Slack Senior Product Designer | Diógenes Brito | Making a Design Super Team

Slack Senior Product Designer | Diógenes Brito | Making a Design Super Team

hi there good morning it’s good to be
here very beautiful place my name is Diogenes Brito or Diógenes Brito if you’re my mother or want to say it in Spanish most folks call me do I’m
a designer and an engineer I say engineer because I studied product
design that’s physical product design mechanical engineering major at Stanford
and I’ve been paid to do software engineering from time to time and I say
designer because for the past seven ish years I’ve been a professional digital
interface designer of some sort or another
first at Squarespace where I was a design engineer doing front-end
development and design web Squarespace is a website publishing platform then I
was at LinkedIn on as a user experience designer on the profile team and now I’m
at SLAC I’m a Senior Product designer there have been there almost four years
now and these days I work primarily with the platform team and I want to talk a
little bit about some knowledge that has sort of coalesced in my head in my time
at slack particularly because of how hectic it’s been basically when I was at
Squarespace I didn’t work with any product managers because they hadn’t
hired any at the time at LinkedIn I worked with exactly – and in my time at
slack I’ve worked I’m on my twelfth and it’s been about 15 or so large
initiatives or projects launched and a bunch of smaller stuff so it’s been you
know growing gangbusters it’s been a little crazy
it’s the slack as the fastest growing workplace software ever and hopefully
you’ve heard of it but if you haven’t it’s a messaging and communication tool
for teams that’s hoping to make your working life
simpler more pleasant and more productive and I think people like it
because at least you know they proposed to us very frequently
they say other nice things and just to give you a sense of how fast it’s been
changing it feels like it’s been a different company every couple of weeks
because in my time there it’s gone from 40 to over a thousand employees very
very quickly so I’ve you know seen some things okay and I’m gonna try to pass on
a little bit to you so one thing I think a lot about maybe it’s impostor syndrome
I don’t know it’s what should a designer be doing anyway I’m not going to talk to
you about what is design because that is a trap it’s a waste of time I’m gonna
talk think about what a professional designer should be doing once they get
hired and what they should be doing that is unique to not just being a good
employee but being a designer specifically and what they should be
doing that means that they deserve this fabled seat at the table so to get real
specific about what I mean there I’m gonna use John Schlossberg definition
which is when someone has a seat at the table they can influence the influence
of businesses high-level decision-making to make sure that it succeeds so the
whole business is better because you’re there in as part of the decision-making
process and my theory here is that the reason that a designer would be should
belong in that you know room with all the other bigwigs is that they can
empower their teams to make better decisions faster you add a normal team
with a designer and you end up with a super team great okay so what is it
you’re supposed to be doing how is this the case anticipation okay let’s say that you are a designer this
is you and you probably just to get the common denominator common denominator
here you probably have a set of hard skills most likely you can put pixels
together in some arrangement on screen that’s pretty cool most people could
probably learn that though so not totally special and you can you have
some creative process for figuring out what the exact arrangement of the pixels
on the screen should be going from blank to something that’s pretty cool your
haven’t crossed the threshold into you – you know belong at the table but I think
you would if you function in these three roles that I described that I’m about to
describe and these three roles are roles that anyone could assume but I think a
designer is uniquely suited to make these primary roles they are primary
concerns on an ongoing basis and this is how they can turn their teams into super
teams so the first role is that of a facilitator and that’s that means
assisting others in refining and transmitting ideas and I’m very careful
to say assisting others in refining and transmitting their ideas the whole team
because most of the ideas that you should be helping to refine and transmit
are actually other people’s ideas because it turns out that most of the
people on your team are not you a good designer is also a steward they support
and protect empathy and the creative process this is something that we’re
uniquely suited to do and they are also connoisseurs maintaining a high bar of
quality so I’ll talk about each of these a little bit facilitation what does it
mean even I think the way I would describe it is that you can be a
facilitator for your team if you help make your team communicate by making
ideas tangible making them real concrete and specific getting them out of
people’s heads and clarifying them by virtue of that process so you clarify
and you specify goals and non goals and I think if
you’ve been in the design industry for any length of time you realize the large
set of problems that always comes back to not having properly defined the goals
you were optimizing for upfront and checking for understanding making sure
that you’re paying attention to make sure everyone on the team knows exactly
it has the same pool of shared knowledge and understands it completely so there’s
a little bit of you know watching out for those slightly confused neutral
faces where people don’t want to look like they don’t understand but actually
don’t and I like Julie shows the way of describing what a designer can do which
is that you have a superpower that can show other people the future
most people don’t necessarily have this ability to imagine in such concrete
detail the ideas that they’re thinking about and that’s where a designer can
come in and add real value as a facilitator this is an example of a way
I did this a couple years ago which is I was a lead designer on the slack app
directory and apps are things that you can install on your slack workspace that
integrate other tools and after we finished all the design I went back and
made this diagram to help the team understand exactly which pages were new
