College, but you said that your instructor teacher was like, what we're doing here is visual problem solving. And that's such a great way to think about design, especially graphic design, product design, and ui ux design. And you like to start from the basics, right? You were doing those, like, you were literally like writing out letters and solving problems. And so I think that's really, really interesting. And so I guess a question for you is, what, how do you distinguish or what are your thoughts on like, designers that come from a more traditional graphic design background? They had that thing from early on versus maybe more of career switchers that pick it up later in their career.

Justin:           There's advantages to both scenarios, honestly. One thing I appreciate from the curriculum I had, because, you know, this is a different time. This is when, late nineties, early two thousands when the web as a career was just becoming a thing, right? For designers specifically. So my formal training was in typography and, and layouts and graphic design specifically like the Art Institute at that point did not even have a dislike of a digital design curriculum. So I remember buying books and I was just hungry to learn. I bought myself books and taught myself to code. And I remember in the, in the lab one of my lab sessions, like I designed a webpage for one of the musicians. We were stuttering studying in, in chamber music, a classical art school classic art school course chamber music.

Justin:           And I put like a website I designed locally on each one of the computers. And people were like navigating and it, it was just like blowing them away, like the hover states of buttons. And I made this a while ago, like I said and just like the raw digital landscape was a problem to be solved at that point. So I felt that traditional design training married with that was fascinating to me. Absolutely fascinating cuz we were figuring out the rules and how we could break them more or less in, in digital design. So that was cool. But like I said, as I've hired folks a along the way on, on various teams that I've led to organizations I've led one of the things we're getting into culture a little bit here I like to do is I call it the new day one, and I hire folks on a, i I bring them into the, in the team on a Friday instead of a Monday.

Justin:           So there's a kind of a different energy established rather than five days of orientation or reading a manual or jumping into work. Like, I wanna understand them as a human being, as a bespoke individual rather than a name on a piece of paper. So one of the things we do is we go offsite. I ask 'em to take me to some place that inspires them in the city. Of course we could do that virtually now as well. But I remember one time a new team member took me by the museum of Science, science and Industry, which is about maybe 10 minutes south of Chicago. And we, we went not there, but like a little bit by the lakefront and I, we went there and I said, you know, why are we here? Why, why does this space inspire you?

Justin:           And they said they were in another field completely : banking and they knew they loved to connect with people and help people solve problems. And they got to the core of that, how that aligned to their values, the crux of helping people solve problems. And they decided to make their career shift over to UX so they could apply those same values and, and things that were important to them to the UX space. And they went to a bootcamp and they did some training via that. And to me, that's brilliant. That's bloody brilliant. You, you had that moment of clarity. You applied your values and your North Star to a different field and, and they were, you know, they did phenomenally well. So I think there's a million different ways to attack it. Everyone has their own unique background story, but those two are pretty cool. Yeah.

Dianne:         Oh, that's, I love that. That's, I love how you have like your day one on a Friday out in a place that's meaningful to that person. I think that's a really great way to onboard. And I have many questions. You have many questions I wanna focus on about the kind of that culture establishing and things like that. I, I guess like before we hop in too deep there is, I, this is kind of getting a little into your book. So in fulfillment, the designer's journey is, what was it that made you want to deepen your understanding of a designer's journey or focus on bringing out like, the culture in the design space?

Justin:           I think at this point in my own journey, in my own yeah, my own journey as a designer over the many years that you cited in the intro I've gotten a bit more clarity and perspective on my own disconnection over the course of my career. Now I wanna focus on that specifically because disconnection affects the way I am connected to my work. And that is important, not just because I want to better my portfolio, which is also great, but it's, it's, I'm, I'm more concerned about the folks, you know, they're on the other end of my work, those who would be engaging with my work. And yeah, sometimes, you know, design has various levels of impact based on what we're designing. It could be an app icon, it could be a concert poster, it could be a chair but it also could be an emergency alert system, or it could be something healthcare related.

