We caught up with Anthony Quinn recently. For anyone who has seen Anthony speak at design, conferences will know what a strong design thinker he is. We chat about how he got into design, his motivations and also took questions relating to the topics of career challenges from people working in the industry, and also how to increase your influence in an organisation.
She has worked with a variety of clients such as NBNco, Telstra, Transport for NSW, Westpac and most recently with NAB. She’s a local leader of IxDA Sydney. She is the co-organiser of the Mentoring program at IxDA Sydney, which provides a platform for new designers to be mentored by someone more experience.
She believes human centred design, storytelling and visual thinking are powerful ways to improve the lives of everyday people. Her background is in customer experience research, various visual support for strategy projects, with roots in Industrial Design and Architecture.
Gerry Scullion: Hello and welcome to the very first episode of This is HCD. My name is Gerry Scullion and I bring this podcast to you with the help of my friend Mark Catanzariti, another service designer based in Sydney Australia. This is HCD is a dedicated podcast that discusses topics that have relevance both HCD, human-centered design, in businesses, and also the practitioners of the craft itself. It’s a little bit different than most podcasts in the fact that the podcast has been designed to include a representative voice of the industry by welcoming three practitioners to partake in the podcast and converse with the guest speaker. It’s also charitable by donating any advertising revenue generated to CaraCare.org. Before we jump in, however, as this podcast is recorded in Sydney CBD, I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the land where we meet today and pay respect to their elders, both past and present. I’d also like to acknowledge any Aboriginal or Torres Straight islander people who might be listening in today.
So let’s jump into the podcast itself. We caught up with Anthony Quinn recently and had a fascinating conversation. For anyone who’s seen Anthony speak at design conferences will know what a strong design thinker he is. We chat about how he got into design, his motivations, and also took some questions relating to the topics of career challenges from people working in the industry today. We also discuss how to increase your influence in an organisation, something that is becoming increasingly important for designers across the globe. So let’s jump straight in.
Gerry Scullion: Let’s kick it off. Anthony thanks for coming today, this is episode one. The two topics that we are going to discuss were around career challenges and influencing yourself in an organisation. So let’s kick off by telling us a little bit about yourself and your career at the moment.
Anthony Quinn: Okay. And thanks for having me here, it’s really nice to be with everybody today and I’m sure you guys are going to put me through my paces. I always hate describing myself and my career. For some reason I find it the toughest thing to do. I suppose the best way I would describe myself is that you know I think about why I’m into design. I’ve been in design for a long time, probably over 20 years now, 25 years, something like that.
I guess my journey started off in product design. Did that for a while in the agency world and then I moved into the whole web thing. There’s a long story behind all of this. And I guess that along the way, something that came on very strongly for me was that I really enjoyed the whole creative process and obviously you know that’s why I was in design in the first place. I think certainly in the early days it was all about, and maybe this was just reflective of the kind of design education that I had, but it was all about that I wanted to design things with my name on them almost so it was almost like art, if that makes any sense.
And I think that was probably because we didn’t do a lot of stuff in collaboration in uni so I kind of came out with that mindset. But I loved design, I loved the whole creative challenge of it, I loved the product design thing of having two work through what people are interested in, what you can actually make and how you actually in real life get it out there and actually operationalize something.
I guess that’s just the thing that’s carried through but along the way I also got more and more interested in the impact that you have on the world with design and on people as a designer and I guess I ended up managing lots of, at first design projects and then teams and so on. And the impact that you have on the people around you and so nowadays, it might sound a bit pompous and grand but rather than describe myself by function, what I tend to say is that what I’m really about is helping people to realise their potential to make the world more growing and sustainable and more equitable and then to bring equality into the world just through design, you know, so to get people fired up about how they can use design to do that is basically what I do.
Over the years, I have worked in lots of different places. I’ve been in agencies, I’ve been in corporates. And these days, today, I’m sort of here with my Dynamic4 hat on. So Dynamic4 is a B corp and that value of using business as a force for good is very strong for us and so the things that we do … that’s the realm that we work in, and the things that we do then or how we do that are through strategic design, so looking at how your value proposition, your service proposition interact with your business model how you actually get that up and running and get it out there, especially in the for-purpose space. That’s definitely something people need help with. We do design and build so we actually help to operationalize things because the background that I have and my business partner has we have a lot of experience in that realm.
We also do what we call ventures, which is where we actually get involved with early phase start-ups or we do them ourselves, get them up and running, it’s the part that we have a grant programme and I guess winding our way through all of that we do a lot of coaching and teaching and mentoring.
Gerry Scullion: Okay.
