Elevating the Business Impact of Design | Stephen Gates from InvisionApp | Awwwards Conf NYC


So yeah so my name is Steve Gates as he
said I have the title that always sounds like it’s out from that HBO documentary
series Silicon Valley of head design evangelist with what’s that basically
what that means is you know about a year and a half ago I joined Invision to
really look at how do we elevate the impact of design inside a lot of the
world’s best and most interesting companies and so what I get to do is
travel around the world it really is like a coach a teacher a thought leader
all kinds of stuff to be able to do that and the other thing that I am is so
about three years ago I started a podcast called the crazy one which it
was really kind of looking at you know how do we start to talk about a lot of
the issues that I feel like we’re going on in our industry that we didn’t really
talk about so with all of my talks anytime I do any sort of work the thing
that’s always the most important to me is the truth and it’s sort of
interesting because I see so many people who come to these conferences and it’s
amazing like the masks we put on everybody walks around here and wherever
you say hey how are you doing like it’s great everybody’s teams are fantastic
they are all super smart the deadlines are long the budgets are plentiful and
everyone is full of shit so a lot of what these talks are too is sort of like
part therapy and part intervention so this would be like circle of trust but I
mean this is the thing right is that you know one of the things that I can
definitely see in in this kind of position that I’m in is that as
creatives we’re having this incredible moment right like we’re having this time
whenever I would argue that we have the ability to affect business in ways we
probably haven’t seen since the Industrial Revolution which is great and
so one of the things that we did was so there’s an amazing colleague I work with
Leah bewdley and Leah did this fantastic report she asked me a couple questions
and put me down as contributing author on it called the new design frontier and
what this did was we wanted to look at what is the actual state of design and
design maturity its impact on business today not talk about it theoretically
but like actually go out and talk to a whole bunch of companies so what we did
is we went out and talked to 2,200 of them in 23 different industries in 77
different countries tons of other like consultancies and people like that have
done work like this I’ll tell you this is about 77 to 75
times big than what they’ve done now out of that
came a model and that model was basically we said for any organization
there are five levels of maturity one is basically immature you are told by
product technology somebody like that how to make things pretty level five is
the most mature this means that you are like absolutely essential to what’s
going on in business and then everything else in between so now the interesting
thing is that this is like look if you’re gonna put a chart in front of a
bunch of creatives it better be good and so this is the one that is probably the
single most stolen chart because what this study shows is you look at the
difference between companies that have high mid design maturity teams and low
design maturity teams the thing that you’ll see is that on average their
projects make about four times more revenue they’re about five times cheaper
to launch they get to market about six times faster and the valuation of those
companies is 26 times higher so the other thing that you will see is that
for low design maturity companies I’m always asked how do we measure the
impact of design and isn’t it fascinating how in high design maturity
companies nobody asks that question but here’s the other thing about this is
that whenever you actually map out all this data the concerning thing
especially for me is that 83 percent of the world’s companies are in the middle
to bottom of this maturity scale so what this means for all of us and why I come
to events like this is that design is having a moment but basically if we
can’t get our shit together and figure out how to have a bigger impact on a lot
of our companies how to break through how to start to get to the why behind
all these problems can they keep happening we’re going to just have a
moment and that’s really for me what a lot of this is about right like what is
going on because this year right now I am working with companies and teams on
five different continents in multiple different languages in multiple
different cultures but isn’t it crazy how no matter where you go in the world
we still face the same problems we still will describe our customers and our
clients in the same way our teams still struggle with the same thing so that
there is something going on just with us that I think we need to take a look at
and that’s what I want to talk about a little bit today the other thing I would
encourage you to do if you want to go get the full report it’s totally free if
you haven’t been to design better calm before I would highly in
heard you to go there another pier mine Aaron Walter does some amazing work with
books articles from some of the best people that are out there but you can go
download the whole thing for free it’s about 47 pages huge amount of data to be
able to go through but a lot of it is is it comes down to this for me how do we
redefine and rethink the word innovation because a lot of cases I think what we
do is we run around really looking and thinking like oh if the work gets better
if we get a better brief if somehow our clients get smarter then we will be
better which is not at all the way this works and so the thing for me and really
what I talk about today is that for a lot of us I will argue that for me we
need to think about how do we create cultural and emotional innovation that
will then drive better work because that’s the thing is that creativity is
hard no shit right that’s why we’re all here because all of these conferences
are a mix of hope and insecurity hope that we’re all gonna get better and
insecurity that somehow inside we all know that we’re kind of broken and none
