In this episode, I am talking to Pete Winchester. Pete and I have known each other for quite some time now. And he recently posted about his experience of taking on a Design MBA or the d.MBA, I was really curious to know what that was, and how it might differ from an MBA that you might have heard of people, Six Sigma, and all the rest of our business speakers talking about what benefit there might be in designers learning more about business. We got together at the beginning of September, things were chaotic and busy for both of us. It was really great to be able to carve out a bit of time one day to sit down and talk about that. And also to sort of pick into some of the career decisions that Pete has made within the last 10 years as somebody who has gone from being a individual contributor in UX, moving into leadership and management roles with varying sizes of teams, then going back to being an individual contributor, before finding himself where he is now as Head of Design.
- Pete Winchester, LinkedIn
- The Squiggly Career: Ditch the Ladder, Discover Opportunity, Design Your Career
Andy Parker Hello, and welcome back to the UX Coach podcast. This is a show which is all about careers in digital design, user research and everything else that sits in between. In this episode, I am talking to Pete Winchester. Pete and I have known each other for quite some time now. And he recently posted about his experience of taking on a Design MBA or the d.MBA, I was really curious to know what that was, and how it might differ from an MBA that you might have heard of people, Six Sigma, and all the rest of our business speakers talking about what benefit there might be in designers learning more about business. We got together at the beginning of September, things were chaotic and busy for both of us. It was really great to be able to carve out a bit of time one day to sit down and talk about that. And also to sort of pick into some of the career decisions that Pete has made within the last 10 years as somebody who has gone from being a individual contributor in UX, moving into leadership and management roles with varying sizes of teams, then going back to being an individual contributor, before finding himself where he is now as Head of Design.
Let’s get straight into the conversation. What are you doing today?
Pete Winchester What am I doing right now? What am I doing today? Today, I have been thinking about outcomes that we want from an upcoming new stream of product roadmap. So there’s been a focus from product and engineering for a long time about outputs, outputs, deliverables, deliverables, and now people are starting to think a little bit more holistically. So how to start a conversation. And I think that needs more thinking. So I did some thinking
Andy Parker about that. You mentioned there that you are head of design, what does that actually entail?
Pete Winchester Head of Design, Head of Design, and I often now append that with brackets, product design and UX design and research because I have a mixed team. I have a dedicated researcher, we have a Magic’s a dedicated researcher, some UX designers and some digital product designers as well.
Andy Parker This is the second time you’ve taken on this kind of role. The last time was a similar position, right? A small team working on a single product. Reflecting on that time. What were you thinking about when you started looking for something as a practitioner? Again, because you’re stepping away from leadership?
Pete Winchester Question, the leadership role I have previously in my last company, it was an opportunity that presented itself. So again, it was like, Yeah, I guess a promotion you would call it although I’m always hesitant to say that because we you and I know that also going to management is often attract, change the team that our company was, again, mixed discipline, but actually quite a lot larger and quite larger, because there was 50% of them were permanent people and company was a large corporate and also had a habit of employing contractors, they had loads of projects that needed delivering, I was then the most senior design person without really thinking about my senior design person, within a digital team. And even that is a reflection of the maturity of that organisation. Because that digital team then set in a wider sub product team and that wider corporate then I mean, I guess that’s almost the definition of a corporation that had a large, large product range. It was a baptism of fire. That’s probably an exaggeration. But it wasn’t the easiest place to practise good design work. There was a lot of convincing of people. And actually, there was a large 300 year old corporation that was doing really well thank you very much. So actually coming in and promoting different ways of working and different ways of thinking people weren’t necessarily receptive and departments weren’t necessarily receptive to that. And actually, there was already so much emotion that those things were hard to achieve. Taking that role at the time was also a bit of an experiment. Something I’ve been curious about, yeah, curious, but not convinced that was a path or a track that it was definitely for me. So yeah, it felt like a safe as well as a hard place to practise. So it also felt like a bit of a safe place, you know, stakeholders, you know, the people around you, you know, the industry, you know, the products and all the rest of it. So as such you’re, it’s a new role, but not as new as it might
Andy Parker its own environment that is familiar, and is going to give you that confidence in the space to be able to try something and it doesn’t matter if it’s not right.
Pete Winchester Yeah, and it’s such you’re kind of then expanding on your reputation. You know, as you start a new role, you’re gonna say you have to kind of convince people, you have to kind of go in and set your reputation again. So I’ve already done that. I’d already been there a while, I’d already proved to people that I was, you know, I had initiative, was enthusiastic, and all those other bits and pieces. And this is just my chance to step up and experience a different side of design, a different side of that design industry.
Andy Parker Somewhere along the line here, you stepped back, were you missing that more active role in the team? What happened?