Anthony Quinn: So I did warn you that I hate describing myself because it takes forever but I guess if I was to summarise I’d say what I’m really about is helping people to realise their potential to use design to make the world more growing and more sustainable and more equitable and bring equality into the world through design.
Gerry Scullion: And that’s a really good segue into the next section of empowering designers to realise their full potential. So looking at career challenges, some of the guys here in the room, you’ve got Dharawan Noller, who’s a service designer in Westpac, you’ve got Verawaty Chan, who is a user experience designer at Symplicit, you’ve got Kevin Chan who is a user experience designer, we’ve got Peter Nesic who is a product manager/user experience designer. We also have Mark Catanzariti who’s helping us record the podcast here today as well as a service designer at Telstra. So one of the questions earlier on was from Peter about staying relevant in your career. So do you want to take over here, Peter, and have a conversation about that topic?
Peter Nesic: Yeah so when I asked that question, what I was thinking is you know industry changes, product space changes, how do you stay relevant while doing your day job?
Anthony Quinn: I’ve always been really interested in ideas and learning and I guess that’s probably what brought me into design in the first place was I just loved the whole creativity of it and I guess that that’s something that’s always been there. So for me it was sort of, I almost describe it as being curious so you know I was constantly coming across things that I would find really interesting so for example … and some of them are by accident, right? And by really getting things wrong. And then figuring out, well what happened there and what can I do about that and how do I not let that happen again. So a really good example for me was when I …
So I got into web design I guess and I think back then you know usability testing and usability engineering was kind of a big thing and it was sort of a new idea in that realm to a degree. But in a way it wasn’t because coming from product design background you’re always model making, prototyping, breaking things, fixing them and so on and you’re often doing that with the people that are using them so you’re trying to get the product to fit the person and that was often just in a very sort of physical ergonomic way.
I guess web design at the time and the whole usability thing was very similar so I could relate to it and a lot of people, and particularly a lot of my friends at the time, mostly when I was back in Ireland, were moving from industrial design into the web space because it had that sort of intonation I guess. I was lucky enough to work with some of my best mates in a company called Front End and so back then what we used to do was we used to design websites, you know big deal now you can jump onto …
Gerry Scullion: Wix, or even WordPress…
Anthony Quinn: You can jump onto Wix, you know can use Wix, WordPress, you know you can get these things now out of a box and they’re for free and it’s awesome. Back then they didn’t exist so we used to actually do websites from the ground up including a content management system for clients. One of the ones I worked on was for a government agency and it was my first project, it was a huge learning curve. I honestly thought I was just going to melt down halfway through it but I think part of that was how I stay relevant is just by trying stuff out and probably being naïve enough to think, well I think can do this but it’s a bit outside my comfort zone and then you suddenly discover that actually it’s way outside your comfort zone and you just keep going.
But the thing about it was that we delivered this website and discovered later that it wasn’t accessible and you know at the time I didn’t even really know what that meant. So you know somebody pointed out that well this site can’t be used by somebody who is blind. And I couldn’t- my first reaction was, when I got the phone call, was one of those weird sort of out-of-body moments where you just see yourself floating above yourself and I’m thinking, well how do I respond to this? Do I play the, well it’s to spec, you know so not much I can do about it, or are you having me on? Or you know the incredulous thing.
And in the end I just sort of did the, well tell me more. And so out of that I learnt a lot about … you know that kind of thing gave me an entré into the whole world of accessibility and inclusive design, which is something I hadn’t really known before then. And that just grew and grew and grew and we ended up writing the IT accessibility guidelines for the government at the time. And they’re still there. And from that I then ended up, you know, when I moved to Australia I guess that then gave me a way to be a little bit different and got me into Westpac and then in Westpac I joined when it was a very small team, there were two people, and just the demand for design’s grown over the years as all you guys would know and ended up you know in quite a large team managing large teams, directing design on fairly significant problems at work. And along the way you know doing other things like lots of side projects and I guess particularly the side projects for me were, so some of the learning came from just putting myself out there and trying things out and just constantly looking for something new to do or asking for a little bit more responsibility a little bit more.
The other thing that really, you know I guess as the years have gone on I’ve probably become a lot clearer about what my purpose is and why I do stuff and so then the great thing about that is, when you define yourself less about what you do as a function, as in, I’m this type of designer or I do this in design. I mean that’s important within the skillset and the domain that you work in. But when you define yourself more around your purpose then you can be a lot more flexible about what you do and how you do it and how you work. And I think I probably learnt that through what I would describe as my side projects that have then kind of become my purpose and so for me it was a great thing about being in the particularly in a large organisation and just having experiences like moving to a different country where you haven’t got a network and having to almost start all over again is that you have to put yourself out there. And I think that’s the thing is that what I learned was that you’ve got to put yourself out there but then it’s easy to say that but how do you do it?
