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074: Designers, Mind Your Business with Pek Pongpaet

User Defenders podcast
074: Designers, Mind Your Business with Pek Pongpaet

Pek Pongpaet teaches us how to be business-minded designers. He reveals how designers with business knowledge and more tools in their tool belt will get hired more often than ones without and with less. He shows us how to get a seat at the table while challenging us to count the costs of actually having one. He motivates us to measure and quantify our designs. He also inspires us to get out of our comfort zones and talk to other disciplines and become consumers of information in the area(s) we desire growth in.

Pek Pongpaet is the Managing Partner at Chicago-based studio imPekable. He crafts outstanding mobile and web products for clients that include Google, HP, Motorola and Groupon to name a few. He’s quite the ninja…literally. He’s an actual motion capture model in the Mortal Kombat games. He’s one of the rare and coveted breeds we would call a unicorn, but he would call a Diviner (Developer/Designer). One of the things you may not see on his resume is his experience working as a stock photography model.

  • Why Should We Listen to Pek? (05:04)
  • Why Should Designers Understand Business More? (7:07)
  • How Do I Begin to Care More About Business? (11:05)
  • How Do I Learn More About the Business Model? Who Do I Talk To? (14:22)
  • How Can Designers Influence Product/Business Strategy and Quantify Their Work? (16:52)
  • How Do I Know That Something I Designed Achieved Its Business Goal? (20:18)
  • What Do You Look For In a Designer When Hiring? (24:50)
  • Why You Should be Best Friends with Your Analytics Person/Team (26:20)
  • How Can Designers do a Better Job Communicating the Business Value of Design to Non-Believing Stakeholders? (30:21)
  • How Does a Designer Get a Seat at the Round Table? (33:29)
  • What’s Your Best Advice for Designers Wanting to Grow in Business Side of Design? (40:45)
  • Best Way to Connect and Keep Up? (45:45)

Pek Pongpaet Twitter
Pek Pongpaet LinkedIn
Pek Pongpaet Website

019: The Power of Design Patterns with Pek Pongpaet [PODCAST]
The $300 Million Button [ARTICLE]

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Pek Pongpaet "G.S.D." on User Defenders: Podcast


Show transcript

Jason Ogle: Pek Pongpaet is back with a vengeance. he’s a repeat guest and he was on episode 19. That was in the earlier days of the show. And that was probably, three years ago or so Pek was somewhere around there?

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah, at least maybe.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, maybe longer. I’m super excited to have you back on the show and we’re going to be talking about the business of design, something that I know a lot of us designers could really more acquainted with.

Let’s say it that way, because. I’ll raise my hand. I didn’t get into this field to look at spreadsheets. I didn’t get into this field just to look at data and I didn’t get into this field just to talk to executives and stakeholders. So I’ve been wrestling with this a lot personally, because I know that for not only for designers, but for the field in general, to continue to grow and excel. I know that we do need to continue our growth trajectory, particularly around the area of business. And I had a conversation with Jeff Gothelf just recently. And one of the biggest takeaways from that conversation was him saying that we as designers really need to go all in on facilitating and learning how to run workshops, learning how to talk to executives, learning how to not just sell our work, but to talk about the business benefit of our work. So that really inspired me Pek, and you and I have been talking about doing this, even before my conversation with Jeff. So it just lit the fire again. I was like, okay, we gotta do this. We gotta make this happen. So I’m glad that we’re here. That was a long winded introduction, but, Pek your, I have a bio. It is again from several years ago, I am gonna just touch on a few points and you please correct me or even add on to this.

Okay. So you’re the managing partner. At no longer Silicon Valley base, but now Chicago base, that’s a new news more recently just moved. So that’s pretty awesome. I got a friend out there Justin Dauer lives out there. And I gotta connect to you guys. but anyway, it’s called Impekable. Which I love and inspired by your name in there. The “pec” is P E K They’re doing awesome work. They’ve been doing this for a while now. so they just keep getting better and better. I do the fun fact stuff, and I remember you had a couple of fun facts last time, and I think it bears repeating that you were a motion capture model in the Mortal Kombat games, one of the things we may not see it, your resume is your experience working as a stock photography model.[Laughter] I love that! Has iStock or Getty phoned you lately to do a, an appearance.

Pek Pongpaet: no, it’s not ice. Yeah. It was like Corbis or something.

Jason Ogle: I love it, man. why don’t you fill in the blanks? I’m sure I missed some important stuff in there. Cause it’s been a little while since we talked. So I’ll just fill in the blanks. And this is an opportunity to, for you to give us your street cred because some of the Defenders listening might go why should I listen to this guy? they may not have heard the other interview that we did. They may not know who you are yet. so can you fill in the blanks of the bio and then tell us, give us some of your street cred on why you’re the guy to talk to about this stuff.