Justin:           And those have varying levels of intensity and how they touch someone's lives. But design at the, at the end of the day, is connected. And any it is you're conveying information, you're conveying experience and having that connection severed I feel can have dire consequences. Li like I said, vary varying levels of, of severity based on what we're designing. So fulfillment, to me, I think the book very well could have been called in connection as much as it is, is in fulfillment, it's a word. But I think, you know, if fulfillment is the jewel, I feel like there's many facets to that jewel. I think fulfillment is connection. I think design, like I say in the book, is a connection made manifest. If it's something tangible or intangible or how we're building a team or, or building a structure, design is problem solving, like we said at the beginning, like my art teacher said 25 years ago.

Justin:           It could be, you know, visual problem solving, what have you. So that perspective on my career about where my disconnection came into play and how I've been able to identify the practices and values where I most thrive. And it's not, it's not hokey pseudoscience. Like when you are able to understand what your values are and your personal and professional spheres of existence and make sure there's a unified front there where you're able to leverage them to the benefit of both those spheres of existence, it really creates this harmonious dynamic or energy, let's say based on whatever environments you're in, personal environment or, or business environment. So really those accrued learnings. And I, I've, you know, the material in the book is very well trodden. It's very well beat upon. A lot of it is from my talks that I've given.

Justin:           And whenever I give a talk, I say, I value your feedback. And this is not just me saying that to say it as a designer like this, this is how I grow and I evolve. I value your feedback. And folks have approached me with very candid feedback, which I respect immensely, and it's helped me really perfect and make, help my material grow to what it is today. So I, you know, I'm very proud of it and I think it, it, it's also something that folks can hopefully benefit from quite a bit.

Dianne:         Amazing. Yes. Some things you said that I would love to dive deeper on if you said this clarity kind of came from your own disconnection, which I think is really powerful. And this is something I think any designer, as you grow, as your career grows, as you get further along, and I kind of talk about this a lot, so I'm curious to, I think you're on kind of the same path, is like, the failures that we make are more impactful than maybe the successes, at least from my perspective. So all of those things that you're like, oh, this didn't work, I wanna try it again. I wanna do something different. Those moments in my life personally, like whether it was like, oh, what do I wanna do? Do I wanna switch to product design from graphic design, which I did all of those moments of like, I don't know what I'm doing, I'm just gonna test it. I failed. Getting back up, trying again, trying something different. Where the most invaluable skills I've ever learned is the disconnection that I had. And so my question to you is, how can we, how can you help designers kind of figure out what those values are? Like where are those disconnects happening and how can they like, build that harmonious values instead of tools that they use?

Justin:           Yeah. You know, I appreciate your own story there because I think to bounce back from, or evolve from those points of disconnection takes a strong degree of humility. And I talk about humility, there's an entire chapter about humility as a designer in the book, because when we are always students of our craft, we are always making ourselves available to evolve. And in large part, I'm, I'm coding myself my own book, which is a little hammy, but I genuinely believe in that. And I think, you know, even beyond design, like researchers approach work and, and they have to always make themselves students of someone's environment or where they're observing or if it's ethnography or if they're observing someone on site or what have you. You always have to make yourself students and humble at that point so you can learn and evolve and make yourself a part of that person or individual or business's world.

Justin:           So I think that is huge to leverage humility just as a baseline value. Everyone's values are unique and personal, but I think humility is a baseline value for all of us. Almost agnostic, well, definitely agnostic. The profession is huge. But for designers specifically, and to your first part of your question, how do you identify where those points of disconnection come? You know, there are different frameworks and platforms and methods that folks can use. I like to leverage one called Make Meaningful Work, which I'm very immersed in and invested in and effectively is, is a, a, a platform where you are able to identify the practices in which you thrive through the power of storytelling and in fulfillment. The designer's journey is very much a storytelling book. But you know, you can take a look at any instance, like when I hire someone on that first day, let's go back to that.