So it’s actually very tactical and one of the things that I’ve learnt over the years is that it’s more about setting really simple targets like saying, well I’m going to meet three new people this week. Now I don’t always achieve that but that’s kind of one of the things I try to do. I’m going to meet three people or I’m going to write to three people or I’m going to ask them for their advice about something. So that’s the really simple way of doing it. Sometimes it’s just asking for more responsibility at work and actually then saying, you know, having fairly open conversations about, well, why do you think I couldn’t do that and what do you think is the gap I need to close and how do we close that down so you can do great work? But yeah it’s just simple things like that.
Gerry Scullion: Okay, I think that’s [inaudible 00:11:58].
Peter Nesic: Yeah definitely no, in terms of yeah taking those steps, putting yourself out there and achieving things through the process.
Anthony Quinn: And it’s often, like for me it’s often been more about getting outside the design space. You know and then bringing things back in, not so much … like I’m definitely interested in design and I guess I’ve always been, this is gonna sound kinda weird but for somebody who’s worked in UX for a long time, but because you know the scope of what I was designing has grown over the years but I’ve never … so this is a confession …
Gerry Scullion: Here we go.
Anthony Quinn: I’ve never actually been that interested in technology. I guess I’m interested in it but that’s probably the one area where I don’t go deep, you know for me. And maybe it’s a conscious thing. Like I don’t mind tinkering with it, I’m really interested in people who know more than I do and who can show me stuff that you can do with it and I really value that skillset and that depth of knowledge, but for me that’s the same as people who can manage people, you know I really also appreciate that there are things that other people can do that I can’t do and so I try to kind of jump around a bit and get to know people who are doing other things then learn from them to bring back in.
Gerry Scullion: Okay.
Male: I actually had a question on the clarity of purpose, because for me it’s, how did you identify it? Is it a case of this is not something I want to do, this is something I’m interested in, and did it help you define the clarity or purpose.
Anthony Quinn: Yeah definitely. I … it’s not like, first of all it takes a long time. Right? And it changes as well over time because the meaning of your work and what it means to you, for me anyway, is varied a lot? So you know my early days was like I said it was all about I want to get in there, I want to do cool stuff, I want to put my name on it, all that kinda thing. And then after a while it just became about the sheer, like I worked in an agency that wasn’t a product design agency, I was the only product designer there so it was a branding agency and just the sheer creativity of it was, oh I just loved it, you know I loved the whole thing of sometimes we would be working on designing a brand from the ground up at that meant coming up with the name, coming up with what the packaging would look like, how it would be promoted in the store, what the proposition was and how we’d reflect that in the design. And I just loved the idea that you know here’s me and I’m a product designer so I should really be doing the shape of this and the form and yadda yadda yadda, but just because I kind of like it, I’m also involved in coming up with the name and how we might do that and thinking about that all the time.
I think along the way what you’ve got to really do is, and I’ve probably been very lucky here in that I’ve had access to programmes or people who’ve shown me how to do this or encouraged me to do it is, number one was think about your values and what really matters to you and what doesn’t matter to you. So sometimes it’ll be, well, like I was telling to you guys outside the room, and I was telling how when I moved here stability was really important to me because everything in my life started changing. And likewise when you have your first child or things like that, that it becomes very important that for a period of time you need to adjust outside your career.
So like my career for me has never been the be all end all, I’ve always had things outside that. So the meaning of what your work is changes but your values probably remain relatively constant and it’s often not that easy to understand what your values actually really are, because it’s an easy thing to say, but it’s really good to think about what you actually value and sometimes it’s good to just do that by, you know if you just Google values or personal values probably get a long list and you circle what really resonates and then you, you know you gotta be really honest with yourself and then looking at why you might have discomfort in your life. Like is it because I’m doing something that goes against my values? Or is it, I’m just bored, right? You know so those kinds of structures can be really useful.
And I guess you know the purpose thing is you just gotta take time out and ask yourself, what am I really about? And almost reverse-engineer back out of what have I learned from my experiences in terms of when I’m really in the zone, why do I think that is? And being really honest with yourself. And when I’m not, why do I think that is? Is it because maybe I wasn’t doing the best I could have done or is it just because I wasn’t … that type of thing just didn’t sit well with me and was that because of my values or was it because my work style preferences or was it just the kind of work that interests me or was it the culture of the place … you know you’ve really got to get into it and just reflect on it and just keep sharpening it up as you go. So it’s not like I had a big moment where it came out of the clouds and there you go, you know, it’s taken … And it will probably change again and every now and again I still stop and think about it.