Pete Winchester I think that’s a great thought to think about. And I’m sure a lot of people who are exploring leadership have that same question whether we call it anxiety or doubt, or just a, you know, a genuine question. If I step into management, back from the doing, will I miss it? Will I miss the delivery? Will I become rusty? Will I retain those skills? Or will they fade away, I had all of those questions and more. So I took the opportunity, because it was a great place to experiment. And then another opportunity just appeared at a place and in an environment that seemed really appealing to me. I think having made that change from a practitioner to management, it kind of presented that time for like a bit more reflection, where do I want to work? Where do I want to be, and the new opportunity was a small tech company that was local, you know, a very easy commute. So there were lifestyle benefits, as well as, as well as just a more appropriate mature approach to creating and developing digital products. It had loads of benefits, as I’ve just said, and it also kind of spoke a little bit too, as well. I’ve tried this leadership thing, and let’s go back to the practitioner thing to almost prove to myself, I can still do that, like I had that doubt in my head. So actually, this is a good chance to step back or step, step back into that practitioner approach and prove to myself, can I still do it? Have I forgotten it? Or am I completely rusty? It was fascinating to go from a large kind of corporate enterprise place into a small, what was it under 20 year old tech company, smallish under 100 people, but when established enough the environment was very different. I kind of I’m still kind of amused by, you know, working on these giant transformation projects in a large corporation, you’ve got to know how many people are 100-200 people, so many project managers that you can’t count them all. And then we stepped into a small, small tech company. And all of a sudden, what we achieved with seven, eight people and our product team was night and day by comparison, I’m gonna misuse that word, but the agility, the autonomy, the kind of momentum that you can build with a small group of people all pulling in the same direction with autonomy with that ability to make decisions and do stuff quickly. really opened my eyes to Yeah, the benefits of those different environments. And the experience,
Andy Parker Can you tell us about the role and responsibilities of the head of design? You know, I always talk about two flavours, the responsibility of people or the responsibility of processes. Where do you sit with that? Like, has the experience between a large corporation and a small tech firm given you different perspectives?
Pete Winchester Good question. I would say again, in my current role as head of design, I guess I’m the most senior person representing that design discipline. And there isn’t a large, large team of us, there isn’t a, you know, a Senior Director of Design above me and a Chief Design Officer and all the rest of it above me only. The reason I mentioned that is because that’s where I think there’s more room and space for those divisions and segmentations. And it’s more appropriate because you need it, you have way bigger design teams. So if we consider that in house permanently, we have six people in our sub segment, because again, it’s worth mentioning that my other company that worked for magics got bought three years ago by a corporation. So I’ve kind of found myself balancing between that small tech company now and large corporate thing again, but within this kind of magic environment, there are six of us in total. So therefore, I would say actually, I feel like I do all of the things. I feel like I’m responsible for developing the team, going back to what you said, you know, it’s about the hiring, it’s about growth. It’s about purpose. It’s making sure yeah, people are performing but not in a negative way, but performing to the best of their ability creating that environment. And that kind of then leads into the ops side of things, I guess, right, making sure that they got the tools and the teams around them that they’re collaborating with the right people. They’re taking the right approaches, they feel like they’ve got the right priorities so that they can focus on doing all of those things as well as and finally going back to that most senior person representing design then I will say trying to champion the discipline. And initially, I think I possibly thought that might be more on my shoulders. But where I’ve had way more success, unsurprisingly is engaging the team and getting us all to champion that discipline. So, yeah, something that I’m incredibly keen on doing growing design, growing design, maturity, I’m sure that would resonate with a lot of your yourself and your audience, you know, we always want to work in those more mature places and feel like we can achieve, create the best work that we can. So you’re
Andy Parker saying the environment has got to be right, and you have to be in the right organisation to get that. And you said that you think those large corporate hierarchies could mean you have individuals that are basically like, take thin slices of the job that you do now? So do you think there’s a benefit in doing this in a smaller business? And I think it’s worth just saying, like, we’ve known each other for a really long time. So I know that your craft and your background as a user experience designer, which is always considered as being quite a generalist role. So does this match that approach better?