which were different which were behind authentication which weren’t and this
was all about facilitating engineering conversations and understanding this is
another example where early on in the process before we had any idea what the
design would be I made a long series of these wireframes purely so that the
engineers could have some options to talk about and really nail down the
technical design early on in the process another example here is when we were
looking back in the day to see where a new feature would appear in the product
there was a lot of sort of hand-wavy vague references to where it might be
and I went through and I made these sort of slightly higher fidelity than
wireframe mock-ups to show hey these are a bunch of entry points where we could
put this feature so your facilitator you’re making ideas concrete
tangible your clarifying goals and your checking for understanding the next role
is that of stewardship so I mean this in both senses of the word of supporting
and protecting so protecting and promoting the creative process that
thing that hopefully all the designers should be intimately familiar with and
something that actually most other functions are not necessarily very
familiar with there’s sort of a time early on around kindergarten where you
either like can do math or draw or something and then it Forks and from
then on like there are creatives and non creatives don’t know why it’s for
everyone and part of that is protecting nascent
ideas that what ed catmull calls ugly babies and this one I I think it’s super
important because when you have a team of people with a bunch of diverse
opinions you can this actually will help you work together more effectively
because protecting these on you know these raw and not yet fully baked ideas
it really makes it increases the psychological safety for the whole team
and makes it a more an easier place to work in a more sort of inclusive
environment not only that but you get the chance to let ideas mature and a
designer can is uniquely suited to help with that and then there’s the spreading
the user perspective I think the creative process or you know the
preferred one is really one that’s very in touch with the user a user centered
creative design process all the rage these days
I know but worth saying that designers are the ones who should who should
always be keeping this at the forefront of their mind as one of their primary
concerns I mentioned being the designer on the first version of the app
directory no I go back here here is an example of the many many iterations that led up to
the final version of the directory and you see there’s plenty of horrible
garbage in here but everything was changing all at once there’s a lot of
different ideas and a lot of different versions and part of the creative
process is letting this happen and letting some of these ideas come to the
forefront and bake a little bit more and there’s a lot of different kinds of
creative process is one of my favorites this is the one I learned at school
pretty much the IDO style you know empathize with the user first and kind
of sink into research and then define the problem id8 prototype test but it
really doesn’t matter what specific framework you’re using as long as you’re
using a creative process that is user centered and that you’re sharing that
with the rest of the team at SLAC we tend to do it more in this structure
this is I think what’s it called double diamond method essentially your your
your diverging and converging twice in the process first around what the actual
problem is and then around the solution and that’s what we how we tend to
structure it that’s like now a steward you’re promoting and protecting a
creative process protecting the nascent ideas and
spreading the user perspective the last primary role of a designer I think is
being an arbiter of taste this is the one that is maybe the most the one that
draws people the least important but also a primary role but though and the
one that people love to do the most they say hey this thing sucks how bad is this
thing let me explain to you why this is the best and that’s part of the job you
have to elevate your team’s tastes find what’s good share it and teach them why
not it’s not just for you it’s for your entire team and you’re also holding the
quality line which I’ll talk a little bit more about in a bit what that means
and you know the medium as a kind of sore you have to know what’s out there
what’s possible in your in the medium in which you’re working
so speaking of quality because of being a connoisseur is not being an arbiter of
taste and that means you’re finding what the best design is that’s kind of a
tricky question because what does the best even mean there’s a lot of
different ways to define that in fact here’s a fun example these are ice cream
shoes they don’t make these anymore unfortunately this Pharrell design means
I think with adidas anyway they’re super dope they’re my favorite and you’d think
we would have figured out shoes by now but this is just a small subset of what
I found when searching specifically for ice cream shoes and there’s a lot a lot
out there this is just barely scratching the surface so obviously there’s some
subjective you know there’s a there’s a point of view here that’s specific to
people but I think that what we can all agree on is that it’s about quality the
being a connoisseur is detecting quality and quality is subjective too you say
well I think it isn’t as insofar as quality is considered quality is the
idea that every detail of something is deliberate and on purpose and represents
some specific point of view and some sort of goal that you’re optimizing for
and trading off for and that and when every detail is considered that is when
you can tell something is of high quality so when I say that you are
taking part in connoisseurship but you’re taking the role as a connoisseur
as a designer you are elevating your team’s tastes you’re holding that
quality line and you know the medium so you should be a facilitator
a steward and a connoisseur you do these things and you’ll probably you know get
a chance to affect the businesses high-level decision make decision-making
for the better and this is a good thing because if you’re super charging your
team it’s good that you’re in there now this is the subtitle of my talk and I
haven’t talked anything about salsa music so far so why is this a subtitle really I just want to get the chance to
to talk about salsa music to you folks but how it came up is that I have I was
