- Artwork by Eli Jorgensen
Bob Baxley, a Silicon Valley pioneer, takes us back in time through the history of Silicon Valley and gives us a glimpse into the future of it. Spoiler alert: He’s got concerns. He reveals how every little interaction matters and motivates us to be proud enough of the work we do to want to show our friends and family…otherwise, we’ve got more work to do. He challenges us to challenge the status quo and constantly be looking for ways to improve our work by asking, ‘How could this be better?’. He also likens our work to building sandcastles on the beach, causing us to reflect on the brevity and temporal nature of it, and inspires us to make everything we make with our friends (for others) count.
Bob Baxley is a design executive, advisor, mentor, and advocate that has built, managed, and led UX teams at some of Silicon Valley’s most respected companies. With a career spanning three decades, Bob’s work at Apple, Pinterest, Yahoo!, and elsewhere has touched hundreds of millions of users around the world. Currently, Bob serves as the Senior Vice-President of Design at ThoughtSpot, a business intelligence and data analytics platform. An advisor to Project Invent, Bob is committed to recruiting and inspiring the next generation of designers by mentoring individuals and advising organizations that are working to improve the profession and practice of digital product design. When he was a kid, he was attacked by a baby goat at a petting zoo and to this day he can’t stand goats.
- Crash Course History of Silicon Valley (7:52)
- Love at First Byte: (Re)Discovering the Magic of Computing (14:17)
- The Beautiful ‘Burden’ of Doing Great Work That We’re Proud Of (21:11)
- The Question Steve Jobs Was Known to Ask In Design Reviews (24:55)
- Technology: Wonderful Servant, Terrible Master (26:53)
- Employing Analogue Tools for Deeper Creativity (34:10)
- There Are No Rolling Credits for Interaction Designers (52:51)
- We Need More Designers and Less Roadblocks (54:45)
- Is There a Growth Trajectory for IC’s Besides Mgmnt? (1:10:01)
- What’s Your Recommended Path for Design Leadership? (1:21:54)
- Where is Silicon Valley Going? Do You Have Concerns? (1:27:35)
- What’s Your Design Superpower? (1:34:28)
- What’s Your Design Kryptonite? (1:35:19)
- What’s Your UX Superhero Name? (1:37:41)
- Habit of Success? (1:38:23)
- Invincible Resource or Tool? (1:42:37)
- Recommended Books (1:45:25)
- What’s the Best Lesson You Learned From Steve Jobs? (1:48:30)
- Best Advice? (1:53:44)
- Connect & Keep Up (2:03:16)
Bob Baxley Twitter
Bob Baxley LinkedIn
As We May Think by Vannevar Bush [ARTICLE]
Denise Jacobs on User Defenders [PODCAST]
Christopher Nolan & Jason Ogle [PIC]
Everyone (but one) reading newspapers on the train link [PIC]
Everyone (but one lol) looking at smartphones on the train link [PIC]
Software & Sandcastles [ARTICLE]
Reflect on why you’re a designer, and put that on your resume.
Jason Ogle: Defenders. I am super excited that I have Bob Baxley with me today. Bob is a Silicon Valley pioneer. He’s been working in the industry for over three decades, so he knows a lot. Just a couple of bullet points on Bob he’s worked at some really respectable Silicon Valley companies, Apple for one, he worked with Steve jobs for God’s sakes.
He’s worked at Pinterest. He worked at Yahoo and elsewhere at many other places, but his work has touched literally hundreds of millions of users around the entire world. Currently Bob’s serving as the senior vice president of design at ThoughtSpot.
He’s got a real heart especially for up and coming designers, which I know we’re going to dive into a lot and Defenders many of you are there. You’re either making a career transition later on in life, possibly from maybe an entirely seemingly unrelated field, or you’re just wanting to get your foot in the door.
And I know that’s many of you out there, so this is definitely going to be very valuable especially for you folks as well. So, but I love this fun fact about Bob. He provided several, which were all really great, but I, this is the one that I went with here. When he was a kid, he was attacked by a baby goat at a petting zoo, and to this day he can’t stand goats. So, so, welcome officially Bob to User Defenders, I’m super excited to have you on the show today.
Bob Baxley: Jason, thanks So much for having me. I feel like we need some great theme music. this is great. Oh my God. Don’t get me started with the don’t get me started with the goats. I do have to say that I enjoy goat cheese, just cause I like to think that some goat suffered a little bit. I still remember that, that kid, that attacked me at Grant’s Zoo in St. Louis. I had some goat food and it jumped up at me and like was boxing my ears and stuff.
But I remember my I’m on my back and this goats on top of me and my dad came and rescued me, and I just remember those crazy eyes looking down at me. It’s still haunts me to this day. Terrorized by baby goats. Yeah.
Jason Ogle: So as a kid, you were attacked by a kid.
Bob Baxley: Yes, exactly. Yeah, it can be. I hated that kid.
Jason Ogle: Did you ever take your kids to the zoo and have like a, you know, kind of, a PTSD moment there and if you saw the goat?
Bob Baxley: Well, you know, once you get to be an adult, you’re much bigger than the baby goats. So it always amazes me. When you say, you know, we have we have a dog that’s about 75 pounds. You know, you take the dog out and there’s always like a two or three-year-old at wants to see the dog, you know, and you get the, your dog to sit and the kids always a little tentative and you have to kind of look at the situation.
You’re like, well, the kid is like the same height as the dog. Like, this is like me walking up to a horse or something. It’s a completely different scale. And so Yeah, as an adult, I’m not quite as intimidated by the baby goats, but as a child, it was terrorizing.
Jason Ogle: Oh man. Yeah, I can imagine, you know, I just think about you know, you’re in Silicon Valley. I mean, there’s some definitely rural areas out there. It’s not all just, you know, corporate buildings and tech buildings and stuff. Right? Like there’s farmland. Like I just, I think of Alan Cooper, I think he’s got like, literally he lives on a farm with probably goats and a lot of chickens and stuff like that.
I mean, you’re in an area where It’s I don’t know a whole lot about it. That’s why I’m excited to get your perspective on the Silicon Valley and especially the history. And we nerded out a little bit before we jumped in here about the space program and some of that stuff, a lot of us don’t really realize that computing, personal computing really started there, especially with, you know, trying to fit that, get a really, what was then very large computing device into a very small space and make it lightweight enough to get this vehicle landed safely on the moon.
So, I don’t want to steal any thunder or anything, but I definitely want to dive into kind of, how do we get here? What’s can you give us like maybe even a quick crash course on the history of Silicon Valley? Cause I mean, again, from somebody who’s been there in the trenches and really you’ve seen where this started and where we are now.
So I’d just love it if you could just give us kind of a quick crash course on the history.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean the history and values is really rich and multifaceted. So I’m just going to hit on a couple of key points. I think the only comparison I’ve been able to think of is you really have to go to Renaissance Florence or Florence during the Renaissance to get a comparison of how many different ideas and like the number of people involved in the level of disruptive innovation that was happening in a very small space and a very short period of time.
And the two ideas of Silicon Valley that probably draw people’s attention to was a fall during World War II. There was a gentleman that worked in the Roosevelt administration named Vannevar Bush, and one of after the war and he was involved in the Manhattan project. He ran a big part of the science program that was building up.
The industry was built. It was involving U.S. Industry in help with the war effort. And following World War II, he wrote a seminole article for The Atlantic magazine, came out in 1946. I believe it’s called, As We May Think. And in that article, he really kind of prefigures personal computing, where he talks about multimedia devices.
Now he had more of the concept of microfilm. He didn’t understand the storage devices we would have and stuff, but he had this vision of people sitting in front of a screen, manipulating multiple windows, interacting with printed material, video material, et cetera, that he really was sort of prefiguring where we got to with hypertext.
And one of the things of Vannevar Bush did, he was he was able to get people to move to Silicon Valley. And I’m sorry, I don’t remember that whole sequence, but eventually there’s a guy named Frederick Terman. He ended up at Stanford. And one of the key ideas that Terman had, and he had been born here in Palo Alto before it was Silicon Valley. One of the key ideas he had is that a university should be one of the jobs of a university was to have people start companies.
So, you know, that was just like a core. So see if I can somehow that up again. So Vannevar Bush has this idea of kind of multimedia computing. Turman has this idea at Stanford, that universities should be instrumental in starting companies. And then eventually if you cut to the sixties, is when stuff gets really interesting.
In the early part of the sixties, you’d literally have student protests happening over at the university of California at Berkeley, with students wearing punch cards around their neck and protesting the idea of computing. Cause they saw computing as computers as being an instrument of the military in a big gigantic bureaucracies.
And they didn’t want to just be reduced to a number. And so you’ve got that happening in the beginning of the sixties, by the time he gets to the end of the sixties, you’ve got these, this interesting idea of personal computing, which is really coming out of some of the work that was happening with Alan Kay and Larry Tesler and others at the Palo Alto Research Center and it’s, and it gets all tied up into the counter-culture and the idea of personal empowerment.
And there’s this book called From Counterculture to Cyber Culture. Which describes sort of this particular movement. And the key idea there, I would say is this notion that personal computing is a medium, that software is a medium. And that we have to think about software as a medium in the same way that we would think about movies and music and literature and that it’s a medium of personal empowerment and personal control.
And it’s really that idea that I think ultimately inspires Steve jobs and Steve Wozniak and becomes the main seminal idea that runs through Apple, which I would say Apple is probably the best expression of personal computing and, whatever you think of Apple as a company the ideas of Apple, I think are probably the, some of the central ideas of Silicon Valley.
So there’s, I don’t know if that was a great synopsis of the whole thing. There’s a lot of threads in there, but some of the key ideas is, you know, the idea of multimedia computing devices, which is not an idea that existed on the East Coast, because that’s another big question you have to ask is if you go back to the sixth, the fifties and sixties, all the main companies doing computing technology are all based on the East Coast.
So why did personal computing take, hold on the West Coast, specifically in the Bay area, the central place for the counterculture and the hippie movement, and they’re super intertwined. So, so again, this idea of multimedia computing, the idea that universities should help start companies, you know, which Stanford, you know, more companies have been born out of Stanford university than any of us could count.
It’s just prolific, how many different companies started from Stanford. And then this idea of personal computing as a medium and then the other piece, you know, there’s this big movement now of like, Oh, what’s going to be the next Silicon Valley strangely. The other central part of Silicon Valley is the weather.
Like you just can’t discount the quality of the weather and when and they were starting to attract people to Silicon Valley in the fifties, again, mostly for military contract companies. There was a lot of movement that came out here for companies like Raytheon and McDonnell Douglas and others.
And a lot of that recruiting was just based around the weather. And so you got these guys that would fly out from the East coast that were, you know, working in upper state, New York or something they’d flat here and they’d just call all their friends. It’s like, no, really you have to come visit and people would come and visit.
And the weather was just phenomenal. And then they, you know, tens of thousands of people moved. And I’ve, you know, I’m fortunate where I live is a couple of miles from where William Shockley started Shockley Labs, which is Shockley Labs is where they figured out how to put Silicon into transistors.
And they actually, you know, where they brought silicon to Silicon Valley. The people that started Fairchild semiconductor spun out of Shockley Labs, Fairchild semiconductor was a seminal company in Silicon Valley. It’s known as the trillion-dollar startup out of a Fairchild. A number of other chip companies got started including the blue is Intel national semiconductor believe AMD spun out of there a few others and all that.
Stuff’s very close to where I live, which is fairly close to Google’s headquarters and really close to the computer history museum. And that is, as you know, as you may have noted Charles Gasky recently died one of the founders of Adobe. Adobe also spun out of of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, which is just up the street from here.
The Xerox where that, where Xerox Palo Alto Research Center is based is very near where Tesla’s headquarters are. It’s where Nest the thermostat guys were you know, it, strangely enough, a little fun fact about Adobe. So, so, Charles sketchy and John Warnock are lived here in Los Altos.
And there’s a creek that runs near downtown Los Altos that was near their house. And that Creek’s called Adobe Creek. And that’s what the company is actually named after. It’s not actually named after Adobe bricks it’s named after the Adobe Creek.
That was a lot of different threads to pull. I think the one that’s probably the most useful for listeners to kind of focus on and the one that’s been most meaningful to me individually is this idea of software as a medium. You know, and I fell in love with computing when I saw my first computer in like 1976 probably is, you know, I was like 11 or so it was a Heath Kit computer.
And I remember being over at my friend’s house, Glenn Wilkinson, whose father worked at Texas Instruments and also worked on the Apollo Program. And they were like the nerdiest family I knew. And Glenn had this Heath Kit computer that they’d built. And I remember watching it had this little black and white screen and he pressed a key on his keyboard and something changed on the screen and it was just absolute magic.
Like I remember that moment so clearly and so vividly, and it just changed my life. And it’s an interesting thing for, I think, designers for all of us really to go through and try to ask ourselves, when was the first time I saw a computer. When can you really remember the first time you saw a computer, and people of a certain age that work in this industry, when you get them dialed up, they will go off talking about that question.
Oh, I remember my dad brought home Intel PC, and then they’ll go rattling off about the chip set and the amount of RAM, and the first time they saw Photoshop and it is, you know, it’s, you know, it’s like computing just was life altering and we take it for granted today because we’re surrounded by it.
And so we play with our phones and we just kind of take it all for granted. But if you really just back up and think about what’s happening. You know, it is mind boggling. What is happening at the physics level and the amount of intellectual abstraction and effort. That’s gone into building things from what’s happening at the physics of Silicon, up into the cognitive psychological layer of these tools.