Justin:           My butt is outta my chair and I'm greeting that person at the door if it's in person and at the door. If it's online, I want to meet them first thing in the morning, five second stories. Why do I do that? Because I've been that person before when I walk in and no one is there, right? I've walked into an organization, my boss decided not to come in until three o'clock that day, and no one knew who the heck I was or what my role is or where I sit. And it makes you feel small and it makes you feel disoriented and it cuts that energy from signing to that walk into that door and you just feel like garbage. So I wanna, I wanna cut that right, because I, I've been there before and you know, I could have another meeting on my calendar and my phone can be ringing and I wanna make sure everything is as clear as possible for this person coming in.

Justin:           And, you know, I wanna show them where the mother's room is or we can get the co a cup of coffee or help them get oriented within the space. And I'm able to take a look at that story and extract all those things, empathy, compassion wanting to genuinely be a leader. And I can look at those aspects from that five second story and I can apply that more or less to anything. If I say I left design and I wanna work in another field, like what field were the, might those values apply or in my personal life how can I best have effective, healthy relationships by leveraging those same values and establishing boundaries, you know? So I think it's really a portable, immensely valuable means of maintaining connection agnostic of your environment. So that's one thing I absolutely recommend. Like I said, whatever platform or framework and framework could be a swear word cuz they have various levels of intent, but just having a laser focused view of what practices you thrive within and how they align to your values is huge.

Dianne:         Yes. I think that's great. I think something you said that is really powerful for our listeners is our listeners are probably listening because they're designers trying to continue to grow in their career. But a value is like a core belief that you have and that you are good at or wanna continue to improve and that can be applied to all aspects of our lives, right? And so I think that really keeps us completely aligned in our journey. I have a side question here cuz I know you recently launched Anomaly and so I'm the co-founder of the design project and I did so many exercises workshops, which were my personal values and how they would translate to my business. And I was wondering what did, did you do something similar? How were you able to take these values and these core beliefs you had and apply them to anomalies?

Justin:           Yeah, it's this, yeah, I, it was, I was excited to read about your journey as well coming into this podcast, which is, which is awesome. So yeah, this will definitely resonate with you. When you build your own thing, you are able to infuse your own values into the D N A of X, whatever it is. If it's a freelance practice, a small business, an agency, what have you, and the curation and respect and treatment of those values as something grows, like I say, you know, you just want it to be yourself and a partner if you want it ultimately be a 15, 20 person agency or what have you. That is where the special sauce comes in to make sure the business has that long lasting livelihood. The way you create, the way you treat one another, the way you treat clients to make sure those values are in the d n a of everything.

Justin:           And I think, you know, I mentioned the Ben and Jerry's example in the book, how those folks their values are in everything and their product, the way they donate their political beliefs, the way they broadcast themselves in social media, they are just, it's in every fiber of what they do and who they are, which is fabulous. Anomaly was very much built on my values. Anomaly is a Swedish word for, guess what? Anomaly. It just has an eye at the end. <Laugh> and Swedish culture had a huge impact on me in one of my design director roles for taking on a role as a VP of design within c v s Health. This design director role was from a Swedish agency. I was tasked with building out the design practice within their North American offices.

Justin:           And Swedish culture just left such a huge impact on me as a human being and as a designer of egalitarianism, the viewing of a person as an individual rather than a worker. Folks stopping in the middle of the day at two o'clock to come to a table in the middle of the business and have a cake and, and coffee and not answer the phones. My head was just as an, as an American employee, my head was just exploding. I'm like, who's gonna answer the phone? Like, I physically cannot get out of my chair cuz I was mentally shackled to my chair. I just couldn't believe I could do those things. Yeah. So it was an awakening for me for sure. And I meant to make sure those values are in the d n a of what I'm trying to put together.

Justin:           And I, I had an experience where I was as a consultant for a tech company tech and design company and a f a a fellow who was my boss at a previous role was went to another company and he said to me I want you to come aboard again and I want you, well, let's do it again. Let's be, I want you to be a VP of design again and build the organization and hire everybody. And you know, a fantastic compensation package around it. And I, I, I had like this needle scratch and a record moment, and this is a, a, a statement laced with privilege. I recognize it and I'm like, I've done that. I, I've, I've done that already and I've, I dealt with the political strife of getting there and it, you know, it took five years of my life to build that team and it ended up in a really good spot.