Pek Pongpaet: Sure. Why should you listen to me? I don’t know. [Laughter] I know a little bit about design. I know a little bit about business and a little bit about starting and running companies. So eight years ago I started Impekable, which is a digital product studio. Originally started in Silicon Valley, headquartered in Silicon Valley.

At the time I had transitioned from first an engineer, then a designer. So a 15 year career before starting my own. Business as Impekable and then Impekable now is an eight year old company as of, this month, actually. And for the last three years, we’ve been on the Inc. 5000 which is the list of 5,000 of the fastest growing private American companies.

So we’ve been on that list three years, which means we’ve grown and grown. And then lately we are last year, we were also on the Silicon Valley’s fast private lists, which is, they have different lists, but we were on the. Fast, also Silicon Valley’s fast growing list. And as well as we’re also on Clutch as a top app development firm, so Clutch is, best call it like the Yelp of agencies.

And, so yeah, so that’s some of that street cred of Impekable as a business. And then we’ve also won a few, design awards, what else? And then we mostly service the enterprises these days.

So we have, we do design work in service to Adobe and Samsung, Panasonic. We work with Google and those types of companies. Yeah.

Jason Ogle: Awesome. Yeah. So starting this business and obviously taking it as far as you have. And I know you have a great team too. I know you’ll be the first to say you didn’t get here alone. the Avengers needed other superheroes. So did The Justice League, It’s a great analogy as it still works. but obviously you’ve had, I had to really learn a lot about business being a designer and a developer. Let’s talk about why we’re doing this.

Like why should designers understand business more? And what are the major benefits for them? For us in our design career?

Pek Pongpaet: Sure. And there’s a couple of perspectives, right? Like even if you never decided to. Start your own business. I think understanding more about the business of design or where you fit into your hierarchy in the organization and it’s useful. yeah, let’s say, so you work for a big company and why is it important for designers to understand business because then they’ll become more valuable to that organization.

And then not only that they’ll become better designers by understanding more about how they fit in how the business works. Talking to other members in the organization will be easier. Cause you’re not just speaking to the design language, you’re speaking the language of business and, the best designers, we talk a lot about user experience and when we talk about user experience, we mostly focus on the end user of our design work.

But in terms of the user experience, we should think about the user experience of the people who interface with us. We’re the IO, right? as designers and how we communicate, and if we only think about it as one analogy is like the, the adapters, right?

Like you go to a different country and then the plug is a different kind. Or if you’re talking about developers, APIs, and if we only speak design speak, we’re speaking a different language than other stakeholders. So we have to understand their language, their vocabulary, and what they think is important.

So understanding the business needs and understanding language. and then translating that and how that translates to design that you’ll be a better designer.

Jason Ogle: I feel like one of the biggest struggles for designers is. The still sadly the notion that we only exist to make things pretty, that we only exist to push pixels around. And that’s been the brand that designers have had for a long time. And thankfully, that is changing. And that has changed and it’s still changing.

They’re still, a lot of work to do, which is why I feel compelled to have this conversation with you and to share this value with the Defenders, because this is going to springboard their design careers, even more, or especially early on.

It took me 20 years. It took me 20 years, honestly, to really care a lot more about this stuff.

And again, part of that is just the way the industry has evolved. When I started it was Web Design and it was 1996 and nobody knew what was going on. It was the wild West and it was fun. it was a blast, we’ve matured. we need to put on our Big boy and big girl pants now, and thankfully we are.

And I guess what I’m trying to say is some of the biggest struggles I’ve had in my design career have been that perception from higher ups, from stakeholders, from executives of, we don’t really need you at the table. We don’t really need your business ideas, your strategy. Like we just need you to make this look better.

This is a proving ground for us as designers to go. No, we’re scientists and we’re business people. and then we’re designers I think that’s the mindset. It doesn’t mean we have to love design less, that’s why we do this, but I think our mindset should be, “We’re scientists, business people, and we’re designers too…at the same time.”

I want to encourage the Defenders to wherever they’re at right now. Like I know that there’s a lot of them who are trying to get their foot in the door, trying to get into a great organization that takes design seriously. but there’s also some that are already planted and they’re going like, okay, this is great.

What do I do now? Like I’ve never really cared about the business that much. I don’t even really know if I care that much about the business, perhaps. let’s be honest. I worked in real estate for a long time and I didn’t care about real estate. So I feel like I didn’t dive as much into the business model and stuff.