It’s just it’s like jet travel, you know, we all take it for granted, but if you just stop and break it down, it is unbelievable that we get to live in an age where we’re surrounded by this stuff. It’s, you know, it’s so, so, you know, I say all that in part for, you know, I wish designers are, I hope designers, people working in tech.
I, I just want them to stay connected to that. Cause it’s where their passion comes from and that love, I just think you need to hold on to that. And then I think you need to take real pride that you get to work in this medium. And you know, when I talk to younger designers, what I try to impress upon them is that they should think of themselves like like they might imagine themselves as a jazz saxophone player, you know, like you’re working in this medium and you should love this medium.
Like this is your medium and you should be so into it. And so excited about it. And as part of that, Hopefully you learn about the history of Silicon Valley and these names Vannevar Bush and Terman and Shockley and, you know, Warnock and Jobs. And Wozniak, because these are all people that you know, and you understand, and you realize the threads of their innovation.
And then additionally, I hope that younger designers spend time looking at software, like just absorbing lots and lots of different types of software, not just apps and not just websites, but also software around other parts of their lives. Like how what’s the UI on their dishwasher? What’s the UI on the microwave oven?
Did you notice the updates to the ATM at your bank? What about the point of sale system they have at the gas pump versus the one they have at the grocery store? What about self checkout at Target versus self checkout at a grocery store, which kind of sucks. When you travel, do you notice how they do ticket kiosks?
At a zoo, I noticed a ticket kiosk at a zoo in Tokyo one time, and instead of having quantity indicators for children and adults, so instead of saying two adults, two children, they had sets of icons that show different family configurations. And so you’d see like one big icon and little icon.
And that was like a parent with a single kid. And then there was like two big icons and one little icon. And he just got to figure out your family configuration, like that’s really interesting software design. Software is everywhere. You know, like you can’t, you have thousands of interactions with software systems during the day and you don’t, you just don’t even think about them.
And so when I try to get younger designers excited, and when I try to attract people to the field, again, I’m trying to get them to embrace this as a phenomenal medium. And I think the most important medium in our culture today, like, like clearly the impact of software as a medium, far surpasses in the modern world far surpasses movies, music, or literature, Facebook alone, Twitter alone have had wildly more impact than any movie or TV show.
And I mean that in a global sense, like these technology projects are the global glue. We talk about, well, we don’t have shared experiences anymore. It’s like, no, we do, we all share Google. You know, we all share certain websites. We may have our own personalized views of them and that’s a bit of a problem.
But the software, the medium we all get to work in is the cultural glue of the world. I hope people, you know, feel that and they keep that passion in mind, when they’re struggling with a difficult design problems or challenging personalities at the office, or I don’t know, they’re thinking about throwing in the towel and giving up, you know, that’s, if you if you want to have a long career, you know, as you mentioned, I’ve been in it longer than probably many of your listeners have been alive.
But the reason I’m in is because I just love it. You know, I’m like that, I’m like the old guy at the, on the basketball coaching staff that’s in it just cause the love of the game.
Jason Ogle: Silicon Valley’s John Wooden right here.
Bob Baxley: Maybe more of an assistant coach, but yeah. Still on the sidelines, nonetheless.
Jason Ogle: Wow. I love it. And I appreciate you nudging us to really not take these technologies for granted. I kind of got on a bit of a rant on that on a previous episode. We have the computers in our pockets, and I know, you know this and you’ll appreciate it. We have millions times more computing power in our pockets than what sent these three men to the moon right. It’s just astounding to me. But you’re right, interfaces are everywhere and kids growing up with it, and it’s like, they’ve become they’ve outpaced us very quickly in many ways, as far as using stuff. Like I can’t use Snapchat still and I won’t use Snapchat, but yet they can pick it up and just know exactly all these swipes and time, like, I don’t get it, but it’s just, like you said, like we’ve come a long way and software is eating the world.
And I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think that there’s many businesses that would not be in existence today, if it weren’t for software. And therefore many people are employed and have jobs and can take care of their families because we have such awesome technologies now, and that are employing so many folks.
So, I just appreciate that nudge there. And I think it’s important to always take a step back cause we’re in this stuff all the time. We’re always surrounded by screens and take a step back and go, you know, this is a pretty dang awesome field to work in and to be a part of, and to know you can create something that can literally change somebody’s life that can literally save their life, that can literally impact their life in very positive ways.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. I think people, I think designers, well, I think a lot of tech employees in general, like they, they miss that last point you were making there, which is, you know, at a minimum, if you do your job, you will be a net neutral in somebody’s life.
But if you do a poor job, you actually frustrate people. And this happens all the time. You know, if you just, anybody listening right now, just ask yourself, has anything happened to me today where I was dealing with a piece of software and I was momentarily confused or frustrated something didn’t work the way it was supposed to, and if you think about those moments there very disempowering, you know, because they remind you that you don’t actually understand what’s going on and it’s very concerning, because it makes you feel that you’re in a situation that’s out of your control, and those little frustrations, they build up over the course of the day and they grate against your life, you know, and they take away the small amount of energy you have every day and they make it harder for you to experience joy and express love in the world.
And so every one of those little interactions they matter, and it’s what drives me in design reviews to just go nuts on the smallest little detail, because the compounding effect of pushing out crap it’s in comprehensible, many of the tools that we work on and they will touch, you know, even if it’s just thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, hundreds of millions, there is no other medium you get to work on that touches hundreds of millions of people like a Tom Cruise movie, doesn’t touch hundreds of millions of people. And it certainly doesn’t do so multiple times a day. And so the amplification effect of these poor designs is profound and it takes a toll on humanity. It’s just another thing that makes modern life more tense, more frustrating, more anxious. And so, you know, I hope people keep that in mind, when they want to give up, when they can’t quite find the right solution, and I’ve written a little bit about this. Like you really do need to take a moment and look at your work, pause and ask yourself, is this something I’m proud of?
To me, that is the core judgment of whether or not you’ve created something of value. Are you proud of it. And I know that’s a little controversial, cause you know, people say, well, what did users think of? Et cetera, et cetera. You know, it’s not just about designing for yourself.
And my response to that would be if you’re a designer and you’re really operating as a designer and not an artist, you will only be proud of things that are useful to your audience because that’s what it means to be a designer. It’s a service activity. Whatever you create is in the service of someone else’s needs.
So for you to truly be a designer and to truly create something that you’re proud of, it has to actually solve problems for other people in a way that is additive to their life experience. And so, for me, and I say this to, with my team all the time, we’re like looking at work and it’s like back up, like take a moment, take a deep breath, cleanse your expectations and just look at the screen.
Are you proud of it? Do you want to show it to your friends and family and say, look at what I made at work? And if you don’t feel that way about it, like, honestly, you got more work to do, like you need to pause and work some more and get it right.
Jason Ogle: Yeah. I agree with you, and you tell a story of design reviews at Apple and there was one thing that Steve jobs said whenever designers were showing him things, he said, do you love it?
Bob Baxley: Yeah, well, I don’t know if he said that all the time. That was something that happened to my boss there before I started, but it was one of those stories that floated around the company, and there’s quite a few of them, but it’s one of those stories that kind of set the cultural tone.
And so those stories would kind of take on this mythical type, dynamic inside the company, but it set the culture and the tone, and just for listeners, this, the story was so, so my future boss at Apple was in a design review with Steve Jobs and they got to the end of the review and Steve just looked at my boss and said, you know, well, do you love it?
You know, meaning the work you do, you love what you’re presenting to me. And there was some hesitation in the response, cause it the guy didn’t totally love it. He was kind of paused. And then Steve just looked at him and very matter of factly said, well, then you’ve got more work to do.
And it just sort of sets that tone. And look, I don’t know if that story actually happened, but again, those sorts of stories at least when I was there. Yeah.
And I have, you know, to be honest, I haven’t been at the company for eight years, so, but when I was there during the period from just before the iPhone was announced up to about a year and a half after Steve passed away in 2011 these stories existed that I think again, sort of set the tone and the culture for how the company should operate.
And once that stuff really bakes into your DNA and you really see it as a designer, like it really kind of becomes how you function and move through various jobs. And it was certainly that those ideas and those that dedication that I’ve taken into all my jobs after Apple. And it’s what draws me to do interviews with you and a show like this and try to animate and excite other designers.
Cause to me, Apple, you know, there’s obviously there’s Apple the company and I’m very proud of the time I spent there. And it was a great privilege to be there at that moment, but there’s also Apple the idea. And to me, that’s the one that is so deeply embedded in who I am and how I try to move through the world.
And the idea of Apple as a technology. It could have a transformative effect on the lives of individuals. And that’s uh, that’s a really powerful idea that stands in stark opposition to what I was talking about earlier with the student protest at Berkeley in the early sixties, where they saw computing as a weapon of corporate power, Apple stands in bold opposition to that, even though they’re a big gigantic company, at least the premise of the company is that again, technology has a transformative effect on the lives of individuals.
And I know that, in my life like the Mac has clearly made my life bigger. I honestly, I’m not sure I can say that about the phone. The phone, I think makes me in many ways, makes me physically smaller and it makes me sort of intellectually smaller.
Well, it’s such a tool of distraction. I think it’s the software. Maybe it’s that I see the phone primarily, and I think most of us use the phone this way. So it may be inherent in the form factor, but you know, the phone by and large is a tool of consumption. Whereas the Mac is, you know, the desktop computer and I mean, the desktop computer is primarily a tool of creation and consumption only rarely makes me bigger.
You know, consumption makes me bigger when I read classic literature and when I listened to certain types of music, but by and large consumption, even reading high quality op-ed pieces, even reading high quality news and whatnot. I don’t think that makes me bigger. I don’t want to get too snooty about some of this stuff, but, you know, reading Les Miserables or Slaughterhouse Five or listening to Bach, you know, those experiences make me bigger trolling around on Instagram and Twitter as entertaining as it is, it doesn’t make me bigger.
Jason Ogle: That’s fair.
Bob Baxley: You know, I mean, you know, they, Yeah.
I mean, Steve did talk about the Mac in general, but computing the computers were bicycles for your mind. You know, that’s still a really powerful image. Nobody says that about the phone. All smartphones, nobody has ever said that a smartphone is a bicycle for your mind.
Because as much as it’s part of our daily life and we’re not going back and I’m not trying to be judgemental about it, cause it doesn’t really matter what I think. Yeah, th the phone plays a very different role in our lives than our computers do.
Jason Ogle: I would agree with that. It’s a double-edged sword sometimes, particularly with phones. Right. And our kids, it’s almost like, again, they’re like almost like born with these devices in their hands. I mean, when we give them to our kids earlier and earlier, and it’s like, I don’t think that’s good for your kid to just be looking at a screen all day and playing games and getting on social media for Heaven sakes. Like at a really young age, I don’t think it’s healthy. And I think there’s a lot of pediatricians that would agree with me. And I’m probably just riding on their coattails when I say that, there’s a lot of research that’s been done, you got to limit that stuff.
And this is the future. I definitely can get a soapbox about it. We have very staunch rules about how we handle phones and there’s a lot of pressure from our teenagers, especially in their peers. How come I’m the only one? And my kids will say that, like, I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t have a phone. And you know, it’s tough, but I
Bob Baxley: It’s interesting. Cause you’re conflating a couple of things. You’re bringing in the form factor of, should my kid have access to a screen and then you were talking about maybe they shouldn’t be on social media. So now you’ve pivoted from a form factor into a particular type of content.
And it is very reminiscent of the debates that people were having around television early on, you know, was it was television. If you go back to the fifties and sixties was television inherently bad as a form factor, you know, as a concept, or were we talking about specific shows? And even though you would have seen plenty of people saying, you know, kids shouldn’t watch television, I don’t know if you would have seen a lot of people saying they shouldn’t watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, right. So it’s and, you know, we’re still early on in all this in smartphones, you know, it was the iPhone comes out in 2007. You know, my kids grew up with it as well. They’re 20 and 22. Now I was working at Apple when all that stuff happened.
So I brought everything home, if it had been in the late 1900’s I would, or the late 1800’s, I would have been the guy bringing home all sorts of drugs, cause like, Hey, look at what we cooked up in the lab today.
Jason Ogle: Hey, try this cocaine kids. Tell me if
Bob Baxley: yeah,
Jason Ogle: how this makes
Bob Baxley: Have a Coke. It’ll give you a smile.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, you bet. It’s going to make you smile.
Bob Baxley: Yeah.
So, so we’re still, you know, it’s still early days with this stuff and we’re working it out. And to your point, why you, as a parent are having to sort this out for your family, you would like to think at some point we will have the, some, at least cultural norms around it.
Like we do around nutrition. For example, now we don’t all follow the same nutrition standards, but we, at least we know what good looks like. And then we make personal choices to venture off of good. But today we’re like, we’re still kind of figuring it out in the same way, like all these different, Facebook and I mean, we really think about it.
We used to sort of in one breath would talk about all these different social media services. And now, like there’s a lot of nuance that goes into each of them and how you use each of them, and again, it kind of reminds me, there was a point when email was just coming up and it was like, okay, what’s the difference between a letter, a fax, email, and a phone call.
And they all seem like person to person communication. But there’s some meaning imbude in them. It does go back to “the medium is the message” and we’re trying to, we’re still trying to figure out, well, what does it mean when I send you a text versus I send you an email versus I DM you on LinkedIn.
