"It Matters”: Design, Leadership, and Living By a Different Code
Recently as a leadership exercise, our COO Tim Winner asked the leadership team to “come up with the title of your book.” This book, he explained, would be about who we would become as leaders 20 years from now. If or team fast forwarded and were reflecting on our career and our lives, what would our individual book be titled?
I was intrigued — what an incredible exercise, and a new way to think through what I wanted my legacy as a leader to be!
As an example for me, Tim offered Designed Perfectly for the title of my book, because of my penchant for design and design thinking to touch everything that I do, and the desire for perfection I bring to my work. It was a beautiful title, but it wasn’t “it” for me. Why? It was too narrowly focused. Yes, design is a huge part of who I am and the legacy I want to leave — but I wanted a book title that captured more holistically who I am, and whom I hope to become over the next 20 years.
And who do I hope to become? An intelligent, confident, charismatic, articulate, empathetic, and compassionate designer and leader. A female leader in a male-leader-dominated field. A designer who has not only honed her craft, but has established a point-of-view, and who speaks fluently to the business value of design and design thinking — not only as applied to digital, but as applied to the C-suite of organizations and workplace culture. A leader who picks up the charge, helps design lead business, and ensures design touches every aspect of an organization.
As the Creative Director at Metal Toad, I am blessed to spend my days working towards that exact goal. Every day my core challenge is to lead my team and myself towards maximizing the impact design can have for our clients, our Toads, on the organization itself. That can be anything from communicating who we are and what we do in sales and marketing materials, to evolving our brand, to projects like Toad Lore and the UX on an NDA greenfield project, to the details of a well crafted celebration card, t-shirt, or summer gift, or to the thought and craft we put into visualizing complex concepts in our diagrams and infographics. It’s a wide gamut that can be invigorating, exhausting, exciting, and terrifying. It’s what I call great work.
So back to my book — how do I capture that in one title? Like a designer drawing sketches, I started writing down words and titles, and like that initial sketch process can often go, nothing was quite sticking and hitting home. But that’s all part of the process, and I kept reminding myself to be open to the right idea. It was out there, and it would probably come to me where it usually does — on a run, right before I fall asleep, right when I wake up, or in passing talking to someone else.
This particular idea can to me in passing as I was talking to Tim about the importance of the thought and intent and all the “little things” in design. I was telling Tim, “The thought and craft in the little things can make just as much a difference as the big things." More times than I can count, I’ve been told in reference to design choices (or even better, the LACK of design choices), "Oh, that doesn’t matter — who cares?" And as I designer, I contend, "You’d be surprised how many people actually do care, whether they are aware of it or not." Yes, your logotype choice can make difference in legibility and engagement. Yes, your typeface choice can make a big difference in legibility and readability. Yes, who your user is matters. Yes, your target audience matters. Yes, your underlying strategy matters. Yes, your language choices matter. Yes, how you present your work to clients matters.
But that point of view doesn’t just carry over to design work. It carries over to leadership, and truly to my life’s work. Yes, building trust matters. Yes, empathy and compassion as a designer and a leader matters. Yes, being vulnerable matters. Yes, being authentic matters. Yes, listening more than talking matters. And the list goes on and on and on. And there is was — the book title I was looking for — It Matters.
Twenty years from now, my book will be about design, leadership, and the things that matter in all the roles I play in my daily life — not only as a designer and leader, but as a friend, a colleague, a confidant, a sister, a wife, a daughter.
It Matters — an intentionally broad title to encompass the wide breadth of things I passionately advocate that DO matter. All the little things that individually or cumulatively have an impact on our lives and the meaning we find in our day-to-day.
In the spirit of starting that book today, I’ll be following this blog post with an It Matters blog series in which I will talk not only about what matters, but more importantly WHY it matters.
I’m curious — if you were writing a book about your legacy 20 years from now, what would you call it and why?