of us really want to admit it right like I said therapy but that’s the thing
right is that in many cases how do we start to look at our cultures and the
reason why because here’s the other thing I can tell you having worked with
hundreds of companies your work is the truth I can look at your work and tell
you if your website navigation matches your org chart I can tell you how siloed
and screwed up your company is that’s the way it is right like that’s what
people talk about shipping the org so there’s sort of two groups of problems
that I generally like to talk about there our team problems and there are
you problems team problems are the fact that I have never seen anybody say this
on stage and I will tell you every company in the world is dysfunctional
whoever it is that you’re like ooh someday if I just work for them it’s
gonna be like Willy Wonka cuz they have all the answers and everything’s gonna
be perfect I hate to break it to you they’re just as screwed up as everybody
else they probably us hide it better sorry but that’s the thing right is
every single company has problems the difference is the good ones the good
teams are transparent about it the good teams are the ones who are able to talk
about those sort of things and what they really look at is they look at what is
going on with their company what is going on with their culture what are the
obstacles that they deal with every single day because that’s the only big
difference for them now you also have you problems and
the thing that I will tell you is that every single creative that I work with
some of the most senior leaders in the world feel like they are doing it wrong
everybody in here in the quiet moments I know because I go through it you feel
like you don’t measure up right this is why especially in this moment as for
many of us as we’ve gone from visual design to product design we’re being
asked to do more this is why there has been an explosion in things like design
impostor syndrome and a lot of these other things because really we just
aren’t sure if we’re doing it right there are so many people come up to me
and like say oh this is what my problem is a good like great you’re like
everybody else like oh thank god that’s the problem for us two plus two does not
equal four you’re equals like burnt sienna or something right like that’s
there’s not an answer to any of this stuff but a lot of the you problems are
how do you understand yourself your creative process deal with your
insecurities that’s the other problem with creativity there’s not a right
answer so that’s the thing is that we all struggle with what do we do with
that but so there are three things that I want to talk about today three things
that I think don’t get talked about enough
the first one is cognitive bias which is really the Y in these psychological
underpinning behind why can’t most people most customers and most clients
most product people most engineers people on our own team why can’t we be
more creative more often from there I want to talk about pink elephants
because it’s amazing how many of the problems that are in our way sit right
in front of us every day and we see it it acknowledge it and smile at the
elephant and just speed it peanuts so we’re gonna talk about that a little bit
and then finally I want to talk about actually accepting yourself because like
I said there is just a crisis of creativity that’s going on in this
industry right now that I really want to talk about let’s start with cognitive
bias and I know you thought sweet we get to hear about psychology but I’m going
to just stick with me on this one because I think cognitive bias is really
really important because basically what it means is that for all of us there are
hardwired reasons parts of psychology again no matter where you go in this
world that there are deficiencies in the way that we think in the way that we
view that the world and again so if like design impostor syndrome is that little
devil that sits on my shoulder that stops me from being more creative
cognitive bias is basically the lenses that I see the world through and so
depending on where you go through this there’s in which you know organizational
psychologist you talk to there’s about 12 to 16 of these these are probably the
12 most common I’ve only got 25 minutes we’re
not going through all of them we’re just going to focus on two and the two that
we’re gonna focus on for this are going to be confirmation bias an observation
selection bias as I go through this I guarantee you you were gonna think about
a person a meeting something you made even doing today that has been affected
by this so confirmation bias very much what it
sounds like is that this is the fact that really I only want to be surrounded
by people who look like me think like me see the world like me this is American
politics this is social media this is a living lab in this every day to the
extremes that we have pushed things through that at this point if you do not
agree with my worldview you’re either getting it like this is why most social
media networks have invented the mute button right because I’m friends with
them and I don’t really want to tell them I disagree with them but I also
don’t really want to see all the stupid shit that they post every day you all
just thought of somebody but a lot of this really comes down to when we talk
about it for creativity the thing is is that we tend to surround ourselves with
people who think the way that we do so a lot of people who tell us we are
brilliant that we are great that we do amazing work and a lot of things like
that but the problem is than anybody who doesn’t agree with us anybody who pushes
back we tend to not like them and the problem organizationally becomes pretty
soon you were surrounding yourself with people who only think like you do who
only look like you do and that because of that the work gets weaker and that
what again the best teams are gonna do is that they’re gonna seek out people
who have a different perspective they’re gonna seek out people who can push back
this turns into a super fun game that I play with a lot of the teams that I work
