How 3M's Chief Design Officer Eric Quint Explains Design

Alex Osterwalder, Swiss business theorist and author of Business Model Canvas, recently tweeted--a business idea needs three legs to stand*. The 3 legs are technology for feasibility, design for desirability and business for viability. I re-tweeted that this is one reason why companies need a Chief Design Officer (CDO) to which someone replied, you mean like Eric Quint of 3M, followed by 4 emoticons for trophy. 

The reason I am sharing this exchange is because today Quint has become a symbol for the chief design officer role, the value they bring and why companies need them to stay competitive. I recently interviewed Quint and asked him how he does it. He shared that his metaphor for design is jazz.  

Quint is a jazzman. He plays the acoustic guitar. His office in Minneapolis has great big framed pictures of jazz greats and his talks often are peppered with jazz images and examples. He says playing music has defined how he leads design. Here is how, in Quint's words--

Jazz It

My team knows me for saying, "Jazz It!" What I mean is we need to be strong in improvisation, going and exploring out of the box, experimenting. I give them a key and the rhythm, not a sheet of music. You might fail but learn from your failures and learn to manage them.

Design and music have a similar vocabulary

Music and design use the same expressions: harmony, contrast, tone sur tone, rhythm, composition, contrast. Just like in music, these expressions are crucial to drive design and design quality. 

Innovation is all about collaboration

You need real time, cross-functional collaboration in design. Innovation and brand experiences are only possible by being multi-functional. You need all the parties to run a great idea through the system and bring it to customers. 

"My drawers are filled with great ideas. Innovation is not just about the what; how you bring them to market is just as important."

The specialization and sophistication needed today require designers working together. I created a taxonomy of 40 kinds of designers for 3M's human resources. Old notions about designer as pop star doesn't hold anymore. We are team players. And just like musicians, who respect each other's ability and know you cannot swap a base player for a drummer, we cannot assume one designer to do it all.

Key is getting in the flow

Design is real time collaboration and creativity--that is where the flow happens. Flow is real time collaboration and creativity. And it often brings people out of their comfort zone and capability. You go beyond your limits by building on each other. When that happens you're happy and satisfied.

Designers need a responsive audience

Another dimension of design is about having a responsive audience. You need their excitement and engagement. You can get your audience, your customers and partners, to co-create with you through design thinking, whatI call Collaborative Creativity. 

Design for me is a strategy and not a commodity. It is a strategic partner to business. Together we make music. 

Thank you Eric Quint. 

*Quote credited to Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things.

This article first appeared on on October 27, 2017

Why Is White The New Black For Instagrammers

The Wall Street Journal reports that white is the new black--or at least it's the new favored color of young Instagrammers. It's so "in" that many are even painting their walls white in search of likes.

What is it about the color white? Is this a trend or an intentional choice? From a designperspective, it might make sense--even if it's bland.

White is the safe choice

"To make their home interiors look better on Instagram and amass more followers, millennials and social-media mavens are painting their walls white," the WSJ wrote.

In Turkish we say, colors and tastes can't be argued. There's a Latin version, de gustibus non est disputandum. I learned this the hard way. When I had new products I designed for TOTO, the world's largest manufacturer of bathroom products, I painted a beautiful mermaid green and all people wanted to talk about was how wrong the color was. It threw a good bit of my research off track and I learned a lesson in design. White is the safest bet.

White creates a unified look

Trying to create a unified look on Instagram is quite the design problem. All those image squares taken at different times often come together to create a chaotic look. The current three image Instagram trend is one solution. The white wall is another. It is a simple trick that helps create a clean background that unifies a design-minded Instagram feed.

"The true beauty of white is that in its essence it is an open is humble and highlights that which surrounds it. White is highly nuanced, most whites have an undertone which makes selecting the right white very important. We use white as backdrops in our own @lovegoodcolor Instagram feed to give our images breathing space, allowing you to draw connections and focus on the emotive power of color." -Laura Guido Clark, designer of color, material and texture of consumer products for companies like Herman Miller, Google, Samsung and Toyota.

White is the go-to-color of product photography

Take a look at Apple or Nike product photography. They're almost always photographed on a white background. White backgrounds don't call attention to themselves and mostly disappear, making the product the hero. Colors, forms, details in the foreground pop against the clean, white backdrop.

"...uptick in popularity of graphic prints and bright colored accessories that pair well against white backgrounds." WSJ

White is luminous

Try photographing something in a colored or patterned background. Then do the same thing in a white room. White rooms will look brighter, cleaner. White reflects light and creates a luminous glow that simply doesn't happen with a black or saturated color background which absorbs light. So if you're an amateur, like me, working with a phone camera, white becomes a practical choice.

There are also other practical considerations when you think of these young millennial instagrammers. White paint is plentiful, easy to find, inexpensive, and easy to repair or paint over.

So here is an Instagram formula for success I posit and you can test--paint the walls white, throw in the bold colored accessory, like a cherry red pillow or an orange carpet, and whether you're in the photo or not, don on your the little black dress--and click away.

This article first appeared on on October 9, 2017

Why Go On a Working Vacation With Your Team

Building trustbreaking silos and recruiting talent.

This is the trifecta of pain-points for so many of our clients, especially in the innovation space. One of these is hard to resolve, let alone all three, but there is a solution that is as unexpected as it is counterintuitive--take a "workation" with your team.

I first heard about the idea of a workation from Amit Gupta, who defines himself as an optimist/entrepreneur/designer on his Twitter profile. He is the founder of Photojojo, an online photo store. He survived leukemia, sold Photojojo and now is exploring what comes next, alongside his fiancee.

Gupta is not your usual entrepreneur. When he had to lay off 20 of his friends from his first venture, he decided that at Photojojo he would save up a year's worth of a person's salary before hiring someone new to make sure he could offer some financial security even if the business didn't pan out. He is also one of the first practitioners of the workation, a mash-up of work and vacation.

When Photojojo was just a one person start-up, Gupta had a flexible work schedule. But as the company grew that flexibility fell away and, with it, the flexibility to travel for fun. Travel became more business-like, in the form of buying trips and convention attendance. Nevertheless, Gupta and his team still got to see what other people were doing, learn about new products and meet new people. Travel was energizing and inspiring, yet not everyone got to partake.

That was when Gupta thought, "But what if everyone at Photojojo traveled?" So, he decided to relocate the whole company to India for 3 weeks, all 16 people staying in one house. This first workation was in 2011. After that, the entire team went to Mexico, Costa Rica and Thailand. And the tradition has continued after Gupta sold the company.

These Workations were a major expense for a start-up, $1,500 to $3,000 per person including tickets, accommodation and meals. The return, Gupta says, was priceless.

They even started launching new projects while they were traveling. Gupta says, "We got a lot more done than I could've imagined." Up to 90% of progress on the new launch would be done in 2 to 3 weeks of a workation. In contrast, it would take them a month to complete the remaining 10% once they got back to the office, what with all the meetings and emails.

