06.28.22
Kaleena Sales + Omari Souza | Audio

S10E1.5: Minisode


On this week’s minisode, Kaleena and Omari discuss the value of bridging a diversity of broad experience to a design team.

Kaleena focused in on why that would be important in a company setting:
I think that we should all be thinking about diversity—diversity's connection to empathy, and not diversity of experiences just as it relates to optics and increasing more Black and brown people on your team and that sort of thing. But thinking about how different life experiences will [be brought] into the ways in which we problem solve for design solutions.
Omari critiqued the way schools might not be preparing design students to embrace that:
This idea of expanding curriculum and making more room in safe spaces for cultural relativity in my classroom, and how we build these incentives out are things that I am continuously fascinated by and wish more academics and administrators spent more time trying to figure out. How do we make this a bit more accessible to all who might be interested?
Listen to the episode Kaleena and Omari are discussing, here.

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TRANSCRIPT

Omari Souza
Welcome to The Design of Business,

Kaleena Sales
The Business of Design — minisodes. I'm Kaleena Sales.

Omari Souza
And I'm Omari Souza.

Omari Souza
Hey Kaleena! how's it going?

Kaleena Sales
Hey, pretty good. How are you?

Omari Souza
I can't complain. I am roasting in the sweltering Texas heat, but other than that, I am fine.

Kaleena Sales
Oh, my gosh. I know it's over 100 degrees here in Nashville, so I totally understand.

Omari Souza
Yeah, I feel like deli meat — just very sticky. So, yeah, today's our first episode or minisode, where we zoom in on a specific moment from Kevin and Dana's conversation last week on The Design of Business | The Business of Design.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah, I'm excited. Let's get into it. Last week, Kevin and Dana spoke with Ernesto Quinteros, Chief Design Officer for Johnson and Johnson.

Omari Souza
Yeah, they asked him about the kind of multi-disciplinary talent big companies like Johnson and Johnson Design are looking for in new hires.

Ernesto Quinteros
There is definitely new breed of design talent that's emerging where they may have had a mechanical engineering degree. They maybe did some product design, and then they're interested in digital before they even come our way. And we love those types of people. We often call them T-shaped. You may have heard that term I-shaped being very, very deep and steeped in a particular design craft. But the T-shaped tend to have other peripheral experiences, which I think they're great connectors. And so we are seeking to hire more and more of those over time. Some of the design team that we had on staff have also evolved and have this curious appetite to learn. So they're getting involved with programs where they're stretching themselves and they become more T-shaped over time. But we do have a an organization that has subject matter, expertize, crafts and teams that are very T-shaped. And again, we assemble teams based on the problem to solve the need of the business. But we are looking more and more for those T-shaped types of design- emerging design talents out there.

Omari Souza
Yeah, so if that's from the business side, Kaleena, what do you think it's like from the academia side?

Kaleena Sales
I loved Ernesto's point about T-shaped designers and sort of that varied experience being really critical to build diverse teams. And I thought about how that relates to other types of diversity. And so I think about how important it is to increase racial diversity and honestly, what comes along with racial diversity is diversity of socioeconomic upbringing and socioeconomic status. And a lot of times— I don't hear a lot of people talk about how our relationships to wealth and poverty impact, greatly impact, I think how much empathy, you know, we're willing to bring into solving design problems. You know, when I think about a T-shaped designer, I think about a designer who has varied life experiences and, you know, design teams that don't all have sort of similar upbringings. So I'll give one example, actually, that I thought about — years ago, I was working with a team and we were working for a banking client, and the product at the time was for like those second chance checking accounts. So like if you had, you know, pretty low credit or just trouble opening up a checking account or maybe your first go around didn't go too well and you had lots of overdrawn accounts and that sort of thing. The bank was sort of pitching this new product where, you know, people could come and open up another account and give you sort of another chance. And I was really- I was the only black designer in the room. I was also probably the youngest at the time. So those are two sort of like markers of distinction in terms of the diversity in the room. And I was shocked at how — I would say the misconception- how many misconceptions there were about the types of people that needed the product and like why people had gotten themselves into such a financial, you know, like burden that they would need this like second chance account. And I'm being nice by saying misconceptions, but like there were a lot of, you know, sort of snarky remarks about that. And at the time, again, I'm-I'm, you know, fresh out of school, I'm first, you know, real job. My account balance is pretty low. And so I, you know, I just had a lot of like sort of natural empathy for people who had, you know, sort of had a lot of financial problems. I mean, that was like everyone I knew, you know, growing up and my family and I, you know, and myself at the time. And so I think about diversity as a key attribute when we're thinking about, you know, how do we broaden like our teams and how do we get people on our design teams that can approach problem solving from, you know, different points of view. And so that's not really student based, I guess, I'm know not necessarily directly tied to education, but that's where- that's what I was thinking about, you know, as Ernesto discussed that concept of of really looking past just sort of like that one narrowed, you know, I guess definition of kind of an ideal candidate and thinking more broadly about other other types of people. What about what about you?

