— Nina Mehta

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A design leader lives in two worlds: product design and the business. It’s your job to mediate when the needs of designers and the needs of the business compete.

Designers want to make great products

These people are probably why you became a manager. You love design, you work with great designers, and you want to use your experiences to help grow their skills and careers. Designing great products can turn into more repeat and new customers: a happy business.

Continue reading on Medium: https://medium.com/the-ligature/advocating-to-the-business-for-your-designers-c3f9f2986893#.575ry4xjh

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Designers at Pivotal Labs have two jobs:

  1. design great products
  2. enable clients to design great products

Yes of course a designer’s work includes user goals, business goals, team collaboration etc, but at the core this is how I see it. And if our team ourselves are struggling, burn out, or don’t deepen their craft doing #1,  then #2 can’t happen.

Designing great products (1) and enabling clients to design great products (2) regularly leads to repeat and extended client engagements. Similarly pivot design pairing leads to pivot happiness which improves retention and reduces recruiting, hiring, and HR costs. We need more pivot design pairing.

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Pivot Pairing

Design and programmers work are both generative and exploratory work. To that end, design the work benefits from pairing for the same reasons it benefits pair programmers: diversity of ideas, driver and navigator, collective ownership, increased discipline, fewer interruptions/working in flow etc.

It’s important for these individuals to have contexts to deepen their craft, which often comes with pairing. Senior designers are more likely to get paired with clients or junior designer since they are likely the best mentors from a technical perspective. Learning at work falls by the wayside when their pairs are not practitioners, but someone who got put into a practitioner role and work time is constrained to 40 hours. In short: designers also need to geek out at work.
Client pairing
We get some of these benefits when pairing with a client. But pairing with a client is doing extra mental consulting gymnastics to achieve #2, leaving less energy #1. Programmers often see relief when they rotate pairs the next day. Designers rotate pairs after a few months, and often go onto another client designer.

Having one designer on a project, or one pivot and one client designer requires that Pivot individual to be an off the charts unicorn with remarkable humility. Why? Because we have three streams of work: research, interaction, and visual plus collaboration with development. Two people makes it possible to distribute the mental and sometimes tactical effort.

Enabling clients is hard because we are defending our work, teaching our process, and designing complex systems all at the same time.We have to start our client mentorship from a strong place so we can help our client designers. A lot goes on the shoulders of one person for the intensity of the work we do. Design is a team sport, not facilitating lots of non-designers.

Sales, Scoping, Hiring, and Staffing

Having more designers in an office would likely change the staffing needs all the way from a sales and scoping perspective. When we have too many engineers on the beach we start research and software development at the same time.  Doing this slows the entire success of a project down anyway, ultimately hurting the success of a project whether it’s measured by client enablement or execution of product. Doing this once and a while is understandable but this solution on repeat burns designers out. The team needs time to think about a problem and approach a solution before it can be built.

Schedule and staffing is an art not a science. If only a few Pivots have experience with the design process, the designers ends up leading a hungry-to-learn team will want to be involved with everything. That gets celebrated as “balanced team”. It’s possible the newcomers to design will want to see all the activities, inflating the process and ultimately unbalancing the project and hurting client success, a good name in the community, and future projects. When pivots are paired more often they can be better consultants when they are paired with client designer. Pairing pivot designers invests in project success by investing in individuals first. I’ve seen this approach regularly lead to repeat client engagements or project extensions.

Hire more designers

The hiring, sales, and staffing plans should start from two pivot designers pairing and deviate for individual circumstances. This will increase the quality of products, projects, pivot happiness, client happiness, transformation success, which ultimately benefits the business goals.

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Munich is a lovely place in Bavaria. If you’re looking for pretzels, sausage, mugs of beer and men in lederhosen, it’s all here for you, in full authenticity. A colleague of mine describes it as a Heilewelt: an ideal heavenly world. She says it’s so nice and even a little blind to problems of the real world, but she says that’s exactly what makes it perfect for a short holiday.

Eisbach Wave

You wouldn’t expect to see surfers in a land-locked city, but a small ridge in the Isar River made the perfect spot for these wave runners. The steadiness of the wave gives the offers an especially hypnotic experience that’s hard not to enjoy.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

Gardens 

Follow the river and you’ll find yourself in the Englischer Garten. It’s as big as Central Park and makes for a wonderful walk on a sunny day. Treat yourself to the beer, sausage, chicken, pretzels, and saurkraut at the Seehaus. You can watch or join people and ducks paddle down the water on a lazy afternoon.  