Justin:           But like I've, I've, I've been there and I'm, you know, I'm midway through my career, let's say I'm trying to be kind to my age and I, you know, I feel like I can make those decisions at, at this point. And I told him no, which felt like an affront to the design gods. I told him no. And he said, you know what? I think you're done. I think you're done with the politics side of things. I think you're ready to do your own thing. And I was like, I think you're right. So everything just kind of aligned and you know, as, as you are starting your own, your own business a completely different set of challenges, the work ebbs and flows. You are always in sales mode. The buck stops with you and I'm, yeah, it's a completely different set of challenges, but you're also operating on your own terms. So I, as someone who is challenged and exhilarated by those kinds of things that exist within that discomfort, I feel like it's a, it's a really strong fit at this point.

Dianne:         Yes. I think that's really great advice that both of us can give to listeners out there. It's like understanding your values, understanding what's important to you, and pivoting based on that. Like obviously money is a factor. We are all privileged if we get to like, take a step back and do our own thing for sure. But also recognizing that if you had done this, you would've been doing something very similar and you might not have been able to grow in the capacity that you wanted to. So by going out on your own, you chose to be uncomfortable <laugh> to be in a space you didn't know and push yourself. And I think that goes back to what we originally talked about, which was like disconnection. Once you have that disconnection, like understanding what it is, how to solve for it, and what to do from there.

Dianne:         And a lot of the time it is putting yourself in an uncomfortable position that you don't know if it's gonna be success or failure, but that's where you learn and where you grow the most, in my opinion. So, I think that's great.

Justin:           Excellent points. And, and the, the validation for me was, you know, I, I've, I've written a couple books, I've given a lot of talks in front of a lot of people, and that's never rattled me. What rattled me over the course of my 25 years in design was let's go around the room and introduce each other. Let's, let's start here. And if there, whether there's two people on the call or 10 people on the call every time, if it's a client call, I would be like so you know, should I say my job title? Like, what do I do? Like, every time I would stumble and get caught, the first client meeting I had was an anomaly in a room with a client, it just flowed, let's go around a room, a room and introduce yourselves.

Justin:           And I was comfortable. I wasn't rattled. It just came straight off and I felt really good about it. And I, I did a self check when I got back in my car after that, and I was like, what the heck happened there? Like, cause I, I, I'm very self-conscious about let's go around the room and introduce yourself. And I, I did a self check and I'm like, I was existing in my own environment at that point, and I knew I'm very confident in the decisions I made and, and what I've, what I've built. And I could speak about my values very clearly, and there were no political implications there. Should I say something with this person in the room or should not. It was just everything, everything jelled. So that was the validation for me.

Dianne:         Yeah, for sure. And I think it's important to recognize those moments too, right? Like, I love that you do self check-ins. I think that's really powerful. Like, what went well, what didn't go well, and you had that moment of clarity, which is super interesting. And actually, so kind of segueing into, I think this is a concept that you talk about in your book is your North Star. So I wanna dive a little bit deeper on that. Can you, can you explain what you mean by that concept? I know you mentioned a little, but I also think it's really relevant to what you were just saying.

Justin:           Yeah. It's more or less where, where you're going and why, why you're going there, I guess. I think I will wrap up the book about saying, you know, we've given you the tools about, you know, where to align to what, where, and why you create. And I think it's just having a clear sense of, of, of what that is. And, you know, that takes time. I'm not saying we have those answers straight away. I mean, I, I did not have that answer on day one. Absolutely. Full, full candor and transparency. It took me a while to get to. At first, I just wanted to get experience and I, I, I just, you know, I wanted a job, I wanted a design job. And I think at that point, getting experience is great. And then I'm like do I wanna go? Am I an ic?

