Design Meets Business

Get your notebooks out for this conversation, because Alex is sharing all about his experience leading design organisations, and about his management style, and about how to frame design at the C-level.

Connect with Alex
LinkedIn, Website, Medium

Selected links from the episode
The value of design at the C-level

Creators & Guests

Christian Vasile
🎙️ Host & Growth Product Designer

What is Design Meets Business?

Design Meets Business is a podcast that inspires designers to think beyond pixels. On this show you'll hear design leaders from all over the world talk about their stories, lessons they've learned during their careers, and how you can use Design to make a bigger impact in your organisation.

Christian: Welcome to Design Meets
Business, a show where design leaders talk

about practical ways to quantify design,
about making our work more transparent,

and about how designers can make a
bigger impact in their organization.

I'm your host, Christian Vasile,
and before we begin, I'd like to

thank you for tuning in today.

Today you will hear a great
conversation with Alex Cuthbert,

who is really a design legend.

He's been in the industry
for almost 30 years.

And right now he's a Global Head of Design
for Gojek, Indonesian unicorn, but has

been with GoDaddy in the past, PicsArt
and designed some of the basic fundamental

technology of Google translate.

So he's got products used by billions.

He shares with us a lot about the work
he's doing behind the scenes as a head

of design, including how to frame design
to the wider business and how to deal

with features that trickle from the top.

Prepare your notebooks because
today you'll need them.

Alex welcome to Design Meets Business.

You're a design powerhouse, having worked
in the industry for almost 30 years.

So it's crazy to think you've been
around for so long and not only that

you've been around, but that you've
worked on products used by billions

of people, whether that was Google
translate or go daddy or now Go-Jek.

So I think there are a lot of things
that designers can learn from you.

So I'm excited to have you on the
show before we dive into the goods.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey
of becoming a designer, you know,

working at Google, go that it go Jake,
and about who you are a little bit.

Alex: Yeah.

Thank you so much, Christian.

So I've had the privilege of
working with a lot of the larger

companies, as well as smaller ones.

So Pixart as a startup, which is now
one of the top creative platforms,

Google for a long time where I
came in through an acquisition.

And you know when people have
what's your background telling

the story of the companies.

Isn't really the real story.

The real story is that I've been
passionate about how people think,

what they believe, how their habits
change over time for a long time.

And that's what really got me into design.

I was a computer science and Spanish
double major, and then studied, um, human

computer interaction, cognitive science.

Um, spatial cognition, how people
perceive and represent space and a

lot of work on some of the earliest
learning environments, collaborative

tools that look a lot like things
like Myro and slack for schools.

And so the foundational work in
that really opened up my eyes to how

people use tools to work together.

And this collaborative nature of
design is something that's really

been inspiring to me because.

It takes a group of people working
together, a product engineering design

business to create something in the world.

And a lot of times now that's used by
groups and networks of people, either

at the enterprise space or social media.

And so really part of being a designer
now is really understanding how

networks of people intersect with
culture technology and belief systems.

And that's something that
I, I, it really inspires me.

As a design leader to help uplift.

Foster and bring into the,
bring to life in the world.

Christian: Yeah.

Well, let's start there.

You said design or it's
a well-known quotes.

Design is a team sport.

So let's start there because we've
been talking a lot on this podcast

with other guests about fostering.

Uh, trust mostly trust in organization
with your product teams to be able to, to

deliver better work together with them.

But we've been talking mostly
about it from the perspective

of the individual contributor.

So you, as a designer, you join,
how can you build that trust?

How can you foster those relationships
with people in your team?

So let's talk a little bit
from the perspective of someone

who's at a much higher level.

Obviously you yourself needs.

Relationships at your level, but how
do you encourage and motivate and

coach your teams can underneath you
to do that relationship building and

how to build trust with their teams.

Alex: I've seen a lot of different
models for management and you don't

really know what a good manager is until
you've had a bad manager and the manager

really determines the quality of your
life and reflects the culture of the.

And it was very interesting coming into
Go-Jek, which is collaborative consensus

based very much, um, derivative of the
Indonesian culture, which is a beautiful

culture, proton Ryan, which is rising
together in partnership and inclusivity.

And Google also had that
same approach early on.

But perhaps with a bit more
of an individual streak.

And so that's where I developed
my approach to manage.

Which is, I'm not the strict father
model with rules and evaluation.

I'm very much a partner to people,
it's more of the servant leader

model and I'm really looking for how
to identify people's strengths and

amplify them rather than penalize
them or highlight weaknesses.

I think it is important to
have constructive criticism for

people and goals that people
are held accountable for.

But part of being a manager
is inspiring people.

It's creating a culture that people want
to be part of that's purpose driven that

has a clear sense of values mission,
and, and it's gotta be ground up.