Gerry Scullion: Yeah, all right. So, Vera, you’ve got a question about the progression of your career and so forth. Do you want to discuss it?
Vera Chan: Yeah sure, when I was asking that questions earlier on, I guess now that hearing you talk more about your values and stuff it’s kinda probably halfway answering that question. So my question was more along that, when you were working in a certain area, so like in the design process for example and there’s lots of jobs or like in the research and then people normally pigeon-hole you into that sort of segments like research design or delivery and that kind of stuff. So once you got into that, what you’re good at, and then how do you move to explore other outside what you’ve been working on for the last ten years? And then I think the challenge is that I have currently is you tend to, because you’re good at it and you’re tending to just be into that space, say like design and prototyping, things like that and then like I’m curious enough to actually explore different areas or even different industries and how do you move onto that without having much experience on it and getting that sort of opportunity I suppose? And what you did, something that we should seek out more or I don’t know … that’s kind of [inaudible 00:17:55] I guess that’s what I’m looking for.
Anthony Quinn: Well I guess again it’s probably lots of things and just trying out lots of different little things. So yeah definitely the values thing is really important and I think you’ve also gotta probably look at, it’s often thinking slightly unconventionally and I guess we’re lucky because as designers you have a very creative way of looking at things and you’re also able to step back and analyse things and try something out see if it works and then step back. So for me one of the things that I found really early on was that you know one of the things that I could see in a lot of my friends and probably from me was that the standard journey, if you like, was that you come out of design school and you know you kind of, your big aspiration is to be like say creative director or something like that, right?
And it’s almost like as well that you know the conventional model was you go and you freelance, you work in an agency and so everybody was doing that and then after a while you know you become a senior designer and after a while you might become a creative director but there’s only one of those in the company you’re in. So you’ve either got to go and find a company that’s got a slot or you’ve got to go off and start your own company and so you know that’s what … Like I was noticing lots of these little offshoot, you know lots and lots of clones of sort of the same thing and it just didn’t really feel like me so I suppose for me what it became was well, you gotta maybe challenge the conventional path a little bit and I guess the other thing is being open to doing things that might be outside that conventional design set of roles.
Now I would consider myself to be relatively lucky here because like I said, I started my journey in product design around about I think it was in the late 90s that the whole web thing was sort of kicking off and it wasn’t very defined so the polite way of saying it was it was kind of like the Wild West, right? Which is a time of chaos but it’s also a time of opportunity. So it was possible to sort of say I am this now and you could just do it and fake it until you make it and to a degree, that’s what a lot of people did including myself. And at the time that was a pretty … like in one way it was a pretty abrupt lane change but in another way, it wasn’t because I was working with people I knew so it was relatively safe, right? Again over the years, one of the things that I’ve learnt and this just works for me, I’m not saying it would work for everybody is that you know you’ve really got to think about what am I prepared to give up and what am I prepared to gain? And be honest about it because, you know, for
Again over the years, one of the things that I’ve learnt and this just works for me, I’m not saying it would work for everybody is that you know you’ve really got to think about what am I prepared to give up and what am I prepared to gain? And be honest about it because, you know, for me, it’s you know there, I don’t want to necessarily quit a really good job or cut my income off or do any of these really crazy things. Like within boundaries I will, but it’s like establishing those boundaries and saying, okay, well if I want to try something, how far am I not prepared to go, right? So you kind of say well, up to that line I’m going to try this and you treat it like an experiment.
And so there are things you can do like you can just explore stuff. So the easiest way to do that is just network and meet people and reach out to people and say look, I’m here, I’m curious about what you do, and I’d love to talk to you about your experience in it and what your journey has been like. And that’s often really good because people are actually really open to helping other people I’ve felt. I’ve always been really lucky in that respect and they give you the time and it often kind of, in talking to someone who’s really done something, [inaudible 00:21:19] one on one and they’ll be quite open with you about what’s really good about what they do and also what’s not so good about it. And it can challenge your expectations a bit because it can, you know the far away grass is always greener, so sometimes you realise that maybe it’s not.
And the other thing is that you often learn that their journey in something was not that cut and dried as well. So it sort of gives you that confidence to say, well, you know if you can do it I can probably do it. I’m not really that different, I’m just coming from a different place. And then I think there’s probably, looking for opportunities to just try stuff out, so it could be either talking to somebody at work or it could be looking for side projects. Like I’m a big believer inside projects, I think they’re a really good thing to do but you’ve got to say, you’ve got to dedicate yourself to them and say I’m willing to invest in them and I’m willing to do things that are maybe a little bit speculative.