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If you love swans as much as I do, these ones will rock your world.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

It might sound dark or creepy to hang out in a cemetery but the Alter Nordfriedhof is a calm, quiet, relaxing place people like to go for runs. If you can find the gravestone with the Pyramids of Egypt, I’ll send you a treat.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

Cocktails

Now let’s say you’re tired of beer, and you just might be. There are more delicious cocktails bars than you’d expect in Munich. I had some yummy drinks at the Couch Club. I later learned their specialty is Gin so definitely don’t miss their salad in a glass basil gin smash.

Art

There are more art museums in Munich than I’d expect considering the size. There are even a few James Turrell installations which was a high to-do on my list. Sadly the Häusler Contemporary is only open a few days a week and sometimes by appointment only. Someone please go on my behalf!

I was pretty disappointed about the Turrell thing but was equally pleasantly surprised when coming across the backside of the Bayerische Staatsoper opera house. It’s beautiful from all angles and worth strolling through. You won’t regret it.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

I felt rumblings of an unexpected subculture art scene in Munich. Skateboarders, street artists, and Berlin style underground techno parties.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

There’s much more to see and do in München than what I listed here. But these are my top pics from my last visit. Enjoy.

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Enjoy a spring holiday in this beautiful Dutch canal city. It’s home to 90 islands and 1,500 bridges. The canals were dug up in 17th century which means the shape of this city is quite designed. But more than most it truly feels like a living organism. Bikers, drivers, trams, and pedestrians gently ebb and flow through streets like boats on the canal.

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Keukenhof Tulip Garden
During my short spring weekend I frolicked through the remarkable Keukenhof tulip gardens. You’ll probably find this remarkable even if you’re not into plants. I never knew there were so many kinds of beautiful tulips (with funny names like Foxy Foxtrot). The gardens are in Lesse, Netherlands. But other people do, so here are the protips to avoid the crowds:

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  • The gardens open at 8am. Arrive as early as possible. It’s annoying by 11am.
  • Reduce your commute time by taking an Uberx to the gardens. You can take a bus to the airport and train from the airport back to Amsterdam. We spent about 50 Euro each way. It’s a bit steep but you may find it worth it if your time is also limited, especially at 7am.
  • The East side of the garden is a little less gimmicky. But the gimmicks are hilarious. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.
  • The closed pavilion looks boring from the outside but houses hundreds of amazing tulip types. Don’t miss this especially if you’re having a heightened experience.

I also got these super comfy plus house clogs from the Miffy bunny store inside the garden. Their hilarious and I recommend you also buy a pair.

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Cocktails

This is a beer city. For a delicious cocktail make a reservation at Door 74. The entrance is non-descript but knock on that door and give your name. It’s unpretentious, very yummy, and has a kind staff who will take care of you.

Though, you can also try without a reservation and go to Blomenbar (flower bar) for a cheap beer while you wait. But make sure you look up and see the hand painted flower crown molding on the ceiling:

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Indonesian Food

Once a colony to The Netherlands, the Indonesian have a vibrant food scene in Amsterdam. The dinner at The Long Pura was knockout and given to me on a recommendation from my favorite foodies Jason and Faye. They claimed it to be one of their best meals on their Europe food tour. Get one of the samplers, it won’t disappoint. If you go a la carte, the clear soup and chicken satay are unbelievable. Skip the lamb. Reservations should be easy to make and are possible online.

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Museums

Most of the museums are near each other, so if possible visit a few in one big circuit. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to buy tickets online in advance. It’s very easy, even from a mobile device but it will jump nearly every queue for you. Please don’t not do this.

I really enjoyed the prostitutions exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum. The curators were very pro-women and the content and historical education was remarkable. The rest of the museum was pretty crowded so Id really only go here if you’re wild for Van Gogh or the special exhibit is good and a delicious cafe.