In addition to new ideas and projects, better relationships, higher morale and getting more people onboard with the plan--there were three key, unexpected benefits:

1. Building trust over impromptu conversations and downtime encounters.

What amazed Gupta and convinced him of the value of workation wasn't just the efficiency of working away from the office. It was the way it brought everyone together. Living together meant impromptu conversations and downtime encounters. It got people on the same page. It created a sense of trust born out of knowing what was going on, on a personal level. Relationships were meaningfully different, and continued to be different long after the workation.

"Trust paid big dividends for us."

2. Breaking silos by blurring boundaries between vacation and work.

When boundaries between vacation and work blurred, so did the boundaries between teams. Silos that hinder so much of innovation disappeared. There was a natural cross-pollination between teams and between disciplines. People contributed freely and without fear. This enabled a much richer exchange and faster ideation. The team carried this fluidity back to the office, giving each other credit, remaining open to one another and continuing the exchange.

3. Recruiting great talent because they too want to go on a Workation.

A side benefit Gupta also didn't expect but relished, was that the workation turned out to be great for recruiting. His team was posting their workation like crazy on social media, on Instagram and Facebook, which got their friends and network excited about this out-of-the box way of working. It helped them attract new hires and retain talent.

When I asked Gupta how much of workation was work and how much was vacation, he laughed and said, it was 100% work and 100% vacation. Now that is the kind of R.O.I. we can all use.

For more, you can listen to my conversation with Amit Gupta which was the seed for this article.

This article first appeared on on October 6, 2017

Why Items: Is Fashion Modern? Exhibition in MoMA Is A Must See

MoMA's new design exhibit, Items: Is Fashion Modern? is a must see. It is fashiondeconstructed so that we can see its parts and pieces.

Curated by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of MoMA's Architecture and Design, the idea for the exhibit started with a list, one she started for her own personal interest, entitled, "garments that changed the world." This list eventually became the 111 things that together can constitute our whole understanding of fashion of the last 100 years. They are things we wear, from safety pins, to jeans, to perfume, to accessories, and even tattoos.

"And what a list it is, from kaffiyehs to kilts, flip-flops to guayaberas, pencil skirts to moon boots, Speedos to Spanx." -Guy Trebay, The New York Times

As with the best exhibits, this one will change the way we think about its subject. Here's why:

Fashion's complexity made simple

Antonelli has made the vast complexity of fashion seemingly simple, without sacrificing the breath of it. A simple number to remember, 111 items; mapped out in one big, clear drawing on the outer wall of the exhibit; laid out in simple, clean, well-lit visual displays once you step inside. Everything feels intentionally pared down to make fashion easy to understand and digest. It is fashion organized into a system, like an alphabet.

As such, the exhibit is a beautiful example of one of design's core functions--to make the complex simple, easy to understand, use, and accessible to many. That is why most people love Apple products, even child can understand and use them in no time. In the same way, a child will get this exhibit and so will we.

You own at least some of these items

This is the rare museum exhibit where you can walk through and say, "Ah, I own this." Or if you go to the exhibit wearing your white t-shirt; your old Levis 501's; a whiff of your Chanel No. 5, your Dr. Maartens boots, or luxuriously, a single strand of Mikimoto pearls, you will actually be wearing a museum piece.

New Yorkers and Fashion go together like bread and butter

The great fun here is that it is hard to separate this exhibit from its visitors . The aisles crowded with New Yorkers (and out-of-towners who have the New Yorker dress code down) are as interesting as the exhibit itself. On opening night you couldn't help but smile at the beautiful tattoos of the people looking at the tattoo display, or the deftly tied ties of the men in suits eyeing the neckties, or women in shoes as fashion bending as the shoes on display.

Poetry: archetype, stereotype, prototype

In reading Antonelli's 2016 notes on the exhibit announcement, I learned that she conceived the exhibit experience as "stereotype, archetype, prototype". Stereotype is the version of the item as we've come to recognize it, the archetype is the contextual story of the item and the prototype is an exploration of where the idea can be further taken. Antonelli gives the example of the DVF wrap-dress which illustrates the concept well.

"For example, if Diane von Furstenberg's 1974 wrap dress represents the stereotype of this design form in the 20th century, then Items will extrapolate backwards in time through examples such as Charles James's 1932 Taxi Dress, all the way to the archetype of the kimono. If, in the course of exhibition research, a type emerged as ripe for a redesign or was identified as a potential vessel for technological, formal, economic, or social transformation, we have decided to commission a new prototype."

It is the poetry of the concept behind the execution that makes this exhibit stand out as a timeless expression of fashion. But like any good design, you don't need to know the conceptual backbone to appreciate the end result as the user. But once you know it, it gives you more reason to celebrate the hard work that went into creating a thing of beauty.

I came out of Items: Is Fashion Modern?, thinking "I now get it. I understand fashion." If you asked me, I can draw it for you. I can explain it to you over the phone. I can even explain fashion, and what it is made up of, to a kid. That is good design.

Items: Is Fashion Modern? opens October 1, at MoMA, New York.

This article first appeared on on September 29, 2017

What to Ask Yourself Before Launching Your Next Big Project

To launch is propelling something--a rocket, a computer program or even your career--with a forward trust. It is implicit that once you launch something there's no going back. Because of that, we're often fearful of launching. And this is where The Launch Book, by CEO coach Sanyin Siang, comes in handy.

Siang, who is also the Executive Director of Duke University's Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics, explains that one of the biggest reasons we procrastinate or don't launch is fear of failure. That's why instead of focusing on skillsets or talent, she focuses on the mindset for launch.

To know if you have the right mindset, here are 6 key questions Siang wants to make sure you ask yourself before launching your next big project:

1. Start with Asking - Is this You?

Every launch has its ups and downs. To get one through the downs, there has to be a strong sense of belief that's the result of the launch being in alignment with who you are. For example, if you are pursuing a career change, is the new career consistent with your passion and what energizes you? Is your definition for what success looks like in that career in alignment with your values?

2. Who Is My Tribe?

Engaging others in your idea or career launch not only provides emotional support, but it can create additional personal accountability along the way, and be key to eliminating any blind-spots you may have.

"You may be a solo launcher but, if you are to have a chance at success, you can't approach it as a solo endeavor."

Engaging your tribe will help you imagine a larger set of possibilities than what you originally started with. Especially if you intentionally include naysayers in your launch tribe.

3. What Is Failure?

Failure is an outcome other than the one you hoped for. Redefine failure as not doing your best on the things that you can control and letting go of the things that you cannot. And on both aspects, be able to process and learn from when things don't go as planned. What if we take a longer view and see each failure and mistake along the way as a learning that can enable us towards greater success.