I DM you on Twitter. We have all these different ways of communicating and there’s some nuanced difference between all of them that we’re still negotiating. And trying to sort out as a cultural community. Like what does all that stuff mean? And, you know, my wife will text me things during the day.
And it’s, and I feel like I have to respond to it instantly. And she’s like, no, I’m just sending you the stuff. And I’m like, well, if you’re just sending me the stuff, send it to me in email. But she doesn’t think of email versus texting in a temporal manner. And I think it’s all, you know, texted just to nerd out on that for a second.
I think also this division between email and text is getting more confusing because email has been swamped by spammers. And so, as consumers, we’re sort of in this arms race with spammers as we move from medium to medium. And we’re, so we’re sort of abandoning email cause it’s been infiltrated.
So now we’re going to move to tax, but now text is starting to be infiltrated. We’ve all given up on actual phone calls. Cause that’s all just spam calls. We don’t, you know, I don’t know anybody that picks up their phone anymore. So it’s sort of this weird, again sort of this arms race as we move from island to island because it gets taken over by the rats.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, it’s true. This is an interesting time. I kind of walk the fence on this. I’m like walking on the fence and I’m like, I can see benefits on both sides here. At one point, I’m like, geez, I kinda miss phone calls.
I don’t call my mother as much. Like it’s a lot easier for me to text her. Cause I’m busy. I got a lot of kids as you know, and there’s a lot of stuff going on all the time. one of the hesitations I have for calling my mother on the phone is my wife will tell you, I use this excuse.
I don’t have 30 minutes or an hour right now that this conversation will likely turn into, but that could be a really special 30 minutes or an hour on the phone with my mother. So it’s a lot easier for me to just text her it’s on my terms. Right. But texting is on our terms, but yet we do have this expectation that somebody should respond.
You should respond right away to me. Otherwise, I feel like you’re ignoring me. And there’s just a lot of possible psychological dangers that these tools have introduced into our lives at the same time. Because we can feel like, you know, especially young people, they can feel ignored.
They can feel ostracized. They can feel bullied. Left out. And I don’t think we were ever meant to have this lens into so many other people’s lives at one time. And feeling, you know, again, left out at a party, you got your friends, they’re going to do a story or something. How come I wasn’t invited. We weren’t really meant to have that lens and it can lead to depression. It can lead to suicide, especially with there’s a lot of research now around how our phones and again it’s the medium that has content on it.
That’s our vehicle, right. That we’re, that’s causing some psychological distress especially amongst a lot of younger people.
Bob Baxley: Totally agree with everything you just said. You said something when you were talking about your mom and trying to decide whether to text her or call her. And I want to go back to cause, cause you said it’s easier to text her. And I just want to, I want to focus on that concept of easier, because I think that’s the big danger of technology is so many things have become easy to a fault I think.
And recently I bought a manual typewriter because I watched the Ken Burns Hemingway documentary on PBS that I just added. There’s a little manual typewriter store here in Los Altos, and I’ve been sort of eyeing a manual typewriter for awhile, and they’re not that expensive and they’re sort of fun to have around.
And when I got it, I started trying to type on it a little bit. You have to type really slowly and you have to push the keys really hard. And it’s very different from typing on a computer. And I actually, you know, I haven’t written much on it, but it gave me some insight into what it must have been like to be trying to write a novel on a typewriter.
Like you would have to really slow down. A lot of the most famous literature in history obviously is written by hand. You know, Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables plays by hand. And it takes time. Yeah. well, Maybe, you know what I mean? Maybe you’re, it creates something to quality, you know, going through a little pain, isn’t such a bad thing.
Maybe it’s a necessary part of the process. Ansell Adams, made his own film. I believe, you know, like he was working all that stuff out. You couldn’t just walk into a store and buy all that photographic stuff. You know, I tell my team and I’ve said this to lots of different design teams.
You kind of have to get away from the computer. Like if you want to have a really high quality idea, you will not have it sitting at a computer. You probably have to like leave, ideally go sit under a tree and grab a sketchpad and try to draw stuff out and think about It and computers in general, even sitting at a laptop.
And I said, you know, they’re either they’re tools of creation, but I have to admit, I don’t have that many moments where I felt like I was inspired and came up with an original idea sitting in front of a computer because I experienced a computer is fundamentally a tool for editing and editing is not creating.
And I think it’s very important for us as designers, writers, any, anybody involved in some sort of creative expression? I think it’s central to your success, that you separate the creating activity from the editing activity. And as soon as you let that editor part of your brain activate, while you’re trying to create, they’re going to constrain the range of ideas you’re going to have, because they’re going to immediately tell you all the reasons something’s not going to work.
And I think it’s really important for you to let your inner creator child, you know, bold thinker. You’ve got to create some space where they get to run wild because you know what, there’ll be plenty of people to edit stuff later. Like you really don’t have to worry about editing. There is plenty of stuff that’s going to happen to take care of the editing.
What you really need to do is find some way to open your mind and just let all that random ideas flow in. You know, and I tell my team quite often when we’re starting a new project, I want you to sit down. I want you to sketch out 10 different ideas, 10 different approaches to this. And I know you’re thinking I can’t come up with 10 different ideas, but if you set out to come up with 10 different ideas and you allow any idea to come in, you will come up with 10 ideas.
Now it may be that of the 10, five of them are ridiculous. And the remaining five, maybe two of them aren’t great. And maybe two of them are obvious, but that still leaves one that’s freaking genius, right? I’m like that. And that one you would have never had otherwise. So this, you know, there’s this great quote that I think is attributed to Linus Pauling, which is, you know, the best way to get a good ideas, to get a lot of ideas.
And I think it’s hard to generate a lot of ideas. When you’re sitting in front of a computer, you can create a lot of variations. Like it’s really easy to create variations on the same idea, but to truly get different ideas is really hard. And one of the things I’ve noticed, like when I watched my daughter, who’s in college, when I watch her write essays, she can type incredibly fast.
And so she’ll just power away typing. But if you watch her bright pinky is constantly hitting the backspace key, constantly correcting something. Right. Which means she’s not actually moving forward the whole time she’s moving forward. She’s backing up. She’s moving forward. She’s backing up, moving forward.
And I can tell you on a manual typewriter, you cannot back up. There is no backing up. There’s a backspace key, but it’s in a really awkward position in the bottom left. And you would never really use it. Like you have to move forward the whole time. And there’s something I think, leads you to more interesting ideas.
You know, in my own writing, I don’t I don’t use a manual typewriter, at least not yet, but I do start all my essays and all my presentations. I start them by writing by hand. You know, you were, I think you were referencing an article I wrote not too long ago called make something you love.
And I, you know, when I try to start an article by sitting down at a computer, it’s a lot of starting and stopping and starting and stopping. And I’m like, ah, I don’t know if that really works as an opening. And I just sort of, I don’t know, you get all knotted up trying to do it on a computer, but you know, I’ve kept a journal by hand for many years.
And I recently learned That’s the way to start essays as well. And I just sit down with my moleskin notebook and my same little razor point pilot pen and just, and I just start writing the essay and I just let it go. And because there’s no way to go back. It forces again, it forces me to move forward and then I type that in and I added it and stuff like that and sure, it’s a little bit more work, but I like to think it pays off.
So I, yeah, I mean, for the listeners designing, I would encourage you really deeply encourage you to get the hell away from your computer. You know, close the tools, go sit under a tree and sketch for a little bit.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, that’s great advice, Bob. And I think that the other danger of only creating on our computers is now our computers are multifaceted, we’re connected to our social media channels. We’re just a few clicks away from, oh, I wonder if I have any notifications on my Twitter, I’m in the middle of an idea and it’s like, why do I feel compelled, like I have to I’m not getting that deep work as Cal Newport wrote a book of a whole book about it. I’m missing out on deep work. And going back to the space program, which I know you and I both are big geeks about and love, I even, I think I even asked this to my dad when I was interviewing him who was part of the space program?
Do you think it would have been possible to send these three guys to the moon and back and in just a matter within a decade really, essentially this happened,
Bob Baxley: Less than, actually.
Jason Ogle: Right? Yeah. Far less than. Do you think that would have even been possible? If all of these guys and gals working on the space program were constantly checking their Twitter and their Facebook and doing social media and doing all right.
Do you think that would have been possible if they had the amount of distraction that we have today? I think not.
Bob Baxley: Well, you don’t have to ask the question because the truth is we haven’t gone to the moon again. I mean, you can look at the data. We ha you haven’t been able to galvanize public opinion to do it, which is the big challenge here.
But yeah, we live in a very distracted age again, because things are almost too easy to access. You know, to your point about the, again, I just want to go back to the mindset of creation, and when you’re actually trying to come up with something new by definition, you are in unchartered water.
You are someplace cognitively that no one has ever been before. That’s what it means to create And that’s frightening and unsettling, you know, like being that alone, even if it’s just in your own mind is unsettling. It’s uncomfortable getting so far out to sea. You can’t see the shore.
And so you have to find ways to put barriers in your life or cognitive barriers around yourself so that you stay out there because that’s where the magic is going to happen. And to your point, if you have these distractions, that gets you back to shore for a moment and it relieves some of that anxiety.
You have to find ways of designing your work and designing your environment that forces you to stay in that uncomfortable place. I don’t think you ever get comfortable in the uncomfortable place, but you get accustomed to it. And it’s a practice.
Like you have to constantly visit the uncomfortable place, or it becomes so uncomfortable you don’t want to go there again. And then you stop creating, which is a bummer. But that you really do have to approach your creative life as a practice and find ways to put yourself in those uncomfortable moments.
And again, they will never be comfortable. Like it will, it that’s not.
the goal. It will never be comfortable. You just have to get used to used to the anxiety. It’s a little bit like, like running, you get used to the pain of running. You never escape the pain of running, but you get accustomed to it and you manage it in a different way.
But you know, again it’s a practice.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, I really liked that. The greater, the resistance, the greater, the growth, right? It’s that way with weight training. It’s that way with fitness. Yeah. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t think runners get addicted to the pain. They get addicted to the high that comes after the pain. Right. It’s like, yeah. You know what?
I feel really good right now all of these endorphins are coming out and, it’s sort of like creating, like you said, like when you’re in that, that no man’s land, so to speak or you’re way far. I really liked that visual you’re way far from the shore. You may even feel like you’re caught in a rip tide and then, you know, you’re like, sometimes you’re like swimming against the rip current, you really what need to just kind of let it go with it, you know, like go with that rip tide.
Yeah. You’re unsafe. Yeah, there might be sharks nearby. You need to both wrestle with the Riptide, but also let it carry you at the same time
Bob Baxley: Yeah.
Jason Ogle: To really extract those great ideas and to feel that resistance, is only going to bring growth, and when you get that good idea, when you get out of that rip tide of creation and you get that great idea, that’s when you get those endorphins, that’s when you get that runner’s high. That creator’s high of like, Holy crap. I just made a breakthrough that I would not have made had I just stayed safe on the shore.
Bob Baxley: Well, I’m going to put aside the endorphin thing for a minute. Cause that is an actual true thing. And it like, endorphins are great, but like for me, at least when, when I’m running, what’s magical for me is there’s this moment where my consciousness sort of disappears and there’s this blending of my mind and my body I don’t know how else to put it. Like you sort of suspend consciousness, you stop becoming so aware that you’re trapped inside this body and you stop having this inner dialogue. And it all just kind of comes together and it’s, it is the state of flow. And you can have the state of flow in lots of different environments.
Running is one, you know, playing music. If you’re a gifted or practiced musician, you can certainly have it in that context there’s many others. And I think that’s the magic moment I’m talking about. if you’re in a place where you can be easily distracted or your editor, your inner voice, you know, as long as you’re, again, as long as your inner editor, voices engaged, you know and has any opportunity.
They’re gonna ruin it. And I recently went through the, I recently realized that I have these, it’s gonna sound a little weird, but I had these different voices inside my head. Right. I mean, I have kind of streaming conversations going on inside my head all the time. I have A.D.D. Which is, I hate to put that way.
I have an A.D.D. style brain. And I have conversations going on in my head all the time. And I recently realized there’s like three or four different specific voices that I have and I’ve come to where I named them now. And so my editor voice is called Carl nothing gets to all the cars. I’m sure they’re all lovely people, but Carl seemed like the right name.
So there’s Carl and there’s Julie, who’s the, Julie’s the task master. She’s the one reminding me of all the, to do things I have to do, there’s Dan, who’s my inner critic, who’s telling me all the things that I’ve done wrong. And then there’s Steve who replays all these other conversations.
So this there’s all these different facets of inner conversation I’m having with myself. And I’ve realized now, like, just to tell them to shut up and it’s been sort of nice being able to name them. Cause when I’m creating something and Carl is sitting there telling me why it’s not going to work, in my head, I can now say Carl just shut up, man, leave me alone would you, just like go away and let me finish this work. And it kind of quiets that voice down. So it’s been sort of this interesting little mental trick that I’ve started using, which, hopefully nobody’s coming for me anytime soon as weird as that all sounds. But…
Jason Ogle: So that’s no that’s scientific actually. The great Denise Jacobs wrote a wonderful book called Banish Your Inner Critic, and she points out the psychology of actually naming those voices. And especially the. Yeah, it’s in her book and she calls it out. Like it’s actually really helpful to do what you’re doing psychologically, because then you can speak directly to that inner voice in a way that’s personal in a way that when you were a kid and you got in trouble, your mother, wouldn’t just call you by your first name, she’d call you by all three names.