Pete Winchester Yes, absolutely. I really, really agree with that. And I, I’d love to tell you that that was by absolute conscious choice. And by a, you know, real, definite decision that I did all that. But you’re right, these smaller companies do offer that choice. So maybe we’ll talk about it a little bit later. But Madgex didn’t have a progression framework for designers. So what do you do? Well, that’s on me. If we need one, and I absolutely, I think you need one, then you need to go off and create that and know that I’m not going to write every single word in every single sentence. I’ve got people in my team who can help develop it. But ultimately, you’re championing those things forward. The other thing that I think is interesting about the magics, one that I’m not sure is going to be so common these days. That is that, again, the title is deliberately Head of Design, and I put those brackets on the end, because I’m also saying UX and research and product design. I think that’s a very common thing, as well as the hierarchy you talked about. So directors doing this slice is very common also to have a head of research and head of product design, and might even have a head sign ups or all that kind of thing, too. So yeah, that segmentation and that splitting. I think it makes sense. It makes sense in the right organisation with the right number of people. You know, if we think about these large tech companies, the Google’s the Microsoft’s the, you know, all of them that we all are aware of the Meta’s, hundreds 1000s of designers, so they’re going to need all kinds of differing org design, and therefore people with deeper specialisms. But yeah, to go back to my background of UX designer, you and I both know that was, can be an incredible generalist role. You’ve met UX designers who are also really strong visual designers, you’ve met UX designers who are incredible researchers, you’ve met UX designers who are the best facilitators you’ve ever met. And it’s rare that you meet someone who’s got all of those skills and incredible depth. But yeah, I’ve always found myself for whatever reason is more of a generalist. And I’ve kind of wandered back into that generalist role than as a manager to
Andy Parker take us back to the point where opportunities arise. And it’s something you’ve been thinking about for a while. I like the idea that a career tracks your individual contributor and your leadership and organisational thinking. What can you provide someone in your team today who might be at that point in their own thinking? So like, what was going on in your mind that helped you answer that question Is this for me,
Pete Winchester So I had the opportunity in my last role to start mentoring people. And that was something I look to do and look for the opportunity to do and I got kind of reward and personal satisfaction from I found that and then helping other people grow, maybe we’ll come back to that again later to is something that appeals to me. So I think starting to look for those activities can help you reassure yourself. That kind of work is for you like that, I guess what can I say? But working out what gives you energy? Is it like firing up Figma and spending an hour or two shaping those pixels? If that’s what gives you your energy and your bus then? Yeah, I don’t know that the management track is quite ready for you. But if there’s like activities like mentoring, maybe it’s, it’s gonna say presenting but presenting happens at all levels, but maybe it’s presenting to senior people about something a little bit more abstract rather than the specific page or a component. Maybe it’s kind of a wider, more holistic story if that kind of appeals to you. Maybe it’s that advocacy piece as well, that discipline advocacy piece that you might not always have the opportunity to do. Maybe it’s that environment shaping, maybe you’re really conscious and aware of some of the gaps and growth areas, I think we could call them that in your, in your environment at work, and you could see ways to improve them. I think all of those things, start all of those things, if they start to appeal to you, and if they seem like something that would give you energy, then I think, then you can start to have a little bit more confidence that that’s the direction you could go in.
Andy Parker Is there a point where you stop applying those skills to the input and output of things, and instead using the same skills to analyse systems and organisations?
Pete Winchester Hmm, yeah. And what’s the I don’t know if it’s a cliche, maybe it’s not fair to call it a cliche, but that the phrasing I’ve heard used is that you’re almost getting a thicker Sharpie, you’re no longer doing the detail, you’re no longer responsible for the detail. But it’s a bigger, fatter pen, because you’re doing bigger picture things. You’re right, the words you used are far more accurate, the systems and the organisations and the bits around it that make that design work.
Andy Parker So let’s talk about the main reason I brought you on the show. And that is your experience of completing a design MBA or D MBA, was the trigger for that moving back into the leadership space, because you did engineering at university, is that right? So how is this different to that traditional education experience,
Pete Winchester When I went to university, I got a degree in computer science. It’s always kind of amusing to think back. My overwhelming reflection of that particular computer science course was that they were heavily encouraging everyone to be programmers or developers, as we would call it now. So out, there is strongly encouraging everyone that your job would likely lie in writing lines of code, once you’ve finished university. And, again, you know, this could be on me maybe as much as I remember that whole concept of like, progression tracks, progression frameworks that you might start as a junior working alongside or senior people up here, that kind of thing wasn’t really explained very well. But what we did do along the way, as part of that computer science thing was some modules on human computer interaction and some other bits and pieces where we were touching interfaces and all the rest of it. But again, maybe I wasn’t listening strongly enough, or maybe they just weren’t explaining it quite well enough. But that wasn’t really clear that that could be a career and a role at the time. So yeah, meandered for a while, until I found my way towards user experience design.
Andy Parker Right? Like, same as me really say the time there weren’t any formal degrees in user experience design or digital product design. Like really, it’s only within the last 10 years, we’ve started to see private education and then public education catching up, right?
Pete Winchester Yeah. Agreed. So yeah, they weren’t the course. Perhaps from my perspective, I didn’t have the visibility of the jobs and the opportunities. I think they were there. If you look back, and you look at those more mature technology companies, I very much expect that Microsoft’s been around for decades and decades. They very likely had all of those people on board who come back to those older tech companies. I was gonna say IBM, actually, I think they’ve done more of a journey recently, where they’ve now got hundreds, perhaps 1000s of designers on board with them, as well and become far more mature from that approach. But yeah, they weren’t the obvious courses available, or the worst, some books, there were bits and pieces, but you had to do a lot of work to piece it all back together yourself. I don’t think there was just an easy curriculum, it wasn’t like you should know these things. And that will set you off in this direction. I think that was really missing at the time. And it’s therefore unsurprising that there’s way more loads more of these courses now that have different value and different benefits to people as well.
Andy Parker So how does a master in business start what the MBA stands for? How does that fit into the whole? Making things and designing things and knowing how to put them together? Is it sort of following the kind of like fuck you pay me for designers thing? Is it for freelancers? Is it for enterprise only?