4. Am I Falling Into The Comparison Trap?

Siang tells the story of Carlo Dolci, a painter of the Medici's, the greatest family in Florence of his time. He fell into a deep depression when he realized that a fellow painter could complete a painting in mere hours while it took Dolci months, and this led to his decline. Beware. Even the most talented can fall into the comparison trap (Dolci was one of the greatest painters of the 17th century and a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.)

5. What Am I Pursuing?

If you are launching in pursuit of becoming your best self then you've tipped the scales for success your way. Looking at the launch as a discovery process will ensure your succeed even if your launch "fails" in the marketplace. When you are pursuing the best you, there is no risk, because each step along the way becomes a learning process for achieving that.

6. Am I Generous?

The most successful people, from CEO's to students Siang works with, share a common behavior. They invest their time, energy, talent, and networks in helping others succeed. "Don't wait until you think you've achieved success to become generous and helpful to others. You become successful by helping others every step of the way."

My favorite aspect about The Launch Book is how Siang includes the story of the launch of The Launch Book at the end of the book. "The irony of launching this book is that I experienced everything I was writing about...I became the reader." It reminded me of how in launching Design the Life You Love, I became my first student.

This article first appeared on on September 22, 2017

Why Is Some Procrastination Good For You

If we didn't procrastinate life would be so much simpler.

More than 60% of people I have interviewed, did workshops with and taught Design The Life You Love to over the last 7 years have told me that procrastination is the #1 thing they would like to change about themselves. "If only!" they say. We feel guilty, beat ourselves up and feel like losers because we procrastinate.

I say stop beating yourselves about procrastination. Like most things in life, we need balance. Some procrastination is actually good for you.

1. Procrastination lets you put life first

My favorite procrastinator is also one of my favorite writers, Richard Ford, author of The Sportswriter and Independence Day. Ford would watch sports on TV, have phone conversations, travel long distances to buy a used car--anything it seems--before going back to writing. He calls this putting life before working, or in his words, "you get to put lived life first".

"At the end of a very lengthy period during which I did basically nothing whatsoever of any good to man nor beast, I got back to work. That is, I started writing again," Ford told the New York Times.

2. While you're procrastinating, your subconscious is working

According to Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals, Kafka was a notorious procrastinator. He wrote after 10:30 or 11 at night, and even then it was mostly diary entries and letters. He'd also take 4 hour naps. He was hardly alone. Frank Loyd Wright famously drew the plans for his famous Falling Water between breakfast and lunch, in other words the time between when his clients the Kaufmanns announced they were coming over to review the plans and their time of arrival. He had procrastinated for an entire year.

A certain amount of procrastination is necessary for creative problem solving and imagination to happen in your subconscious. This is when your brain connects the dots between unrelated ideas to make-up new ideas.

3. Some nervous energy is good for work

If you've ever spoken on stage, you know that a little anxiety is good for you. I haven't met anyone who likes it, but it is the way your body prepares you for your performance.

Pushing yourself in a corner is almost a prerequisite for giving birth to new ideas. There is no place to go, but forward. It heightens your senses, makes you feel an acute need to get on with it. Writer Margaret Atwood is no stranger to it. She spends, "the morning procrastinating and worrying, and then plunges into the manuscript in a frenzy of anxiety around 3:00 p.m.", as noted by Piers Steel in his book The Procrastination Equation.

4. You can plan time for procrastination as well as productivity

Parkinson's Law, written by Cyril Northcote Parkinson states "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Time is flexible. Take advantage of it. Being a mom taught me to do things that used to take one hour in 10 to15 minutes. I still meet my deadlines, and I am sure you do, too. Instead of beating yourself up about how much you procrastinate, go with it.

Rather than giving yourself generous amounts of time to do something and then eating into it with other unplanned activities, give yourself a shorter time and figure out what you want to do with the extra time.

5. Always being on deadline dulls your mind

I have this rule: no work on Saturdays. In other words Saturday is my planned procrastination, 100%. I am free to do whatever I, or my family, want, without feeling guilty. I know if I worked some on Saturday, I would get ahead and it would mean less work for the upcoming week (I do work 1 to 2 hours on Sundays). But working all the time dulls my mind. It makes me lose my appetite for the pleasure of going back to work and giving 100% come Monday.

6. Many things really do take care of themselves

Sometimes things take care of themselves in the time you've procrastinated. New data comes in, someone else comes up with the answer, you read something unrelated that actually turns out to be related, you have a lunch conversation that inspires you in an unexpected way.

In other words, life happens. Life wouldn't be life and we wouldn't be human if we didn't procrastinate. So embrace it and reap it's benefits. And take comfort in being a part of an elite group of people that includes Leonardo da Vinci (famous for not completing his works), Bill Clinton (in contrast to Hillary Clinton) and J.K. Rowlings (who tweets regularly about how she procrastinates), among many, many others.

I should note, though, that the inspiration for this article came from my inability to write it from Sunday to Wednesday.

This article first appeared on on September 15, 2017

How To Make Two Opposites Co-Exist

I love resolving dichotomies.

If I were stranded on an island and if there were only one food I could have, it would be feta cheese. And if I were stranded somehow and could only have one creative tool, I would want it to be dichotomy resolution.

Dichotomies are dualities that oppose each other. Dichotomy resolution is finding a unique solution that brings those seemingly opposing ideas together in harmony.

You get it, it's the idea of "having your cake and eating it too." In French they say, not surprisingly, "Butter and the money for the butter." Turks describe it as the best possible seat on the bus, behind the driver, next to the window and it costs 5 cents.

Toyota Design has a special name for it too, the J-factor. Simon Humphries, President of ED2, Toyota's European Design Headquarters, explains it as, "Often successful Japanese design is based on the synergy of seemingly competing aims, think small yet functional, simple yet intriguing."

So how can you resolve dichotomies? Here is a step-by-step guide:

1. Listen for dualities.

Next time you're in a meeting or having a conversation, listen for opposing ideas. You want to catch a need and a want separated by a 'but'. Classic but Modern is a favorite--this is when you want to keep your heritage but you want it to be contemporary.

2. Define each duality.

What are the qualities or characteristics of each duality? If you understand these, you will have an easier time mashing them up. I use dictionary definitions where applicable.

Classic: a. outstanding example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality, b. a guidepost, modeled upon or imitating the style, c. something noteworthy of its kind and worth remembering, d. of an era

Modern: a. contemporary, relevant to its current time, b. of, relating to, or characteristic of contemporary styles of art, literature, music, etc., c. reject traditionally accepted or sanctioned forms, d. emphasize individual experimentation and sensibility

3. Look for inspiration.

For inspiration, find examples of companies that successfully make modern and classic co-exist. How did they do it? What could you learn from them?

Herman Miller's Eames Rocking Chair is a great example. Herman Miller kept the classic, single-shell form but instead of the original fiberglass material which is not environmental sustainable, they switched to polypropylene, a safer plastic material.