And so that's why I, I, my management
style is very much a partnership

model of trying to figure out how
I can help people identify the

things that are they're uniquely.

Uh, and amplify those.


Christian: So it's a matter of
fitting puzzle pieces together,

the best way they can fit.


Alex: Yeah.


And I mean, your topic of business
and design is one of the areas

that is something that I push on.

So there are areas of growth that
people may not have as primary

strengths that I do think we need
to develop as designers and the

business element of that is a critic.

Christian: Yeah, for sure.

And we've had a lot of conversation
again on the podcast about the

differences between the different tracks
of a designer, whether that's you go

straight into that straight into, but
as you grow, you go into management

or maybe you stay as an individual
contributor, but even an individual

contributor can have different paths.

Someone can stay more on
the visual design side and

that's entirely okay as well.

And someone can go maybe to a
bit more strategy or a strategic

role and that's okay as well.

So there are different parts
and different strengths and

weaknesses that everyone has.

And I think let's go talk about
that because one of the things

that I truly believe in is that.

Get to do your best work when you
are put in a role where your skills

or your best skills align with
the work that's required of you.

It alludes a little bit to what you
said earlier about putting teams

together in a way that it fits for them.

So how do you work around
people's strengths?

How do you at that top of where
you're sitting leading a design

organization, how do you put.

Do you change teams around?

Do you know, how do you assess who's
good at what w how does that happen?

Alex: Yeah, I mean, I think I would
answer that question by starting

with sort of how this has changed
over time, because you're right.

I've been part of the technology
industry for 30 years.

I started programming at age 16.

Trying to recreate asteroids, not
very successfully as a computer geek.

Um, and I think that when I first joined
Google, you had to have a computer science

degree to be part of Google's design team.

It was very much a technical
organizational with a design focus.

And I'd say over time, it's really shifted
to, we have much more specialization.

We have motion design,
we have illustration.

And so there's a merge this way
that you can become specialists.

And so a lot of teams and companies
are hiring these general designers and

then creating pathways for specialists.

And so I'm a big proponent of having a
individual contributor path all the way

up to the highest levels in the company
and having CX strategists that are senior

IC level people working individually.

I created a studio at Go-Jek, which
has high-level designers in it that are

doing two levels of work, the vision
and, and acceleration of key projects.

And that enables other designers
to have access to senior designers.

So one of the ways that I, we create
this sort of growth path and help

people is through mentorship programs
and access to senior designer.

And so from that, you're getting a mix
of people with different skillsets and

people can learn 3d motion graphics.

They can learn about UX writing.

They can figure out the
latest illustration tools they

can understand prototyping.

And so I think it's important
to have a foundation in all of

these elements as a designer.

Um, even if you're going to be a
specialist in one area, really knowing

the other parts of the craft is.

And so I think, you know, how you identify
those was that part of your question.

I have maybe not identified
all of your questions, maybe

Christian: there's yeah, I think there's
something you said there that would be

interesting to continue building on, which
is that studio that you created at Go-Jek.

I heard that idea before.

We'll talk a bit about it.

What's what are the particular
aspects of the studio?

How does it work on a daily basis
and how do you choose people

to kind of run it in a way?

Alex: Yeah, it's interesting.

We had a studio at Google.

It was New York and it was more
of a marketing creative studio.

And you would just try to get
those people to work with you.

So if you had a cool project, they
would pick it up and Google translate

with its instant camera translation.

Um, that's something that was
humanly exciting to be able to

instantly read texts, to have real
time conversations with people

that don't speak your language.

And it was very marketing focused
and the studio Go-Jek is different.

It is marketing and product focused.

So we're really looking at
this end to end journey of how.

Whatever is put out as
promotional material integrate

into the product experience.

So the end to end journey.

And so as part of that initiative
we've got two parallel groups.

One's the studio, which is
really doing innovation work

and accelerating key projects.

Then we have another group called
the creative council, which is

really a blend of our creative lab
that creates the video content.

The crazy beautiful Go-Jek.

Visuals that you see, um, and
then marketing with the regional

leads and design and visual
identity from the design team.

So those groups coming together to
think about the brand identity, what our

differentiators are in the marketplace,
and really what people remember and

think about when they use the product.

Christian: So we already started
talking about the work that you do

as a design leader of such a large
organization, let's keep on that topic.

What else is there that you do on a daily
basis that maybe people lower down, maybe

individual contributors don't really know
that much about, but obviously there's a

lot of work happening at that C level that
we don't really get to hear a lot about.

So what's that like?.

Alex: Well, I think, you know, over
time I've gotten more involved in.

And so leading the, some of the brand
work for GoTo financial, which is our

PayPal equivalent and beyond for financial
inclusivity and empowerment of people.

And then recently we've been looking
at Go-Jek and as a global brand

and how we can elevate Go-Jek and.