Justin:           I didn't even know that term at that point, but like, am I rewarded by my hands or am I more rewarded by helping other folks grow and evolve? So I think those self check-ins come in segments along the way in your career. And I think as long as you're consistently doing that, where I'm going and, you know, I, I use North Star in the book, but like where I'm going like what, what path am I charting? It's just good to check in on yourself along the way, and like you said, as a dis as an anti disconnection mechanism. I think that is a fantastic way to go about it. And like, you know, like I said, when I got in the car after that anomaly meeting, and I'm like, why did that just flow this time? And I just sat there and I thought about it for a little bit. So I think it's great. Yes, design is a profession and it's a career, and it's a way of putting food on the table. But I think at the same time, when we're mindful of those who are interacting with what we create or how we can operate at our peak, I think we have to be equally mindful of those things as well.

Dianne:         Yeah. what you just said at the end is something you also said kind of at the beginning of our conversation is what, how it, what we do impacts others? And, and that's a huge part of UX design, UX thinking, what we need to bring into whatever company we're in, whether we started or not. The UX concept is there. And so how, well, I guess my question, I guess kind of goes to company culture is do you have an example or can you share an instance where design played a pivotal role in shaping the company's culture and making sure that you're understanding those UX principles and applying them to, to the company you're in?

Justin:           Yeah for sure. So when I made the transition from that Swedish agency into that VP of design role, and that was with a healthcare organization that was ultimately acquired by C V S Health, which is a Fortune five business. Yeah. And I came in there with my Swedish cultural values in place. And this is, you know, a much larger corporation, much larger corporation. I'm effectively a cog and a massively complex machine. And as an acquired company, more or less within CVS itself. And I wanted to design, boy, wanted to do these things his way. So I started wanting to do my onboarding on a Friday instead of a Monday. And that, that fellow who I mentioned before, who was my boss, who reached out to me later about that second opportunity, he was my boss there.

Justin:           And I was able to say, I wanna do it this way but I wanna do it this way and it's trackable. I wanna make change, but this change is measurable. So whenever you wanna make change with an organization regardless of if you're hierarchically a design leader or if you're a design leader in spirit at any level of, of every, any level of your career it feels good. Only moves the needle so much within the business, it feels good and it helps the business because of X, Y, Z. That's where you're actually able to make change. So I said, I wanna, I'd like to bring folks in on a Friday. Instead, I wanna do my thing where I, you know, I'm gonna welcome them at the door. I want their laptop already there. I'm gonna have a card signed by the team there welcoming them to the organization.

Justin:           We're gonna leave at about one o'clock and we're not coming back. There's no work gonna be done that day. No, no billable hours will be logged. And we're gonna go around the city. I'm gonna take them to some, I'm gonna ask them to take me someplace and inspire them, but let me do this over six months, or let me do this over a year and let's see how it affects attrition. Let's see how it affects organic marketing. Let's track when people come in and we ask how they found us. Have they been looking at our blog posts, about how we're hiring folks? That was all trackable and measurable, and obviously the results were there. And I had my, my boss again, C level had my back in totality within this large organization. And, you know, when I was on, I was on the leadership team there with the VPs of the other groups, it products, sales, client relations you know, my boss said, tell these folks what you're doing.

Justin:           Tell them how this level of, I'm gonna say design thinking. I don't mean design thinking, the, the practice. I mean applying design to thinking tell 'em how this is working. And they were really intrigued. So they're like, okay, I'm gonna do this. I don't know about the inspiration part, but tell me about this part. And it just started impact hiring across the tech organization, which is what we existed within. And it started in, you know, in influencing its way through the other organizations as well. And everybody got very intrigued by that and it started to work. So I think that's a great example of you know, people first can be a tagline or on a bumper sticker or in your swag when you get hired, but when you actually see that in practice whenever you see businesses values tangibly and actions over words, I think that's a very impactful thing. So it was great to see that happen.

Dianne:         Yes, that was a really good example. <Laugh>, I, yes, I I think that is great for like the listeners out there is, I mean, being measurable and actionable, that's like a UX principle, right? Like everything we do, prob needs to have data to back it up. That's how we're able to make our decisions and move forward. And so you being able to apply that directly into this really large company and show the value of giving, they gave you the space to do it, which is awesome. And then that you actually got to show that value and they saw interest and then it was impacted throughout the company. Like that is an ideal situation of being able to bring some of that thinking in. What were, were there any people that were not on board with these ideas and like, what was their feedback? What, were there questions to you of like, why does this make sense?