Omari Souza
I think I think his points brought me in a lot of different directions. I thought about some of my frustrations as an academic in terms of how classes are taught. And I thought about the history of design in general. The Bauhaus, to me, stood out amongst most many other art movements because it was very revolutionary at the time and it was kind of this interdisciplinary practice. And since design becoming commercial, it's become very sterile, where every program communicates itself in the very same way, teaches relatively similar classes, and produces students very similar portfolios. And for me, it's kind of the antithesis of what the Bauhaus stood for, where everybody's doing with the exact same thing. I think for a lot of professors that have taught at that way for decades, it's very hard for them to create these multidisciplinary or students with vast experiential touch points that they can add to these presentations. And it makes that, yeah, I think I think it makes it very difficult for it to grow either from practice or from academia. And when we start introducing students some other places, or introducing students from other practices — is where we find te innovation. I know UX/UI for all intents and purposes is the combination of a lot of— or design thinking — is really the combination of design with, you know, other-other-other professional practices, albeit, you know, social sciences or anything of that nature. And many of these other practices are also fields that have been more welcoming to diverse thought and diverse students. So for me, I find it to be extremely interesting, both in terms of personal practice and in terms of what you mentioned, in terms of that social expansion, who these students are, what type of experiences that they have, where they come from in terms of family dynamics, especially as, you know, design continues, well not necessarily design, but as the world continues to get smaller due to expanding markets and we began to design for broader audiences, it just makes more sense to kind of expand both in terms of professional practice as well as social identities that we allow into the field.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah, absolutely. I teach a class called Arts and Social Practice and the students are asked to develop design solutions around social issues. And so we've addressed things like health care, you know, thinking about that because Ernesto's experience and you know, I think that there's so many things that, you know, connect us all as humans, right. We have shared human experiences. So, you know, we all experience sickness and disease and those things, you know, kind of touch everyone, everyone's lives the same way. But our, sort of, I guess, sub- experiences within that, you know— transportation to the doctor's offices or calling insurance companies or navigating, you know, how do we pay our medical bills and things like that. Those are the things that sort of vary based on our individual experiences. And so I see that come up a lot as my students are solving problems, I think in a really different way than students who might be at a different institution,

Omari Souza
Mhm.

Kaleena Sales
And have, you know, different sort of, you know, general life experiences because again, that sort of relationship to the problem, right?

Omari Souza
Mhm.

Kaleena Sales
I think that we should all be thinking about diversity- diversity's connection to empathy, you know, and not diversity of experience is just as it relates to, you know, like optics and and sort of like, you know, increasing more, you know, black and brown people on your team and that sort of thing. But-but thinking about, you know, what that different sort of life experience will bring in to the problem solving the ways in which we problem solve, you know, for design solutions. And so, yeah.