For companies, like Herman Miller, which have a long heritage and history, the "classic + modern" dichotomy is a constant constraint and an opportunity. Volkswagen's Beetle and BMW's Mini Cooper are great examples of classics modernized. So are customizable Converse One-Star high-tops. When you buy them, you're buying a dichotomy resolution--an iconic design classic first introduced in the market in 1917, updated in a way that is only possible with today's technology. French fashion house Chanel is a beautiful case study in making classic and modern co-exist.

4. Bring dualities into harmony.

Next, imagine how you can make these two opposites co-exist in harmony. Intentionally mash classic and modern. To do this pick something that makes your product, brand, experience a classic and mash it with something contemporary and relevant to our time.

Classic can be a classic form, detail, color as it can be set of timeless values.

Modern can be technology or material, as it can be today's cultural values and trends.

This is what the branding consultancy Work-Order did when they tweaked the New York Times "T" to include a little triangle "play" button. It's subtle, it's a wink and it marries their Times heritage with modern, digital technology. It is updating the familiar, so that we still recognize it, while helping us do something new, which is connecting us to their video content.

5. Brain-storm to generate multiple ideas.

Remember when you resolve dichotomies you make opposing qualities co-exist. It is not either, or. It is both. If you are having your cake and eating it too, you're on to a great idea that can generate long-term value.

6. Prototype.

Once you have a few ideas that rise to the top, do some sketches, renderings, quick prototypes, just enough to demonstrate the idea. Do they bring opposing ideas into harmony, for example, do they feel classic and modern at the same time? Test and refine until you have made opposites co-exist and generated new value.

I often think coming from Turkey, a land of great dichotomies, East and West, Old and New, Secular and Religious, is my secret training. That is why almost every project we do as a studio, we seek, pick and solve for dichotomies. One favorite being the potato peeler from the Giada Collection for Target. At $7.99, with a sleek, sculpted, ergonomic handle, it was great design at affordable prices. Too bad it is no longer in production. But the Resolve Office System is, which only has 20 parts with which you can create an almost infinite number of work environments. That is less is more.

What are dichotomies you've solved or in the process of solving. I would love to hear from you.

This article first appeared on on August 30, 2017

Why I Love Vacation

On my last day of vacation I wanted to reflect on what I love about vacations. It is going to be short piece because I am going to jump into the Aegean sea one more time before I head home. It is also a personal reflection about what is it about vacation that makes us happy.

Vacation is time with family.

The luxury of vacation is hanging out with your family, close friends or loved ones. I love that we wake up, eat, swim, play together. Richard Branson said, "How can you find time to get to know your children with the very little holiday time they are given in the United States?" I agree. So we need to make the most of this time spent with people you love most.

Vacation is being in the present.

This is when I smell the wind. Listen to the waves. Watch the sunset. Look at the redness and the shape of tomatoes I am washing. When I am on vacation I am not rushing, I am in the moment. Dina Kaplan, founder of The Path, a meditation community, notes that "Being mindful on vacation can help us fully appreciate each moment, from exhilarating new adventures to relaxing quiet afternoons" and recommends going on vacation without a checklist so that you can just experience it as it occurs.

Vacation is more life than work.

Yesterday I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, for hours. I did this without worrying about what else I should be doing. Without feeling guilty about not working. Vacation is where life-work balance is heavily weighted to life vs. work. Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, who takes 6 weeks off and encourages his employees to take time off as well, thinks that this time away from work is necessary to see things anew--"You often do your best thinking when you're off hiking in some mountain or something. You get a different perspective on things."

Vacation is also vacation from New York.

My annual summer vacation is the opposite of New York, where I live. It is quiet (except for the cicadas). It is all about nature. It is slow and uncrowded. It is extended family, with my uncles, aunts and cousins. Vacation is a total break from my daily routine and environment. And because of that, for me it also makes me eventually want to go back.

But perhaps the reason I love summer vacations so much is because it is like being a child again. Carefree, curious and playful. Just the kind of qualities I want to immerse my work with.

What is it that you love about vacation? I would love to hear from you.

This article first appeared on on August 22, 2017

Ayse's Speech at Design Indaba: Designing a Meaningful Future for Yourself

The award-winning designer talks about applying design processes to our daily lives.

Ayse Birsel grew up in Turkey in a family full of lawyers. While she loved to draw, she often felt destined to follow in her parents’ footsteps. One day, a friend of the family visited for tea and demonstrated the elements of industrial design to her using a teacup.

“See how the cup has curves?” the friend pointed out. “It’s so that we can drink easier. And look at the handle; it’s so we don’t burn ourselves when holding hot liquid.” The young Birsel had never heard of industrial design before but immediately fell in love with the human scale of it and has been working in this arena ever since.

But Birsel is more than a designer; she’s a teacher, and the co-founder and creative director of Birsel + Seck. She’s also the author of Design the Life You Love, a strikingly illustrated and practical guide to building the life you've always dreamed of. Our lives are the ultimate design project, asserts Birsel, and what if we could apply processes of design to our daily lives?

It was from this thinking that the singular workbook emerged. Cognisant of the numerous constraints that hold humans back from pursuing their dreams, Birsel considered the qualities that made a good designer. She decided it was their optimism, empathy and inclination toward collaboration that helped them transform limitations into opportunities and set about designing a process that could be easily shared and taught to others.

“Are you ready to experiment with me?” Birsel asked as she stepped out onto the Design Indaba 2017 conference stage. She then guided the audience through the books’ four steps: deconstruction, forming a new point of view, putting it back together, and giving it form. This is done through doodling, drawing, visualisation, introspective journaling – activities meant to stimulate the right side of the brain, as well as the intuition and imagination.

Developed with non-designers in mind, the Design the Life You Love process is intended to be playful. “Because when we play,” says Birsel, “we’re like kids. We’re not afraid of making mistakes. And that’s exactly the spirit that’s needed to design the life you love.”

Birsel’s process provides an inspired yet simple way for anyone to navigate the challenges of pursuing a dream and serves as a reminder that the tools for success lie within each and every one of us – it just requires a little coaxing. “In design,” she says, “if you can visualise something you can make it happen.”

How To Sell Your Ideas

I am in Cesme, Turkey, near the Aegean sea, for summer vacation. Last night my family and I went to dinner in the village. As we walked down the main street, store owners called out to us in different languages, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, to invite us to look at their goods.

The crazy versatility of the languages they used, their enthusiasm to find the one you spoke, their empathy for your foreignness and tacit understanding that a shared language would put you at ease and make you feel welcome as a buyer, all this reminded me of what it takes to sell ideas.

Your idea, so familiar to you, is a foreign country to the people who are buying it.