A unified brand architecture
that resonates with people in

different regions like Vietnam,
what's cultural embeddedness,

and relevance look like there.

So there's this north star work
that I spend, um, some of my

time on to shape that direction.

And so this is really setting,
working with the executive.

The business leads, the, the setting
this direction for the company.

And I think that's balanced by a lot.

Sort of design reviews and
technical details on interaction

design at a product level.

So we have maybe 20 different product
teams working each with their own.

Streams and reviews.

And then with a team that says large,
as we have a hundred fifty, a hundred

seventy five or more people, we are
continually hiring, interviewing,

trying to move resources around.

So as a manager, a lot of this is figuring
out how to meet the needs of product teams

with a limited set of resources, how to
optimize those resources financially.

And sometimes that involves
centralizing teams.

So we have a group of centralized teams,
um, and then balancing that with product

design and our design systems team.

And so there's a number of moving
pieces that I'm calibrating to try to

reduce our expenses and costs as much as
possible while making sure there's enough

capacity to meet the product team needs.

Christian: It sounds like a lot of
the work that you're doing is what in

our organization is known as design
ops, the operation side of design.

And I would assume that your managers
are playing a key part of this.

So if obviously they, they have to be
experienced and know what they're doing

to be able to take on such responsibility.

So do we tend to promote from the
inside or you do tend to hire from

the outside, what's the process
to find those key managers who

can help you run the operator?

Alex: Yeah, well, so Avenade who
was the head of design and who hired

me along with Bruce, the CPO and
Kevin, um set up a design ops team.

So we do have a design ops group
within Go-Jek that manages our design

principles, our process, our hiring
our all hands and a number of different

things, including the studio speakers
series, where I bring in external

speakers to talk on various topics.

It's really critical to have a design
ops team with an organization that

large, to be able to manage this.

Um, and each of the, I started off
with 22 direct reports, which was

not sustainable and we've reorganized
the team to have that smaller and

a little bit more hierarchical.

And those people are responsible
for the business metrics for helping

with the hiring for identify.

And directing the project stream.

So we've got a row a level of, directors
that are responsible for all of these

things that I described as well.

Christian: You said there was a head of
design there before you, and I assumed

that that meant that design had some sort
of a buy-in already at the highest level,

eh, You wrote an article though on how
to get that buy in at a highest level and

how to talk about design at the C level.

And I can imagine a lot of designers,
maybe not necessarily even design

leaders, just individual contributors,
joining maybe smaller companies where.

They haven't yet bought into design.

So let's talk a bit about that
article and some of those learnings

that people could get from that
things they could apply, things

they could try to do to bring design
into the light at that higher level.

Um, we're obviously also put the
article in the show notes afterwards,

so people can really thoroughly, but
let's just walk through some of those

paths that you have outlined there.

Alex: Yeah.

So Albany is, we have three
companies within go-to, so there's

go check go-to financial and Tokyo.

So Albany, it's the head of design
for go-to financial and go pay.

And I'm running the a Go-Jek team.

I see ahead.

So we have another head of design
for taco pedia, Momo, um, Monica.

And so we work together
to set the culture.

We're still, we're integrating
the cultures of Tokyo pedia, and

Go-Jek so that's a separate topic.

Uh, yeah, but I would say in terms of.

Promoting the value and impact
of design to the senior level.

We've done a number of things.

So we, we produced an executive
summary, which highlights

the work across the teams.

What I've found is that executives
rarely read documents and so you

need to present them in some way.,
Synthesize to what are the key decisions?

It's not as much a status update as
here are the things in motion that you

could provide feedback on and add value,
because that's really what I'm looking

for is not to just showcase how great
design is and the impact we're having.

I'm looking to bring them in and
empower the senior leadership team

to provide input on things in most.

And so that's the real goal
of these executive summaries.

I typically send them out some, sometimes
with a loom recording where I will talk

over it so they could just play it while
they're having coffee in the morning.

Um, and because I found at Google,
if you presented at you might

not even make it past slide.

And an executive level presentation,
but the executives will watch a video.



So as soon as the video starts
playing, people will watch that.

And having been side railed
in executive reviews, At slide

two, about 10 slide deck.

I've learned that you need to get
everything in upfront including the

visuals because people will, if it's too
long, a story, people are like, well,

what is, show me what it looks like?

Cause there's designers.

We want to represent things
visually to people so they can get

a sense of how it feels and looks.

And that's, you know, I wrote a little
bit about that in the article of

how we are visual people, creatures.

We respond visually to.

And as designers, we can leverage that
to our advantage and the benefit of

the people that were presenting here.

Christian: Yeah.

So executive summary deliver it
really, really fast and think about

who your stakeholder is they're busy,
they don't want to read, so try to

deliver something that they would
actually want to watch in that case.

Alex: It's interesting.

There's different cultures.

Um, so Go-Jek is a reading culture.