Bob Baxley: Robert Howard Baxley get in here. Yeah.
Jason Ogle: That’s when you knew you were in trouble, but it’s the same kind of psychology, right? Just like you’re calling out that voice, and you’re saying, Oh, way away. I’m not listening. I’m not going to give you the, even an ounce of attention that you’re looking for right now, because you’re a liar.
Especially those unsafe voices in our heads, you know?
Bob Baxley: Well, I mean, there’s a point where Carl’s useful. Like there’s a point where my inner editor is really valuable, cause he’s a good editor. Right. And you need the editing. I mean, that is design, right. We, you know, It’s sort of funny, like engineers always talk about, well, we’ve already written that code.
We don’t want to throw it away. And I’m like, we throw away all of our design stuff. What are you talking about? Like the whole practice of design is we throw away 99% of the stuff we do. Whereas it seems like engineering is just the opposite. Probably it seems like there should be some happy medium in there somewhere, but you know, the editor is good, you know?
The articles that I write by hand, you know, they start out being probably 1500 words by hand and they ended up being 700 words by computer and they get better.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, I agree. any of the greatest works because that we appreciate I’m certain, there’s been many edits that have had to take place. So we don’t see that that’s all the stuff that happens behind the scenes. And it’s the same with design, right? there’s the famous quote, good design is invisible.
And there’s really a lot of truth to that. When something just works and Steve said it best, it just works. It just works. And you don’t need to think about necessarily what’s happening to make it just work. And of course, as designers we will tend to kind of think about that, which is good.
Right. A user interface is a conversation for interaction designers and conversation is healthy. But I just, I like that notion of it just works it’s magic there’s a documentary called General Magic. Have you ever, did you see that?
Bob Baxley: Oh, Yeah. Yeah. Well, yeah. I haven’t seen the documentary, but I know the company for sure. Yeah. I have friends that were working there at I
Jason Ogle: I’m sure you knew some people in there. I mean, Tony Fadell was one of them. These were the innovative days of iPhone before iPhone existed. This is where that idea came from these motley crew folks just getting together and just dreaming, and it’s just, it is general magic.
I mean, what a great title for that documentary, and I highly recommend that documentary Defenders. I think it’s on iTunes for sure. It’s great.
Bob Baxley: Yeah it’s one of those Seminole companies in Silicon Valley history. When you, when you you know, when you study Silicon Valley and all these different pockets of technology, whether it was what led to the iPhone, what led to mobile handheld mobile computing in General Magic, or as I mentioned earlier, Fairchild Semiconductor really leads to the whole semiconductor industry.
There’s things around business computing, there’s things around search, and there’s a whole bunch of different search companies, you’d have to look at like the history of all these things is really fascinating. I remember I was at a dinner with some folks and there was a younger designer at the table and she said something really negative about Silicon Valley and you know, had kind of lost its way or something.
I remember looking at her and going, well you know, it wasn’t always this way. And I could tell that she was just sort of surprised by that notion. I’m like, the Silicon Valley that you see now in whatever it was 2016 that’s the only Silicon Valley right now. You have to go back to like the fifties and the sixties and seventies, and really the eighties and nineties, I mean, really understand the whole trajectory of things.
And it’s not just your own moment. There’s this concept called chronocentricity, which is the belief that everything interesting happened in your own lifetime. It’s, you know, it’s definitely not, it’s definitely not true. I mean, we are living in amazing times that we’re lucky to be alive during this, but there’s so much precursor to everything that we’re experiencing today.
And, I studied history in college. I just think it’s invaluable to go back and try to understand how we got to the point that we got to. Cause it also helps you understand that there’s so many other directions that we could go from where we are. And, it helps you understand that you’re living in this moment where the decisions are being made of direction A versus B.
And I think maybe it also makes you more comfortable with the uncertainty of where we are. Cause every moment was uncertain. You know, when they landed on the moon, it was very uncertain. Now we know how it turns out. And so when we watch it, now we have a very different experience, but at the time it wasn’t quite so clear what was going to happen.
You have to kind of put yourself back into that mindset, which is hard to do. That, that was the amazing thing to me about watching watching Free Solo and you watch Alex climb El Cap, and it was still so unnerving watching it. And we all knew how it turned out. And it was an interesting mental exercise to try to put yourself into that moment of what the film crew were living through, watching it in real time when they didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, I haven’t seen that yet, but I’m very aware of that. And like I’m afraid of heights. We went to the Grand Canyon recently and I loved it. I was in awe of this creation. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And again, pictures do not do justice at all, but being there and being, even just on the edge of that, where that guard rail is getting our picture taken as a family.
I got a smile on my face, but the whole time, I’m just thinking quick, take the picture, get me out of here as quickly as possible.
Bob Baxley: It just goes back to this idea of, at least for me, like, studying history and trying to get into the mindset of people before they knew what the outcome. It’s another part of this practice of getting comfortable with the uncertainty. Cause it allows you to create in a different way.
Jason Ogle: That’s one thing what you just said there in my career, I will say one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned and I wished that I had grabbed hold of much earlier in my career is to get comfortable with discomfort. We can’t create great products at our desk, by ourself, with our headphones on all day, every day, can’t do it.
And I, as one who I have, I’ll be honest. I have Defenders. And I don’t know if I’ve admitted this before or mentioned this, but I have social anxieties. I generally get very uncomfortable, even if it’s remote, even like on Zoom meetings and stuff. When it’s my turn to speak, I get nervous. I get sweaty palms, you know, it stinks.
But the more I do it, the more I put myself in uncomfortable situations where I know communication is going to be best for the outcome of this software communication with engineers, communication, with stakeholders, with the users, research it’s essential to creating. So my one recommendation Defenders, if you’re early on, even if you’re later on and you haven’t embraced this like embrace discomfort, you will be better.
Your products will be better. Your team will be better. Everything will be better when you get comfortable with discomfort.
Bob Baxley: Totally. I want to go back to something you were saying I’m going to go. I just looked at one of my notes. So definitely agree. you got to get comfortable with the uncomfortable discomfort.
You were talking a little bit about design and when it’s good, it just works. And, you know, I, it’s just interesting.
It’s this interesting characteristic of the medium that we work in that when we really nailed a solution, nobody says anything like, like the, I, you know, this was so hard. Yeah. It was so hard for me to learn this as a young interaction designer. But the best review I had that I could possibly have is when I would show the work to somebody and there would be no debate.
It generally, when you have that review, they just look at it and they kind of look at you as well. Of course, that’s how we would do it. How else could we do it? Like, you must be an idiot thinking that this is a breakthrough. When in fact, you know, that you’ve spent countless hours arriving at this, right?
So when you get something like really narrowed down to the simplest expression, it’s only then that it becomes obvious to everyone else. Right? And so it’s this really unusual dynamic of being a creator in this medium that the most successful, useful things you’ll come up with will be the things that everybody will take for granted.
And you have to learn how to be okay with that. And I think that also is partly responsible for this dynamic again, we love it. We live and work in the most important cultural medium of our time. And yet none of us can name a famous UI designer. If we were asked, who would you put on the cover of Time Magazine is the most important software designer.
None of us would know who that person is. Even though the software that we use every day is probably the most influential thing in the modern world. It’s such a weird medium that it has a sort of impact. And even the people working in the industry, much less, the people consuming these products have no idea who’s behind it.
There’s zero attribution. Which I also think is a big part of why it’s been so hard to recruit more people into software design. Like people just don’t realize it’s a profession. And when my kids were going through high school and I was a hiring manager at Pinterest, it was clear to me that we just had this massive talent shortage.
And so I was on this thing for a while, and I still am about trying to basically activate kids at high school to help them understand that this was a career path that was available to them. And in the context of that, I went and talked to the couple of high schools and to, you know, went to the career center and just told them about my career and what the profession was like, you know what?
I’d look at these labor demand curves. Talk about how many designers we have relative to how many engineers, you know, and then you could say, well, engineering’s growing at this. We need at least one designer per 10 engineers. That means we need this many designers. There’s no good estimates of how many we have.
But when you talk to people in the profession, we have maybe a quarter of how many we need, which means there’s this huge demand for jobs. Now, let me show you the median income by these different career levels around the country, lo and behold, a junior designer starting out in a city like St. Louis, Missouri is almost at the median income for a family of four. And when parents would see that, their jaws would drop, you know, and then you show stuff like, Oh no, the median income for a creative director in a major market like San Francisco is $300,000 a year, not including equity and benefits.
And people would just be. What?! Like how, like, how does that even work?? You know, and then you would, and then there was this amazing moment where the parents were like, wow, my kid could go do that. You know, my kid, who’s interested in art and self-expression, and doesn’t want to be a coder. There’s a path for them to also have a successful lucrative career in tech.
And then you would see the kids would just be so relieved. I think we’re starting to get over this, but, you know, for a long time, I think all the engineers thought the designers were a bunch of art school dropouts that sat in the corner, wore a lot of black, and now, I mean, I can go to any company in Silicon Valley and most of them, at some point they’ll admit that design is probably the single most critical talent constraint on their company.
And it reminds me very much of what’s happening in Hollywood, which is, if you talk to people in Hollywood, they’re like, look, we could easily make more big budget, great movies every year we can easily make more. The problem’s not making the movie. The problem is we don’t have that many good scripts.
The problem for entertainment is there’s not enough good writers. And the problem with software and technology is there’s not enough great designers. I haven’t personally figured out how to crack that nut. Because again, there’s just sort of this weird attribution.
Like people don’t realize it’s a profession you can go into. And I think that’s starting to change slowly, but not nearly fast enough.
Jason Ogle: There’s a lot to unpack there and I’m glad we’re, I’m glad we’re kind of going down this lane because just, in the, I don’t know, six years that I’ve been doing this show My heart is, especially for newer designers like yours, you know, up and coming. Like, there’s a lot of opportunity here to do some incredible work fun yet also very challenging and trying work that can really make a difference.
And it’s as cliche as it sounds, you know, the Silicon Valley CV show, which I thought was a hoot. And I’m sure you especially think it’s a hoot being there and
Bob Baxley: I didn’t really watch it. I sort of lived it, but yeah,
Jason Ogle: Yeah. It’s like, you know, the cliche is, they’re at this tech convention and everybody’s saying, I just want to change the world. I’m going to, I want to change the world. I want to tell you with this software, you can change the world. It’s like, okay. You know, but honestly, like as cliche as it sounds, you really do have an opportunity to change the world with what you create. If you find the right idea and you’re in the right place and you do the right work, you can do it.
But I’m just going back to my original thought here. I’ve seen just in six years of doing this show and trying to reach new designers with this possibility and encourage them and bring them up, even virtually mentoring. I’ve seen a lot of designers and hopeful designers especially rising up and being eager. I think that there’s a lot of people who want to be designers, but there’s a lot of still today, a lot of roadblocks to them becoming designers because there’s just a lot of companies, they don’t have the runway to mentor somebody from zero.
And I mean, that’s a sad truth. And so, and I think that there is a lot of room for kind of a lot more companies to create mentorship opportunities internships slash mentorship opportunities for designers. So I personally, I think that the supply is there, but the demand is not being met with the supply, that’s there currently, because again, a lot of juniors, there’s a lot of juniors and there’s an, I talk to people all the time that I hear from people all the time, as one of our biggest problems is I want to be a designer, but I don’t have enough experience. I can’t get experience because nobody will hire me.
Bob Baxley: Right.
Jason Ogle: How do you navigate that?
Bob Baxley: Right. Yeah. What you’re talking about is how do you develop emerging talent? And the tech industry just hasn’t figured that out yet because we’re still early days in this, you know, my son just graduated from NYU where he studied screenwriting and it’s been interesting watching the number of fellowships and internships that are available for what they call emerging writers.
Now becoming a screenwriter in Hollywood is not an easy task. It’s, you know, it’s a difficult field to break into, but I have been sort of, amazed and impressed at least the infrastructure that the Indus that industry has developed around this concept of emerging writers. And there’s no parallel at all in the tech industry.
I think there will be over time, but there’s not right now. And there’s some interesting results of that. I mean, you are seeing design communities start to self-organize. There’s a mentoring site that I got on recently called ADP List. ADP stands for Amazing Design People. So ADP List, I believe it’s dot com, but I highly recommend it both to anybody listing, whether you’re looking for mentorship or have ideas and experiences to offer.
I signed up on the site and I’ve probably done 20, you know, half hour interviews with designers from around the world. And as a mentor, it’s been incredibly meaningful to share some of my stories, to be able to help people out. It also clarifies my thinking because I have to listen to their situation and try to respond to it.
So it’s been useful to me, but it’s also just been so incredibly inspiring to see the next generation and how they’re trying to come into the industry and the questions that they have. So to me, these things like ADP list and there’s a handful of these mentoring sites that have showed up in addition to that one and then showed up before.
And I think that’s an effort on the part of the industry on the part of the profession to self-organize into apprenticeships. Cause companies it’s very unlikely. Companies are gonna establish apprenticeship programs anytime soon because people move around from company to company and it’s challenging for a large company to make the investment in an employee when they aren’t really guaranteed a retention or at least that’s the excuse these days.
Jason Ogle: It’s a tough problem. Still a design problem to solve. I think think internships could be a nice answer to that. Could help with the budget.
Bob Baxley: Internships that will help. Yeah.
