— Nina Mehta

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Design

This post was originally written in 2010.

Anticipating response from an employer you desire is hard. Every day feels like a year. In the age of Likes and Retweets, we’ve become conditioned to expect instant gratification and feedback.

Almost all design jobs will ask for a portfolio and many require a design project. Seize this opportunity to not only show your design style, but also how to present information, how you write, how you research, your design style and your coding abilities if possible.

Now, take it a step further. Want to stand out from a sea of resumes? Build a 1-page site that speaks directly to the company you’re courting. Show the team you love, that you understand their vision, their values, their voice. Show them you care about those things too. Explain why you’re a good fit. Use it as an opportunity to show things that don’t fit in your portfolio or resume.

P1040425 I included photos of books I was reading and linked to relevant blog posts I had written that would speak to them. I did this for at least 10 companies while searching for jobs and internships over the last few years. From here I would link directly to the most relevant projects I had worked on so they wouldn’t even have to leave the page and visit my portfolio.

When you apply create a unique URL. I would store all my pages in a directory called /loves/. So site for Twilio would be at http://ninamehta.com/loves/twilio. From there I can see how many people saw my work, how long they spent on the page and how many people visited the page.

If you’re so lucky to be invited to come in for an interview, you can also see if anyone from the team looks at your work again before you come in and afterwards. This is also a secret clue to knowing how familiar they might be with who you are or what you’ve worked on.

If your link got zero hits, it’s something you can be mindful of when walking the interviewer through your portfolio. If you know they traversed every crevice of your site, that’s also good knowledge to have in your back pocket.

The goals remain the same. The application is to earn an interview. The interview is to goal a second interview. The second or third interview is to earn a job offer. All-the-while be sure you are interviewing the company yourself and determining if it’s a good place for you to learn and grown.

Save time, make a template. Most employers probably won’t know you are doing this for other companies. Well unless you tell them. Or you blog about it 🙂 I did once tell a team I made sites like theirs for a few companies. When I hopped onto my analytics dashboard, I could see other company URLs they tried. Tricky!

I did not make a custom site when I interviewed with Twilio. So this process doesn’t necessarily work for every company or every team. But sometimes it does work and it did lead me to offers otherwise.

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Ditch your laundry list of topics you want to write about. Ignore all the outlines you started months, nay, years ago. They’ll be useful later. Maybe.

My biggest writing secret is getting down what I have on my mind the moment the idea strikes. Usually it’s in the morning when the internet is quiet and my mind has time to wander in the shower. Don’t worry about an introduction, conclusion, the flow, grammar, any of it yet. Just get your raw message down. Edit later.

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Losing a loved one is painful and personal. Figuring out how to grieve at work or support a colleague can be confusing. For me the heavy feelings come in waves, sometimes slow, heavy, and droning. Sometimes bright and sharp like a tiger in the face. It can change from minute-to-minute, hour-by-hour, and phase-by-phase. This makes it hard to know what kind of support to ask for, what to take, and how to describe my experience.

I’m reading Sheryl Sandburg’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy about how she moved through the sudden death of her husband Dave. She’s right that “how are you” feels like a ridiculous, unanswerable question. But “how are you today?” or “how are you feeling right now?” is a much easier question to answer.

I lost several close friends in the last few years. That’s not supposed to happen this young. Going to work is so hard. In one case I was a manager spinning many plates and in the second at a new job still getting my footing. On top of the complexities of dealing with the actual grief, my internal dialogue  in the office was louder than ever. I wondered:

Am I acting weird? Can people tell something happened to me? Should I try to act normal? Will it be awkward if I bring it up? How many details are TMI? How much time off is too much? Should I feel guilty for trying to do daily normal things? If look happy at work, will people know I’m still in pain? Do they need to know? Is it ok to feel depressed at work? Do I have to explain my feelings to colleagues? 

When will it get easier? 