There's some famous articles about
this, whether it's a talking culture or

a reading culture and go check, we'll
have silent meetings with executives

for the first 15 minutes that everybody
reads the document and comments.

And there's silence.

I love this because it's really
acknowledging the busy pace of

meetings that we have, and it
gets everybody on the same page.

There's a history of.

GoDaddy was very different.

It was much more of a discussion
culture where meetings would

decisions would be talked through,
reached consensus or other manner.

And that was really the record
of how the leadership there built

consensus and alignment was through
these meetings with discussions.


So very different cultures, pros and cons.

Christian: So in case you don't have
access to the executives in your

company, how can you on a daily basis
on the ground show the value of design?

Alex: Yeah, I think, you know what you
brought up before about understanding

your audience and what they need and the
language they speak is really important.

So typically designers are working
with product managers and engineers.


And so really just understanding the
goals and needs of those different

roles is a great starting point.

I started off as an engineer for 10 years,
doing developer tools and compilers and

for Silicon graphics, primarily, which
is the campus where Google sits now.


Yeah, really understanding that as
an engineer, you guys typically want

to be protected from product changes
for at least a two week period.

So this is sort of the
agile model of iteration.

Where does designs are locked?

Engineers work on them.

Design can go off and explore and develop
the next set product can then come

in and reprioritize because there's.

Direction that product is working toward,
which is the first lunch designed.

Typically in the best case scenario
has a vision for a longer term

solution and is working back
towards the MVP and engineering.

And the best case is considering
that long-term solution and building

an architecture that is flexible
and scalable enough to support.

The changes and the product direction.


And so those dynamics are a key piece of
understanding how to show the impact of

design is that's just the starting point.

That's like you have to be in
relationship to the needs of the

people around you, and we can talk
a bit more about how to show impact

within that dynamic, if you want to,

Christian: for sure.

Yeah, go ahead.

Go for it.

Alex: Yeah.

So I think within that dynamic,
we're really looking at how to bring

principal design into the process.

So I continually get feedback from
designers that either their PM is too

directive and basically drawing the
wire frames or they are not specific

enough and setting a kind of general.


And I'm my response to that is we
need to have strategies to deal

with both of those situations and
they both afford great benefit.

It tends to be the senior PM's
give the more general goal.

I remember Susan would just ski
gave us a goal in travel for UX,

which was come back in two months
and show me what you recommend for

the query warm places to go in.


And so that's very general for like it's
launched, you know, pricing on Google

maps, it launched Google flights out
of that, a number of different things.

And the counterpoint to that as someone
who's drawing the wireframes for you.

And so as designers we're are,
our role is really to tease out

the hypotheses and assumptions.

Behind that to figure out the use
cases and the scenarios come up with

design principles, questions that
help us from a neutral position,

almost look at the pros and cons.

And I do think we need to make
recommendations as designers, but it

should be based on this analysis of
fit between the solutions and the.

Christian: I'd like to build upon
what you said there and continue the

discussion of what happens when someone,
whether it's a PM or someone even

higher up the organization gives you the
recipe and says, this is what we need.

And you said, you know as designers,
we're supposed to, to unpack that, to

ask questions and to try to understand
what's the hypothesis behind that.

I think that as designers, especially
maybe early on in your career, you maybe

don't have the confidence to do that.

But I find that to be such an
important thing to do, where if

a feature trickles down from.

Just to feature not a need but in
exact feature, I think it's your

responsibility to start asking questions.

Why we're doing this.

What's not working at the moment.

Why are you trying to change it?

How would this change the
lives of our customers.

And one question that I've heard,
and I think I could be wrong.

I think it comes from base camp.

They said that whenever someone comes with
the feature from the top, the question

they're asking is how are people today
doing that same thing with work around.


So instead of you as a product,
having to create the feature, how

are people kind of innovating by
themselves to work around the product,

to do exactly that that thing.

And that can also teach you a lot about
well, ways of solving the problem,

but also is this really required?

Do we really need to
prioritize this right now?

Because apparently customers can
figure out a different way and

maybe we have other priorities.

So there are a lot of questions
that you should ask and you, you

have to ask as a designer rather
than just blindly following.

What's being given to you from the top.

And I think you a lot, you also
wrote an article about this in, you

mentioned the last customer syndrome.

I think you called it when a
feature trickles from the top.

Let's talk a bit about that.

What is the last customer syndrome?

Alex: Yeah, that was, um, that was.

In the enterprise space, typically
where we're trying to get these big

customers on board and you need to
build a couple of features specific to

them, for them to sign the contract.

And so that dynamic of do you
just go build those features?

And the responsive newness that a team
needs to pivot to be able to do that.

Um, I do the answer is yes, you
probably do need to do that.

How you go about it is the key, right.

And thinking of the generalized ability
of it and how it can become something.

That's the.