The other piece of that, I think, you know, we all need to keep in mind is that we haven’t really been designing software at scale for that long. To me that the real beginning of when we got serious about designing software was the advent of the Apple app store, which I believe is 2008. So the App Store was being developed at the same time Barak Obama was running for president, which is something that probably many of us remember or at least we remember that election wherever we netted out on it.
So it, my point is that like, it’s not that long ago, 2008 is not that long ago. And that’s that I believe is when we first started seriously designing software. And that’s not that we weren’t designing software before, but we weren’t designing it with the same level of intensity because people didn’t interact with it as much.
It’s really not until that Venice smartphones and these app stores where we’re all interacting with software hundreds, or unfortunately thousands of times a day, You know, that we become much more conscious of the friction of software interaction and the stakes in design get way higher. And so suddenly every company needs design and they all realize it.
And I like to compare that as I tend to do, I like to compare that to the history of Hollywood, you know, and you have to remember Hollywood was making movies for decades that were silent movies, and it wasn’t until the film, The Jazz Singer, when they were able to figure out how to synchronize sound. And of course, it’s a little bit after The Jazz Singer, before they get color, which is The Wizard of Oz.
And so we can think about Hollywood, but you don’t really think about Hollywood until after you get a synchronized sound and you get talking pictures. And I would argue that the advent of the App Store is the software equivalent of The Jazz Singer. That is the moment when we really started playing ball to design for keeps and it just opens up this whole new set of opportunities for film and all the great films that we would talk about, unless you’re a cinema history guy and you want to go back and watch Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and all that sort of stuff, which are all great, but that’s not the movies we go watch at most we’d watch Wizard of Oz, obviously, and Citizen Kane, you know, and maybe parts of The Jazz Singer, probably not.
But you know, it’s really only talking pictures that any of us would reference. I make that point because I want to draw people’s attention to the idea that we haven’t been doing it that long. And there’s a lot of industry infrastructure that has to get built up in order to have, not just these these training programs in terms of internships, but also just the educational programs.
We don’t really have the programs that community colleges in high school in four year universities, we don’t really have the programs that are really training designers. And I know there are programs in some of those places, but they’re not at the scale that we need. And we don’t have enough people who have been practitioners to go and teach in those environments.
Which is another big piece of it. Like it’s only, now that my generation, I started software design in 1990. You know, you’d have to go to the Mac in 84, which was only six years before I started. And there’s just, there weren’t that many of us working and very few of us from that generation have gone into academia yet.
Which, you know, and it’s not that the people working in academia, aren’t teaching great stuff, but it’s just different once you have, once you’re able to start cycling the practitioners through those schools, they have really helped to develop programs and push them in different ways.
And there are, and again, that’s not to say there aren’t some great programs in the US cause there are worldwide. Cause there certainly are. But they’re just not anywhere near the scale that the industry needs and they’re, you know, they pale in comparison to the infrastructure that exists on the engineering side for example.
Jason Ogle: Sounds like the infrastructure is just not there yet to welcome all of the eager designers that want to jump in and just start going to work.
Bob Baxley: Yeah, it’s just I, you know, you’re born when you’re born and, you know, history presents you, the opportunities it presents you based on when you’re born. And that is, you know, th the, like one of the biggest we, we talk about, you’re lucky to be born in a certain place. Look, you’re lucky to be born at a certain time. I happened to be born in 1963, which as my son reminds me as not being born in 1998. This is definitely true.
You know, I also, wasn’t born in 1932, which is when all the astronauts were born. So like history presents you different opportunities based on when you were born and people that are being born today will have much more developed opportunities to move into design.
I think we’re at this weird moment when the industry is developed and wants designers, but we have a created the infrastructure to develop that talent. And so it’s a uniquely frustrating moment for people trying to get into design.
When I was trying to get into it for one, I didn’t know, there was anything to get into you know, you didn’t have to have some sort of credential because they didn’t exist. I sort of just stumbled into the whole thing. It was lucky. But you know, today, people, there are definitely lots of people that want to get into design and it’s hard for them to amass the skills that they need to be productive and useful in a company.
So they try to get internships or stuff like that, but it is hard to get brought in as a Jr Designer. I mean, that said, you know, my company, ThoughtSpot where I’m working now, we’ve hired some new grads in our India office. We’ve hired a couple of new grads that have come in and they’re just, they’re crushing it.
I’m completely blown away. By the quality of the work, the quality of thought, the dedication. So it’s not impossible, people are definitely coming out of programs that can be super productive. If anything, if there’s any hiring managers out there, I would strongly encourage you to open your mind.
And this thing of, like, we can’t have Jr Designers, I would put that aside, like you would be stunned by what the current generation can do. Generation Z, I’m a big fan. Cause my kids are generation Z, but still like, they’re, they grew up in very challenging times and coming through the great recession coming through the war on terror, it’s been a challenging time economically and culturally in that.
Cauldron, you know, shapes generations in the same way that the quote unquote greatest generation was shaped by The World Wars and The Depression. Gen Z has been shaped by some interesting cultural forces and they’re capable of way more than most people think they are. They’re motivated and driven, incredibly smart, ambitious.
They have amazing amazing abilities to educate themselves if they know how to use all the self learning tools you know, whether that’s YouTube or Coursera or whatever And you would be surprised what they can do. If you’ll give them a chance, I would also encourage any hiring manager listening.
You have got to remove the requirement for a four year degree from your job description. Nobody needs a four year degree to be a designer. Well, the beauty of being a designer is it is probably the only uncredentialed profession there is. You can literally work your way from, a production assistant to the Global Executive Creative Director of a company.
And I have examples of people doing that at lots of major tech companies. I wish everybody could go to four year university. I would hope for them to all have that experience, but only 30% of the U S population will graduate with a four-year degree. So if you care at all about diversity/inclusion, you have got to drop the university requirement because you’re going to by definition include a whole lot more people.
And those folks have incredible talent and they can do what’s required to be a software designer. So I think we need to become much more open as a profession and as a community to the talent. And the possibility that you know is as present, it wants to join us.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, very well said, Bob. As we kind of discussed the current state of things with new designers, which I think you articulated very well, the problem and some proposed solutions too. I think one of the other issues that I see are for IC’s that want to continue to be an IC don’t necessarily want to be a design manager or a creative director, or what have you, uh, that kind of start to hit a ceiling with their growth trajectory.
It seems like currently the only possible next step is to go into management, which means often you’re now going to be responsible for a team. You’re going to be responsible for communicating with C-suite being more involved in business and designing less, more often than not.
You’re going to design less cause you aren’t going to have time to design anymore with all your new responsibilities. So. What do we do here? What are some, you have ideas of how our industry can do better, provide better growth trajectories for I’d love to hear that.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. Yeah. so, two threads in there. One is I want to dispel the myth that design managers don’t design. I still design, I just design with people in organizations, rather than designing with pixels and Figma files. So, I still bring the designer mindset to everything I do as a manager and an executive.
So, I still experience myself as a designer, I’m just not designing screens. Again, I’m designing cultures in organizations and people’s careers. And I think about it and prototype things, all the same things you would do as a designer. I do, but just in this different medium, so big fan of design management.
If people take it seriously and they can bring a designers, mindset to it, you can have an amazing effect on organizations and people’s careers. And you can create a machine that is going to reliably produce well-crafted thoughtful software products. I would argue that Steve Jobs’ greatest invention was Apple itself, because he created a machine and a culture that reliably produces well-crafted, well-designed, thoughtful products that is still going, despite him not being there anymore.
So that’s, that’s that little sermon. Oh, the second piece you were asking about was the second piece that you were asking about was how to retain, like, there are people that don’t want to do that there are, which is awesome. Thank goodness. Like Paul Rand never went into, into management and he kept doing logos. That’s terrific. Thank goodness. Milton Glaser stayed focused on graphic design, you know, thank goodness Paul McCartney never wanted to be a CEO. So, I’m a big fan of people staying true to their craft as well.
I see more and more companies opening up roles as Principal Designers, and I’ve talked to design leaders of other companies, principle designers are an absolute game changer for an organization. If you’re running a design team, like really you got to get on the Principal Designer train, like it’s a principal designer will come in and transform your company.
It’s a very clear message to people who want to stay ICS, that’s the path and Principal Designers have enormous influence and generally are considered in the same comp band as directors. If you want to kind of get to that VP, you know, C level stuff that is the IC.
Thing kind of plays out, but, you know, Principal Designers kind of the equivalent of being a director of a movie. Being a director of a movie is not running a studio. There are many movie directors who’d never move on to running studios. In fact, most of them don’t.
So if you think of being a movie director is having topped out then sure. You know, the IC track, tops out. But I dunno, I think that’s a pretty good place to top out. You know, if there’s people listening who feel that they want to stay on the IC track, you should go talk to your manager about, what does the path to Principal Designer look like and try to figure out how to get that defined for your company.
And to seek out people who are Principal Designers at various companies, in your area, in your industry and try to model out what that role looks like.
Jason Ogle: Yeah that’s a great point. I like that idea of the movie director. You’re right. That’s a pretty good place to top out. I had great privilege of getting my picture taken next to one of my favorite directors of all time, Christopher Nolan. That was an thing. I happened to be at a premiere I’m a friend of mine is a matte painter, so he got invited to the premiers that he was a part of making the movies and.
He’s the one that pointed around. He’s like, Hey, there’s Christopher Nolan over there. And the movie theater lobby right at the Hollywood theater, whatever it is. And so, all that to say, like, you’re right, that’s a pretty good place to top out. And I think that guy is perfectly content as well as many other great directors, perfectly content being in that role of directing the entire creative process of the movie, how the movie comes out and how the people perform and things like that.
Bob Baxley: Yeah, I think that’s what it means to be a creator. When I think about the people that I look up to, or the careers that I aspire to in the things like that, I’m glad Tim Cook is Tim Cook and I’m glad he’s CEO of Apple. I’d never had any aspirations to try to do that.
I’ve never had aspirations to found a company I’ve never had aspirations to lead a bigger org. To me it’s always about doing better work, doing more work, you know, and I take my cues much more from novelists and musicians and writers. I take away more inspiration from, you know, non-fiction writers like David Quammen, than I do from corporate CEOs.
You know, I happen to be in a management and executive role which I very much enjoy and it fits where I’m at in my life and how I think think about what I’m trying to accomplish now. But I don’t aspire to lead a thousand person team. I don’t aspire to be a general manager, anything like that, which is very different.
If you look at people that are in product management or even people that are in engineering more so than product management, they do have different ways of thinking about their career, thinking about what’s success. For me, success, it goes back to creating something I can be proud of, you know, at the end of the day, like really, I just want something, I can go show my parents and say, look at what I made with my friends. Isn’t this cool? You know, like that’s far and away the most magical thing that ever happens to me. If I get a promotion or a raise, I, whatever, like I don’t really care about that.
You know, recently Yahoo announced that they were discontinuing Yahoo Answers, and I led the team that designed the original Yahoo Answers, and so I have a lot of great memories from having created that product. And it’s one of the few products I really got to share with my family in a very specific way. And I remember the product went live the beta went live. My son was maybe six or seven at the time. And I was trying to show them the site and he’s like, well, what does this really mean?
I’m like, well, like, what’s the question that you have, you know, let’s just post a question. And he said, Oh yeah, like, “Where did dragons come from?”, and so I posted that question on Yahoo answers, and then we wouldn’t had dinner, and then we came back after dinner. So like maybe an hour. And there was like five answers to the question.
And they were like super-thoughtful. All of them basically had the idea that dragons in these different cultures were how those people explain the dinosaur bones that they would occasionally dig up. Right. And so, you know, in ancient China or Medieval, you know, Middle Ages, Europe, they would dig up dinosaur bones.
It’s like, well, what the heck was this? How do we explain this? And so they created this mythology of of dragons because lots of different cultures have dragons. And I tell you freaking magic, like that we posted this question out into the ether and then it came back and that my son could see it in my family could see it, you know, it was like, yeah, look at what daddy made at the office with his friends.
That’s like super cool. so to me it’s always, but trying to get back to that moment you know, whatever piece of software I’ve worked on, since my earliest days of working on Claris works, anything I’ve created, it’s always been, you know, what can I show my family and my parents that I’m proud of that I go, wow, that’s pretty cool.
Look at what you and your friends are doing down at the office. That’s cool.
Jason Ogle: That’s awesome. I love it. That’s another of course, benefit of technology is what other tool or medium has been able to bring people together from anywhere in the world. To bring people get other insights I get out of our bubbles. Technology has been the instrument that has made that possible for us. uh, even virtual reality. however you feel about it. I’m on the fence on that one. I have some vestibular issues, so the latency is still not there yet for me, I get a little dizzy and but I mean, there’s just some amazing what an empathy builder. To be able to put on these goggles and all of a sudden, you’re maybe in an impoverished village on the other side of the world.
And you’re just being able to actually sit with this family and observe, how they live and what they have to eat and how they have to work to be able to sustain their families and maybe sick family members, things like that, how would not have a lens and that kind of empathy machine talking about building the machine, like talk about a machine that builds can build empathy and help almost quite literally put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. that’s only possible through technology.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. Well, that’s a, that’s an optimistic view of technology, that’s not what we’ve done so far. It, you know, hearing you talk about it in such a positive way. I mean, it’s inspiring at a great reminder of what technology could be, even if, maybe it’s not that right now, it reminds me a little bit of some of the early debates about television, you know, and when television first came out, there was this promise of television as this amazing medium for positivity. It hasn’t really worked out that way. But you know, that was the, you know, again, there are moments that, you know Sesame street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhoods are great examples. I don’t know if we have too many other great examples, but there were a few,
Jason Ogle: Yeah, it’s funny though, because we were talking about the distraction of these smartphones in our pockets and yes, they can be, it’s certainly an exercise in self-control or lack thereof. But I think I saw some sort of Twitter post or something about, yeah, we’re so much more distracted now than we were, you know, 50 years ago.