So would you say Is that like one of the first steps for Defenders is to really wherever they’re at or even where they’re going, discover the business model immediately. Would you say that’s a key, what are some key steps that they can take first of all?

Pek Pongpaet: I think well answering what the people want you to do is one thing, right? we get this all the time as well. Companies come in clients come in and they want it to be pretty, their stuff is ugly and they want it to be prettier. Most of the times it’s their competitors looks better.

So now it’s a problem. Before they never cared. And I said, sure, I can do that. I can make it prettier, so I think there’s some, misunderstanding of our role. I think the word designer paints us in a corner. So I said, sure, we can, I, in fact, I just had this conversation with a prospect, I would say this week or the last week where.

They came in and it’s Oh, we want you to make these reports prettier. I’m like, sure. I can do that. And it’s is that gonna bring you the most value? And I said, the other thing I can do, who is, I heard that maybe their reports aren’t as useful, Or maybe, the reports aren’t answering the questions that the consumers of the reports. are asking. So that’s, to me, I started to explain what user experience designers do. I said, and I try to use analogies too. the making the report prettier is great. I can do that. that’s like to use analogies. It’s like an interior designer.

Sure. I can come in and paint and, create this look and feel and make it really nice. according to your brand guidelines for whatever. Or, maybe though the house has a problem, you don’t even know it right. In the sense that I opened the door and the first I see is the bathroom. And then, the kitchen instead of the living room.

So those structural things are things that you might need help with. And so we started digging into that a little bit then I ask them to prioritize what is the bigger pain right now? Is other reports not usable or are they just ugly? So that’s the type of conversations I want to foster is education.

Jason Ogle: I like that you just described my house. [Laughter]

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. No. So you gotta get the architect, right?

Jason Ogle: Oh man. Yeah. that’s really a great analogy. Yeah. I think that we’re seeing some evolutions too and what we call ourselves. Like that’s a whole nother episode, right? Like we could spend hours talking about what we call ourselves and why, but I’m seeing an evolution, even where I’m at currently.

I have even been corrected by my manager rightly because I would refer to myself as a designer. And then after a meeting, he’s Hey, he’s don’t say you’re a designer. say you’re a UX Engineer, say you’re an engineer. I’m like, that’s interesting.

It’s for some reason when you throw engineer and onto the title, you’re taken more seriously by the customer, by the executives, by the stakeholders. So it’s interesting to see some of that landscape change too. do you have thoughts on that by the way?

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. I think, the titles go through evolutions, from what I’m seeing, more and more, UX designers are calling themselves product designers, digital products, Which is confusing. Cause then there’s hardware products. But yeah, there were graphic designers at one point and now they’re UX designers and other.

Jason Ogle: Now we’re engineers.

Pek Pongpaet: Designers and UX Engineers. Yeah.

Jason Ogle: That’s great. So as far as understanding the business model, I feel like that is a really great place to start for designers in their organization. What I’m doing adds value. But in order for me to add the most value, I really need to know where the money’s made. is that a good place to start?

And if so, what do you say about that? Is that a good place to start Pek?

Pek Pongpaet: I think so you have to understand the needs of the business versus the needs of the consumer versus the constraints of engineering and design and what not.

Jason Ogle: Okay. And now how do I find that out? that’s one of my questions is who do I talk to? Who are the ideal people to talk to? And what are the best questions to ask?

Pek Pongpaet: Sure. in let’s say this is a consumer app or something, Or a SaaS app, right? How is it sold? How’s it priced? how’s it, the teams that are delivering value and creating value to the clients, the front lines who are selling, they understand what value cause they’re talking to the customers.

what the customers really value. so understanding that talk to CEO sales, marketing, within a larger, an organization and look at their calendar, grab lunch with them. Or, if you’re sitting in the lunchroom while I don’t know how it with COVID, it’s a little different, on Slack or whatever, Grab time with them and see how their roles contribute to the success of the company and try to piece it all together. How the business makes money, where it spends money. yeah.

So in terms of, speaking the design language or using UX terms is what is, treat each member in the organization as a user. And what is their need? And that’s a start.

Jason Ogle: The theme of the show is fight for the users. And I still believe that’s important. I always will believe that it’s important because I’m a user and there’s nothing more frustrating than being a user. And seeing that a designer has completely neglected your needs as a user of a product as a user of a service, but also that’s evolved too.

It was like, okay, fight for the users and the business. Fight for the users fight for the business, because if we don’t, if we only fight for the users, then we’re out of a paycheck.

Pek Pongpaet: The business pays your paycheck.