More applicable to a wide
group is a problem that people

in agencies face, right?

And as you're an agency lead, you
want to build products eventually,

but you need to serve your clients.

And so this is a common problem that
I think design and in engineering

and partnership can drive.

This is this partnership between
design and engineering, for

scalability components, design systems,
modular functional architecture

is really the basis to the.

The approach for this type of scenario.

Um, but coming back, there's variations
of that, of last customer syndrome.

There is, uh executives coming
up with ideas that they drop in.

And when I was at Pixar working
for Havana Savoy on who's one of my

favorite CEOs and people, because
most of his ideas were right.

So if you're going to be doing this
as a CEO, it really helps to be right.


You know, when you're working for somebody
who is coming directly to your designers

and saying, Hey, what about this?

And that's the CEO talking
to a junior designer.

They come over to me and are
like, Hey, what should I do?



Christian: valid question.

What should you do?


Alex: Well, the first thing is you ask
him why he thinks it's a good idea, cause

he probably has a good reason for it.

And then you mock that up.

And so the designer
went back and did that.

Of course, he had a great idea
for the thing, reason for it.

And she's like, but I'm seeing
this data that says this other

approach might be better.

What should I do?

And I was like, well, why don't
you put them side by side with the

data and take them back to him.

And so he went in and actually in this
case, looked at it and he looked at the

data and he's like, oh, you're right.

We should test this.

And you might actually be.

And a few weeks later,
she came running back.

I was like, oh my God, the data showed
that this other approach was better.

And the CEO said that we should go with
my idea and she was ecstatic about this.


So that gets back to how do
you empower these designers?


How do you empower people?

And so that's the whole data,
the pros and cons, the principle

design pieces that come together so
that it's not like your us versus

them or your idea versus my idea.

It's really, which of these
ideas have life, right?

Which of these have life?

And I love Dave.

Um, and so Bosky, who's a, uh, One
of the Disney illustrator who talks

about this spiral of creativity and
how at Disney, they wouldn't talk

about Christian's idea or Alex's idea.

They would talk about
this idea on its own.

How can I add to it?

How can I give it life and
power on its own to grow?

And this is a very different
mindset than critiquing things.

And so I take this as an interesting piece
because we have design critiques, right.

Which we go around and we kind of they're
based on the head of the studio walking

around and everyone would be silent
and they would give their feedback.

And it's kind of like the baking shows
now is the current example, but this idea

of like blessing and adding to things is
a very different culture than a critique.

And so I think this is something
for us to look at as designers

and builders of culture.

Christian: We had a, another
head of design on a previous

episode talking about critiques.

And he said, what he's successfully done
is change the narrative around design

critiques, because it is what you call it.

And the moment you call it a design
critique, it'll automatically have

some sort of a negative connotation
because critique is a negative

connotation word and said, we
started just by calling it design.

And then automatically the
mentality around what's supposed

to happen in those conversations
has changed from this is not good.

And I don't like this and too will
have you thought about this or, oh, we

could add this on top of it or, Hey,
I remember this idea, another product

that I've tried, we could do this.

So it changed from a critique to
a much more positive conversation.

Ended up helping the product teams
and the designers do better work.

Because I remember when you go into
critiques, you cannot go into the

Lion's Den, then don't you think, oh,
someone will, will pick out a piece

and we'll tear it apart and it's not
a comfortable situation to be in.

And if you've been through a lot
of them as a more experienced

designer, that's fine.

But in the beginning of your career,
It's hard to go in one of those

and think that everyone is there
to just tear your design apart.

So even changing the conversation around
what's supposed to happen in those

chats he found to be very, very good.

Alex: Yeah.

I think I would add onto that and save
it a lot of designers when they first

come into reviews or chats, or even
just presenting their work to anybody.

Talk about.

Here's the thing that happens.

And then you click on this and then you go
there and then this says this, and if they

click and that's not particularly helpful.

Um, so I, I think when we're thinking
about chats within the design team, it's

sort of like scrum stand-ups informal.

That's great.

But I think when we're sharing back
to product or even executive level,

we need to really think in terms
of this like problem action result

or situation, the stem models, and
really be focusing in on what are the

problems we're solving and what are
the design decisions that we're making.

Because a lot of the focus needs
to go on those critical points,

the pieces of understanding.

That are required by customer
to take an action that we've

created, uh, in a situation.

And without that, you're getting
story and process without the why

you're getting the, how without the
what, and the quickest way to turn

off product and executives is to
talk about how yeah, and we need to

learn to focus and frame what we're
doing and the problems we're solving.

More effectively as we present our work.

Christian: Yeah, for sure.

And I think there's also a lot of
components are that you've mentioned in

the past, which is in the past, it sounds
like we've known each other for 10 years.

I met previously, not in the past.