When you're developing an idea, you're creating a landscape, a new kind of intellectual space. When you're selling your idea, you're inviting other people--decision makers--into this space. For them it's foreign. You need to make them feel understood and welcomed. Make it easy for them to understand you. Establish trust so that they too can wander into the space and feel like they belong there. Ingratiate them so that they too start to feel a proud ownership. It is only then that you've "sold" them on your idea.

All this is achieved by finding and conversing in a shared language...just like the village store owners. So if you want to sell your ideas, here is how you can cultivate that communication:

Figure out your buyer's language.

If you're selling me an idea, speak my language. I am more inclined to buy something from someone I can understand and someone who understands me. A financial thinker needs to see numbers and the ROI; experiential thinker, needs to live the experience, and so on.

"A lot of us artists and creators, we like to think, 'Well, why don't you get it? Can't you see it's awesome. We're very emotional, but the business side is very rational."--Disney Creative Director Will Gay, in the article "How to Sell Your Ideas."

Practice expressing your idea in various "languages."

Remember that you will have multiple buyers, each speaking his or her own language. Like the store owners saying the same thing in different languages, you need to express your idea in a variety of ways. Each discipline has its own language. Create a redundancy of languages--visual, written, moving, mathematical--to make sure you're building an emotional and intellectual trust with not just one person but the whole team.

Remember that "experience" is a universal language.

Experience is visceral knowledge that you gain from living something. This is why a full-scale foamcore model of a new store (see how Chick-fil-A did one for its NYC store), the wire frame of a new app (here are 35 examples to inspire you), or a 1-2 minute film (like IKEA's Cook This Page) are so powerful. Human experience is universal. It is indispensable to being understood. Make it your language of choice.

Make sure your team is "multilingual."

A pitfall in selling an idea is to believe that you can only communicate using the language you know well and are comfortable in. Instead, be open to having people on your team who can bring in new, complementary forms of expression.

Think of the languages you're good at. Then pinpoint languages you're missing. Find a person who's good at those other languages and include them in your team.

Get a writer on your design and development team (this is standard practice for our client Herman Miller). Their design stories will serve as your pitch, publicity, and marketing material to sell your idea to the company first, and externally next.

Inversely, if you're very fluent in writing but lacking in visual expression, add a visual thinker--a designer, an information architect or a filmmaker to your mix. They will be a boon to how you successfully sell your idea.

What are the languages you use to sell your ideas? I would love to hear from you.

This article first appeared on on August 12, 2017

How to be a Champion Like Roger Federer

Roger Federer is an original. He has designed the life he loves, often doing what is counterintuitive to being a champion. He is a family man. He is too old to be a tennis champion. He is a calm, modest personality, even though he is the longest reigning No. 1 tennis player.

Federer walks to the beat of his own drum. He is driven by his personal values and this, in turn, makes him a different kind of champion. But how does he do it? Here is what I've determined -- and you don't need to be a superhuman to do them, too.

1. He stays true to himself.

Federer is perhaps the most elegant player in tennis. New York Times calls his game "languid" which is a beautiful way of saying he can seem relaxed and unhurried in the midst of all the speed and the intense pressure to win. Akash Kapur's description in the New Yorker of his style being reminiscent of a bygone era captures it beautifully--

"The talent--that outrageous grace and fluidity that David Foster Wallace famously compared to a religious experience--comes first. Federer's smooth, effortless style, his near-perfect balance and poise, are throwbacks to an earlier era in men's tennis, before all the grunting and power shots, when men like Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver played into (or almost into) their forties."

And even though the game has changed--it is so much more about muscle power and equipment today--Federer remains true to his style and continues to win by being himself.

2. He is a constant learner.

There are 5 years between Federer's 2012 and 2017 Wimbledon Grand Slam. Anyone else would've given up. He didn't. For a long while he was under the shadow of the Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic, but then he figured out how to emerge. He has lost many times to Nadal, his "eternal tormentor," as CBS Sports calls him, but Federer patiently learned how to play against Nadal and won. He is a constant learner.

"Federer has already proved that he can learn new tennis tricks at an advanced age, having come back from knee surgery and a six-month layoff, the longest of his career, to win the Australian Open in January. He has already proved that he can drive his single-handed backhand with new commitment and find an antidote to Nadal, having beaten him three straight times on hardcourts this year." -Christopher Clarey, The New York Times

3. He balances work and life.

Instead of competing at the exclusion of everything, Federer has created a work-life balance. When he had his knee injury, he spent most of his time with his family, traveling and being in nature in Australia and Switzerland. When he competes, his wife and their four kids stay with him, most recently at the Wimbledon village in 2017. In fact, he has said that he couldn't do it without his family. Tennis is important but it is not everything.

4. He puts the hours in.

Federer is not the best server in the game but he has the best return. At the speed the game is played, there is no time to consciously plan an attack. Federer anticipates his opponent's return, almost intuitively, before the brain can truly process it. It is as if he sees what we cannot see.

This is what Malcolm Gladwell calls "the feel for the game." It is the result of practicing endlessly which, according to Gladwell, creates a consistency. Psychologists also call this "chunking" -- our ability to combine things that go together and store them in our memory as one unit. Chunking might well be the secret behind Federer's ability to see his opponent's game and respond to it an almost superhuman way.

"What sets physical geniuses apart from other people, then, is not merely being able to do something but knowing what to do -- their capacity to pick up on subtle patterns that others generally miss." Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

5. He exhibits joy.

Perhaps what distinguishes Federer from everyone else is the pure joy with which he plays the game. Watching him you can feel the way he loves tennis. Which in turn gives us joy. We want to be around people who are happy doing what they love. They inspire us by example to strive for a similar feeling and attitude in our own work.

An original life is one that's lived on a foundation of your own values. In that, Federer is a true original.

Do you know of people who lead original lives? I am always on the look out for them (I've even started a podcast about them) and would love to hear from you.

How to 'Steal Time'

I was listening to Michael Silverblatt's Bookworm, my favorite podcast about books, when his guest, Jim Gauer, the poet, venture capitalist and author of Novel Explosives, said something about getting up in the early hours of the morning to work on his book that caught my attention. "A kindred spirit," I thought, as I too had written my book Design the Life You Love by getting up 4:30-5am everyday, while my family was still asleep.

"The novel, so that everyone knows, due to mistakes that I made along the way, took 7 days a week, 365 days a year, 7 years to write. I made a terrible mistake late in the book, had to rip out a year's worth of work and it took a year and a half to replace it. But it was a daily, getting up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning to write."

Listening to Gauer, I realized that getting up early was a way of "stealing time".

Stealing time is creating precious time out of an already packed schedule to do something that is important to you. For me this was the hours before my kids got up and my work day started. To steal time, I trained myself to get up early.

NYTimes' Sketch Guy, Carl Richards, recently wrote about an epiphany he had about where time goes after his wife called out his habit of 'half-working'. He installed a program called Rescue Time that monitored everything he did on his computer. After tracking his activities for a month, he found that his wife wasn't so wrong after all (no surprise there).