Justin:           No, no major pushback per se, cuz I think it was on the other leaders within the organization to take the bits and pieces that work for them the most, right? If I said, if it was like cookie cutter, okay, you are taking someone out and asking them how they inspire you, like, I think that would be a little more discomfort. But I outlined the activities for the day, but I think the more important takeaway from that is why I was doing it. And it's, again, it's all those underlying things. I wanna show respect. I wanna show our values and practice. I wanna show I value this person as an individual rather than the name and a piece of paper. Those were the things I wanted more instilled rather than, you know, here's the just a dollar way of onboarding. It's not, it's not about me, it's not about the way I structure a day. It's the way they are going to welcome someone into their organization and ideally have those values carried through from the most micro level interaction on day one through the most macro level on day 500. So those are the more important things to me. And I think if I, if, you know, I said, here's the playbook, do it like this. I think I would've gotten pushback, but that's not the way we <laugh>, we rolled it up.

Dianne:         Right? It's interesting, some of these concepts, like your concept, are really simple. It's like, hey, be there for someone that's starting, be there to support them. But like you mentioned as an example, you brought, you came up with this concept because there were times in your life starting a career where that didn't happen. And in, in our minds we're like, oh my gosh, of course that would never happen. Like, why would someone just let someone walk in and no one knows? But it happens regularly on a daily basis, right? Like, it's just a fact that it happens even if we're, we think that it's such an easy thing to avoid. And so I think that talks a lot about things like processes and culture and I don't know the question I'm asking specifically, but I think there's these soft skills and these ways that we should be acting and a lot of organizations act below that which I find really fascinating. So maybe the question is to designers out there that are listening, like how could they go into their organization or what advice would you have for them to be able to build a better culture or maybe some questions or things they can be thinking about to talk to management or higher up people?

Justin:           One of the amazing, I don't mean to sound like a sociopath here, but one of the amazing things from the great resignation or whatever you wanna call it at this point mm-hmm <affirmative>, it's been going on three, four years now is designers and folks broadly are not settling. They're not settling for value disconnection. They're not settling for the way organizations speak about values and practices rather than actually put them into play. And I think that's been fantastic, all that market testing folks, finding out what's right for them, what, what, what's right for number one. And I think that's absolutely huge. The way I'd like to answer your question is how to find an organization that mm-hmm aligns to your values. If you, if you're currently looking, we've talked a bit about if you're there, how to, how to make some impactful, measurable change hopefully.

Justin:           But when you're looking for your best fit, and my, my setup for that was that market testing there's a couple things you could do when you're just looking at a website straight away. Any business's website has gone through the same practice as we as designers go through when we're designing a website or helping a client. They've gone through IA exercises and prioritization of content. Now, when you look at an organization's website that you might be interested in, like where does about us fall in, in the navigation, where does culture fall? When you look at the about us page, is it just like the C-suite or is it the actual employees that you're seeing there? So how are they representing themselves? How, how they, or how they represent themselves is a very telling thing, if you will. Or is there like a day in the life culture kind of page or are they, are they showing how they put their values in action?

Justin:           And then when you're interviewing, you know, any interview is a conversation. It's not an interrogation. So I think coming to the table with questions that are very important to you about how, you know, you can thrive. So it's very important to have that sense of values because then you can help that, that can help you craft the questions that you're gonna come to the table with how those questions are answered I think is huge. Or is it an inter interrogation versus a conversation or are there 10 rounds versus like they're being respectful of your time and they, you know, they kind of want to get right to it. Those are very, very key things. And I've, I straight up asked before, can I talk to a former client? Can I talk to a current client? Can I talk to someone who works here now?