Funnily enough, I’m not really sure if it’s such a big thing anymore but it used to be a big thing in the design world that you know doing speculative work was a real … oh I can’t do that it’s terrible, you can’t do speculative work, you can’t do pitching for free and all that kind of thing. And I used to believe that but now I don’t because I actually think that that’s what you’ve gotta do like you’ve got to be … if you want to learn something, so try something out, you have to do it on a speculative basis. You can’t do it … nobody is going to guarantee and give you cash [inaudible 00:22:36], yeah well okay if you don’t even know how to do this, and it goes horribly wrong, there’s no accountability so that’s great, let’s just do it. Nobody is going to ever give you that.
And I think the second side of it is you won’t learn anything so even by doing a little bit of speculative work or experimenting or trying something out as a side project, there’s got to be a degree of maybe accountability in it so it might mean that you can find ways to do voluntary stuff or you can find someone who, and this is going to sound maybe a little bit smarmy but actually it’s a really good thing to do is if you can find someone in your network or even who is outside your network and approach them, and offer to do something you know, basically ask them for their insights so you’re sort of slightly flattering them a little bit and people love to have them go like that and ask them for their insights and then maybe ask them if they’re willing to let you try to help them with that thing from a design point of view. Do you know what I mean?
So there’s a bit of skin in the game there because you’re sort of committing to it but you’re also demonstrating to them that you’re serious about this and you know if they’re willing to try you out and you can set boundaries on it and maybe manage each other’s expectations a little bit that you can help them and so they’ve helped you and now you’re going to help them or if they can refer to somebody who is in need, you know, those are sort of ways. But also coaches and mentors are really important. I think, and there’s a difference between the two, get mentors because mentors are often people who will share experience and insight so they’re great ways to explore outside of my domain or in my domain but in a different role and then coaches are more about if I want to go from A to B, they’re more task focused so you know get mentors and get coaching.
Gerry Scullion: Okay. There’s an interesting question earlier on from Kevin who I’m sitting beside here about you know taking on extra roles and how that can impact your existing roles. Kevin, do you want to talk a little bit more about that?
Kevin Chan: So I’m in a startup and what drew me there is it was a really interesting product and has great potential and it’s a great team I’m working on but when you go in as a designer you can see how they can improve processes or improve the design process. And so you try to influence them, you try to influence the direction, you try to influence how things are done, you know, whether it’s introducing agile processes or introducing design processes and so on. But each time you add to that influence you take on baggage, you take on responsibility and it is in a startup, you already have enough work to do without creating more work for yourself. So how do you find a balance and how do you actually influence them as well, because sometimes people are very set in their ways and you’ve come in, you’re an outsider who’s coming in and going, “Well, we should look at these things or we should look at doing this way.” So it’s two questions, how do you influence them, and once you’ve influenced them how do you do it without increasing your workload?
Gerry Scullion: Yeah, because that could impact your actual job that you were hired to do.
Anthony Quinn: Yeah.
Gerry Scullion: And you can end up doing a bad job…
Anthony Quinn: That’s actually a tough one. I’ve often found that you almost gotta overdo it and then under do it. So for me it’s kind of been the case that yeah, you know you take on that … you ask for it and you get it. And it’s almost a case of be careful you might get what you ask for and then you get more responsibility. So you’ve got more … Influence and accountability are often very tied, so you get influence by being accountable and accountability often brings more responsibilities so you gotta get more stuff done, right? And it’s kind of a no excuses thing as well so you know if you’re not delivering then it’s kind of, that’s an issue. So I guess then it really becomes a case of, you’ve really gotta, and I’m not saying I’ve always done this [inaudible 00:26:25] because it’s one of those things that you kind overload yourself for a while and then you kind of figure it out and then the balance comes back again and it lasts like that for a while and then you get the next kick-up.