"I spent 45 hours and 38 minutes on things I'd labeled unproductive. After I carefully reviewed all the inputs for errors and found none, I pulled out my trusty calculator and did some painful math: It was two and a half hours per working day in May."

Try Richards' technique and find your lost time-where it goes and how much. Once you do, you might want to heed to Beth Comstock's advice about making room for discovery. Comstock, the Vice Chair at GE, reserves 10% of her time for curiosity--to learn new things by going to conferences, taking time to ideate and to talk to people.

"Can I spend 10% of my time a week reading, going to sites like Singularity, TED, talking to people, going to industry events, asking people: What trends are you seeing? What are you nervous about? What are you excited about?"

There are other ways to "steal time" and here are a few:

- Simplify your life to save time. Minimizing choice helps recuperate time lost on decision making.

- Delegate work to others. Note to parents and myself, this includes delegating house work to your kids.

- Stay focused on one task at a time as switching from one task to another is a big time and energy drain. I use the Pomodoro app to focus my time on one thing at a time.

But if you'd like to see something really ingenious, check out this new product that my graduate student Jingting He designed in my class at SVA (School of Visual Arts). Called the Time Thief Clock, her timepiece comes with an app that steals 1 minute out of each hour, which disappears right in front of your eyes at exactly the 59th minute of each hour, and gives it back to you as 24 minutes at the end of each 24 hour cycle. Now that is a chunk of time you can do so much with.

How do you "steal" time and what do you do with it? I would love to hear from you.

Design the life and work you love!

How to Be a Designers' CEO Like Elon Musk

Elon Musk is doing right by design. In a recent interview on Y Combinator (often called the world's No. 1 startup incubator), Musk explained that he spends 80 percent of his time on engineering and design, developing next-generation products. He is what I call a designers' CEO.

Musk's optimism in the face of great odds (SpaceX, the company he founded "to revolutionize space technology," had a 10 percent chance of success at the onset); his belief that beauty is as important as the usefulness of products (from the Tesla door handles to his more recent aspiration to bring aesthetics to SolarCity tiles); his strong sense of empathy with others (feeling for every parent who ever put a child's seats into a minivan, which led to Tesla's falcon wing doors); and the humanity with which he goes after what designers call "wicked problems" (e.g. multiplanetary habitation) make him, if not a designer, a rare and much welcome enabler of ground-breaking design.

Here's what makes Musk a "designful" leader:

1. Proximity to creativity

Do you know of any other CEO today that can say they spend 80 percent of their time developing the next generation of products? Musk spends half a day each week at the Tesla design studio, sitting next to Tesla's chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen. There is an intentional physical closeness, a proximity to creativity, that is missing in most large corporations. Musk literally rubs elbows with design, which gives him a visceral sense of the problem solving and allows him to partake in the creativity that goes on in the design studio.

2. Having an eye

When Musk started SpaceX, he learned how to build rockets from scratch. He has a similar approach to developing an eye for good design, educating himself visually. He has a mental bank of visual references to help him understand what he's looking for in a design and how to communicate it to the design team. It is this eye that Musk uses to discern beauty.

Musk uses this to distinguish his company from competitors, transforming ugly products into things of beauty--from electric cars (Tesla) to home batteries (Powerwall) to solar tiles (this is in progress at the recently acquired SolarCity).

3. Lead, not follow

Great design takes guts. You're imagining the future based on what you know today, and that requires vision, intuition, inspiration, and leaps of faith in the face of serious risk of failure. Musk joins a small group of people with singular visions of what the world needs, and is not afraid to lead us there. Steve Jobs belongs in that group. As does mid-century pioneer George Nelson, designer and author. What Nelson wrote for the Herman Miller catalogue, as quoted in Ralph Caplan's book, The Design of Herman Miller, can speak for all three men:

You decide what you will make. Herman Miller has never done any market research or any pretesting of its products to determine what the market "will accept." If designer and management like a solution to a particular furniture problem, it is put into production. There is no attempt to conform to the so-called norms of "public taste," nor any special faith in the methods used to evaluate the "buying public."

4. Understanding humans

Perhaps what most makes Musk a designers' CEO is his capacity for empathy. Empathy, the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others and feel their pain, is design's guiding principle. Everything that Musk does, from creating affordable solar energy to founding the Boring Company to bring cities closer to each other, he does because he cares deeply about people. Musk is an advocate for people and aims to remove longstanding obstacles from our lives using design and engineering.

His approach reminds me of something Marty Neumeier talks about in his book The Designful Company: "For businesses to bottle the kind of experiences that focus minds and intoxicate hearts, they'll need to do more than HIRE designers. They'll need to BE designers."

If you know more design enablers, I would love to hear from you about who they are and their qualities. We, designers and our customers, need more of them.

Design the life you love!

How to Get Your Team to Think More Creatively

You've probably been in this situation. You need to get a group of people, your team or a group of customers, to think creatively. Perhaps you're going to brainstorm solutions to a problem or do a co-creation session. Everyone gathers in a meeting room, still preoccupied with the last meeting they came out of or a recent email that needs a rush answer or stressed by the effort of getting there on time.

You need to get this group out of their current funk in to a playful, creative, open-minded mode. How do you do that quickly and with success?

Show them a film.

Films that are beautiful to watch, upbeat and related to your topic in a loose, intuitive manner, can change the collective mood from humdrum to creative in a matter of seconds.

After doing workshops with hundreds of people, I've learned that people are often anxious and ambivalent when they walk into a meeting where they don't quite know what will happen. They need a symbolic entry point to the creative space. A good little film acts as the window to such a magical place.

So next time you're going to do something creative, here is what I suggest--

Find a film. Something that distantly relates to your topic (see below some great suggestions). 2-3 minutes is ideal. Watch it together. Then all you need to do is bridge the film to your topic of conversation. Often this happens naturally--there's usually one person in the team that will say something like, this made me think this way about our project. You continue from there.

Here are my favorite films, Rotten Tomatoes-style, you can use for starters--

1. Powers of Ten

My favorite film is Charles and Ray Eames' Powers of Ten. It is a beautiful example of how you can see the same things differently depending on your vantage point and scale. If half of the room has seen it, the other half usually hasn't. And it is one of those films you can watch 10 times without getting sick of it. It is a great way to help people see something with a bird's eye, holistically, or come really close and see it under the microscope.

2. Cook This Page

Ikea's Cook this Page has captured our imagination since it came out. It is a great tool to show people how you can take something as banal as a recipe and totally reinvent it. It wows people and gets them to think playfully. As a visual thinker I also love the visualization of it all.