I need to see a picture of all these people on a train, holding their newspapers. It’s, nobody’s talking to each other really, but then there’s that one person it’s just kind of sitting there, just observing, not reading the newspaper and it’s like, I kind of want to be that person.
Bob Baxley: Well, you can be that person. You can easily be that person.
Jason Ogle: Can I be that person?
Bob Baxley: Stop and sit around. Yeah.
That’s, like I said earlier it’s important to like, take some time away and go sit under a tree and disconnect all this stuff, but it does come down to, it comes down to a lot of individual discipline. That’s hard. If you’re spending 24/7 in a candy store, it’s awfully difficult to not eat candy. You know, you kind of got to figure out how to get out of the store, which means like somehow, leaving your phone behind, I’ve been sort of amused at and I did this myself. I’ve been amused at how many of my friends but something like an Apple Watch because they thought it would help them spend less time with their phone.
And I started, I sorta joked, like that’s, you know, that’s trading in your car for a motorcycle. Cause you think it’s going to get you out of traffic. You had, I don’t really know. It’s nice to have to watch and be able to leave the phone behind, but I don’t know if that’s fully cracking the nut of getting away from technology.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, it’s true. Anything can be used for good or bad. I mean, that’s just the bottom line. It comes down to the person wielding it, it comes down to the person using it. What was Kranzberg his first law? Technology is neither good, nor bad, nor is it neutral. And he’s right. this is in the sixties, right? This is the early computing computer science, and he made these Melvin Kranzberg made these laws and the first one was like, it was so profound.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. Now it’s amazing how far those guys can see. I mean, when you go back to the stuff Alan Kay was playing with in the late sixties at PARC. You know? or the stuff that Larry Tesler was doing the innovations that Doug Englebart had, when he was doing the mouse.
I mean, it was just phenomenal, the vision, those guys, again, the Vannevar Bush article, as we may think from, I believe 1946. I mean, he is describing the internet. It’s phenomenal how far they could see.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, it’s incredible. I want to speak to the Defenders wanting to move into management. And then I want to kind of wrap up with Silicon Valley before we jump into the Super Seven, but I’m just curious, like, if you can lay it out, and I really like your perspective, Bob, you’re designing still, it’s just in a different way than than you’ve ever been used to. So I say, you know, be careful what you wish for Defenders, if you only presently see yourself creating prototypes and UI and interactions. And I mean, that’s me. I love doing that. Like, I’m totally content just thinking about those things and reducing friction for my users and really getting the process out in the forefront.
I really love that stuff. But for the Defenders that go, you know, I have a leadership characteristics. I really want to be a great design leader. Yes, please become a design leader. Just like we need more designers. We need more great design leaders too, that really care about people and care about the organizational growth as well.
So with that, can you highlight the recommended path and steps for Defenders who are like, okay, I’m a senior now. I think the next logical step for me, I want to lead. I want to be a great leader. What should these folks do?
Bob Baxley: So I think it’s important to distinguish between two things because they often get conflated, but it’s two separate things. Management and leadership. Two different things. There are many people who are phenomenal leaders, as I see sees leadership is a characteristic.
It’s a quality. I can’t make you a leader. I can’t sprinkle fairy dust on you and suddenly, boom, you’re a leader. Leadership is how you move through the world. How you comport yourself at the office. Anybody, no matter what role they’re in can lead. So that’s leadership management is different management is management.
You know, you’re looking at budgets, you’re looking at head count. You’re figuring out orgs, you’re doing project management. You’re, you know, more than anything you’re responsible for developing people’s careers. And you, if you don’t want to help other people in their careers if you don’t take a lot of satisfaction in that.
Don’t be a manager because that is the fundamental task of being a manager.
You have to believe in your people. You have to want to develop them. You have to want to help them progress through their careers. I sort of describe it as parenting at scale, you know, and you have to be able to get excited about other people’s successes. So if you’re going into management for your own ego gratification, you’re going to be a horrible manager and you’re going to be miserable.
And the people that work for you are going to be miserable. The only way you can go into management and be successful is with this servant manager mentality, you have to be there to help your team and to help them succeed. And you have to be willing to step out of the spotlight and put them forward and give them the credit at every freaking turn.
So the benefits of management is it’s incredibly gratifying, you know, I mean, you heard me talk earlier about some of the new grad designers that joined our team and how proud I am of them, like their accomplishments are their accomplishments, that I’m, happy to be a part of it and to help, but it’s their thing.
And it’s super gratifying for me to play that role for them. It’s not like, I don’t need this spotlight. I got plenty of paw prints on the product. I don’t need that. So I’m, I take great satisfaction in seeing them succeed. The other, you know, one of the benefits of management, and again, this doesn’t even require management, but you know, one of the, one of the benefits, if you want to have more influence, which is a lot of times what people want, when they say they want to become managers, they actually want more influence.
And the way to get more influences, you have to get closer to the decision maker be that the CEO or the Creative Director, like whoever it is in your company, that kind of makes the final call. You have to figure out how to get closer to them because you need to be in the room when they make the decision, because that’s how you’re going to influence decision.
So if you want to have more influence, you know, the Principal Designer path is a great way to do that because principal designers are going to have lots of access to the executives because where they sit in the hierarchy of manager, that’s a natural path to get that sort of influence. Yeah, there’s probably other ways to get yourself recognized and to gain influence.
But those are the two obvious ones. But again, I think you have to, you know, you say you want to be a manager and I just really encourage people to back up and say, well, what’s that about? Because if it’s only about the money or it’s only about ego, it’s not going to end well. So the money is maybe a consequence of you being a manager, but you’re only going to get the money if you’re a really good manager and you’re not going to be a good manager, if you’re coming up from an ego perspective.
So you have to kind of tease out. I want to make the organization successful that’s management. I want to have more influence a lot of opportunities for that. I want to be a leader, lots of ways to do that. So I think again, you have to be clear about that if you want to be a manager, that’s great.
And there’s lots of great tools now, you know, there’s lots of great things on the web and you can find all sorts of articles on medium and stuff like that, about how to become a manager. It’s a whole different skillset. It’s a whole bunch of fun stuff to learn. You know, a lot of it has to do with interpersonal relationships and communication and storytelling and, you know, business acumen.
And there’s like, it’s a whole big, giant constellation of new stuff to learn. And it’s never ending. So it’s for me, it’s been incredibly gratifying and as a ton of fun and it has been my mode of operation for the last 10 or 15 years, which has been great. But it’s not for everyone and you shouldn’t feel, if you’re feeling pressured to go into management, you’re probably not thinking about it.
Right. So I think maybe I’ll leave it at that. Yeah.
Jason Ogle: If you’re feeling pressured to go into management, your you’re probably not going to be a great manager and leader. I mean, you can become that if you really have a heart for that, but I think you really have to have that desire and that drive on the outset to really be an effective manager/leader.
And I always say a good manager/leader is the first to take the fall and the last to take the credit.
Bob Baxley: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been, again, I’ve been in management roles for 15 years and there was times when I was a good manager and there was times when I was not such a good manager. And I can tell you when you’re not a good manager, it’s miserable, man. It’s miserable for you. It’s miserable for your team.
Like you did not want to be a bad manager. Like you, you definitely want to be, you want to be a good manager. That again, that’s a certain mindset and you can’t be a good manager and be doing it from an egocentric perspective.
Jason Ogle: Absolutely.
Yeah, so coming full circle to where we started with the history of Silicon Valley and you being somebody who’s really seen a lot of evolution personally with Silicon Valley, with the incredible technologies that have been created and just down the street from where you are.
How do you feel about where Silicon Valley is presently and even where it’s going. And do you have any concerns?
Bob Baxley: Oh yeah, definitely have concerns. Definitely have concerns. Have a lot of concerns. Well, I don’t know where it’s going and if I did, I’d be a much more successful investor. You know, Silicon Valley is a big, giant place. It’s not some unified singular spot. Right. And the reason I started learning so much about the history of Silicon Valley is around 2016.
I just became very disenchanted. I left Pinterest. I became very disenchanted with Silicon Valley. I was really sort of driving up and down 280 and 101 wondering what the hell we’d created and what was happening here. And, you know, felt very distanced from it all. And then I went and I came across a podcast and I started studying a little bit, the history of Silicon Valley.
And I reconnected with this connective tissue between Silicon Valley and the counterculture revolution and this idea of software as a medium. And that really brought me back to the hippie ethos that I felt in Silicon Valley. When I moved here in 1990, and that hippie ethos was profoundly, it was just completely overrun.
And I saw it crumble during the original.com boom, when the money showed up, you know, when the advertising supported software money showed up, you could see there was a different type of person showing up in Silicon Valley and they wore much nicer shoes and they cared about very different things and they drove companies in very different directions. And, that is a lot of Silicon Valley today. And it’s not a part that I am attracted to, and it’s not a part that I participate in, but there are pockets of Silicon Valley that are about something other than that. And I can still find places that care about design craft, and they care about people.
And that you know, when we talk about we’re trying to make the world a better place, you know, and I mean that in a kind of a humble way, you can make the world a better place without making a dent in the universe, right? It’s and I’m not sure everybody’s trying to make the world a better place.
I think there’s a lot of companies in Silicon Valley that are just trying to make money, and they’re trying to make money for their own egoistic means. And I can’t do anything about those and it doesn’t really matter if I like it or don’t like it. But, I can avoid them, and I don’t have to participate in that, and I don’t. So, I think there’s a lot of introspection that starting to happen in Silicon Valley because I think that hippie ethos is what attracted a lot of people. And I think they’re all kind of wondering what went wrong. And I don’t know where it’s going to net out. But there’s definitely an evolution of how people think about the place. It’s not going anywhere.
And the influence of Silicon Valley is not in decline and it’s not going to decline. We’ve created a bit of a dystopia and I remain somewhat optimistic that we’ll find our way out of it. I continue to believe deeply that this is the most creative, most innovative culture anywhere in the world, simply because it attracts people who are innovative and want to have that sort of impact, like the kinds of people that move to Silicon Valley are I think the most interesting, innovative, creative people in the world now.
They’re not all, but not all people I want to hang out with, but it’s a pretty interesting crew that showed up here. You know, yeah, and I still believe that, you know, if you want to be in tech and you want to be at the heart of it all, like this is the place to be. It’s not that you can’t have a great career at other places and you can’t have great influence.
And you know, you can’t, it’s not that you can’t be successful in other centers, but Silicon Valley is to tech what Hollywood is to the film industry, what Nashville is to country music, you know, what New York is to finance? it is the center. And I don’t think that’s changing any time soon.
And you know, the weather is incredible. You can’t, you really can’t beat the weather.
Jason Ogle: You just can’t. It’s true.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. It’s well, I call it the weather tax.
Jason Ogle: Man, If I could go back in time, invest in real estate, I would buy a house there.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s true of a lot of places, I mean, it’s nice to see all these other tech centers booming, you know, and to see all these other tech jobs showing up. Cause you know, I don’t even really think of tech as an industry anymore. Tech is imbued in everything. So it’s nice to see some of the jobs that have been focused here that maybe don’t have to be here to see those, you know, opening up into lots of different places I’m sure the citizens of Boulder and Austin might not be quite as excited with the growth.
But I’m glad to see that happening. I certainly hope with the move to a more remote and hybrid work that we’ll see a whole new crop of designers being empowered and opened up across the country. There is amazing design talent sitting all across this country, all across Europe, South America. I think this move to remote could be an amazing equalizer for creative talent, even more so in design than anything else.
Again, because it’s an uncredentialed profession it is completely about your portfolio, it’s completely about what can you produce? And that means that a kid’s sitting in Cleveland or Cincinnati or St. Louis, or, you know, St. Paul Minneapolis, which has an amazing history of design of graphic design, a particular business, a phenomenal design culture.
Chicago has an amazing design culture. There’s stuff happening in Atlanta, across the country. There’s just incredible pockets of creativity. And so I’m personally, and again, across Europe, South America, Asia like everywhere and being part of ADP List is opened me up to this talking to young designers and in Jakarta and New Zealand and London, and doing it all in the same day, you know, it’s freaking mind bending, I’ve had days where I’ve talked to people on five different continents which is absolutely impossible.
Pre-COVID so, I guess it wasn’t impossible, but unlikely pre-COVID. Uh Yeah, I mean, I’m super optimistic, you know, we’re not in the best place that we could be, but I’m bullish, man. I’m super optimistic. I think we’re going to turn this thing around.
So I’m still hopeful. And again I just freaking love computing, it’s just, I can’t give that up. It’s as love computers, it’s that simple in that nerdy, I guess
Jason Ogle: That’s awesome, Bob, really loved your answer. I’m inspired, and I’m I love your optimism too. So I’m kind of a half full, usually half full guy. But I, especially around this subject matter I definitely take the you know, eternal optimist approach and I’m excited. I think that we’ve just scratched the surface to what we can do with good design, with good tech and how that can impact our fellow human lives.