But for me, what I’ve figured out that works is … Well, first of all, you do it, so exactly like you say, you just get in there. And the great thing about being in a smaller organisation or a smaller team in a big organisation is that you get those opportunities, right? And by naturally doing things that are outside your defined role, like that gets noticed and you actually get your influence from that, right? So it’s the reputation that you build. And I guess what you gotta do in that situation right is you gotta learn to negotiate and so the only … Negotiation is all actually all about relationships and how do you build a relationship with somebody so that both of you feel like you’re getting a really good deal out of this and you gotta really work out then what is it that really matters to that person and that isn’t necessarily always about …
Sometimes it’s about the work and sometimes it’s about the product that you’re designing or you know why they’re doing it in the first place but it can also be you know you got to acknowledge the situation they’re in and give them the space to talk about that and almost spend time with them on a one-to-one basis and actually ask them what they would be afraid of and particularly with respect to not delivering and so it might be, you know, what are your hesitations about me in this role, right? And what do you think is the worst possible outcome here and what do you think would lead to that, you know that’s another good question to ask somebody so you can then mitigate, right? And it’s also good too, when you, I’m not saying you would necessarily start with this because you want to understand the other person first, right? But be ready to say, look if you want x, then these are things we’re going to have to give up and are we prepared to do that? And let’s have a chat about that.
So that’s all about building the relationships and negotiating and I would definitely recommend studying, and again this is going to sound smarmy, it’s not intended to be, but it’s actually just a fact of life is, I always find it interesting when you get into this kind of stuff because you get into politics and people say, oh I don’t want to get into politics because you know you go to that meeting, I just want to design this thing I don’t want to get into politics. Design is a collaborative thing and politics is just another way of saying, people are vying to be heard. So you’ve got to question what are my motives here? Why do I want this influence and what do I want out of this? And again it goes back to you know [inaudible 00:29:04] one of my values, what lines am I not prepared to cross in this negotiation? And in doing this, and in doing this work this way. And you gotta understand you know influence and power they’re often related and power is one of those scary words as well, right, but there are different types of power so you know people tend to say power and you think and the first thing that comes to your head is a really authoritarian figure, right?
Anthony Quinn: Yeah the tyrant I was just about the say the dictator.
Anthony Quinn: You got to understand power and what that really means and it’s good to study these things, like you know there’s a great book that I would recommend and it can be confronting but actually it’s really good, it’s called, funnily enough it’s called How Power and How it Really Works and it’s by a guy called Jeffrey Pfeffer, he also wrote this other great book called Management BS which is all about … Yeah it’s good isn’t it? Yeah it really opened my eyes.
Vera Chan: I heard about that, yeah.
Anthony Quinn: Management BS is all about that … there’s a lot of hype and inspiration around leadership and Management BS kind of cuts through a lot of that and says this is what’s management’s actually about and this is the damage that the hype and the kind of the reverse telling of histories does to the retrospective view on history where you get someone who is really successful or has made a big achievement, they tell you how they did it and they make it look really glossy and easy. And actually that doesn’t help people, but anyway to get back to your question, and you’ve also got to learn to prioritise I guess and say well, if my role has changed, what’s the difference that I’m going to have to execute on.
Again, maybe it comes back to having coaches and mentors and helping, you know getting guides to help you through that. Both in terms of the experience but also in terms of the task because there are fundamental changes in behaviour, like you’ll have to start giving things up and if you’re the kind of person who really loves doing design, that can be hard, when you take on more roles, right? If you’re the kind of person who … There’s sort of like almost three different types of ways of cutting the role. You know you gotta ask yourself do I really want to be like a technical person and I want to have, my leadership and design is going to be about the craft of design or is my leadership going to be about the process and so how I engage my peers in that process and how we work through it, or is my leadership going to be about how I relate to others outside the function? And how I work with them and influence them to have a design culture in my organisation? And why would I want that anyway, you know?
It’s almost picking well which way of that I want to go and then finding the right mentors and coaches who can get you there but I would definitely recommend getting into negotiations and learning how to negotiate respectfully and studying power, which might sound like a strange thing and influence which is the other thing.
Gerry Scullion: No, that’s huge, yeah.
Anthony Quinn: And probably the last thing I’d say is also really good, when you’re really overloaded and overwhelmed, a couple of things that you can do, because you can also feel like a bit of a … I shouldn’t be doing this, you know, it’s like imposter thing right? Is remember that you got invited in so clearly somebody saw your potential and …
Gerry Scullion: So it’s a mindset.
Anthony Quinn: Yeah you kind of have to back yourself a little bit and then almost every day say well what were … get in the habit of saying what were three things I did today that were outside what I’d normally do that, okay, maybe I did them well, maybe I didn’t do them well, but you know what worked well and what didn’t do well and just think about that. And then another question that I find really good when I’m really flat out or when I’m really feeling under the pump and I use this a lot, is if I only had 25 minutes to work on this, what would I do, or half an hour? Like a ridiculously small block of time, because often that’s what happens when your role expands and you take on more stuff is your diary fills up and it’s easy to say, oh no you should prioritise it and be ruthless, that’s really hard to do about your time. But do that thing of, yeah, if I only had 25 minutes what would be the one thing I’d get done today or the three things and then just do that. And how do I get other people to do it instead of it being all on me and set them up to do it.