Pete Winchester No. But yes in part so again I forgive me, I don’t know much. I don’t want to teach your audience to suck eggs. But should we start with what’s an MBA? An MBA is a Masters of Business?
A masters of business administration and for the most part, as it’s a master’s, don’t quote me on this. But they are largely driven by American universities. I think they were like, again, correct me if I’m wrong on these 600 credit modules, which would have taken you about two years to do, because it’s a master’s. That’s a lot of work. And it wasn’t just the two years worth it was the intensity that goes along with it. So I actually know someone who’s done more recently, an MBA, why did they do it? Sydney University is somewhere on the east coast of Australia. And yet it was brutal. But it was brutal for them, perhaps because they were doing it alongside a job and a role. And perhaps that’s part of the narrative around it, I think it’s very, very common for people to start their careers. And then say, there’s a ceiling here, this MBA is going to open doors, these directors that I’m looking up at and the direction I want to go towards, they will have this qualification or they’re speaking a language that I don’t feel I can communicate in effectively. And that’s what draws people to these MBAs. Yeah, that’s, that’s what an MBA is it teaches you, I think, you know, the classical ones, the traditional ones will take you through everything from strategy through to accounting and business planning, possibly even touching on things like HR and stuff, I think they’re really trying to set those people up to be directors at those companies and acknowledge that they won’t just be in charge of one discipline, they’ll be in charge of the business, the responsible for revenues responsible for cost savings, and all those other bits and pieces and know how to do that. So yeah, the MBA has a reasonably wide breadth to it. But that’s not the design MBA.
So I used to perhaps, in fact, incorrectly call this design MBA, a mini MBA, and I subsequently found out that you can do traditional mini MBAs, and they would just be provided by the universities that do full MBAs. And again, they have taken their slice, they have curated their curriculum, to say, Okay, you’re not being able to afford for whatever reason to do the two years, you know, time-wise, energy levels, all the rest of it, but we do this, and that will still help you and give you a flavour. But that again, the design MBA was actually created by two people, Alan and Franz. So Alan had worked for both of them. MBA, qualified, traditional MBA qualified, Allen had gone and worked then with IDEO, and been, I know, immersed in this world of design and design thinking and working for all of these Sure, incredibly interesting projects, and kept coming across designers with this gap, then in their knowledge. And for him, it was an important gap, and something that the designers could benefit from because it would enable those designers to then influence and influence for the right reason, I think, Alan, yeah, Allah has really good intentions behind it at heart because he believes that designers will go on and do good. And for to have designers that will senior levels in the company, they will be aware of this user centricity, they will have come from that user centricity, they would have been immersed in customer problems, and therefore having them more senior levels in the company, you would hope they’d be making more customer centric decisions. Yeah, he essentially had that design experience. He had MBA experience. And he realised he kept meeting designers who were limited and had hit that ceiling. And therefore, he worked to say, Well, an MBA is an incredibly intimidating thing to take on financially time-wise, like we just talked about, but actually, I think if I took these six, seven concepts from it, I think if you could learn these and practise these, and apply these, I think you would start to see a big difference in your role. Yeah, from that perspective, it just felt like it offered opportunities to me. And the other thing that gave me confidence is that I knew other people that had done it. So I was able to poke and, you know, approach, how did you find it? What was it like? Have you used all of those things, and, and it was nice to be able to catch up with them again afterwards and share similar perspectives and similar views, because the headline is, yeah, it was very useful. I’m very, very glad I did it.
Andy Parker So what kind of stuff is going into this then? Because I would imagine that if you’re doing a business course, it’s a lot about economics and SWOT analysis, that kind
Pete Winchester of things. Well, in fact, I can give you a really quick answer as to the kinds of things that you get from it. So their approach was to say, well, there’s loads that goes into an MBA and to try and teach you all of that in a concise way is going to be unhelpful. So they went out and deliberately picked a few areas that they thought were best. So the first bit of that is phrasing I think they came up with was business empathy or Business Discovery. So when you look at a competitor, and you know, loads of your audience will be used to doing a competitor analysis from a user experience and functionality in a UI perspective, but how can you look at your competitors from a different lens? So what’s the arena that they operate in? And therefore, are the gaps? Who are they actually competing with? Who do they think they’re competing with? Who are you competing with? And through that Business Discovery, they just continue to give you lots of other bits and pieces. So where can we look up information about our competitors? How can we reflect on how they create products, this concept of a supply chain? What’s happening in that wider industry around them? So how can we reflect on industry trends and wider trends that might change or create opportunities? And then how can we capture all of that into a really concise and valuable set? So you know, rather than creating the 500 page deck, what is it that we can create from this kind of statements from all of the above that will help convince people and help set a direction. So that was like an overview of the discovery side, they also then went into strategy, everyone’s favourite words, you know, designers love adding the word product in front of strategy. And product strategy is everyone’s favourite flavour of the month, and you will have worked in companies wherever it just says strategy. And that was another trigger and a reason for me to do the course I have. It doesn’t matter which job I’ve been in for the last 1015 years, I would love to use the word strategy. And I think it means something different to what they think it means. So I feel like I’ve got a far better understanding now of what that really means. And kind of remaining modules we touched on business models. So what works for some companies and why do they make money? What kind of business model is picked on Spotify? For example? What is it aside from their subscriptions? How else? Are they making money? How are they generating revenue, they went into what they called prototyping with numbers. But that was a really just way to frame it for designers to feel more comfortable about it. It’s a kind of business case and business design. How can you start to pull some figures together to work out and convince people of opportunities and cases? We talked about ways to measure all of these metrics. You know, it’s talking about the more traditional financial ones and starting to feel comfortable about talking about p&l and profit and all these things. They’re not really scary words when you go into them. And then finally, it’s really kind of a nice, wrapped up area they called hypothesis driven design. So how do you use all of that, to start coming back to those, you know, putting the meat behind those proposals you’ve gone off now and you’ve got loads of insight, and you’ve got great ideas and strategies, and you’ve got all these other bits and pieces, ways to measure it. So how can you go off and risk these concepts? If someone gives you the green light? What do you do next?