And you've mentioned that example from
someone bringing data and then kind

of proving the CEO that there might
be a different way of doing this.

I find data and analytics to be.

A, an ally of the design team.

If you understand data bit better,
or if you have a product analyst

or an analytics team, and you have
continuous conversations with them,

they can help you inform your decisions.

Obviously we already know this,
but they can also help you whenever

you present your work, they can
help you frame your work in a

different light rather than here's.

Here's what I've done.

Tell me all your subjective
opinions about the I can do better.

Versus here's what I've done.

Here's why.

And here's the data to back it up.

It's a different two
different conversations there.

Alex: Yeah, it's interesting.

I think, um, there, there was a shift
maybe five years ago and I think it

was driven by Facebook analytics.

We were at Pixar, we were partnering
with them and really focusing on

these high performance users, we
call them super users at the time.

And the idea was like
very analytics driven.

Let's see what they're doing.

What their patterns of interaction are,
how they're doing these workarounds

that you described, and then trying
to clean up those friction points.

And this became, this was a buzz for a
while because it turned out that those

friction points, if you clean, if you
fit, identified them and fix them also

helped other users who are just starting
to engage with the platforms or tools.

And so this really elevated
the power of analytics.

Um, because the results we were
getting were far beyond anything that

we were getting through AB testing.

It was very valuable to just see,
like you said, how are people

doing work arounds for things?

And one of the examples was at Pixar.

We had a tool for creating on your
photos who picks hearts of one

of the, is the top photo editing,
collaborative photo editing tool that

lets you make these quick edits, right?

You can quickly on your mobile
phone, do this crazy beautiful stuff.

Headache 10% of the traffic
or something like that.

Going to Instagram at the time was
coming through Pixar and we looked

at what these super users were doing
and they turned out to be first of

all, totally different people than
we had targeted as our core users.

And then the things that they
were doing repetitively, the tools

were not supporting very well.

It wasn't remembering fonts
and colors you used previously.

And so updating those.

To make it easier for that group
made it easier for people who

are just discovering how to use
the functionality of these tools.

And so it's it's the equivalent
would be search results or at Go-Jek

remembering that the place that you go
to or send things to it's these quick

little one touch, magical things that
happen that add efficiency, delight,

and convenience to the experience.


Christian: I think those words that you
said, efficiency, delight, convenience.

Those are.

As they're supposed to, you don't notice
them as a user when they don't work,

as they're supposed to that's when
you notice them and they irritate you.

So it's kind of a bit of a thankless
job, like, oh, you've done.

Well, nobody notices, but you haven't
done well, everyone throws a tantrum.

So I, uh I use Go-Jek on a daily basis
and I, for example, the remembering

your location and all of those, those,
I noticed them as a product person,

but I bet that most people don't.

And that's okay.

That's a good thing.

As long as they have a frictionless
experience with the product, that's great.

That's here, which

Alex: are well done.


And I think as a designer, you know,
noticing those things is important and

we see the world very differently from
the way other people do, because we're

aware of the visual details, the layouts
of things, the balance what's primary.

And so I recently did a lot of field
testing when I was in Indonesia.

I still have not been able
to send cookies to my admin.

I've been working on this for a long time.

It turns out it's really hard
when you're in a different city

to send gifts to people, right.

And there are workarounds.

You can set your location to be in
that city and then sends stuff and

looking at Ramadan, we're trying
to promote sending gifts to people.

And they may be in other locations.

So figuring out how do we make that as
easy as possible, culturally embedded,

linked to these special occasions.

And I remember my first time, one of
my first times using go send for the

addresses are very long in Indonesia.



And they're hard to tell apart
until I'd sent something to my

boss, Bruce, the CPO's house.

And I was trying to send
another package to somebody.

Put pasted the address in, and the one
that came up was actually the previous

address, but because they were so large
and looked similar, I thought it was

just an auto-correct for the address.

If I said that package and Bruce was like,
Hey, I think I just received a package

from you with a bunch of things in it.

I was like, oh, that was close
to go to the other house.

And so, that's that kind of friction,
there's a workaround for that.

There is a workaround.

You can just check and make
sure the address is correct.


But really what you want is you
want the convenience or even a label

that says the person's name or the
time that you last sent to that

location, or even just a simple,
this is history and not a correction.

So, and I think the challenge for
us as designers is that there may

not be a big measurable impact.

To the business metrics for that.

If we updated that and put to
that work, we may not see that.

But like you said, all those
inconveniences, those friction

points that determines whether it's
a world-class experience or not.

And at that point, we're
getting into customer sentiment.

We're getting into these metrics.

It is measurable, but it may not be
like a click-through rate kind of.

And so I think design, we need to advocate
for these customer metrics, these brand

related kinds of attributes of on demand.

It feels.

You know, delight is sort of a lie.

I wish we had a better word for delight.