with because the other thing that’s amazing for me is like if you just stop
and look at things with fresh eyes you see how bad the problem is one of the
things I’ll get people to do is whenever you walk into work on Monday stop for
just a second in the lobby of your building in the reception area at your
company or whatever it is and just watch who walks in how many of them dress
alike how many of them look alike how many of them think alike I’ve actually
asked people to start photographing this I got one this week not surprisingly
from a financial firm of 16 people in a pack all dressed alike but that’s it
right like we don’t know we’re doing it like this is the prowl
you can have a damaging bias with good intention it doesn’t mean that you just
have to be some sort of like an asshole who’s out there to do things to be able
to hurt people these are these sort of things and even with the best intentions
can screw up your work and screw up your companies but that’s the problems when
you surround yourself with these people then everything is wonderful everything
is great and the work that never really gets any better projection by us
projection bias is an interesting one because this really assumes that pretty
much everybody sees the world the way that we do even if there is no
justification for it now again as you sort of look at how
does this manifest itself in a lot of teams is so generally the four parties
that are involved in most creative work are gonna be design tech product and
client right but the thing is that each of those teams usually have their own
view of the world their own process their own reason for what it is that
they’re doing all of which are very very self important right but in many cases
what I see is whenever you step back and look at this what actually happens is
that it’s just a lot of people fighting to figure out who’s right all right
everybody who just quietly laughed like somehow you don’t laugh loud enough that
like somebody else might realize this is going on at your company it’s okay we’re
all there with you a circle of trust fucker but that’s but that’s the thing
right whenever you do this this means that the internal political battles
matter more to you than your customers this means that whenever something goes
wrong whenever there is a problem what we also call creativity happens that
then instead of investing everyone coming together is saying hey this could
be better hey we’re gonna go through and work through and make this better
whatever one invested instead is a whole lot of emails to figure out who’s to
blame right because it must be them so much easier to them their fault they’re
the ones who did it but that’s the problem with a lot of this stuff and I
think also in those white spaces come a lot of these sort of like pink elephants
I talked about because it’s so amazing to me about how many of these barriers
happen time after time after time again and people don’t seem to see what’s
right in front of them right because like isn’t it amazing that you can do
the same thing expecting a different result
so I want to talk about that for just a minute for some other like what are the
most common pink elephants that I see because for a lot of this sort of stuff
these are those sort of cultural barriers like I said everybody sees they
stop innovation all the time this is why most heads of design
they’re probably real titles should be like executive hysteria management right
like some executives said something and then everyone runs around like crazy
little minions like just doing whatever they that executive blindly said nobody
stops to say why and then you have to be the one that like steps in front of the
Train and goes wait what the hell are we doing right super popular in fun
position to be in but that’s the thing right it’s like the first one that I see
a lot of and every single company I work with hazardous right it’s this sort of
like cultural apathy and it’s real easy to see with the way it gets expressed is
because and a lot of companies you’ll be doing a brainstorm they’ll be going in
and they’ll be thinking about something all of a sudden what we’re working on is
gonna get hard we have to think through it maybe it’s not going to be as easy as
we thought it was gonna be to be able to get this done and so somebody in the
meeting will sort of like throw their hands up and go hey I don’t know if we
can do this but you know welcome to wherever the hell it is we work right
like somehow if you say that being like mediocre and doing shitty work after
that’s like perfectly acceptable and it’s amazing whatever you say that
people will kind of snicker and again tell you whatever that phrase is but
that’s a lot of the thing right is that there is this sort of like cultural
apathy that sits right in front of everybody all the time so this would be
my the thing that I’ve done in the past is done with a bunch of other teams
basically create like an apathy or mediocre jar which means that you walk
around with this jar from meeting to meeting and if somebody says that phrase
in your presence they have to pay in just like it’s a swear jar for stupidity
right because what you want to do is that culturally you cannot make that
sort of mindset okay you can’t make it okay that like it’s out from now on like
it’s okay if whatever we do is just sort of mediocre that’s why all those
examples we saw before of like children’s sliders and like oh that’s
like that’s what that came out of right what somebody said hey welcome to
wherever they’re like at make the number of kids a slider because that’s how it
comes about there are other things like fear of failure and now I’ll take a
quick detour here there are also certain words that I’m on a rampage against
light bulbs are one of them any if you know anything about me right like light
bulbs are bullshit right and we need to stop using these it cannot tell you how
many presentations I see I’m like light bulbs in them which basically means
you’re telling your customers your executives your co-workers that what we
do is easy right like you just wait for this moment whenever oh there’s a light
