Leading Design 2019: better peopling

Now that I’m here in New York, I see so many problems and opportunities through the lens of people. Big numbers of people, of all kinds of people. The Leading Design Conference for the first time held in the United States, was in New York. I’m taking three themes home with me from the conference: diversity, authenticity, and human centered design.

The three themes are so interconnected. A team with different experiences and perspectives is only if they can bring their whole selves to work. We have to recreate our spaces, meetings, conversations, and ways of working so approach work in new and more open ways. We lost along the way was human centered design, as Kim Goodwin put it. Not the user, not the customer, not the business, but the human being, their feelings, emotions, family, and life experiences. And sometimes, daily survival

We learned in so many ways that if we move fast and break things, we break things. Technology changes elections. Elections change real policies. Janice Fraser is the only conference speaker who ever brought me to tears.

How can we come to work fully if we are not safe at home? The same applies for the people on our team.

Abortion bans are a workplace issues.
Immigration is workplace issues.
Shootings are a workplace issue
Who you sleep with is a workplace issue

It’s our job as leaders to make safe work environments. The tech industry, especially the platforms, no longer get to claim impartiality and neutrality to politics. To change the culture we have to change how we bring ourselves to work.

In journalism school, I learned the best way to make a story relatable is to make it personal and specific rather than generic and all-encompassing. When people understand another persons’s experience, they’re more likely to feel real deep human connections.

Margaret Lee, Director of User Experience Design, Google

So many of the speakers at leading design talked about their childhoods, their parents, their children, their challenges with race, accents at school, and their real life daily struggles as leaders. Only in the last few years have I heard other Americans telling the No, where are you really from? story. Who we are, is how we lead. And it lets the designers on our team bring their full selves to work, comfortably, and safely.

Farai Madzima, UX Lead, Shopify (Canada)

So we have to earn back the trust from our customers. Kim Goodwin reminded us to come back to human-centered design. How are we building in terms of our goals and values? I so appreciated she reminded us to remember what we’re not willing to sacrifice to meet our KPIs. What is not negotiable? What do we stand for?

Every speaker, in their own way, reminded us to reflect on our own personal values and beliefs. What and who do you want to bring to work everyday? Be that person. No less and no more.

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about Nina at

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