Jason Ogle: and if we only fight for the business, then we also lose our paycheck because we’re not considering the users.
So it’s that balance. It’s that fine balance. so I liked that. Yeah. Put your pants on and go get on a Zoom call with your CEO or whatever. Okay. [Laughter]

I’ve got an interesting question from, actually several listeners. That’s great. I would put it out there and you helped get the word out too. And several listeners asked some questions around this as well. And this is a question from Swetha Ramaswamy.

If I said that, this person said, how can designers influence product/business strategy and quantify their work? That’s interesting.

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. You have to talk about the business value of the design, right? It’s not about, what is, what business problem is this design solving, right? How does this design, how does the change in design either create more value? I E create more money or save money to the organization, right?

If you’re talking, Pantone typography, colors, pixels, right? That’s a very different conversation than it reminds me of a really great famous blog post Jared Spool’s blog post, $300 million button or

Jason Ogle: I love that one.

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. that blog post, if you dig into it he was consulting for a large e-commerce site and. he, obviously he simplified it and created a clickbait title, but essentially creating a flow where you can check out as a guest so that you didn’t have to register, resulted in $300 million worth of commerce. See, that is very easy to translate. It’s yes. Do more of that design.

I like, creating a guest checkout experience. if you’re just talking about the value of, the flow of the checkouts, the prettiness or the design of it versus, Hey, this design, I need to do this so that more customers can check out easily without friction. And that will translate into more money for the, business. that’s an easy conversation.

Jason Ogle: No. That’s great. Yeah. I’ve told this story before on the show, but ugly wins sometimes. It does it. And I am a living proof of that because when I was working at the real estate company, I was tasked with redesigning our most popular landing page. And it looked like crap. It was just awful. It looked like something straight out of the nineties, out of the origin of the internet.

And so I was like piece of cake. I could beat this, right? Like I could top this. I already gave the spoiler alert. My design looked way better, way more modern. I get, actually it looked like we were, or for the time, like we were a forward thinking company and I used all of the same elements.
The developers didn’t really have to change any of the functionality. I just put a new skin on it.

my boss was like, all right, let’s measure this. let’s AB test this. And I was like, yeah, no worries. And I just put my feet back on the proverbial sat back, put my feet on the desk and waited for the results and sure enough, this ugly design that had been there from the beginning, obviously still beat mine. And you just want to go, like why you like it? That’s so frustrating as a designer, especially one coming from an agency background where visual design was so emphasized and the importance, and I still believe it’s important, but you have to do the research. You have to figure out why.

I love quantitative, but. It didn’t tell me why. It definitely told me that I lost and that hurt my ego of course, in a good way, but it never told me why. Why was that other page resonating and effecting?

Maybe it was just a friction thing. Maybe it, there was just one. Form field, I don’t know. We didn’t do that research part of it to find out why. I think it’s just coming back to that we’re scientists before we’re pixel pushers, we really do have to measure, How do we know? And that’s a question I have is how do I know that something I designed achieved its business goal. I think that’s what I was getting at. How do I know that?

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. Swetha puts her last word in the questions like is the last point was how do designers influence well and quantify, we’ll quantify that’s it, if you can quantify it that you can justify it, right? Hey, how do we justify this? let’s not even talking about AB testing features.

Let’s talk about something more qualitative, like brand, right? let’s do a brand refresh. you can test that, right? Like you, you maybe test how people will feel about the brand when they see this new logo. maybe for example, not to call a name, out names, I think people had a visceral reaction to, the new Airbnb logo at one point.

Maybe if they had tested that before and asked people how they felt. maybe they have, they would have decided differently, for example. And so even something as subjective as like a brand refresh, I think you can quantify. and then for consumer stuff, you can measure engagement, right?

Is this, what are you trying to optimize or are you trying to optimize for time on site? Are you trying to optimize for likes, notifications, comments? this, you, if you have a goal and you designed to fix that goal, that you can measure the before and after. So that’s what designers need to do is to then not just design it and throw it over the wall, but design it, get a baseline, design it, try to fix the problem or improve on it and then follow up to see what did that do?

Jason Ogle: Peter Drucker said you can’t improve what you don’t measure,

Pek Pongpaet: Don’t measure.

Jason Ogle: Yeah. You knew that quote.

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. And he’s a business guy, And so it’s useful these little, having an, having a little bit of a rounded education, not just being hyper focused on the craft of design and understanding colors, theory, understanding visual hierarchy. Those are table stakes in my mind. And then the better designer has other tools

Jason Ogle: I like that. Yeah.

Pek Pongpaet: Has more tools.