bulb and it were like champagne and puppies and you get all
the answers cuz that’s how this works creativity is a blue-collar profession
think about what you say think about the standard you said failure is another one
right like failure is badly positioned learning rightly gives the other one I
see all the time people have that like Facebook post or like move fast and
break things cracks me up because what nobody talks about was two weeks after
that poster went up another one went up over it that said slow down and fix your
shit failure is a bad outcome we do not want to fail fast failure means that you
held on to an idea too long you didn’t share it it meant that you didn’t do
these sort of things right so for me it’s about the fear of learning because
that is something that we all want to do nobody says I want to fail or if you do
you don’t really understand what the word means but that’s a lot of the
things for me it’s like what I do with a bunch of teams is if you need to make
this idea of learning okay so do this once a week when every of your big team
meeting once a month whatever it is what I used to do in the past is that I would
give a bottle of champagne to the person on my team who would stand up and admit
that they screwed up the biggest and what they learned from it because that
was learning because what people were doing was actually failing because
they’re making mistakes and trying to keep it to themselves with this idiotic
notion that like what they did had to be perfect that’s not the way this works
like I can tell you inexplicably if you want to do innovation you’ve got to get
it wrong and you’re probably not gonna know where you are gonna end up whenever
you start generally companies have an allergy to both of those things which is
why it makes that difficult but do practices like this make it like are you
kidding me people want to show up every week and tell me the mistakes that they
made and what they learned from it and they’re excited about it sign me up for
that right as opposed to this other thing everybody just runs around kind of
hiding these mistakes from everybody a lot of it is also team mentality and the
mentality really comes to the fact that like look I see so many of us we obsess
over process and methodologies and our design systems and all these sort of
things right for me and it’s just like so much of this at the end is just like
the product of like bad communication and stupidity like just somebody did
something so we need a process to be able to fix it do we really but that’s
the thing is that we do not think at all and try to care for the mentality of how
do you show up everyday what is the social
contract you have built between you and your team members for how you hold each
other accountable to your mental state whenever you show up because isn’t that
what is so much of this really becomes down to and so a lot of this for me are
to create things that I will call behaviors so it’s like great have a
design system that will define the way your work looks go out have a
methodology that will define the way you can be repeatedly successful in having
good ideas but then also define behaviors because behaviors are going to
be the thing that will care for how do we all show up mentally and I’ll give
you a couple examples for this one a simple one like put customers at the
center so this is something if I projection bias issues and it’s about
who’s right well here’s something then why don’t we actually go talk to the
people who we designed for crazy idea I know but that’s the thing is that what
that allows us to do is that it’s not about if design is right or tech is
right or product is right nobody cares about that what it matters now is what
the consumer wants but we all agree to this so when somebody doesn’t do it I
don’t have to be the asshole to something like hey hey hey that’s not
what we should do because we’ve all agreed to what this is or other weird
things like invite diverse perspectives to the table yes bring legal bring your
regulators bring these other people who I know nobody is super excited about
having a lot of meetings but here’s the thing I can tell you there’s again a
simple psychological fact people will support what they’re a part of most
stuff from legal gets shot down because you waited until the very end to show
them something then yes it’s either yes or known that’s it bring them in to you
know earlier in the process have a little faith in what it is you’re doing
and to be able to do these sort of things now the last thing I just want to
kind of quickly talk about is more of like a you problem right because I think
it’s also very easy for us to say this is a challenge with our team this is a
challenge with our company we are a part of this equation as well and it has been
astounding to me over the three years that I’ve done the podcast over the last
year and a half that I’ve been this role how many creative people I see struggle
in silence and because I think a lot of this really comes down to the fact that
like most creatives I think honestly have no idea who they are right because
many cases where ever you go out and try and find the job you come out of school
you do those things it’s like this like Mad Max dating process right I’m going
to go out and put out a whole bunch of stuff out there try to appeal to
bunch of people and just hope to god somebody loves me right and then we’re
gonna try to build a relationship and go from there but this is why this like
every resume in the world I see is this you are not where you went to school or
where you worked I hate to break it to you like the biggest thing I can tell
you is I can tell you when you just get out of school and your education is the
first thing on your resume also like it’s great that you think you work
someplace that is impressive I do not have a clue if the work that came out of
that was because of good leadership a good team or you another part of it you
see all the time you are not the apps technologies or skills that you know
like I would love can we have an intervention right now like seriously
this is one of those things I got this yesterday in a resume can we just can we