Gerry Scullion: This is a good segue actually into Dharawan. We were discussing earlier about getting people from different streams across the business and they could all be looking at the problem but they’re all seeing it in a different way. So Dharawan do you want to discuss that a little bit more about your experience with that problem?
Dharawan Noller: Yes I think this is around yeah influencing in an organisation and really about how might you encourage people to make better human-centered decisions, particularly in a corporate environment where you might be in a group of people that there’s a mix of backgrounds and a mix of beliefs and so an example of one where I’ve approached the situation in the past is to use visual storytelling where you might sketch out the problems that a customer is facing and then it becomes more tangible and more real. I’ve felt that’s something that helps align people better to the customer’s problems. So I was just wondering how might you approach that sort of situation or how might you encourage people to be more human-centered if it’s not already cored to their beliefs.
Anthony Quinn: Yeah.
Gerry Scullion: Good question.
Anthony Quinn: It is a good question actually because it’s one of those things where, I guess it’s the difference in behaviour and maybe belief, I don’t know if that’s even the right way to say it but it’s like you know if you ask people, everybody will say, yeah I’m customer-centered or yeah I’m human-centered and you know I’d never be not, so sometimes it’s how do you get someone to see that yes you are but unintentionally you’re doing something that is potentially not as good as it could be or even potentially harmful. And that’s a tough thing to do because it is also the case that you’ve also got to give people credit for how much they will actually know about their customer and I would say that you know that’s something that I’ve often observed in myself is you kind of come in, you think well we’ve got this process and it’s awesome and we really know how to do it and it involves going out, reaching out to people and understanding their needs and yadda yadda and then bringing them back in telling you.
And to a degree you’ve got to be careful with that because people who run businesses, sort of already know … They’re not dumb, right? And they actually either consciously or unconsciously at some stage came up with a value proposition because they understood their customer and they understood a need and then they did something that fills it. Right? So they’re often already halfway there, it’s just figuring out then what’s the gap? And sometimes it can just be, like your point about the visual storytelling and things like that are awesome because sometimes it is just that, it’s just about the storytelling and sometimes it’s just about the nuance, right? So it can be a small thing that can have a big impact. It’s also recognising that you know again you got to get into, so what are people afraid of?
And particularly in, I think maybe this is more of the big company thing, that, why would somebody not want to take this advice on? Right, is the question you gotta ask. And then you gotta get back to, well, let’s think about what this person’s going through and what’s their accountability and what’s their responsibility? And so what would motivate them to either want to take this advice on board? And we often, you know, we’re naturally optimistic people so we tend to focus on that and assume that, well I’ve just got this great insight for you, here it is, ta da! And now you’ve got to act on it.
It can also be pretty confronting for people though because that can mean that they’ve got to change something or that can mean that they’ve got to go back to, and particularly in a large organisation, this is really tough, right, is … and even in smaller, I guess, you know in startups and things like that, is that can mean that people’s expectations about what they thought they were going to do are completely different. So you’re getting to change them, right? And you gotta think about why would they be afraid of this? And how do I either frame that as a positive or how do I either get that out in the open so that we can figure out what they’re afraid of, so that we can determine whether actually, it’s valid for them to be afraid of that and often it can be something as simple as, oh my god you just told me something and now I’ve got to go back and tell my boss that I was wrong. Right?
Gerry Scullion: But is that a design role, do you think? Because that’s …
Anthony Quinn: I think it depends. Like it’s probably the biggest frustration that I see. Or not the biggest but it’s probably one of the big frustrations I see in designers and in consumers of design services in that you know looking at it from let’s say the consumer, the buyer’s side, right? They don’t always get actionable stuff so you get insight like we just learnt this. Okay great, what do I do about that? Well you know you just gotta be at a high level [inaudible 00:37:46]. And that can be really powerful, you know, at certain levels in an organisation. It can also be really frightening, you know if you’re on the hook for getting something delivered into the market by date X and everybody felt they knew what it was-
Gerry Scullion: You’re paralysed.