Omari Souza
I've been very fortunate this summer to be able to teach a speculative design course that I wrote. And a lot of this class was actually centered around the idea of critical thinking for audiences outside of itself. I wrote the class so that it would be centered around speculative fiction and the spectulative fiction that I would choose in terms of when I wrote this class, every time that I would teach it, I would choose a different book written by somebody else from a marginalized audience. So this year I proposed two books to my students, it was either The Handmaid's Tale or Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. And with both of these books that really puts you in a position where you have to contemplate the identitys and the positionalities of the characters or, you know, in the story itself. For many professors, including myself, you have these critical thinking assignments that if you write them as these obscure creative briefs, you have no way of really challenging the implicit biases that we have as designers and or introducing them to new audiences they may or may not have ever, you know, interacted with. So these books written by people from marginalized identities, put them into these perspectives that they're attempting to explain these nuances in ways that I find to be really interesting. But the first week of the class or first two weeks, we spent discussing our individual positionalities as well as potential blindspots that we have in our own identities and how that may impact the work that we create. I've also been fortunate that this interdisciplinary course, so there were a number of students from different backgrounds that are actually in the class talking about their own research methodologies they've learned in their own practice, and they're sharing that with other students and stretching them as well as, you know, understanding, you know, these are the identities I typically tend to hide or codeswitch under whenever I'm in these particular types of forums. These are audiences and things that I may not have experienced that some of my classmates may have experienced because of who I am and where I've grown up. And this is how I can make attempts to to be a bit more open to that when I'm designing or speculating solutions for particular problems in the future. We even talked about how the idea of what's and what's an improvement or what is better, especially for proposing these design solutions, for whatever future we've speculated can change depending on where you come from financially, socially, religiously, so forth and so forth. So equipping these students with these skills from other fields, whether it be sociology, psychology, or things of that nature, where they have to have an understanding of how culture impacts people on an individual to individual basis, individual to tribe, and tribe to nation, I think, could be extremely interesting. And, you know, same with engineering. A lot of students have an understanding of the mechanics behind what we're proposing can also lead to some innovation in terms of how we design. I think it's unfortunate that academia hasn't caught up with that idea yet, but I feel like that's what the future of design should be going.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah, I think that's a great point and I love the idea of these like cross-disciplinary experiences and these like interdisciplinary experiences that help to build understanding of other people skill sets, but also other people's cultural experiences as well. And you know I think Ernesto mentioned, you know, a lot of the teams — how how critically important it is to go through ethnographic research you know, studies and things like that to help to really understand, you know, who it is that you're solving problems for. And I- and to your point, you know, just like you were talking about with your class, at your teaching, there's so many different ways that I think we can go about doing that. So yeah, I guess that's a larger pitch maybe for diversity, but I think it's all connected, you know, and sort of goes back to what Kevin and Dana were talking about with Ernesto and sort of how they've recognized that need to just, you know, not rely on singular experiences and singular sort of whether that skill set or, you know, cultural experiences, but how important it is to-to branch out and to seek that out.

Omari Souza
Ah man, I mean, there there are a ton of things, but I know that, you know, especially with time, we don't— we only have 15 minutes, so we can't jump into all of it. But yeah, this idea of expanding curriculum and expanding or making it more room in safe spaces for cultural relativity in my classroom and how we build these incentives out are things that I am continuously fascinated by and wish more academics spent more time well, not just academics, academics and administrators spent more time trying to figure out how do we make this a bit more accessible to all who might be interested? But with that said, I think we have to jump into our outros.

Omari Souza
The Design of Business | The Business of Design is a podcast from Design Observer. Our website is D B B D dot design observer dot com. There you can find the complete archive of past guests and hosts.

Kaleena Sales
If you like what you heard today, please subscribe to this podcast. You can find The Design of Business | The Business of Design on Apple Podcasts, or however you listen to podcasts.

Omari Souza
And if you're already a subscriber of the podcast, tell your friends about the show, or go to Apple Podcasts and rate us which is a great way to let other people know about the show. Thank you guys so much.

Kaleena Sales
And between episodes, you can keep up with Design Observer on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Omari Souza
Our producer is Adina Karp. Judybelle Camangyan edits the show. Design Observer's executive producer is Betsy Vardell. Our theme music is by Mike Errico. Thanks as always to Design Observer's founder Jessica Helfand.

Kaleena Sales
And of course, to our counterparts Kevin Bethune and Dana Arnett.

Omari Souza
See you next time and talk to you soon.

Kaleena Sales
Talk to you next time.

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