Andy Parker So this is very much an evolutionary step in your capability as a designer, period. If you think about how you’ve learned by doing or observing in some cases throughout your career, this is an aspect of the job that you can easily be shielded from or even isolated from, because it’s what someone in project management or the directors or someone else in the company does.
Pete Winchester 100% Absolutely. And I think, you know, if there’s ever a thing that I wish they’d teach people, before they get to that management level or thinking about the management level, is this kind of familiarity with a lot of those concepts? I think it’s starting to happen more now. I think there is more content. And I think, as I kind of referred to earlier, that concept of Product Strategy is becoming way more popular and therefore I’ve started noticing more product strategy courses and learning product strategy from us. So I think that is starting to happen naturally. But yes, I Yeah, it’s a, it’s almost, you look back, you reflect and you say God, I wish I knew that then, then that’s just also a really good sign that you’ve learned some good information. And you can see the value of it, as it gives you confidence that it’s going to continue to be useful. So you’ve
Andy Parker gone away, and you’ve done this course. And now you’re in that position that other people might have been around you in the past where you get more about how the business operates, and how to start to introduce that thinking. Are you finding yourself in a gatekeeper type situation here? Holding on to these cards? How does this sort of like filter out to the rest of your team?
Pete Winchester No, I’m not gatekeeping the knowledge and developing the team is something that’s really important to me or where we do that magic is I have at least this weekly session. We used to call it a design review. I think almost the team wanted to call it more of like a design hub, but ultimately that was an opportunity for people to share what they’re working on. share knowledge, it’s that way to kind of level up the whole team. So I’m always conscious that I don’t want to grab the mic as the manager and say, hey, everyone sit back and listen, because I’ve got lots to say. So I’m very much always putting myself at the bottom of the list for those very same mentoring reasons. I want other people to get experience of talking about what they’ve learned, because I think that in itself reinforces all of the knowledge. But yes, I’ve also shared an overview and gone into some detail. And as of tomorrow, I’ve set up the agenda so that I will be sharing some of the Business Discovery stuff that I started to talk about. So what’s magic? Is it a competitive arena, where are we competing? You know, what are those core jobs to be done, the customers are trying to do? And therefore, how does that open up our industry? Who should we be looking at, because that really helps me when we’re talking then about competitors that I should be looking at from a user experience. And the key team should be looking at it from a user experience perspective. And it’s not just your traditional rivals. But what about how these people are doing exactly the same thing in a slightly different space. So yeah, some work to do time sharing there. There’s this concept of strategy canvas, which is a really nice framework to help really, concretely communicate the activities and how you’re differentiated to some of those competitors that you’ve now identified. And again, I’ve been working with one of our senior product people to pull that together for magics. And, again, we’ll do my bit to show the team my thinking, get them to question it, you know that thing, it’s when you say, Oh, you start talking through your work out loud, maybe you just process it slightly differently. And you come to your own epiphanies, you get feedback, all of the above, it’s all great stuff. You said,
Andy Parker you don’t want to take up the mic time and encourage others in the team, which I think is one of the most pivotal characteristics of a leader. Are you encouraging people in the team to mentor one another? Are those opportunities available?
Pete Winchester I am strongly encouraging collaboration. And therefore I think by default, that comes down to mentoring. So there’s some really, yeah, I don’t know that we’ve used the word, mentor, but it is, by all intents and purposes, that there’s people in the team who are really strong with UX writing. And there’s people in the team who have done less, and therefore, I’m getting those people to make sure they talk to each other and go to the people with more experience. So yeah, that’s, that is mentoring, I just haven’t referred to it as such, we’ve got someone in our team with a wealth of experience and research. So when my team is thinking about research and making sure they go and talk to them, to bounce ideas off them to get that kind of feedback. I don’t think there’s, we have had sessions where team members have explicitly said, I’m going to mentor you and set up recurring sessions. Actually, now it’s more product or specific, problem focused.