Anthony Quinn: Yeah and then you get something that isn’t actionable, that can really spin you out. Or if it really challenges, you know if you find that it’s … And again it’s about what are the boundaries and how do you challenge them? You know you gotta build relationships with people so you can challenge them and that means understanding them and understanding what they’re motivated by and sometimes it can be as simple as, I don’t want to lose my job. And I guess sometimes like if you imagine, you know the conversation we had earlier about someone’s in a role, [inaudible 00:38:29], you know you want to try a new role. So now you’re in that situation and then someone’s come to you and said, ta da! Right so you’re thinking, I was out of my comfort zone in the first place and now I don’t even, no I’ve got bad news, how do I cope with that and how do I deal with that? And how do I …
So sometimes it’s actually about offering people help with how they frame the message. But to do that you’ve got to understand, so what is it about this that’s bad news? And then there’s probably other elements of it as well, which, you know without getting overwhelming, but I think that’s the big one, right? And I always find this really interesting is that you know when you look at things like service design and agile and … you know often they’re all the same. For someone who is outside that realm they look at them and they say they’re all the same things, right? It’s pretty much the same process.
Anthony Quinn: They’re all the same. And they’re probably speaking [inaudible 00:39:18] right because they’re all about understanding a value, understanding what needs to be delivered, understanding how to sustain that, and then working out what the minimum is to do to get that done and up and running and keep it running. And then just keep building on that. So sometimes it’s just about even recognising that it isn’t about the difference in disciplines, it might be the difference in communication styles which is why again your visuals are really good.
Gerry Scullion: Yeah.
Anthony Quinn: But not everybody responds to just visuals so sometimes you gotta have visuals and some numeric stuff in there as well.
Vera Chan: I was gonna say the same. You know understanding their language, their business language and what do they care about as well.
Anthony Quinn: Yeah yeah.
Vera Chan: Because sometimes a lot of the … when we try to communicate why is this good for you is actually talking in terms of, this is how much you’ve done in investment that you’re going to get if you implement this, for example, as a recommendation. So because they latch onto that rather than your actual recommendations, so it’s interesting sometimes.
Anthony Quinn: Yeah and as part of that though, and this is where I guess it’s important to draw people in and build the relationships to say, well this is what we think. Well we think you’re going to get this kind of return. But do you think there’s anything you see in our thinking that isn’t quite right.
Vera Chan: Yeah.
Anthony Quinn: And so then you can start getting into that because you don’t always know their business, as well as they, know their business.
Vera Chan: Exactly.
Anthony Quinn: And that’s the thing right and I’m still the same and you gotta have that sort of willingness to at least listen and say well okay, tell me more. Why are you … you don’t seem to be comfortable, why are you, tell me more about that, what is it about this that isn’t connecting or is making you uncomfortable? Just getting into that. And then I guess it’s also thinking about like different people have different work styles and preferences so some people just want to hear, you know sometimes it isn’t about the insight, sometimes it’s just about, well how do we get that done? You know so it’s more about process. And sometimes it’s more about, well, okay, I really want to do that. But what’s the bare minimum of that that I really need to do to get the most out of it, right? I’m happy to do it but how do I do it from the envelope that I have or the time frame that I have or you know those kinds of things. Because resources are always limited.
Gerry Scullion: Yeah. All right guys, that brings us to the end of the first episode of This is HCD. Anthony thank you so much for coming in and spending the time with us this morning. Really appreciated your insights.
Anthony Quinn: Oh you’re welcome. I hope it was helpful and I don’t know if it was. But hopefully it was and look I would say if anybody ever wants to reach out to me to sort of fill in any gaps or you know you guys in the room, just, the easiest thing to do is probably hit me up on LinkedIn. So please do because I’m always happy to try at least to answer your question and you know it’s always easier to get more specific in one-to-one conversations that it is in something like this. But yeah I’m always happy to help and thanks and I’d be happy to be back anytime.
Gerry Scullion: Yeah, absolutely.
Anthony Quinn: I’ve got a cold today so I don’t know if I was at my best but …
Gerry Scullion: It sounded great, very very very cool. Okay, thanks, that was great. Very insightful.
So there you have it, the very first This is HCD podcast. I think you’ll agree it was a fascinating conversation and we all really enjoyed chatting to Anthony. I would like to thank him for his time. We’ll include details on how to contact Anthony if you want to reach out to him and I’ll also include any books or articles that were mentioned in the podcast itself in the podcast footnotes. So the next podcast is in July with Chris Thelwell. Chris is a recognised design leader with a strong consulting background both in the UK and in Australia, if you’d like to join us physically on that podcast and meet Chris, please see our meetup group at This is HCD, just do a search or via our Facebook page, This is HCD.
We also have a website where you can see some of the amazing guests we have coming up in the rest of 2017. If you enjoy this podcast, as we’re just getting going, we’d really appreciate it if you could share socially on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook about the podcast to any of your peers. If you’d like to join in on the conversation, the conversation will be held over at the Facebook page where you can ask questions to Anthony or myself, or if you’d like to get involved in the running of the podcast please feel free to reach out. Thanks and see you next time.
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