I think we’ve just scratched the surface. We can do an entire episode on just the medical side of this. Lives that have been saved through tech and good design.
Um, but I appreciate that a lot, Bob.
Bob Baxley: I appreciate I appreciate still a We’re still in charge, man. We’re still in charge. It’s like, we haven’t lost to the machines yet. We’re still in charge, so
Jason Ogle: Yes. Amen. So Bob, let’s jump into the Super Seven, as we begin to wrap up here.
Bob Baxley: The Super Seven! Yeah. here we go.
Jason Ogle: My broadcast voice isn’t quite as good as yours on that original WT w D whatever it was. Alright.
Bob Baxley: W D U X.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, W Ducks.
Bob Baxley: There you go.
Jason Ogle: Uh, all right. So, Bob, what’s your design superpower?
Bob Baxley: Metaphor I have an unusual ability to connect things from completely different fields and create visual images for people that actually it probably plays out more in design conversations than what you might actually see in a final design.
But when I’m trying to help people understand the abstractions of what we’re trying to create and how this thing is like that I’m often able to compare things from very disparate fields and folks often commented on it. So I th I think metaphor is uniquely useful in the context of the type of design work I do.
Jason Ogle: I really liked that super power. I want more of that for myself too. I think it was a great as a design leader and manager, like being able to tell stories, being able to connect seemingly disparate areas and be able to weave a story together. And that’s story together. So I’m inspired by that.
Conversely, what’s your design Kryptonite, Bob?
Bob Baxley: Far and away the weakest part of my design is overall visual design. I think I’m competent as a graphic designer working in fairly structured constraints inside visual design, I think color in particular is something I just don’t understand.
It’s not something that’s natural to me. It’s not formulaic like, typography or grid systems or other aspects of graphic design. So I would, I’d have to go with color. Probably maybe why I prefer black and white photography, but
Jason Ogle: Right. Interesting. Interesting. No, that’s cool. Well I guess you don’t have to worry as much about that but that’s so…
Bob Baxley: Yeah. It’s a good question. When you learn about to ask people about their design kryptonite, because as a design leader manager we’re all gonna have weaknesses, you know, and I think it’s important to figure out in the full skill set of design competencies, you know, which are the ones that I’m lacking and then to make sure that you’ve are, have people on your team that fill those up.
And again, it goes back to what I was saying earlier about you can’t manage from an egoistic point of view, because if you were coming at, from an ego point of view, you would want people that are only supporting you. And I try to find people that are going to be able to help me with things that I’m not very good at.
So like early on in almost every role, I’ve tried to hire strong visual designers. Cause I know that’s a blind spot, a challenge for me. And I also try to hire people in design ops. Cause I know just the mechanics of running everything and getting the trains to run on time is not something that comes natural to me.
So to have somebody there to help manage all that is, has been super useful.
Jason Ogle: You’re really building like an Avenger is that justice league, right? That’s why I like the superhero metaphor for this show because one superhero wasn’t enough. You’re building talent you’re putting into these folks, but yet you’re also getting out of their way
Bob Baxley: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve just seen it like a sports team, you know, I think of it like a sports team. Mostly I think about it like a basketball team. Cause it’s a fairly small thing that you get your arms around, you know, it’s obviously Steph Curry has the outside shot. That’s great You probably don’t need a lot more outside shooting.
There’s other things that you need. If you’re going to have a complete team if your goal was to just go get a bunch of Steph Curry’s, you probably wouldn’t win too many games. And you get a lot of outside shots, but you probably wouldn’t win a lot of games. So it’s
Jason Ogle: That’s great. I like that. And there’s the metaphor? A super
Bob Baxley: There’s the metaphor right there. Boom! Yeah.
Jason Ogle: Boo yeah! So, Bob, this is a fun one. What would your UX superhero name be? As we’re talking about superheroes.
Bob Baxley: I don’t know, man. My friends used to call it back in the day. They called me GUI Bob and I always liked that. When we still used to call it. GUI, graphical user interface, for those of you who are new to the field. GUI. I actually had the domain GUIBob.com I had for awhile.
Jason Ogle: That’s awesome.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. I don’t know how far that’s going to get me in the pages of a comic book, but I could see it visually.
You could see GUI Bob. I don’t know if it’s a superhero, but still I’ll stick with it.
Jason Ogle: Your super power on the pages is throwing slime at people
Bob Baxley: Yeah there you go. I like that. I like that.
Jason Ogle: Oh, okay. Now I liked that a lot. So Bob, I’m sure you have many because you are obviously very successful. What’s one habit that you believe contributes to your success.
Bob Baxley: This is a practice That’s occurred more in the last few years, but I did start keeping a journal sometime back. And it’s a moleskin notebook. That’s their annual daily planner. And it’s printed with the date on every page. And I started keeping it as a way to record what was happening in my family’s life and what’s happening in current events as a tool to give to my kids later so that they could read first person contemporaneous accounts of what was happening in and around their life as they were growing up.
And I’ve been doing that for about 10 years now. And I, get about 365 pages a year. So whatever’s happened in the last 10 years. I have kind of play by play, day by day, contemporaneous accounts. And then about five years ago, I started doing the same thing on my job side. the jobs, I actually tend to count the days. Not cause I’m counting like it’s a prison sentence, but because counting how many days you’ve been there, creates a sense of urgency and it helps you understand that time is going by. And I relate these jobs to like a presidential term, you know, and you know that when somebody inhabits the office of President of the United States, they have about a thousand days to get stuff done.
It’s a little bit more, but around, let’s just say it’s around a thousand days and they are going to make the most out of every day. And so when I go into these new jobs, I try to think in terms of a thousand days and that’s caused me to count the days. So I know for example, that I’ve been at my current role, workday’s, I’ve been there. I think it’s 367 days now. And simply having to write notes from every day causes me to reflect on what’s happened. And so I think that’s just that habit of sitting and writing and trying to replay the day’s events and process them helps me see patterns and trends.
It helps me connect dots that would kind of otherwise be lost. And then more recently I’ve actually even added to that where I write just a few sentences each day, where I’m trying to remind myself I’m trying to remind myself and sort of a stoic type way to bring myself back to like reduce your ego.
You’re getting too frustrated on this stuff. focus on the work don’t get caught up in all, like, whatever the message of the day might be. It’s a lot of just sort of self counseling to remind myself to kind of stay true to this servant leadership, get your ego out of the way. You’re getting short tempered because you’re not sleeping enough, like whatever it is.
So I’m it’s a long answer to your short question. I would say probably the single habit is journaling. And then there’s a particular flavors of journaling that I think have been specifically helpful to me as a design professional.
Jason Ogle: That’s inspiring. I like that a lot. And especially leaving a canon for your kids later, like, this is what was happening in this time. That’s really cool. And Defenders, I will remind you that this is pen to paper, right?
Bob Baxley: Oh yeah. Yeah. No it’s all super specific, man. It’s exactly, you know, it’s very, designery, it’s a very specific Moleskin notebook. They release them every year. I buy two it’s now it’s all very coordinated. There’s a specific kind of pen. It’s all. It’s all very fastidious and picky. Yeah.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, but it’s not the pin and the paper that’s going to make it happen either. Right? Like you have to be disciplined.
Yeah. Cause you remember, I’m sure you’ve heard this. Having son who’s an aspiring screenwriter and Stephen King. one of the most often asked questions that he’s ever fielded is what kind of pencil do you use?
Like there’s some magic in the pencil that makes him such a great writer!
Bob Baxley: It’s the same thing with photographers. They always ask them about cameras and settings stuff. It’s like, it’s not that, but I will say that as an individual, you know, you get attached to your tools, there’s a great story. William Styron, who wrote a Sophie’s Choice, you know, he talked about when he writes on a legal, on a yellow, legal pad with a particular number two pencil.
And he said, you know, when I would travel, sometimes I would run out of the legal pads and I have to go to the local store and I couldn’t get the yellow. I could only get the white and was like, look, it’s not that I can’t write on a white legal pad, but God, it’s just another thing that I have to get over. [Laughter]. There is something about just having your tools that are unique to you.
Jason Ogle: So in addition to, I would say probably your specific pencil and or pen and moleskin notebook, which I have a feeling you’re probably going to get asked about it. So you might have to give me the links to those.
Bob Baxley: Sure.
Jason Ogle: But in addition to that do you have your most invincible UX resource or tool you can recommend to our listeners for design
Bob Baxley: Yeah, sure. Yeah, this is going to be, that’s a very different answer than what you probably are asking for, but I would just say, it’s your awareness. You know, you have in your control, the ability to become aware of a lot more things and to slow down and really ask yourself what’s happening specifically with different software interactions that you have.
If you’ll do that during your day, I’m telling you, there are dozens of opportunities in your day as you’re going about your normal errands where you will be interacting with software systems and you take them all for granted right now. And if you will slow down and focus your awareness just for a moment on what’s actually happening from a software perspective.
And imagine that there’s somebody on the other side that designed all those things, because there is even if you don’t know who they are and you start to ask yourself, well, what did they do? Why did they make this choice? You know, how am I experiencing this as a user that using your awareness in that way will make you a dramatically better designer because you will, you’ll just see how much nuance there is and as a user, you’ll understand how those design choices make you feel. And that will create that connective tissue between yourself as a creator and your audience, it goes back to something I said earlier, we work in a profession where we never really get to see people use our work.
I’ve worked on products. It’s been used by hundreds of millions of people that I’ve never seen. Somebody use one in the wild never, ever happened. And so you have to compare that, like, if you were a film actor or a director, never being able to go to a theater and see people watching a movie, you know, or if you were a musician, never being able to go to a concert and see a performer in front of an audience, that’s our experience.
Like we get to play to these massive audiences and we never see them. And so it’s really hard for you to build that empathy and that connective tissue between the thing that’s been created and how it’s being consumed. And so again, if you’ll take the moment and broaden your awareness and pause and think about what you’re experiencing as a user, while you’re interacting with these software systems, you can at least in some way start to draw that connection between the created object and the experience of the audience.
That’s another really long answer. I’m going to go with awareness.
Jason Ogle: I love that. That was very inspiring. Bob, you extracted so much more out of that than I thought you would for that question. So I, I really appreciate that a lot. I know the Defenders do too.
Books are great. as we do with this video, there’s hundreds of books behind you on your bookshelf.
Um, So this may be a hard one for you, but if you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why?
Bob Baxley: Does it have to be just one?
Okay. Okay. So if it’s one like the most practical one that people love is Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. Amazing book about just baseline, how to think about design. Like these are the rules we should all be living by.
It’s a fantastic book, really entertaining read. Give it to everybody at your company. It’s awesome. So Don’t Make Me Think it’d be number one. A second one would be The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. It will change how you think about typography is the foundational skill of every form of visual design, graphic design, UI design.
Everything that we do is based in typography. Robert Bringhurst, I believe was the poet Laureate for Canada before, around the time he wrote the book, the first 80 pages are profound and poetic and will change how you see the printed page. So Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst.
And then the last one I’ll put on here is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Piersig. So, I’ve kind of gone from the relatively tactical. Don’t Make Me Think through the somewhat philosophical Elements of Typographic Style, to the completely philosophical Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
But Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is an incredible exploration into the role of technology in our lives and this modern pressure to fragment and deconstruct things into their constituent parts and in the process lose sight of the whole. And I think this is one of the things that we fight against as designers.
I think it’s core to what makes the modern experience so challenging and difficult for many people, is we’ve fragmented all this stuff, and we don’t look at them as holistic systems. You know, again, from a practical perspective as a designer most of the large scale projects, we work on tend to be divided into engineering, pods, you know, different technology stacks, and there’s an engineering team and these different little silos.
And then as designers, we’re sort of aligned to those little silos, but what gets delivered to the user is the whole, right? So it’s essentially as if we’re making a movie and we’re each designing a particular shot and nobody ever takes a step back to see if the whole thing makes sense. And, you know, as a user, you go through these flows all the time when it’s clear that the whole thing doesn’t make sense because nobody ever looked at the whole thing.
And so, Zen and the Art Motorcycle Maintenance, I think will draw your attention back to the not just the dangers of this fragmentation, but also just how dehumanizing it is. It’s not how we live our lives. We live our lives as whole people in the whole world. And this fragmentation is that’s a, it’s a weird offshoot of the modern capitalist economy and the strive for efficiency and specialization of occupation.
And it doesn’t serve us well as humans. So, anyways, there you go.
Jason Ogle: Nice.
Bob Baxley: Three books instead of one.
Jason Ogle: We’ll take it now. That’s a great, well-rounded list there. I appreciate you explaining why too. So that’s really cool.
I do have one more question, but I think I might want to sneak in a couple more, but why not? It’s been what, four hours?
Bob Baxley: The Super Nine! Okay okay.
Jason Ogle: I did want to ask you about working with Steve, I forgot to ask earlier, but I’m curious, like what’s one of the biggest, best lessons you learned from Steve Jobs?
Bob Baxley: Oh, it’s there’s a ton of it. I mean, so I, so yeah, so look, I wish to be clear, I didn’t work with Steve Jobs. I only got, I got to present that in the eight years I was at Apple. I got to present to Steve four times, my friends that were working on the core products to Apple, they presented to Steve. Every, they presented to him every two weeks. They actually, they presented to him so many times. They can’t remember really what happened. So I, in some ways I’m sort of blessed that I only presented four times. Cause I remember every meeting quite clearly.