Andy Parker So you’ve got a mixed discipline team, with people coming from different walks of life having different experiences and different skills. And you’ve always said that you’re a big advocate for collaborative working, and that that should incorporate sharing your thinking with others around you. Which gets me thinking about how you’re incorporating that development of people in your team and furthering their careers. How do you establish a sustainable mentoring model? There’s so many times I’ve seen organisations create these informal mentoring schemes, and they fall apart almost instantly, because there’s this lack of investment from the people who say they want it. So usually I don’t have time for someone else. Yeah, assuming that that is time that needs to be sort of allocated and safeguarded, which is not necessarily the case when you’re in a leadership or management role, either. So what are you doing that’s going to change that tune? Is it like, you don’t need to have a formal mentoring model, you know, goal setting frameworks and stuff like that. And then it’s more just about having that community of practice type mindset, and that you are there to work together and to help each other out.
Pete Winchester Yeah, I think there’s benefits to both sides. I think it often depends on the environment. And I often think it also depends on the availability of the leadership. So if we went back to talking examples earlier of those huge tech companies with all those hundreds, perhaps 1000s of designers, there’s going to be all kinds of differing levels of experience and seniority and therefore opportunities for mentorship within I think within a smaller team. Yeah. As I said before, giving it that kind of title is not always necessary. So I think I’ve got more senior people working with less experienced people. And sometimes they’re doing that weekend we count day in, day out. And sometimes they’re just doing it for the lifespan of a specific project. And I think within that smaller team that works, and I think if there was anyone who might benefit from a, what can I call it like a recurring session, then I’d also be pushing them to do that the team’s growth, the team’s development is really important to me. So yeah, if I spot an opportunity there, and it’s not something that I’m able to do, or I can see almost like a double growth opportunity where I can see some benefit from being a mentor and a mentor to them. That’s what I would set up.
Andy Parker So how do you identify those people, then? The ones that have that leadership potential that have that desire for working with others, like what can you do to support those people that might not even realise that this is something that they’ll be great at? And I guess it also helps the ones that think they have to do that? Because hey, I want to pay a raise or change the title? Do you think it’s possible to spot those individuals?
Pete Winchester Yes, I do. I think there’s some really easy ones. And you kind of touched on it a little bit earlier, perhaps the people who choose to do mentoring to, to kind of demonstrate growth on a CV, or in a portfolio, you’re gonna get people who take a managerial position, because it’s good for their ego, because it’s seen as growth because it sometimes comes with higher salary, because it’s sometimes the only way to progress up the ladder, you know, the ladder is the career ladder, sometimes there isn’t an opportunity for our principal, individual contributor, sometimes they there’s a ceiling, kind of senior or lead levels. So some people almost feel forced into management. So those are some of the wrong reasons, you know, are you taking it because you think it sounds good, or kind of gives you that little ego nudge for you taking it because it feels like it’s the only opportunity, or you taking it for the reasons because you care about the environment, you care about these things we talked about earlier, you care about developing the team, you care about creating the best environment for design to thrive, you care about helping champion the discipline you care about those bigger, more holistic problems, that’s what appeals to you. And that’s where you’ll get your energy from. And I think, I think those people that take it for those kinds of reasons and get energy for the right reasons, therefore, just by nature become better managers, they care more, they work harder at it, they want to develop themselves, you know, it’s something I’m still doing. I’m still very aware, I’ve got growth areas as a manager and a leader, so I want to get better at it. And I think that’s something that other good leaders and good managers have as well.
Andy Parker So are we missing a trick with not having necessarily systems in place to expose designers at the start of their careers to like business processes and thinking about how operations work as well as those like people centric skills? Do you think that if we had seeded that, from the start, we could get more business leaders with design backgrounds? Or does it actually matter? Do you need to have a design background to be a leader of design?
Pete Winchester That’s a really, really good question. I think, in some regards, that is true. And again, if we think back to the reason things like the NBA exist is because once you get to that seniority of the organisation, maybe your background was finance, maybe your background was marketing, there’s lots of people in those sea level positions. They couldn’t start out as a junior CEO, they had to kind of work their way up through whatever discipline and therefore they’re not discipline specific anymore. So from that perspective, that suggests that yeah, there is a manager and people who are good at managing and discipline are less important. I’m trying to work out that I don’t have a strong opinion on whether design leaders should have a really good grasp of design. The fact that I talked earlier about you know, you have these organisations with roles of head of research and head of product design that suggests to me that those organisations want someone with really strong research shops and strong product design shops, and they wouldn’t take people on unless they could demonstrate that unless they’ve done it and maybe the kind of validity to that argument is that then when you become that most senior person of the discipline, it’s down to you to figure out how to a identify all the problems and be kind of fix them. You don’t have to fix them all yourself. You can obviously delegate and collaborate and do all of those bits and pieces but I do worry if you’re, if you’re training and experience management of different disciplines all over the place, but you still have that eye and that ability to say, Hang on, that’s not quite right. And maybe you know, those are, those are blind spots for you that you can then address. Maybe if you surround yourself with the right seniority of individual contributors, it becomes less of an issue again. So if you’ve got a really strong researcher, individual contributor, and a really strong product design person, then actually that person above them can say, like, your responsibility is to, is to is to the discipline is to the way the discipline is practice. Like, if you see a low quality thing, you’re new to shout it out. And I’ll just help you address it as a, obviously generic manager. That sounds less kind of less appealing. But yeah, as a manager.