eating dinner with a couple of friends of mine shoutout to to red Iggy boo and
drama here and they I was looking for a metaphor to kind of describe how a lot
of what a good designer should do or the output of a great designers work is not
readily apparent and not necessarily what you would initially pick up on by
just looking at the output or looking at the surface level and I wanted something
a little better than the you know you old iceberg metaphor and 90% of the mass
is beneath the surface it’s a good metaphor but they pitched the idea of
hey what about salsa music you explain that to us one time it I’ve been a
dancing salsa music for about 10 years now and it there’s a lot more than meets
the eye so let me tell you a little bit about the structure of salsa music and
to do so I’m going to enlist the help of Chaka Khan now she’s not a salsa
musician but I chose a song you may have heard of because a it’s in English and
more people will understand it and I have both the normal version available
and the salsa version so it’ll be easier to pick up on the changes in the
structure here is it’s not musical notation but it should be an accessible
way to represent time there’s two measures here you know and if you’re a
musician listening to a metronome to kind of keep timing you
you’ll hear it on every downbeat 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 and the original ain’t no body
song is structured around that metronome good son good song okay cool
now salsa music salsa music is actually and structured around an uneven
metronome a rhythm called the clave a the club a has five hits here a three
side and a two side and there’s a couple of different versions I’m showing you
specifically song club a but whatever the point is there’s an uneven metronome
split across two measures and that does an interesting thing to the music that
structure that’s built on top of it so let’s hear the salsa version of that
same song so I think it gets a little more
interesting because it’s not so straight but if you’re if you’re not used to
listening to salsa music you’re you’re probably not picking up on the insane
layers of complexity that lead to this you are maybe hearing you’re gonna
remember the a know about you can remember that part you’re maybe gonna
hear the horns and you’re gonna hear some cool stuff in the background but
you’re not gonna necessarily pick it all up without a trained eye so let me break
it down for you there is the club a rhythm in the background played on
sticks called Club is and that’s you know this is 3-2 club a rhythm called Mady go Mady yo means
hammer played on the bongos by another person who sometimes will switch to a
bell if it gets loud but let’s just talk about the mark do rhythm and that rhythm
is played on top of the club a and fits together with it and you’ll see how
these kind of layer on top of each other in a way that’s pretty interesting
because it’s not a straight metronome now there’s also a person on the bongos
on the conga playing a rhythm called boom bow and Tumbao sounds like this now
this rhythm is totally structured in across that uneven metronome it’s is
even hard to follow if you’re not used to listening to this kind of beep so
together and there’s more layers in the percussion section there’s a rhythm
called gasps Cara played on the impalas and on the sides of the theme bollocks
cascada sounds like this and that’s another be built around this uneven
metronome put it on top of the others see if you can hear all the different
layers together and now we come to montuno which is the pattern played on
the piano that’s also known as Guaje Oh on the piano and it’s just a set of
chords that are sort of played in sequence arpeggiated I believe the term
is they kind of walk up and down the chord and then played like a percussion
instrument I mean the piano is a percussion instrument but played more
for percussive purposes than melodic purposes I think and these are the chords you might hear for
that song and nobody so all together now that’s the baseline coming in just there
which is another layer you’ll see on top gear on top and now I don’t know if you
notice all of that but all of that is here plus the horns plus the voice in
this song you hear some cowbell do the congas so that’s everything together now hold
up a moment what does that have to do with design really nothing I am trying
to stretch this metaphor to its absolute limits but the point is there is a lot
going on and you know teach you a little bit about salsa music there’s a lot
going on beneath the surface that you wouldn’t normally initially think of or
even spot if you hadn’t been told to look for it first
I’m not hopefully between the first time you heard the song and I played it and
the last time you picked up on a whole set of new pieces and that salsa
structure is entirely built up from the rhythm of the claw beam
so the club a is the key but it’s not necessarily the thing that you you can
pick out initially that you know is there you’ll remember the voices and the
horns up top but it’s all built from the bottom up from the claw Bay and this is
kind of this is a good metaphor I think for good design work and effective
teamwork because you’ll see when a team is working well and good design work is
coming out you’ll see the super team but you won’t necessarily see all the pieces
that are getting that’s that are making up that efficient work so like salsa
music good and efficient design work and teamwork is built on these layers of you
know communication and relationships and shared goals and these roles that a
primary designer can play about a facilitator steward and connoisseur and
the good quality output an effective team that you know puts out quality work
that leads to business business success is built on top of all those layers even
though you’d really if you tried to copy it maybe you’d only try to copy the top
part because you wouldn’t realize the foundation that’s underneath so thank
you you

4 thoughts on “Slack Senior Product Designer | Diógenes Brito | Making a Design Super Team

  1. "I'm not gonna talk to you about what is design, because that is a trap, is a waste of time"…
    And I AM not gonna watch the video anymore, over and out.

  2. Love the salsa music metaphor here. One more good example of transferring music principles into the business environment.

  3. Good talk! Very interesting seeing a behind-the-scenes of one of the biggest apps right now. Seeing their process and the number of versions tested was really inspiring 🙂

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