Jason Ogle: More tools in the tool belt. And I think that’s really why we’re doing this is, and I’m getting inspired by listening to answer these questions because I need more tools in my tool belt and I’ve been working on it. But, it really does come down to that as well.

It’s when you go to an interview, say two designers go into an interview for the same job. I’m almost positive. And this is an assumption again, but I have a feeling let’s put it that way. That the designer that comes to that interview that has more tools in the tool belt, especially around business and quantifying their outcomes or outputs.

I think that designer may have more of an edge. On landing the role. What say you Pek?

Pek Pongpaet: Oh, absolutely. As an employer of designers and engineers. Whenever someone has the perspective and the empathy of, more and more people. I think that’s better for example, a design might be great, but if it’s hard to implement for her, for an engineer to implement, no, that’s not empathetic to the person that they’re working with. So the designer who was aware of the constraints of engineering, that’s just a…

Pek Pongpaet: The designer who’s might be a great visual designer, but if, to your point, if it didn’t solve the problem, if the old kind of “ugly” design perform better, you didn’t accomplish your goal. Right?

The goal of the designer here is not to make it pretty, but really to is in service of the business. Yeah.

Jason Ogle: That’s good. And as someone who has hired a lot of designers for your organization, what do you look for? this is. This is something that I’m thinking about right now, like some of the Defenders listening might be like, you just brought up this job interview scenario and more tools in the tool belt.

What are you looking for in a designer that you hire, around this theme? What do they show you that really makes you go, ah, this is the one, this is the designer that I want on my team?

Pek Pongpaet: I think design skills and the tools, the software tools are table stakes. I think we can look at that through their portfolio and stuff. I think, their understanding of things, right? Having an understanding of the domain, for example, like if they only live in pixels, but they don’t understand the business, that’s really hard, you have to start at, and then especially if you are doing business.

If you’re, if you service a certain type of customer, having the domain knowledge saves so much time, right? The back and forth communication, the overhead of having to explain why we’re doing certain things. So having that domain expertise is really helpful. The other thing is, asking questions, right?

Are they asking the right questions? in terms of, asking the why, and, talking to the right stakeholders, having the understanding of what this thing is trying to accomplish. for example, we design a lot of dashboard software.

So understanding what the user is trying to accomplish within that dashboard. It’s not really about, yes. It’s about making the dashboard pretty, but a lot of designers, everybody who we interview for has to make that dashboard pretty that’s just table stakes. But really, is it solving the problem that the user’s coming in for, efficiently?

Jason Ogle: One thought I had too around this as an encouragement Defenders when you’re in an organization now, and I’ll caveat this with. A statement, growth design is becoming a thing. Now one of the newer sort of titles, in our field, but for good reason, because it’s focused all around the business aspects and the tangible, results from a design effort and a design initiative. So there’s a lot of emphasis on what we were talking about measuring right measure. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. So there’s a lot of emphasis on experiments and measuring everything and, seeing the lifts seeing the, before the after, and then presenting that again, going back to our facilitation, point in the beginning, Confidently presenting that information to the higher ups and selling the value of design.

That’s a real important part of this. So Defenders listening, my point is, and this is something that I was able to do at that real estate company. Hopefully you work in a place where there’s an analytics person or team who are paid strictly for looking at data all day long and looking at opportunities and then they are the ones who have the answer.

When you say, Hey, I’m really curious, how did my design perform? How did it do against the control? that’s how I found out that my design

Pek Pongpaet: that should be your best friend, right?

Jason Ogle: Best friends, amen to that. Be best friends with that person with that team take them out the launch, buy them coffee, And then, get in tight with them because I, this person, I was in real tight with this person and he gave me the results every time. And what that did for me was I was able to put that into my LinkedIn, into my resume. I was able to produce X amount of lift through my design and I had the data to show that because of this relationship with my analytics person.

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. Because, in a large organization that person can be a bit far removed from you. you typically design. You produce the design, you hand it over to engineering. Engineering gets executed. It’s QA, there’s testing. At some point it gets deployed. You as a designer might not even have any clue that it was finally live.

And then the analytics team, it looks at it. Okay. It performed, it didn’t perform. So then they’ll throw it back to the product manager at some point that, Hey, we need to do this. And then that’s when the designer hears. Oh, we need to improve this page. But they didn’t really understand the why or what happened.

Walking over to the analytics person I think is a good idea.

Jason Ogle: I love how you added onto that because, that is critical. Like it’s so often what happens as you mentioned, we’ll design something, we’ll hand it off, and never to be heard of again, Either, because there is no analytics person or they’re not as easily accessible, or we just don’t ask.