Andy Parker What would you like to see new designers being taught? Like, where do you think the knowledge and capability gaps in design and design services are starting to emerge?
Pete Winchester I would like to see the strong grasp of the stuff that can’t be replaced by technology. So I’m sure people have said the, you know, that AI thing on your podcast before and if they haven’t, and they’ve stumbled upon it, and all the articles and all the rest of it. But, you know, technology is improving and changing the tooling and the way we work. But what still hasn’t changed is the underlying concept that, you know, design thinking is, I know, some people aren’t fond of the phrase, but let’s use it to kind of describe the underlying approach to problem solving and creating solutions. That’s the stuff to focus on. That’s what you want to see people continue to come through, because that hopefully, will continue to be timeless, that you know, it doesn’t matter what tools will keep changing around it, if as long as you can continue to do that and apply it. And whatever the product, whatever the service will benefit from that.
Andy Parker What are the things that you wish you had known? Or that you know, now that you really wish you’d known or someone had said something to you? Before? Day one of starting that first leadership job?
Pete Winchester I, my first thing in answer to that question, or things nobody told me is that you don’t have to fix everything now. Like, patience helps immeasurably. And I think a lot of my stress levels earlier in the roll was self driven of me saying I need to do this, and I need to do this, I need to do this. And I need to do this. And it wasn’t until I started to kind of observe and step back a little bit at the more natural cadence of how things happen of our the people work have our the other bits fit into place that I became a little bit more satisfied with the role and possibly, I mean, it’s hard for me to say myself, but possibly more successful at it. So yeah, things nobody told me before I became manager, patients, that really, really helps. I think there’s some other bits already that kind of cross discipline, knowledge doesn’t just extend to products and developers and working in an agile environment, or marketing or any of those other disciplines skills, it also extends towards the business. So I think designers, some designers did have a reputation. And perhaps I was also in that, dare I say it for a while of saying, Well, I’m user centric, and therefore I need you know that business centricity is less important to me. Yeah, I’m kind of changed track now. And that business knowledge helps at all levels of seniority. We’ve said that already. But I really think that’s true. And the last bit I think you’ve touched on this is my last answer to the thing nobody told you before you can manage it if you also won’t ever feel ready, I think, is that I speak to and I do. I’m very lucky, I have other, you know, two people with titles of head of design and design director and all the other flavours of that design management, I make sure I catch up with some of them regularly. So once a month, have a chat about what’s giving you a headache. Some of them are outside of Madgex. And the company that owned Madgex, some of them are inside, which is also great. But yeah, it’s a common thing. You don’t ever feel ready. You always always know all the things and actually, that makes it a little bit of a harder decision sometimes of should I become a manager. Well, sorry, you’re never going to also feel ready, but also should give you that push to say, I’m gonna try it.
Andy Parker Yeah. And I think that you’ve got people around you, because you’re in an actual environment. The city that you live in has got quite a good community. And also in fairness, because you’re from the same era that I am, where that community was founded. And so you have people that you can go and talk to who have done this for Right, they’re a bit further ahead of you, we
Pete Winchester haven’t used the word network. Your network is one of the most I’ve come to realise, is one of the most important things for your career. Alongside all that education and all those other bits and pieces, your peers, the peers who are at your level, your peers who are above you, all of those contacts you made are really, really important. And being able to offer them advice. And encouragement is really important, because you’ll get fulfilment out of that. And then I’m not saying it’s gonna be like, always give and take relationship, but it’s likely that they’ll also then be weren’t there to offer you that support advice, encouragement to So yeah, if ever there was any advice to give people at all levels, it’s build that network, it’s, you know, two Graduates, your other graduates keep in contact with them, anyone you meet, add them in, and that used to be done through your Twitter’s of the world. But that has to be on LinkedIn now for a while until the next thing comes along. That’s okay.
Andy Parker I recently met someone that was explaining to me what it’s like in 2023, to get your foot in the door. And I get the sense that globally, the market for tech workers in general, but in particular, in UX is completely saturated. And it’s making it near impossible for people with no commercial experience to get a decent position. Have you heard similar stories? And what do you think we can do about this? Yeah,
Pete Winchester It is a problem. So recently, I volunteered and attended a mentoring evening where it was kind of like a speed matching speed advice session. So I just got to meet some really great people who are looking to progress their careers, mostly from a less experienced perspective, but some of them from a more experienced perspective, just interested in how to take that next step. And listening to the stories of how many job applications some of those more junior people have had to make was to know without wanting to exaggerate again, like, scary, right, intimidating for them, and must be exhausting for them. So
Andy Parker yeah, totally. I mean, I think someone said to me that they were being advised to do 200 applications a week.