Justin:           Can I talk to someone who left? Like what, what, how, how close are they holding their cards to their chest more or less? And what kinda responses you get and some things they can't because of NDAs and such, but I'm just saying, you know, as designers and researchers or what have you, we have to be aware of our surroundings. We have to be aware of the responses we get. We have to be aware of the environment we exist within. Take those same eyes, that same mindset into any of these situations. Or if you're being, if you're on site, like are people looking stressed? Do people like sitting on the couch chatting? Just be aware of your environment and you're surrounding, there's a lot of like micro tells that come outside of the like if when you're showing a house and everything is staged, right? There's a lot of micro hotels around the staging side of things,<laugh>, that I think are demonstrative of a good fitter otherwise.

Dianne:         That's great advice. Thank you for taking that <laugh> question I asked and putting it into that. I think it's really interesting. And I think it's very relevant, especially now. I think there are designers out there looking for jobs and it is finding that culture fit, and that's huge. And I guess this also kind of brings us back to a different piece in our conversation, like, I think what's really hard about trying to find jobs is like, there's like a validation of getting to the next stage or getting an offer, right? And so how can someone that gets to that point be able to make that difficult decision of like, Hey, I made it this far. Should I continue? Or, I got offered this job, it's good money, do I want to take it even though there were red flags? And I think, yeah, I don't know how you feel about that or what advice you would give, but I think that's probably something that people are thinking about, thinking about now as they dive deeper into understanding the culture of organizations.

Justin:           Yeah, there's always a trade off. There is, you know, I think when we come back to that, that notion of self-reflection not every business is, you know, utopic as we've discussed. Those are hard to find and, and takes some care to, to locate and some, you know, have, have faster paced culture and some things are terrible buzzwords there, but faster paced cultures or in business environments, let's say, or they're more demanding of hours. Like if you worked in TV and film, you know, you get the production schedules sometimes they work into two in the morning and that's just the way that sector is, right? So I think there's give and give and take there in terms of having a clear sense of what you are willing to function with or without when you're taking a role.

Justin:           And another interesting nugget in your question was career evolution and, and progression and what is a best fit? And, when I think of that, I think of, you know, a lot of folks are driven by what I like to call LinkedIn progression, showing I was a junior, mid senior management just like having that very clear sense of resume based progression. Again, it's not the worst thing in the world, and that's perfectly fine to exist in that circumstance for many people. But also, I will say I have managed folks who have been in the same IC caliber role, like art director, no direct reports, tone setting, undesigned for no joke. I had a fellow who was in my previous role for about 30 years, 30, 35 years.

Justin:           Same kind of thing. Brilliant, brilliant individual, no desire to manage anybody, no desire for title change, and that's fine for him. Like I said, just said, LinkedIn, LinkedIn progression is fine. For some people, that was fine for him. So I think having that sense of what is right for me, what will come back to fulfillment, what is my most fulfilling career route? If it is, do I need to feel societally or what do I wanna say, pressured to come, you know, have this constant progression up, up, up, up, up. If management is not my best fit, that's what I'm trying to get to. If having direct reports is not my best fit. So be comfortable with what, who you are, be comfortable with what you feel is the most fulfilling thing. You don't have to manage folks. If you, if managing others and helping others grow and evolve is the way you go, that's fantastic. But if you, if that's not the right fit, that's okay, it's okay. It's okay to be an IC or you know, be rewarded by your own hands in motion or, or how your work is evolving. That's absolutely fantastic as well. So a bit of an ambiguous, rambling <laugh> point or response to your question, but I think there's some food for thought there.

Dianne:         No, for sure, for sure. I think it's definitely, I like what you said about the LinkedIn progression and we all, that's like our resume, right? And I, I think that we talked a lot about today and the great resignation and what you should be looking for culture fit wise. And I think you touched on something really powerful like, today it's honestly acceptable to do whatever you want, however you wanna do it. Like you and I, we went out on our own, we made our own agencies. Or maybe you become a design influencer, like, or you sell courses, like there's so many directions you can take design that you don't have to fit into this box that was previously defined for us as designers. So you don't always have to be moving up. You don't have to be a manager if you don't wanna be a manager.