I like how marketing talks,
where they talk about soul

inspiring and mind blowing.

So we need something between
delight and soul inspiring.

Um, as a way to talk about
the value we provide by making

things seamless, frictionless,
um, that's a challenge for our.

Christian: I mentioned this on the
podcast in the past of how you show the

importance of some of these brand related
changes that don't necessarily impact

the bottom line and how we can convince
people that these are important too.

And the story goes like this.

I had the entire product team
in the observation room of

our usability testing lab.

I was in the room with the
customer and we gave her a task.

A menial task.

We were tested.

We would try to experiment with
something new and she got so frustrated

that she couldn't complete the task.

Obviously the design wasn't good enough.

And she got her face, got red, she got
angry, visibly frustrated, visibly angry,

kind of took it out on me a little bit.

Cause I was the only one in the room.

Anyway, deflating the situation she
goes, we say, thank you all of that.


We had an issue.

We had a fix for that issue
shipped within a week.

It was not something that
would impact the bottom line.

It was not something that would make
a dent in the universe, but with the

product team being in the other room
and noticing the effect that our product

has on the well-being of customers.

That was enough of an example for them
to say, this needs to be prioritized

because if this happened in a controlled.

In here, it will happen
out in the wild as well.

So sometimes bringing product
teams or even executives.

We had testing sessions with executives
coming into the observation room,

just putting their head in and seeing
what's happening and changing their

perspective on what we need to prioritize.

Just because they've seen a customer
struggle with something or just

because they've seen a customer have a
really good time with something else.

So I find testing to be really
good testing with, with your whole

productive, not just you as a designer.

Alex: Yeah.

I remember the GoDaddy.

The one time I could get the CEO's
attention, Scott at the end of

the day was at the end of the day.

And I'd show him some of the research
from the customers that we've done.

And he's, he said to me, he's like,
you know, this is the most valuable

part of my day, seeing customers and
their interactions with the product.

And you're right for engineering too.

I've had engineers sit in the room
doing testing and talking, and they're

like, why aren't they clicking on the.

But that's right there.

I built the button and you know this
sort of disconnect between like,

they could not understand why this
person did not understand that.

And I, that's kind of how
I got into design too.

I was working for a John Kevin.

Who was, uh, the adventure of
basic programming language.

And he was Einstein's research
assistant, did all his math.

And I remember coming in sometimes
and he would have the mouse in the

trash can and he would be like, I
don't understand this mouse thing.

The keyboard is so much more powerful.

Why do people use the mouse?


And a lot of his friends who were,
you know, aerospace engineers, and I

remember doing a design review in a
says, not once with somebody who wanted

to talk to me in their airplane about
the tools I was building for modeling,

and they didn't understand them.

So I was an engineer and these
very smart people who were not

computer science, people couldn't
understand the things that I was.

And this really got me to think
about how do we create things

that work with the mental models,
the language that people have.

And this is true for learning and
middle-school kids who are the most

ruthless user testers you have ever seen.

Um, they will just break and
repurpose, whatever you build.

And I think it's so eyeopening
because you start realizing.

The way people use technology is not
in a controlled room, in an environment

it's socially, they're going to
get their friends to help them.

They're going to add a go
daddy, setting up sites.

It's not typically the business owner.

It's like the nephew.

Who's going to go in there and do
something with the DNRs record.

And, and so there's this understanding
that the tools we build are used by groups

of people, communities, friends, family,
Is one of the ways we can shift this

dialogue, because I think as designers,
what we're trying to do here is we're

trying to frame and shift the dialogue to
be not just customer centered, but human

we're trying to build a human solutions.

And I really loved that.

Go jacks.

Um, essence brand essence
now is heart and technology.

And it's important.

Heart is first, right?

Because we're really
trying to figure it out.

How do we connect and support
entrepreneurs, drivers, restaurants how

do we help people that are at different
stages with their business succeed?

And that's how you provide the
best customer service is by helping

these entrepreneurs, giving them
the tools and empowering them.

And so I think that's the other valuable
shift we need to make as designers is

this shift in discussion and framing
for the problems that we're solving.

Christian: There's also on top of what you
said, there's also the context in which

people use the products we're building.

Maybe it's outside in the sun.

Maybe it's a, when they can't con
here, cause it's in the silent, room

or whatever, is it called of a train
which is why it's so important to

test your products in as many ways
as you can outside of your office.

How would this work when I'm on a train?

How would this work when I'm on a plane?

How would this work?

When there are a lot of people around
me who are talking out loud and I want

to meditate or do my Duolingo lesson or
whatever it is, it's so interesting that.

We're at the moment, we're kind of only
thinking in a box, like what you imagining

people sitting with our products, the
way we see with our products and that

couldn't be further away from the

Alex: truth.


You said you were in Indonesia.

I'm curious.

Having spent the last few months
there, riding around on a motorcycle

on the back of Go-Jek scooter.