Pete Winchester Yeah, that’s bonkers. And the only like, Good day silver, small silver lining, it’s such a small one is that I hope, the user experience of applying for some of those jobs now is better, because you’ve got tools like LinkedIn where hopefully, you know, you’re not having to write handwrite a letter and send it all off, there is quicker ways to apply or those I’m sure, you know, as you and I know, it’s still laborious with all of your uploading of bits and pieces and all the rest of it. So, yeah, it’s a massive problem. No, there’s not enough junior positions. Although we’ve offered them in the past, I think they’re really important. And actually, I think there’s more and more organisations out there, you can see as a strategic decision that it’s worthwhile investing in more junior people and training them up and developing, pulling them up, because there’s a retention factor to it as well as a quality factor to it as well. And it means that you don’t have to compete, you know, you’re not just looking for those senior people who are expecting really high salaries influenced by the West Coast of America. So yeah, there’s loads and loads of business benefits behind employing juniors. But there’s still not enough jobs there for them. So what do they do? There isn’t a simple answer. Keep applying is one kind of thing that no one would want to hear. The other thing is, like continuing to take jobs that might be slightly tangential, because some of you and I know that some of the best user experience designers you’ve met are people who’ve been doing other careers for a while. So maybe they worked. I don’t know in academia somewhere maybe they did, I can’t think of any good examples off the top of my head but they’ve got different career experience and applying that back to user experiences. Brilliant, really, really useful. You’re almost then coming to people and perhaps not skipping that junior skip step per se but certainly bringing a load more value than someone who perhaps has just graduated very very recently. They’ve got that real world experience they’ve got initiative they’ve got they’re used to someone expecting them to deliver work not in a way that university environment would be of here’s your assignment this is your assignment day it is it changes when she gets into the corporate world.
Andy Parker I still think that we are in a sad period within industry where the opportunity is there for you to be able to sidestep
Pete Winchester I’ve heard a lovely phrase for it recently: squiggly careers and that is that I’m so bad. I should have all of these people’s names but if you Google scribbly careers you will find that I don’t know if I want to call them career coaches because again, that could be mislabeling them. But the two ladies who’ve Yeah, got a book, they’ve got training, they’ve kind of acknowledged that all of the career advice, best career advice, and best career training was only happening to people once they reached director level. So they said, that’s completely wrong. We want to democratise all of this great advice and education. And it’s absolutely okay to have this squiggly career like that concept of a career ladder is this weird brainchild of the 1950s, where you had one person at work and another person at home running the house, and you were you know, those roles were ahead of you that Junior, the mid to senior, the manager and all the rest of it, and I just, the world doesn’t work like that anymore. So yeah, I don’t know if it helps. I’ve got a squiggly career. I think you’ve got a squiggly career to use that phrasing. And I think there’s, there’s a, there are opportunities in
Andy Parker if people would like to talk to you more about some of the stuff that you’ve described today. Just pick your brains on things or see what you’re up to, where can you be found, because you’re pretty quiet when it comes to sort of what we would call traditional social media. Now the Twitter is that blue sky Macedon, whatever it is, where are you? Where are you online?
Pete Winchester Well, good. You know, if you’d asked me a year ago, then I would have been talking about Twitter or x as it’s now known. But yeah, to answer your question today, then LinkedIn is the place that I probably spend most of the time because who doesn’t own it? And because the way that the algorithm presents content, to me is way more feels very more relevant. So yes, I know LinkedIn has its flaws. And I know it’s seen as kind of corporate starchy, I think the kind of nosedive of the other social networks has helped give it some kudos. So yeah, if people want to find me, contact me on LinkedIn, I like reaching out to new people. I like adding new people to come and chat.
Andy Parker Nice. And presumably you’re able to do that. It’s like chatting to you even if your name isn’t Andrew, because you do collect Andrews.
Pete Winchester I think that is his true niche. It’s true. I do have quite the repertoire of entries in my life, although not connected to as many as I’d like to over the last year or two. I’m always on the lookout for more boundaries.
Andy Parker So if your name’s Andrew, you’re coming in. If it’s not, then you may need to check back
Pete Winchester here, please get. Please get in touch with anyone , especially if your name is Andrew, because I’d like to add you to my plethora of entries.
Andy Parker There we go. I say the same thing at the end of every episode. So if this is not your first time, you will have heard this before, you can either press Pause, Stop, move on to the next podcast in your list or actually take me up on the offer. This podcast is all about people’s careers. And something that I really wanted to be able to do with this is use this platform as a way for you to be able to share your voice with others. Because all of our experiences have meaning and value to somebody you might not think that right now. Trust me when I tell you being able to hear other people’s stories, why you’re here in the first place is because it matters and it really makes a difference. It inspires people. It gives you ideas and ways of being able to take the next step, wherever that might be at that point in time. So if you would like to be a guest on the podcast, please do go over to the UX coach.com check out the podcast pages and get in touch with me. Alternatively, you can always email me Andy at the UX coach.com. I’ll be back at some point in the future with another interview with another fantastic person from this wonderful community that we’re all part of. So give yourselves a pat on the back. And a round of applause.