We don’t take the time to really pursue that answer. And I think maybe a lot, oftentimes it’s the latter. Maybe we just aren’t asking enough questions. We aren’t, validating, no, one’s coming to save us. No, one’s coming to save us. We need to do this work. We need to get off of our chair.

And I know this is different now with COVID, normally you’d say you’ll get out of your chair, walk over to the elevator or whatever, or walk up the stairs or go to the other area of the floor and talk to that person. still pursue that. I think we need to pursue that, until we’re asked to shut up, and then maybe we move on. If the company doesn’t care about that.

Pek Pongpaet: And in smaller agency, companies and product companies, the analytics might not even be there. So I think it’s on the, if the designer wants to show value and quantify that stuff needs to be there. So they need to push for that. and then at an agency, for example, for us, we might not even have access to the analytics.

That’s a common problem. So it’s on us to constantly ask, or check in Hey, is this performing? How did it perform? and then, we always try to push for access of that. If it’s possible.

Jason Ogle: This is a question from Joel Ryerson. Hey Joel, what’s up? He asked how can designers do a better job? Communicating the business value of design to non-believing stakeholders? That’s an interesting question. And that’s a tough one.

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah, it is a tough one. When people don’t necessarily see the value of design we face that challenge ourselves several times. A lot of the clients that come to us are somewhat successful, companies they were successful without the benefit of design.

It’s usually the prototype I would say is, a company designed and built by product design and built by engineers and it solved a problem and people used it in spite of its problems and they were able to be successful in spite of it for this long. And then at some point it reaches a bottleneck or plateau.
And that’s when they feel like, Oh, okay. People are complaining when they hear the feedback. People complain a lot. And that’s when they’re like, okay, fine. We’re going to solve this and then, okay. Go make it pretty. Yeah. We found a company and go, can we make it pretty? so understanding the business value right as is asking the right questions.

It’s okay, say we do this. What is this? What is the value? What does success look like? if w does that mean people, is the NPS score gonna get better? Are the reviews going to get better? Are people gonna drop off less, define the success criteria, and align it with the business value?
If it’s just taking a look at the design. What’s presented, realizing it’s ugly. And then just making it pretty. Maybe there’s not much value there, Or not as much value. It’s hard to quantify. That’s the thing is it’s hard to quantify because it’s so subjective. It’s so fluffy. But if I can say, okay, how do you know people have a problem with this?

Oh, the NPS score is low. Oh. The analytics tell us they drop off here or Hey, the time on site is blah. Okay. if I were to improve the design and people engage in state 50% longer, is this valuable? This is, would you say this design is successful? Something like that.

Jason Ogle: So good man. In God, we trust…all others. All others must provide data. [Laughter]

Pek Pongpaet: So provide a couple can be qualitative data. It doesn’t have to be a number. It doesn’t have to be the NPS score. It can be a survey.

Jason Ogle: Yeah. I like that. Yeah. Jeff Gothelf said, qualitative is 180. quantitative is 180. You put them together, you get a 360 degree view of the, of the scenario of the problem of what needs to happen. And I really liked that you need both, it’s not one or the other.

I think if you have to settle for qualitative only, I think that’s good. At least that’s something, at least you’re finding out the why. I think that’s a lot of our struggles is like, why did they do like my landing page example? Why did this ugly piece of crap win over mine over my beautiful elegant web 2.0 design?

So I think that at least you can find out why, and if you can find out what. Even better get that 360 degree angle view on the problem.

This is a great question from Helena Levison. I really liked this question. She says, how does a designer get a seat at the round table? First of all, I would want to ask Elena, are you sure you want a seat at the round table?

Pek Pongpaet: I was just thinking the same thing. Be careful what you wish for!

Jason Ogle: Careful what you wish for. with my previous managers and my current manager, some of the stuff that they have to do in the midst of trying to be an IC individual contributor.

Oftentimes they have to just. Turn that away. They have to just focus only on managing people only on, doing stuff that maybe they would rather not frankly, be doing so much. It’s a big responsibility. Yes. You get a bigger paycheck. Yes. That may be worth it. That may be where some of the late nights or some of the extra stress, a gray hairs or what have you, but man are, be careful what you wish for, like you said . I’ve had opportunities to lead teams and I’ve done it. I’m personally pretty happy being an individual contributor, with leadership. Qualities with leadership abilities. I think that’s for me, that’s I found my happy place. I could do my work.

I can put the headphones on. I can do the stuff that I need to do. I know the problems. I work with people still. I’m not a hermit, but I like just being able to hunker down and just do my work. But. We need leaders. This world and this field needs great design leaders.
So, how does a designer get a seat at the round table?