Are you riding around on
a motorcycle or a scooter?

Christian: I have my own motorcycle.


I use Go-Jek on a daily basis.

It's a fundamental part of my life here.

Alex: I was curious do you use
Google maps while you're driving

around on your motorcycle?

Christian: Well, most of
the time I ride to places.

I know.

So not any more, but if it so happens
that I do, yes, I use Google maps and

I put it on my watch so I can get the
directions on my watch while I ride.

Alex: Interesting.


Cause I I've been riding around on
one of the scooters with the phone in

the little scooter pocket has like,
we're talking about contextual uses.

It's not loud enough with all
of the scooter noise around you.

And so it really, if somebody had tested
this, they would have been like, oh, we

need a motorcycle speaker system volume.

It needs to be amped up like
double or 1.5 when it is.

So you for you to hear it turn left, turn.



Christian: yeah, I think that's a 100%

Alex: visceral example.

Understanding people in contexts, right?

Christian: Yeah, for sure.

All right, Alex, we're I really wish
we'd had more time, but we don't.

So I'll just go straight to the, the end
of podcast questions that we ask everyone.

And, uh maybe one day we'll bring you
back on again, because I think this

conversation could continue for hours.

So a first question is what is
one soft skill that you wish

more designers would possess?

Alex: The one-stop scale.

I wish designers would possess is
succinct business communication.


Christian: that, that was
very succinctly delivered.

Alex: Yeah.

We tell a lot of stories and it's possible
to tell a story, but it needs to be

short, have a message on a punchline.

This goes back to what I was talking
about before, which is the, how versus

the, what as designers and researchers.

Our process is very.

Uh, we'd like to bring people
along on that journey so that they

have the context to understand our
decisions and the value of the output.

But I think we actually need to
turn that around on its head.

I'd start from the problems we're solving,
the actions we're taking and the results.

And we've in the context
where it makes sense.

And this is the shift I'm
talking about for having more

succinct business community.

Christian: And I think it's
important to set at the end.

They're weaving the rest of the context,
because if you just come in and say,

here's a problem we're solving, and
here's a, here's the design that we're

proposing people might have something
to say about that because it's kind of

subjective the way you've solved the
problem, but that's how you, that's

where you need to add some of your pro.

To kind of show we've got to
this result in a, in a way,

in a mathematical way, right?

If this it's a process, we didn't just
pull it out of a drawer of somewhere.

So I find that little nuance
to be very important as well.

The other one is what is one
piece of advice that has changed

your career for the better?

Alex: Yeah, one of my friends and
my manager at Google when I first

got there with Simon Smith and.

I remember him giving me a post-it on it.

That said the word simplify.


And so I think it's really
just understanding that

people do one thing at a time.

It's very much a mobile first bind
set of focus, simplicity, sequence of

things that you can do with one thumb.

And as designers, we
have a lot of context.

We have a lot of knowledge of patterns.

We think about all the
dimensions of the experience.

And we explained things a lot.

We ran some AB tests to go Jack showing
that actually our conversational

tone in some cases, Connection
relate-ability but in others, it

detracted from people getting things done.

And we're shifting our tone as
part of the brand work to be a

little bit more action oriented.

And that's showing actually a
business outcome and conversion

in specific situations that
are critical to the user of.

Christian: Alex, where can people
find out more about you get in touch

with you, read up your stuff and

Alex: any of that good stuff?

I wrote, maybe I wrote a lot of papers
in the early days on learning technology.

And I think while those were 20
years ago, I think I should bring.

Some of that into the dialogue
now, because it's really the anchor

points for things like slack.

Myro a lot of the collaborative tools
we were doing foundational work in those

areas at that time at UC Berkeley and the
other learning technology groups, Sri.

And so I think, you know, I really
appreciate you reaching out to me

for this podcast because this is a
great way to get information out.

People can listen to this.

Um, it's very accessible.

They can play it while they're cooking.

Right, right.

And so I really liked this format
and thank you for reaching out.

I think this is a great way to get
that kind of information out in a way

that people can relate to experiences
anecdotes versus, uh, some of the articles

that are need to be more polished.


Christian: We'll put your
LinkedIn in the show notes, so

anyone can, uh, connect with you.

And if you have any follow up
questions there, they're welcome

to, to get in touch and maybe, uh,
build another conversation like this.

Yeah, I wanna, yeah, Alex,
this has been amazing.

Thank you very much once again, for
being part of the show and we will be.

All right.

Alex: Thank you, Christian.

Christian: That's a wrap for today.

I hope you found this episode useful and
that you've learned something that you're

ready to implement at work tomorrow.

If you've enjoyed this as always,
it would mean the world to me.

If you'd share it with your
community, if you'd leave a review.

And of course, if you'd remember
to tune in for the next one, peace.