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The Stedelijk Museum houses modern and contemporary art pieces. Again I recommend seeing which pieces are on right now. I read somewhere James Turrell had a piece in there but I was mistaken. I did experience this 360 audio/video installation from Cally Spooner that was a little mind melting. If you’re going soon, check this out. And if you’re looking for some great art reads they have an excellent book store. Nearby is the Moca Museum which right now has a Banksy/Warhol exhibit. I skipped it and had a sunny nap in the slanty park.

The Anne Frank House had a queue longer than Berghain on klubnacht. I’m not sure if you can get tickets in advance but if this is something you want to do, plan accordingly.

Bicycles & Canals

I was planning to borrow a bike from a friend and cruise around all Sunday. We didn’t get to coordinate properly so it never happened. But they really have things figured out. Everything is about eye contact, it’s kind of beautiful. Everyone says this is a must do followed by renting a boat and cruising down the canal!

All in all it will be hard to not love Amsterdam. It’s a beautiful, kind, creative, feminine city that will welcome you with open arms. Have fun!

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For a city with a serious dedication to extended youth, the cohabitation with adults and actual children in Berlin is remarkable. My perspective here is often compared to life in the States and citylife in general. Both together are hard places for children to live.

Simple things like sidewalks, restaurant, cafes, and parks play nicely with parents and singles alike. In San Francisco and Chicago there were family places and regular places. The deeper into the city, the more I felt people making a stink eye to someone who brought their youngin along.

During one of my first weekends here I went for a long brunch with some local friends. Their son 9-year old son was climbing on the sofa and playing with the adults in the group. Sometimes wanted attention but never crying, screaming, or yanking on his father’s coat for entertainment.

I don’t see kids demanding for attention in public places or crying in the supermarket. Maybe parents raise their children differently in Berlin. That must make it easier to bring them along to whatever the parents have going on. And the parents I’m meeting somehow seem to have time for themselves. Do Europeans have an extra few hours in the day? Why are Americans always so tight on time?

However last night I saw some kids also around 9 or 10 years old with their parents in a smoke-free Belgian beer bar. I think they drew the doodles on the wall behind the cash register (above). That was surprising and unexpected. Americans are somewhat conservative about alcohol so having kids in the bar was a strange for me. But maybe there’s some other context I don’t have yet. I’m curious about German parenting.

Ok also, kids have these awesome Fred Flinstone bikes to help them learn the hardest part of riding a bike first: balance. It’s not that related to this post but it’s so fantastic and you need to know about it.

 

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Bauhaus design school teacher Johannes Itten said:

“The way we breath is the way we think.”

He believed breathing quietly, slowly, and deeply is the foundation of creative energy. In fact in his classroom, courses began with simple breathing and physical exercises to help students find a rhythm, the foundation of their creative energy.

In plain english, designers need to be deeply connected to themselves before they can create anything meaningful for someone else. It makes sense that they started by looking inward.

The early 20th century Bauhaus art school and design movement is so hard to describe because it doesn’t have a specific look or style, but only unified philosophies. And though it was born of the industrial revolution in Germany, Bauhaus designers celebrated designing well made products to last forever. The impact on the future was much more relevant than profit margins. So of course, designers had to be intimately in touch with themselves and nature to create from this perspective.

But nearly 100 years later and slow, deep, quiet, inward looking practice is even more relevant for designers because:

Software products are deeply connected to the consumer’s psychological experience

The creators of technology can have a scary amount of impact on the intimacy of someone’s life. How people eat, sleep, live, date, work, and so on is directly related to technology. Ten years ago laying in bed with a computer would sound wildly robotic. And now many find it harder to quit their cellphones than cigarettes. To deeply connect with the physiological and psychological experience of our customers, we first must be connected to ourselves. We start by looking inward and taking the impact of our work seriously.

Designers have never been asked to or been able to mass produce at such a fast rate

Before software, product designers would sketch and prototype with wood, steel, plastic, fabrics and other physical materials. Eventually their work would be produced in a factory and then ship to stores for display and sales.  This is why we had a waterfall process for so long.The time from ideation to manifestation took months if not years.

Intangible, non-physical, software design made it possible for agile development and lean design processes. We learn as we go and make changes inspired by what we learn. We can move faster than ever before, but that’s getting mistaken for better. When we move too fast, we end up too closely connected to the “scurrying rat-race of everyday life” and further from a deep, quiet, inward looking process.