Pek Pongpaet: Before I answer that question, I want to double down on what your words is do they really want to right, because if you enjoy the craft of design, if you enjoy creating beautiful designs, if you enjoy taking a empty canvas and creating something out of nothing.

I don’t know if being on the leadership team you’ll get to do more of that. If in fact I’m a hundred percent certain, you’ll do less of that. So it really depends on what you like to do, what you want to do. if you want to get more and more technical, maybe the leadership, round table isn’t for you.
If you like mentoring people, even then you don’t necessarily have to be on the leadership team. I think it would behoove anyone to get an understanding of what it’s like to be in there. So maybe talking to, if there is no design in the round table, is maybe talk to the other people, right?

The head of sales, the head of engineering, the head of whatever, Hey, you used to be an engineer and now you’re the head of engineering. What do you do right now? What does life look like to you? Are you writing code? Are you happy? That type of stuff, right?

What are you concerns? And what’s on your mind these days. So try to translate that to what would happen if you were being a design, the head of the table. So is that hasn’t scared you off yet and you, still want a seat at the round table. I think you, again goes to what value, am I bringing to my users?

And my users are now the other people in the round table, right? You’re always zooming in. what value am I bringing to the business? Again, it’s not going to be designer speak, right? a I’ll use analogies and real life examples, or our head of design. She has a seat at the table.

One of our core strengths is design as an agency, so I believe design has to have a seat at the table in our organization. She’s not talking about pixels and, the beauty of the designs or anything like that, she’s talking about, the utilization of, the team she’s talking about mentorship and coaching.

She’s talking about, resourcing. She’s talking about, forecasting resources need and stuff like that. everything but the design, but technically she is a design leader. So that’s what life looks like for her and that’s what she wants. So that’s what you want. you’re doing everything, but not design as much.

You’re leading the designers. you creating a space for them so that they can be the best they can be. and then you’re finding ways to bring value. to the other stakeholders and communicate to the other stakeholders and the leadership team.

Jason Ogle: That’s great. I think you hit the nail on the head with mentoring. If you want a seat at the table, you really have to care about other designers. You really have to care about the people around you and you start by mentoring. You start by pouring into these folks. and trying to meet needs.

cause that’s what a leader is. That’s what a leader does. A servant leader is the best kind of leader. So if you like that, Type of stuff. And again, it’s not rocket science. Like you can just like, Hey, how can I help you? I see that you did this way.

Hey, did you know that if you tried it this way, this might, et cetera, it’s like, it’s really investing into the people around you and that will poise you, not poison you, but poise you to, get that seat at the table. because honestly there’s some people and I’ll raise my hand.

Cause I’ve had managers that are managers only, they’re not leaders. They’re managers and they’re dictators and they were tapped for some reason. God only knows, but they were tapped to lead a team, but they only know how to manage a team. And there’s a really big difference. So don’t honestly like, and I guess I’m speaking to anybody.

Oh speaking maybe to you Pek or maybe anybody who is tapping a design leader in their organization, don’t just do it because of seniority, Don’t just do it because, hiring from within or whatever, seems like the logical pick make sure that they care about the people and not just themselves and make sure that their ego is not their amigo.

Pek Pongpaet: I love that. I love that phrase. I’m going to borrow that it’s a R and D rip off and duplicate. [Laughter]

Jason Ogle: There you go.

Pek Pongpaet: But, you’re right. if you put the designer hat on, I mentioned one set of users, which is the round table, but you’re right. There’s another set of users.

They now become your users right. is your designers, is your users and, to borrow the title of your podcast, your role now is your the user defender of your other designers, as well. so the users of the software you design are no longer your users if you become a design leader seat at the table,

Jason Ogle: Oh, I liked that.

Pek Pongpaet: Your users are the designers that you lead and then your other set of users are the leadership team.

Jason Ogle: I really liked that a lot. That makes so much sense.

Pek Pongpaet: Whom do you serve? If you’re the individual designer, you serve the users of the design you’re creating, you serve the engineers whose design, you have to hand it off. You’re serving your project manager. if you shift your role, you have to figure out who you’re serving.

Jason Ogle: Ah, yeah. And like Bob, Dylan said, you gotta serve somebody right

Pek Pongpaet: yeah.

Jason Ogle: Now, but that’s so good, man. And empowering. I think that’s the other thing it’s you serve them and then you empower them and then you get out of their way, right?

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. If you’re doing your job, you’ve empowered your people and, you hired right. They make the right decisions. Yeah.

