Happy 2024 Uplifting Crew!
I hope your winter holiday was renewing, and you've kicked off 2024 with an uplifting bang. Over the break I did my best to just unplug and focus on the delights of Italian Christmas traditions, but I must confess that I quietly launched a Swag section of Uplifting.Design. Every month I'll be designing a new physical object for the store - one for each chapter of the book.
Speaking of chapters of the book, I received lots of appreciative messages from the excerpt from Chapter 1 (and a helpful typo correction that made it's way into the revised book :)! So, I'll continue sharing a new excerpt each week for the next few months until we've made our way to the end of the book. This week I'll share a story from chapter 2, which is all about teams.
P.S.: Apparently, other teams also did a little work over the holidays :), as these two video podcasts I did at the end of 2023 were edited and released into the world. If you can't get enough Uplifting Design content, make your way over to the Wave Talent and Figma YouTube pages here:
Chapter 2 - Us
Towards the end of the day I was shown to my office, a corner glass escape on one of the highest floors. There were no designers, nor any signs of creativity anywhere on the floor. I asked, “Where do the designers sit?”, and was ultimately walked a few blocks away to the design studio across the street from the legendary Barbican arts centre. I instantly felt at home, surrounded by the beautifully creative chaos of design in progress and user research labs humming where we were trying to understand people more deeply. The “good” desks by the windows were all taken by the more senior directors. The only available place to sit was at a plain bank of desks where the temporary contractors usually worked.
I told my surprised host to give my office to another executive, and ran the Chief Design Office from those humble contractor desks for all my years at the bank. What is servant-leadership if it is just an ideal that’s not backed up by actions? My literal job was to help the bank create conditions for better design, and elevating the design team was the most important part of that job. Sitting at those desks put me in the center of the proverbial water cooler. I got up to speed faster and was constantly connected to the hopes, dreams, needs, fears and experiences of the team I had been hired to serve.
I sat down, opened my laptop, spent about 30 minutes with IT getting my MacBook Pro to work properly on the corporate network, and sent my first email to the team. It went something like this:
“Hello Design! I’m so excited to be here, and will be working out of the design studio on Chiswell Street. Come by anytime for a chat. My first email to you is a question: What values would you live and die by if you started your own design agency? What would the posters on the wall say?”
My inbox quickly filled with hundreds of poems, sketches, essays, complaints, and lots of bulleted lists of the values that this team held most dear. Historically the team was rarely asked to give input at all, let alone questions of a deeper nature. Almost everyone sent me a response, and I felt that this was the beginning of unleashing the latent potential of a powerful team.