You know, the thing about Steve is he just had phenomenal taste. Like, you wanted to go to present to Steve jobs.
Not because he was an icon. Cause, cause he wasn’t really, when I started, I mean, he was still well-known but you know, this is pre iPhone and stuff, but he wasn’t, he wasn’t all that. He was by the time he passed away. But he just had phenomenal taste and insight. And so when you would show him stuff, whatever he would say was making the work better.
I mean it always, and this was true of every executive Apple. It’s not just Steve, like as you went up the management chain, every one of those executives added phenomenal value to the work and you wanted to show it to them because you wanted your work to be great. And so, I think with Steve, one of the things you learn is, you learn to ask, do I love it.
Is this the best it could be? Is this, can I think of anything else, that would make this better? And I remember probably the biggest compliment I got in a review at Apple was we were presenting the Tim Cook, it was a redesign of the online store and he was looking at the homepage and he just, he, you know, he had me kind of scroll up and down the page and then he paused and he was quiet for a long time, which Tim does a lot.
And you know, you sort of sitting there on pins and needles as this long pause is happening. And then he comes back with the line, “It’s hard to imagine how that could be improved upon”, which is sort of a strange line, but, you know, and it, and when he said it, you just sort of paused and you’re sort of trying to process it? and then you’re like, Oh, that’s good.
I think that’s good. Yeah. Yeah,
No, that’s definitely good. And then you’re like, “Okay, well, thanks, Tim, that’s great.” But you know, I think that came from Steve is just this notion of constantly asking how could this be better? Don’t accept the status quo. Don’t accept what’s right in front of you, you know, and Steve talked about this as a great interview where he talked about this.
He said, you know, once you realize that everything in the world was created by people like you, that probably aren’t any smarter than you, they just happened to be there once you, really realize that, then you stop accepting the status quo and you’re asking yourself, how can it be better?
And, you know, to tie some of this stuff back to how I function as a manager and what some of my habits are. And I think something I’ve evolved into as a design manager, and this is true of great managers and great executives is they don’t accept the premise of the situation. You know, they fundamentally ask how could this be better?
What could change here? I don’t know, it allows them to come up with very different answers and very different approaches. So I just, it, you know, it’s the Steve’s attitude of how could this be better? It just, it is so central to every nook and cranny of Apple and how every individual employee there works.
I mean, for goodness sakes they have a patent on the pizza box that they use in cafe max, because the pizza guys were asking themselves, we can do better than a square box because a square box cools the pizza too quickly. And so they have like these round pizza boxes, like everybody is asking all the time, how can it be better?
And, part of the reason I talk about Apple now that I’m out of the company, it’s not an ego thing around the association with Apple, it’s that I just so firmly believe in this idea that if we would all go through the day asking, how could this be better?
We would actually make things that are better and that would be great. Um, And you don’t have to be Apple to ask that question. There’s nothing unique. There is no secret sauce. There’s nothing happening at Apple that can’t happen elsewhere. They just work really hard and they constantly ask, how can it be better?
And they refuse to be satisfied until they get to the end of that question. How can this be better? And the only response is it’s hard to imagine how that can be improved upon like, and we can all do it. Everybody listening to can do it. We can all do that every day in our work. I know that’s easier said than done.
I didn’t say it was easy, but it’s a powerful attitude.
Jason Ogle: I like that a lot. Wow.
Bob Baxley: That’s what I learned from
Jason Ogle: That’s that’s awesome. I feel like in my life I’ve found that anything good that comes out of it, there’s some sacrifice involved in that. There’s some sacrifice, there’s some sweat equity, there’s, some, blood, sweat and tears involved in that, anything good.
So I feel like if we can really get that lens in every facet of our life, especially as designers in this craft that we’re so blessed to do that, I think you’re right, can only get better and better.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. You should be attracted to the hard problems, cause if it was easy, somebody else would have already done it. And so the chances of you doing something original that’s easy are absolutely zero. Cause there’s seven and a half billion people on the planet. All the easy ideas have been done.
You should be excited that you’re working on something that’s hard.
Jason Ogle: Like that do hard things. So I’m curious, what’s your best advice for aspiring UX superheroes and for these up-and-coming software designers, especially, you know, we were talking about them earlier, like what’s your best advice for these folks that just really want to get in there that want to make things better, right.
That don’t want to settle but, or maybe they’re feeling restricted. Maybe there are some obstacles who knows, but what would you say? What’s your best advice for these folks?
Bob Baxley: You know, when I’ve talked to these, when I’ve met these younger designers, these emerging designers through ADP List, the one thing I always ask them and that I often see missing from their portfolios, there’s never any statement of why they’re a designer. And they’re always a little flummoxed when I ask them that And I think everybody in this profession would be well-served by just spending a little time, reflecting on why are you doing this?
Cause you could be doing a lot of other things. I’ve never met anybody who is doing it for the money. I’ve never really met anybody that’s doing it for the notoriety. You know? So like those aren’t the dynamics at play. For some reason, you’ve decided to invest your professional life in being a software designer.
And what is that? For me, I’ve referenced it in our time together. You know, I fell in love with computing. I can’t quite explain that, but I can explain to you my deep passion for this idea of software as a medium and that software and computing can be a source of personal transformation.
And I bear witness to that because it’s been so in my own life. So I firmly believe in those ideas and that’s what drives me as a designer. It would be unusual for someone in their early twenties to have that kind of insight. It took me decades to get there. But I think I also probably could have gotten there sooner if I’d stopped and thought about it.
And so, with a younger designer, maybe you just spend a little time reflecting and journaling about it for a few days and just asking yourself, why did I go into this? Why did I study this? Why am I listening to this podcast when there’s so many other things I could be doing? Uh, Then I think you’ll, for one, you’ll find your passion and that will help you navigate the periods when you’re down, it’ll help you with your persistence.
But I think it’ll also provide a lens into what is unique about you as a designer, and what is unique about you as a creative soul and a creative participant and contributor in a company. And that actually also then ends up being the entree into how you sell yourself into a job. Cause you can’t just come in as a designer.
You know, you have to come in with a point of view and I can tell you as a hiring manager, every person I interview, I know that they’re going to be contributing to my team. They’re going to push us in a different direction than we’ve otherwise gone. These are not cogs. I don’t hire for specific skills.
It’s all about chemistry. It’s all about relationship. And so I need to understand each person as a person and why they’re motivated to doing what they’re doing. And if they can’t clearly present that to me in an interview, I’m left to infer it myself. And I don’t like doing that. So I would love to have designers of any age in their career, any stage of their career, being able to come in and tell me strongly, like why they are doing what they do.
It helps me understand how they would fit into my team and what they would contribute. And it helps me develop that picture of what they could do. And that makes it much easier to want to include them and want to hire them. Yeah. when I talk to people about it in the context of their portfolio, or refer to it sort of as an artist statement, you know, that you would see if you ever go to look at photography sites or whatever artists there was always sort of an artist’s statement that explains why they do the kind of art they do and how they got drawn to it.
And I think all of us would benefit from from going, you know, whether you publish it or talk about it a lot just going through and clarifying that in your own heart and your own soul. Yeah. Jason, why are you doing this podcast?
Jason Ogle: Yeah. Yeah. And I like that. What’s your why? I think that we should have an answer when we’re asked that, especially about something that we are passionate about and it’s like, have you ever stopped to think about why you do this? I know you love to do it, but why? I think for me to answer your question, it’s inspiring aspiring designers.
That’s my, why. And for this podcast but we were talking earlier and I’ll be honest Bob, the only other person that I’ve spent this much time with on doing recording an episode with my late great father, G.A. Jim Ogle. And we spent a good three plus hours in his Merritt Island, Florida home, right near the Space Center as a, as we were talking earlier and me being able to capture his story.
And I’ll be honest, I’ve designed a lot of different things, but I’ve never designed a headstone. And that was the first time I’ve done that as designing my father’s headstone, which we’re really excited to finally get that stone in place. And we finally got you know, the design and everything in place, but underneath his name, it says, “A real rocket man”, you know, and he was, as we were discussing, he was there from the very beginning, all the way to the end.
Really, if you think about it before, you know, Bezos and Musk started kick the space program back off, he was out at the very end of the Space Shuttle program, and then he retired. But all that to say and this is kind of a deep one, but, my dad really was proud of his career and understandably so, and all that accomplishment, historical and you being here for a while and seeing, and again, influencing and impacting this great field that we all love so much. And we all are privileged and blessed to be a part of, you know, how do you want to be remembered, Bob? What do you want on your headstone?
Bob Baxley: Well for what I, for one, I just say tastes like I’m very touched and moved by the comparison. And as I said earlier, it’s yeah, it’s very powerful to hear how much pride you have for your father and to imagine how much pride he must have had in you. So,
Jason Ogle: Thank you.
Bob Baxley: I don’t know any other way to say it, but congratulations on navigating that relationship.
Like that’s a really powerful and beautiful thing. So, I don’t know if I’m worthy of the comparison to the conversation with your father, but I’ll go with it for now. And how do I want to be remembered?
When I left Pinterest and then I kind of roamed around for a few years and then decided to go back to work.
And in the context of deciding to go back to work, you start thinking about rebuilding your portfolio. And most of the stuff I did was like years, if not decades ago. And frankly, it just looks silly at this point, that it was great work at the time, but it’s pretty goofy now. And so it’s hard to have a big portfolio as a designer unless you’re constantly making new stuff and I don’t have that.
And it really brought home for me, the fact that we are building sandcastles on the beach, software is a very ephemeral medium, and it is not going to last. There’s nothing that you and I are going to create in software that is going to be around for our kids to use that is not going to happen.
And so then it causes you to reflect on your life, you know, and like, what did I accomplish? And what I realized is what’s really stuck with me. And what’s really been powerful is the memories of those moments when I was creating with other people and it was magic and we were all coming up with stuff and building on each other’s ideas and, those moments when I remember vividly, you know, went to go show the redesign of the Apple online store went to go show it to Steve.
And the guys who had worked on the design had to kind of wait behind, you know, I went and I did the demo with Steve, and he was I guess, happy with it or, you know, approved it. And uh, coming back to the office and seeing those guys sitting around the table, just kind of waiting to see what the news was and to get to come back and say, you know, like it’s a go, yeah he’s good with it, and to see the excitement in their face, like, like, wow, like that was so much more powerful than any of the pixels we put up on the screen of store.apple.com.
I mean, that’s, the design work that I’ve done is the medium, the lens through which I get to have these moments and form these memories and have these relationships. And yeah, so that, I guess that’s the stuff I’d want to be remembered for it’s more of that inspiring people and helping them feel better about what they’re contributing and doing the, I dunno, the D the deliverables are whatever. I don’t know if that stuff matters so much. Yeah.
Jason Ogle: Wow. That’s powerful, Bob. We need more design leaders and managers like you. I’m glad you exist. I’m glad that you have been able to. Yeah, I’m glad you’ve been able to widen your net so much and cast such a wide net on your impact, your influence and all those things that why you did that?
Your why? Right. You’re making an impact, not only on the millions of people that have used what you have touched in some way, shape or form but all the impact that you’ve made on the human beings, just in your sphere that have gone on it’s the mathematical equation. It’s multiplication, what these folks have learned from you in 30 plus years, you are guaranteed to know that these folks have gone and taught others what they’ve learned from you.
And then they have taught others and they’ve taught others. It’s that legacy. So, I think that’s really powerful man.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. And I’m just a medium for the people that came before me. I’m a conduit, you know, and I’m happy. I’m happy to be a conduit for the likes of whoever I’m a conduit. I won’t deign to say that I’m a conduit for Steve Jobs, but I like to think that I’m at least propagating a lot of those ideas.
And they’re ideas, I believe in, I think the world would be a better place if more people were aware of them and believed in them as well.
Jason Ogle: That’s beautiful. Well, and this podcast is going to help too to continue that legacy, perpetuating those ideas.
Bob Baxley: That’s why we’re here three and a half hours on Saturday morning, buddy. That’s why we’re here.
Jason Ogle: the win! Bob, before we go can you tell our audience of Defenders the best way to connect and to keep up with you? Because I know they’re gonna wanna
Bob Baxley: Wow. There’s not a lot of great ones, so you can find me on LinkedIn. And I accept almost all invitations so you can try there. And then I’m on Twitter. I think it’s ThisIsBobBaxley, but I don’t have a huge following there. So yeah. I dunno, Jason, I haven’t gotten, I should spend more time on that. So, LinkedIn is probably your best option.
Jason Ogle: All right. Very good bottom. Well, there’s something to be said for that too. Right? Cal Newport, we talked about earlier, he’s a millennial, he’s never had a social media account. He’s a professor, he’s written a lot of great books. He’s wrote a book called Deep Work.
There’s something to be said for that. So, don’t bad.
Bob Baxley: Yeah. You can get to me if you want to get to me, it’s not that hard just search my Google search, my name, you’ll find me.
Jason Ogle: Yeah. Very good. So yeah, Bob, thank you again so much for being so generous with your time. This has been really enlightening and enriching. I have learned a ton from you I’m inspired. And so yeah, that mathematics, that multiplication continues my friend.
And, I just you.
Bob Baxley: Well, thanks so much for the opportunity, man. It’s a real honor and privilege to be here. I appreciate you spending so much time. It’s been a lot of fun, so thank you.
Jason Ogle: Awesome. Well, last but not least Bob, I just want to say, fight on my friend.
Bob Baxley: We’ll do… the journey continues.
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