Slow Lean Design

Many celebrate lean and agile because it’s so much faster than waterfall. But our challenge ahead is a lean and agile process where designers can think deeply about their work without shipping the first idea that’s good enough. In the beginning of a lean process, we want to validate ideas and ship as fast as possible to learn quickly. But product teams need to create time for the right expression of a validated idea. For example: now we’ve validated people want to taxis on demand, let’s make time to create the best way to order a taxi on demand. That second half is the expression of the idea.

Some parts of that expression will come from user research and quantitative data. But there is no objective design. No mater how user centered, the work a designer creates will in some part be an expression of who they are.

Author Jeff Sussna wrote about mindfulness and design. In summary, he challenges designers to think beyond improving a product but to create products or services free of distractions so customers can be completely focused on their task at hand. He has an excellent example about laundry services. e.g. I don’t necessarily need laundry to go away or to be faster. I may need a way to make laundry a preferred activity.

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Slow Berlin 

Let’s bringing this back to my Berlin experience. My work weeks move really fast. Too fast. I used this long weekend to stay in the city and find some stillness. I visited the Bauhaus Archiv and thought a lot about their teaching process. They start from perfecting their craft rather than production. Students in the beginning simply play and explore materials. I thought about this while walking in the rain through Tiergarten and the next day went on an artist date to the Modulor art store. I touched all the felt, plastic, metals, papers and markers. I’d tell you more about it but I need to go play with my new paint brushes and chalk.

Have a deep breath!


 

If you also believe design and software have a relationship to nature, you might like my minimalist technology posters.

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Going to shows, concerts, and gigs in Berlin are so wonderful because of the polite and considerate audiences. I find these kinds of things relaxing because I am charged by the energy of people. I find it restful to be in an immersive sensory experience: music, dance, good food, delicious drinks.

In Berlin, more than other places it’s easy to go out for music and not need to talk. People focus on the music and enjoy the togetherness without conversation overtaking the primary experience. In fact, it even affects the sound: in American clubs and concert halls there’s a layer of chatter on top of the music. The sound guys have to tune it louder and even for other reasons it becomes more intense.

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Even this week I went to a night event where Max Richter’s 8-hour composition was intended to be heard while sleeping. A few hundred people gathered in a powerplant and slept on individual cots while listening to the music. I loved sharing the experience with so many people without having to be directly and explicitly engaged. When we talk about being extroverted and being charged by people, it doesn’t necessarily mean talking.

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Here’s my summary of the best talks at the IXDA Conference in Helsinki Finland. My comments and some extra links are in the speaker notes.

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Setting up your new design hire for success

New jobs are exciting, hopeful, and a little nerve-wracking. Set a positive and safe tone in the very first one-on-one with your new designer. You are the guide through their first time user-experience at this new job.

Continue reading on Medium

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I got the sick this week. It rained, hailed, snowed, and I accidentally left one of my windows open overnight because I don’t understand German windows.

Well, now I do.

After some coughing and sneezing, I went home for a long sleep and picked up the next day back on track. In the past I would have completed some tasks from bed extending my cold. There’s something in the air here keeping me from my natural tendency to overwork. It doesn’t make much logical sense because I have more responsibilities and more free time. I’m leading the design practice in Berlin which means:

  1. doing design work on a project
  2. managing designers who report to me
  3. checking in with visiting Pivotal designers
  4. checking in with client and contract designers
  5. leading or delegating design talks, workshops, and critiques in the office and in the community
  6. recruiting designers (getting to know the design scene)
  7. hiring designers
  8. staying connected with the Europe offices

In San Francisco I was only doing #1 and #2. Before, I really thought doing all of these activities meant giving up some part of my personal life. I’m learning so much becoming the professional I’ve wanted to be for a long time. For that I’m thrilled.

It’s hard though, also learning German, make friends, go on some dates, eating well, sleeping well, and having some time to just laze around on the couch. And there are days when I want to ask to the sky “does this all really fit? this doesn’t all fit! how is this an example of everything fitting?

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

That’s usually a signal to go enjoy some music or art and let my mind wander. After that I realize I can cancel some meetings, archive some emails, and remind my project team I haven’t deprioritized the design work. I can’t tell is if this shift came from the natural cycle of career growth or something special in European culture. I dunno man. I’m working hard, having fun, and taking naps on the couch. Sounds good to me!

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