stop with the charts in the resumes what the hell does this mean I don’t
understand what it means when you’re 80% in sketch and like for this person
you’re right I do want to interview you but not for productive or healthy
reasons I have some questions what the hell does a 75 like compared to who like
you would to dieter Rams and you’re like okay so he was 100 here’s here’s my
formula like minus kerning carry the letting like what this has got like yes
stop I mean you’d think it’d be obvious stop getting your design direction from
Pinterest only time I’ve ever used that transition
and I stand behind it but this is the thing for so many of us right what makes
you unique it is amazing to me for all the people that I’ve interviewed there
are two questions that I always ask one is can you tell me how you have an idea
and the other one is can you tell me what you need to be happy I have had
people who have come back 48 to 72 hours later because they do not know the
answers of those questions it is amazing to me how many people do not understand
what makes them different and that’s something for me that is been a real
crusade for me because I think generally there are four things that I think are
insecurities are based in our education our childhood our career and just our
general insecurities your childhood in did you grow up rich did you grow up or
did you go on a part of the country that has a lot of people are no people your
education systems you go to public school did you go to private schools you
go to college anybody cares about you know your career have you what have you
done do you work someplace people are impressed with you ever won any awards
you work to a small place nobody has ever heard of and then your insecurities
which are all the emotional baggage that we all bring along with us every day
that we all pretend like isn’t really there right but the problem for this is
that on any given day it is the gap between who we are and who we think we
need to be right because that’s the reality is that that inner circle is who
you actually are this is the part that for many of us we tried desperately to
hide from the world and I can tell you for a fact social media makes this no
easier right because here’s the thing I would love let’s all go for Halloween is
the people we pretend to be on social media right like that would be awesome
like everybody has like this great shot of them like looking into a sunset with
a bald eagle on their shoulder like some are like god forbid like you know
breakfast in Brooklyn like who gives a shit right but then there’s the reality
of like who you actually are and for so many of us this is who we try to hide
from the world and the reason why we do this is because the gap between those
two things is scary and that this is why for me is our ability to actually accept
who you are because I can tell you the reason why I started the crazy one is
cuz I have the words here’s the crazy one tattooed on my right arm because I
spent 38 years of my life giving way too much of a shit what everybody else
thought in the moment whenever I said this is who I am this is what makes me
unique isn’t it funny how that’s how my career took off but
that’s the thing is I talked to so many people and because the problem with this
and with being creative is that your story is not going to be like anybody
else where you grew up where you went to school what your career is done when
your insecurities are aren’t going to look like anybody else in society and
our education system and so many other people tell us that that difference is a
weakness to that I will say bullshit because that’s the thing who you are
especially in the creative field your differences are your strengths that’s
what for me the crazy one means it is your willingness and your ability to
just accept who you are there are so many people who are running around
trying to be somebody else and it’s exhausting that that’s the thing for me
right is you need to focus on who you are not on who you think everyone wants
you to be because that’s the thing is who you are is good enough it’s smart
enough it is different it’s unique I know that sometimes putting that out
there can feel terrifying trust me like I said I’ve been there on this stuff but
the moment whenever we can start to make peace with ourselves to be who we
genuinely are to show up and understand that our process is different what we do
is different and that’s okay those are the things it’s like look history does
not remember well-behaved people the artists who you admire the most did not
do what everybody else did like we need to stop trying to be different by being
the same and so I think that that’s it for me right and I’m gonna leave you
with this one thought is that there is this one phrase that I keep coming back
to over and over again and this is my ask for all of you in here is to go back
and think about this think about how do you make peace with yourself understand
that who you are is good enough and strong enough and smart enough and that
always sounds like an SNL skit whenever I say that but like that’s the thing
right is it the moment whenever we’re able to start to do that is the moment
that we start to break through and that’s why for me this is that thought
is to for whatever it is we do to go out into the world and to leave a mark to
raise your voice to be okay with hood as you are to exist loudly because that’s
the thing that’s going to make the difference and so I think that a lot of
it for me for this this is what it envisioned we are dedicated to right is
I think we put more effort into trying to invest in the industry advance what’s
going on than any other company out there through a lot of the talks we do
through the blog that we have the design Genome Project and so many other things
and like I said if this is the sort of stuff you want to find out more about
you and check out my podcast I’ve been doing
it for about three years 85 episodes right now of a lot of these really tough
topics and things like that but that’s my time thanks so much

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