3. Chef's Table Episode on Francis Mallmann

These days we start Design the Work You Love sessions with Francis Mallmann from Netflix Chef's Table. Francis Mallmann is a renowned Argentinian chef who left the comfort of his famous restaurants to cook in the wild in Patagonia. He calls himself a "gypsy chef". It is a great example of someone who loves his work and sets the tone for exploring what it takes to find the right ingredients for our own work.

4. Kinematic Dress

When we need to inspire people (users, designers or anyone really) about the power of new materials and processes, we pull out the Kinematics Dress, a 3D-printed gown in motion. The suspense of what's going to happen and the transformation of what looks like powdered flour into a flowing dress is magical. Try it and you will see how ordinary people can come up with extraordinary ideas after viewing the film.

5. Ira Glass

Ira Glass of This American Life on story telling. Watch this when you're frustrated with the quality of what you're doing. Glass talks on video about the gap between your "killer" taste and what you actually do, a gap that can exist often for years. His lesson: do a lot of work to narrow the gap. Inspiring for anyone who is venturing on a new idea, like me and the team at Sound Made Public, as we start our Design the Life You Love podcast.

You can then watch play designer David Shiyang Liu's beautiful version of the interview set to typography.

6. The Happy Film

Stefan Sagmeister's long awaited The Happy Film is now available online. A beautiful and deeply personal pursuit of happiness by the maestro of graphic design. Steven Heller, prolific author and design critic, calls it a "atomic bomb of a film". Perfect to watch alone or as an after hours movie at the office, and to show excerpts for team meetings.

7. Abstract: The Art of Design

When you want to be in the company of creative giants, watch Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design. Illustrator Christoph Niemann is a favorite.

7.5. One of These Three Short (and Funny) Films

These are funny or beautiful (or both) films that are great for the after lunch slump, to get the energy back up:

- This from Bloomberg on the Good Design Issue gets good laughs.

- Fashion films can turn out to be little art pieces. Here is one from OMA for Prada.

- Volvo ad, ABC of Death, by Dorian & Daniel is one of our favorite pieces for laughs. It is also a great primer for our creative tool, wrong thinking.

I always believe that the mood of creative thinking, at least as you enter it, is playful. It needs to be because when you're playing you're not afraid of making mistakes. What better way to set a playful mood than a film.

What are your favorite films that inspire you? I would love to hear from you and watch them.

Design the life and work you love with the aid of some great films!

Thank you Rona Binay, Karen Vellensky, Selin Sonmez, Chris Rawlinson, Leah Caplan and Seda Evis for your favorite films!

How to Make Air Travel Less Painful

I've been traveling a little too much these days. So much that it has become a chore, something I need to do but don't want to do. This is not a great point-of-view, given that most of my clients reside outside of New York. I quickly realized that I needed to think about travel differently. In other words, I needed to redesign the travel I loved.

To me this is a design problem: what are my constraints and how can I think about them differently? So I approached the problem like a design project, starting with the step of deconstructing the concept of travel (the first step of my design process, Deconstruction:Reconstruction) to help break my own preconceptions.

Here is my deconstruction of travel across four quadrants--physical, emotion, intellect and spirit--and how it helped me shift my perspective from problem to opportunity.


Airports have lost their charm. They're what French anthropologist Marc Augé called non-places, transient spaces where people pass by in almost complete anonymity.

Shift in POV: As I write this, I realize therein lies also the beauty of airports--a passage way where you can watch all the people of the world pass through. Seen in this light, airports are rivers and I can sit at my gate and watch the river pass by--all the people with their weird haircuts, incredible tattoos; people who travel in their pj's with pillows alongside, in their saris, military uniforms, high heels and sandals; big people, tall people, little people, tired people, excited people; people who cry and wrench your heart at departures, and those who cry with happiness at arrivals.


The hardest thing about travel is leaving my family. Therein lies the disruption. As Paul Auster put so well, "Whenever I travel, I get thrown off completely. If I'm gone for two weeks, it takes me a good week to get back into the rhythm of what I was doing before." It doesn't help that airplane service is at a new low--any gate announcements looking for people to take the next plane due to full flights makes my hair stand on end.

Shift in POV: How do you get beyond all the negative emotions and anxiety? I complained to my friend Marshall Goldsmith that I travel too much. Goldsmith, who travels non-stop, didn't have much sympathy for me but shared his 2 travel tricks which I have since internalized--sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat, and be happy doing what you love doing anywhere. In other words, stop whining about travel if it lets you do what you love. Now when I travel, I do so with minimum complaining and a box my daughters made for me with little notes to make me laugh along the way.


This is the quadrant that surprised me because I realized that the moment of travel for me is intellectually very rich. I love the bookstores at the airports and pass my time browsing through their books, trying to choose something I'd like. Half of the books I read are bought at an airport and often finished on airplanes.

Shift in POV: Suddenly moving through space in the company of my books doesn't seem bad at all. In fact, this is the time I am free of distractions to indulge in my favorite pass time, reading. Current book bought at an airport: Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Gene.


This is the quadrant that tripped me up because air travel seems soulless. What can I find spiritually redeeming here?

Shift in POV: I love thinking about this quadrant because it helps me to think of universal truths I might neglect otherwise. The spirit of travel is the people who are waiting for me at the other end, at my destination. Some are clients, some are friends who live where my clients are, some are clients who have become friends, some are people I don't know but who've accepted my invitation to visit while I am in their city. We are face to face, building trust, learning from each other and about each other, solving problems, laughing and talking about our life. They make the whole experience worth while.

This is design thinking or thinking like a designer, holistically and with empathy (in this case empathy for myself) applied to travel. It is intentionally shifting my point of view to turn constraints into opportunities when I can, and working around them when I cannot. With the hope the it will help you think about your travels differently too.

Design the travel you love.

How to Draw to Sell Your Vision

Have you ever drawn a map to show someone how to get to your house? Or how to get from your house to the park or the corner store? If you have, you know how to draw, how to visualize, and how to communicate a path in time and space.

These are the same skills you can apply if you are an entrepreneur trying to sell customers on a new product or service, or someone who helps others imagine the future. Draw a map to help people to get from here to there.

When your goal is to describe a vision for the future, information is not enough. People are up to their necks in information. What they need is a way to imagine their life after the change, and compare it with their life today. That's why it's called a "vision" and not a "plan."
--Marty Neumeier, author of The Designful Company

A vision map shows, economically, how to get from point A (where you are today) to point B (where you want and need to get). You can write about it and you should. But if you want people to understand you quickly and intuitively, draw it for them.

Now, I know what you're thinking -- you really can't draw. But remember, your drawing doesn't need to be great. Who cares if the lines are crooked as long as it gives good directions? However, it does need to be drawn by you, because when you draw your idea you create an abstraction in space and time. You show a path. And because only you know the path, you need to draw it for the rest of us.