Jason Ogle: I love it, man. So this is my last question Pek. This has been incredible by the way. I just want to ask you just like final thoughts, and your best advice. I always liked that question. what’s your best advice for designers that are wanting to grow their knowledge and experience much more in the business side of design, do you have book recommendations, course recommendations or just lifestyle choices?
Anything you that you can think of that might help our Defenders listening really, charge ahead with this.

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. this is not a prescription. I think my advice will is what works for me, but maybe some broad advice is, consume more information and I won’t be prescriptive as how, because there’s different people consume different ways. If you like to read more business books. I, for one like audio books.

So I listen to a lot of audio books, so Audible and Scribe. one of our, my colleagues pointed me to Scribe, which is even better than Audible because I consume a lot. And then there’s podcasts like User Defenders., and then YouTube. there’s so much content. I would say, we’re close in age and when we, needed information, we’d have to go to Barnes and Noble’s and buy that thick Adobe CS 4 book. and whatever. And it came with a CD in the back. And that was the information available to us. And by the time it came out, it was already out of date.

Jason Ogle: That’s right.

Pek Pongpaet: Whereas now folks like yourself are interviewing the information is much more real time. It’s much more current. and people are logging on video on YouTube.

They’re interviewing people, they’re talking about their craft, so you can learn a lot about business design or anything, on these multiple channels. the other thing is. that’s, I would say that is asynchronous consumption, information consumption, and, the other one is a more synchronous one-to-one and, that’s maybe talking to people, reaching out to people, like we have conversations with each other, reaching out to mentors and, that doesn’t scale as much.

If you’re a designer, it’s very easy to just talk to other designers. So I would encourage you to get out of the comfort zone and talk to the engineers. Talk to sales, marketing. Around the time where I really grew a lot in my career, was when I joined an agency, but I made it my business to just talk to everyone and just be helpful.

So at some point, I started helping the marketing team. Yeah. they were tapped. So they hit me up to write blog posts. So I started all of a sudden the agencies, blog posts are coming by me and I learned how to write, yeah. I help the recruiting team and, they went to different campuses to recruit, so then I started to understand the messaging that the recruiting team had to attract talent to the firm. So I just kinda made it my business, and then I spent some time with the engagement director, who was much more client facing and understand their needs and challenges and what being client facing was like.

I just try to make it my business to try to understand more of the different aspects of what made a business.

Jason Ogle: Such great advice, Pek. Yeah. all the magic happens outside the comfort zone and the comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

Pek Pongpaet: I love you’re a little pocket book of sayings.

Jason Ogle: I’ve got so many.

Pek Pongpaet: Yeah. But it’s the difference between, if, do you want to bake or do you want, I run a bakery shop, right? yeah. You like baking, just keep on baking and getting better at making cakes. but if one day you’d like to run a bakery shop or maybe, not just one shop, but a chain, then you need to have more tools in your toolkit. Toolbelt.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, so good, man. Thank you so much Pek for taking the time to have this conversation with me, I’m pumped up this is good stuff again, like you and I have been talking about this, like just with COVID and with everything, like all the transitions, I’ve had several transitions this year.

I know you have as well. this has been on our hearts probably since the beginning of the year. If not even slightly before that actually to do this. And so this was well worth the wait, my friend, and I know that the Defender’s listening are resonating with that. And I know they’re feeling the same way.

There’s so much good stuff in here and I just want to thank you. Thank you again for coming back to User Defenders. I’d like to do this again in the future. I’m sure we’ll have more to talk about as well in the future. This field changes so much. There’s so many things. And I was looking before our conversation, I looked at your, and your show notes on your original episode, again, three or four years ago.

I used to ask this question all the time. When you say, what does the future of UX look like? and I stopped asking that question because there’s only so many guesses we can we slowly, so many guesses can make, you said this specifically, you said the future is that this is going to be changing all the time.

it’s always going to be changing. There’s always going to be something new for us to learn and grow into. So I guess with that, I know that we’ll have more to talk about it in the future. And I just thank you again for being here Pek, thank you for all you do for our field, for your designers, that are effecting impact and change and outcomes with so many really large organizations that many of us are probably interfacing with.

So thank you for doing that. and again, thanks for sharing your wisdom with us today. you know what, before I do my sign off, I want to ask you, can you tell us the best way to connect and keep up with you? I almost forgot.

Pek Pongpaet: Sure. easiest. I’m very active on LinkedIn, so just connect with me on LinkedIn and then Twitter as well. So Twitter, it’s just my name. @pekpongpaet. LinkedIn, I’m pretty easy to find as well.

Jason Ogle: Perfect. I’ll put it all in the show notes. Thanks again, man. And last but not least here it goes. I want to say, fight on my friend.

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