Story 1

At my last job, I didn’t tell anyone what happened until I snapped at someone in a meeting. It was pretty harsh and abnormal behavior for me. My manager was out of town but thankfully a mentor figure was in that meeting. She approached my outburst with compassion instead of blame. Once she learned I was grieving, I was immediately sent home with the pre-approved time off to get to rural Indiana for my friend’s funeral.

That grieving process was easier. If there can even be an easier. There was a distinct period when I was off the clock. All my time and energy for the next week was focused on getting to my lost friend’s hometown and being with her people. After her funeral, I returned back to my daily life routine. The feelings of loss still showed up in unexpected waves but the world of her people lived in my phone, not in my daily experiences.

Story 2

More recently, while several weeks into a new job, I lost a long friend I recently rekindled with. We had a lot of history and future of friendship planned for each other. I messaged my manager over the weekend and attempted to come to work. Thankfully he and his manager insisted I go home and take care of myself. My main function otherwise was a warm body in a meeting. The regular reminders from several people that it was ok to take time I need was really helpful, especially in a new environment.

Letting my manager handle communicating to the right teammates what happened was huge. It’s just a hard thing to talk about to people you just met, especially when the information is new. Talking about it makes it real. The personal outreaches were nice. It made me feel seen and felt and cared for. In this case, the friend I lost was part of the city’s fabric. People in unexpected corners of my network knew her and felt her passing. That made it very hard to move on.

Confronting our mortality

The nature of death itself requires us to face our own aliveness. Our own fragility as a simple human being becomes real. Sheryl asks us to think of how the situation could have been worse. I think her sentiment is to help you be grateful for what you have. She talks about the relief she felt, and I agree, when other people acknowledged her pain and shared their own experiences with loss.

Both friends I suddenly lost were artists. They were deeply connected to themselves but also relied on their art forms as a channel for their voice and personal challenges. The last memorial I went to had a guided meditation. He asked us to keep our eyes open, in a soft gaze. We made eye contact with others in the room and spent time seeing each other. During a time of grief, so much talking happens. Asking for support. Giving support. Recounting memories.

In this meditation, we all practiced being together, seeing each other, connecting with our pain, and also accepting something hard and unchangeable. She was a photographer. She said she wanted to make love visible, to help people see themselves as beautiful as she saw them, just the way they were.

Some meditation practices say we cannot create (or destroy) space. But we can invite it and welcome it, which at least makes it possible to feel whatever the feeling is.

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Only in Berlin could  you find so many shirts, shoes, trousers, and black hats. Alles schwarz. The first time my wardrobe went all black was ten years ago when I lived in London. The second time was during my projection art days in San Francisco. And from there it stuck until I moved to Berlin where each article has one specific cut, zipper, or pocket that gives it a special personality.

Have a careful look in the photo above. There are only a handful of people in this massive crowd wearing color. And this is the case when you look around on the streets. I guess the look is inspired by the industrial nature, the creative community, or the simplicity of a casual but effortless chic expression.

So I started playing a game with visitors to Berlin called: find someone wearing a color. If it was a drinking game, we would be sober.

A few weeks ago I made a new friend who read me this quote:

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Many would probably find this quote annoying or wrong. But ‘I don’t bother you – you don’t bother me’ fits Berlin quite well.

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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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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.

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Pivotal Labs designers, developers, and product managers pair with clients to make great software. Our founders started it as small engineering company in 1989 in San Francisco. We focused on building software the right way and later introduced design and PM so we could also build the right thing.

We recently opened the Berlin office in Friedrichshain overlooking the Spree near Warschauer Straße. It runs like a Pivotal Labs office with everything from a Director of Happiness to pairing stations. We have a delicious breakfast before our company standup at 8:30 and don’t work past 17:00. Realtalk! We are sharing a space with Volkswagen to help them build new digital products for their customers in a lean, balanced, and agile way.

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I designed posters for a series about minimalism, making software, and more subtly their relationship to nature. The rest of this post has been moved here: https://bitteschon.com/minimalist-technology-posters

 

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