Should your design team resemble Jazz or Classical musicians?

One of my greatest challenges as a team builder and design mentor is how to keep my creative teams motivated, happy, and on time. In a lot of my consulting work, most of the clients are small companies that have either been around for a few years or are just starting up. Either way, they both have the same goals. Profit. And to do that I feel that the best way I can support them as a Design Director is to keep their costs low and their value high. After I achieve that, my long-term goal would be to grow and scale the company efficiently.

To do that, I need to understand the client’s problems and their “why”, then explain how the design thinking process can get these companies to succeed and maintain that success.

When I interview potential design candidates one of the initial questions I ask them is: If you where a musician would you be jazz or classical? A jazz musician is improvisational, a classical musician needs sheet music. They’re both valuable, but different. When I’m putting together a squad for a scruffy startup, I want more jazzers! It’s so important to me that you can improvise as a designer. Even with some of the enterprise clients, many times requirements are not defined or even realized by the client. That’s why I ask broader questions like what’s your “why” as a company? What problem do you need us to solve or what are your business goals and how have you previously tried to solve them?

From there, if you can improvise, you can create a spark. Many of the new breed of UX designers are going through training where they are tasked with completing a very thorough user experience design process i.e. 1. Empathize, 2. Define, 3. Ideate 4. Design, 5. Validate. Just google UX process for a thousand other brilliant explanations.

Any or all the UX process steps are great if you have the time and budget. But what kills my teams are designers that can’t start without a thorough and completely validated research and discovery phase. If I had a dime for every successful project I completed without a research phase, I could retire today. But I didn’t. I improvised.

As a result, I became a solid business strategist and worked my way up the design ladder quickly, taking my lumps the old school way: through failure. Which is such a great thing if you can learn from it. Today, I look for designers who can not only follow the proper process and use terrific insights when they have access to them, but designers who can also take a vague idea and run with it. This shows me that they understand the big picture and can help our clients achieve their goals.