Contrary to what you think, the ability to draw is not purely a talent. It is having a kit of visual symbols and icons, which is just like drawing a map. New York Times financial writer Carl Richard's napkin sketches are a great example. Alex Osterwalder, author of the Business Model Generation, is both a great visionary and visualizer, as you can see on his Twitter account almost daily.

To help you draw, I broke down my drawings into the visual symbols I most often use. Please feel free to try them out, borrow and adopt them.

My vision-drawing alphabet

Simple geometric shapes: Circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and cubes are simple shapes that can depict an area or category.

1 circle with a word in it: Depicts something central to your idea or concept.

2 overlapping circles: Intersection of two ideas. The intersection is the "sweet spot." This is my favorite way of showing dichotomy resolution.

3 overlapping circles: Intersection of three ideas, or a trifecta.

2 lines drawn at 90-degree angles to each other: A graph. I use this to show the relation of one thing to another over time.

2 lines intersecting in the middle: Four quadrants. I use this to depict the emotional, the physical, the intellectual, and the spiritual.

2 words and an arrow between them: One thing becoming something else. Arrows can also depict direction, movement, or the future.

Infinity sign: I use this to show a continuous feedback loop, like "give and take."

Equal/unequal symbols: When used between two words, they summarize how things are alike or dissimilar. Other math symbols, like +, x, <, and >, are also useful.

A stick figure or a smiley face: A person. As simple as it sounds, adding a person connects the idea to users and humanizes it.

A stick figure in a circle: Depicts being user-centered.

Circle with a diagonal line over a word or symbol: Something that is banned or unwanted.

Simple icons: Heart for emotion, yin and yang for spirit, dollar sign for money, messy scribble for complication, etc.

Throw some of these together to express one of your ideas. Put it on Twitter. Email it to your colleague. Draw it on a white board. You will see that a picture is worth a thousand words.

If you already draw to sell your vision, I would love to hear from you and learn about your drawing tool kit.

Design the vision you love, by drawing.

How to Turn Boredom Into Inspiration

You might need to get out of the office to reengage.

Summer is here and although you may want to go on vacation this instant, you might not be able to just yet. Work is slow, you're feeling burnt out, and bored by doing the same things day in day out. Here is a simple way to find mental rejuvenation that will require one day of your time but will offer long-lasting benefits.

All you need to do is pick a topic you're interested in, and curate a day exploring that topic. Outside the office--I call this "knowledge tourism."

My most recent day as a knowledge tourist was inspired by our client the Kale Group, and I focused on the topic of the future of retail buildings. But this is the kind of thing you can also do without a client. In fact, I recommend it.

Here is how--

Have a goal

Make it your mission to be a knowledge tourist for a day. Get out of the office to come back with new knowledge, connections and insights to inspire your projects. Imagine you're a bee collecting pollen to make honey.


Block a whole day on your calendar. Pick your area of research--anything that interests you will work. Now you will plan a day around your research topic (just like you would plan a day if you were visiting Paris or Chicago).


Start with experts--people you know or people you know of. Connect via LinkedIn or Twitter with a brief description of your research. You will be surprised how many will be open to giving you an hour of their time. Go with 3 experts for one day. Once you have them scheduled, use the experts as your anchors and plan everything else around what they suggest.

I reached out to Guillaume Bazouin, the Director of Product and Innovation at architecture firm Bone Structure (he accepted on LinkedIn) and Tish Shute , who works at Huawei Technologies, to talk about VR, AR and implications of humans are merging with their tools (old friend, new conversation).


Check ongoing exhibits at museums, galleries, retail stores that relate to your topic. Plan 1-2 exhibits around your expert interviews. Be mindful of distances.

I stopped by a Sephora store to try their new VR make-up service (proud to say I stuck to research and didn't shop!) and the Target Open House to look at their new startup apps (very cool storytelling).


Plan a breakfast to review your plan for the day, your interview questions and to get your day started. Lunch is the perfect way to refuel and review your insights from the morning. Dinner caps your day and finalize your insights. If you're feeling adventurous, choose a meal spot that reinforces your research topic

I visited Eatsa, a cutting edge automaton diner. Good food, quick service, no bathrooms (because bots don't need them but we do!)

It will take you 2 hours (20min/day X 6) to curate this day. And you don't have to do it alone, you can take 1-4 people with you. You can also play with mixing meals and experts.


- You can write up 3 interviews with your experts for your blog (or for your team).

- Use what you learned to do a further deep dive on things you heard.

- Present an insights summary to your team and open it to conversation: what does this mean for us?

- How will you use this new wealth of information in your daily work? Make a plan.

- Stay in touch with your experts and continue to build your network.

- Share insights via Twitter, LinkedIn.

Now that you know my little secret for having fun and working, block a day on your calendar and start curating!

Design the life and work you love!

Why Work with People Who Are Better

I was listening to Sheryl Sandberg on the podcast Master's of Scale, when I heard her say, "You do want to hire people who are better than you are." When someone I perceive as an awesome smart woman says this, it gives you pause for thought. I paused the podcast and wondered why so many great leaders all give the same advice.

Hire people who are smarter than you.

It turns out the real smart move is intentionally not being the smartest person in the room. Rather it is inspiring, cultivating and bringing out the best in people who are better than you.

"I hire people brighter than me and get out of their way." Lee Iococca

Brown Johnson, Creative director of Sesame Workshop, had told me that her secret is working with people who are smarter than her. Johnson, who is known as the mother of Dora the Explorer, is my friend and I thought she was being humble. I was wrong. She was stating a business credo.

Even someone who is not known for being humble, Steve Jobs, gave similar advice: "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

Here is why working with people who are better, more knowledgeable or more talented than we are, is such a big contributor to success:

They pull you up--Jeff Bezos says this about hiring: "every time we hire someone, he or she should raise the bar for the next hire, so that the overall talent pool is always improving." This creates an upward movement of talent pulling talent. You build on each other's ideas and pull each other up.

Proximity to greatness--I went to graduate school with Stefan Sagmeister, who for many is the best graphic designer today. Seeing Sagmeister in action, up close, I could observe how he approached new projects, feel his infectious enthusiasm, watch him at work, and then go to my studio and emulate him. I learned early on that when you build a team, you want to create that proximity to greatness.

Learning from each other--In design, you need to learn like a sponge and synthesize diverse information quickly with every project. Your team is your first and deepest place of learning, you learn from each other and you learn together. Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, says not to hire "people you can't learn from or be challenged by." This is why.

Being different from you--people who are smarter than you are often smarter in different ways. I am great at visualizing ideas and thinking in systems. Couple me with coders, mathematical thinkers, great story tellers and people who are incredibly detail oriented, and together we go from great to amazing. You need the intellectual diversity to help you cross-fertilize from each other's knowledge and expertise. That is the formula for 1+1=3.

I love the way Michael Dell states it: "Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people ... or find a different room."

Design the life and work you love, with people who are smarter.