Dianne:         And a lot of people, especially designers, I think this is a very generalized statement, but designers are more, maybe more introverts and they really like just being on their computer, working with their hands, designing. And if that's you own it <laugh>, find that as your value and figure out where you can go from there. So I, I think your answer was definitely inspiring and it probed me on that thought as well. So yeah, that was great. So, awesome. So I have a final kind of question for you about the future <laugh>. And you've been in this industry for a while. You, you talked about.com boom, like when you kind of started building websites and like, I mean, you obviously know this question is going, but where do you see design going? Where do you see designers fitting in the future? Obviously the buzzword is ai, is it gonna take over now what we can do with Firefly Adobe? Like what's your assumption or direction?

Justin:           Yeah, it's, you know, I'm gonna come back to a point I made previously and that is always being students of our craft to see where things go and evolve. And I think when you, you know, when we have that approach and you know, this, the fireflight integration within the Adobe suite is just mind blowing what I, what I've seen videos of in the little I've tinkered with that's gonna change workflows and, and the way we create work. And I think we're just obviously scratching the surface here. So going in it with a, with a humble lens and, and just saying all, you know, less feeling threatened and more feeling how this can enhance the way I'm going to work. Maybe remove some of my fulfillment from my work because I like doing it there. I like getting in there and and and using the rubber stamp tool and now this is gonna kinda eliminate that.

Justin:           So maybe I wanna try something over here. I don't know, I think it's kind of fun and, you know, leveraging my own lens of vulnerability and candor. It's a little scary. It is a little scary. It's brand new and it's, it's okay to be scared and it's okay to exist within that discomfort. But just kind of going along for the ride and seeing how this can enhance things or maybe you wanna make a shift. You know, I think if I gave you a fixed answer and I said I think design is going exactly here or there, like Apple, you know, just came out yesterday with that headset and I'm, my first reaction is who's gonna use that? And I'm like, oh, it's kind of cool. And then I'm like, oh, it's too expensive, but it's isolating. So I don't know, do we have to wear l learn spatial design now or be aware of that, that kind of those Ironman mask displays?

Justin:           Yeah, we should probably see what's going on with that. But maybe that's a new career path option. Maybe that's something I'm not interested in. So I'm rambling a little bit. But I think just going with the flow in a way not feeling overly threatened by things evolving cuz things are evolving quickly now. I think just how Chet g p t has evolved from version one to now is just nuts. <Laugh>. Yes. It's just nuts. So I think we just have to kind of go along for the ride more or less and those self checks that we've mentioned along the way I think will tie another point in being our north star and help us figure out how we want to chart our own path. But it's a really exciting time to see where things are going.

Dianne:         Yes. I definitely second everything you said. I think that what I liked is you, we brought back to a lot of points in the conversation, but I think the overall message is like you as a designer, like know your values, know your core beliefs, which you mentioned a lot, and take those core beliefs and then be open to everything else because that's what's powerful. It's so exciting. I feel like designers that are coming in now, maybe new fresh designers doing bootcamps, like this is such a fascinating time, the design space and like, yeah, I was talking to my partner about the new apple goggles, I don't know if they're called goggles…

Justin:           I'm not sure.

Dianne:         You look at goggles, <laugh>, whatever they're called. I think it's like we were saying like, oh we're gonna look back at this conversation and like 15 years, remember we were like, who's gonna wear that? And then we're like, oh remember like 20 years ago no one had cell phones and now they're locked to us. Like we're all gonna be potentially walking around with these goggles on our face, right? Like embracing that and trying to get into that now and experiment with it is gonna be a really powerful tool for you designers out there. So yes, I think what you said is awesome and I Great point. Agree with everything <laugh>. Well awesome. Thank you so much Justin for being here. It was super interesting to dive a little bit more here about your career. I'm really excited for your book. We'll definitely make sure to tag it in the comments. Comes out June 27th. So be on the lookout for his book and fulfillment and the designer's journey. Thank you so much again and we definitely will continue this conversation at a later date. I wanna follow along on your journey.

Justin:           Awesome. Thanks Dianne. Appreciate it.

Dianne Eberhardt

Dianne Eberhardt

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