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Ep14. Strategic Product Design and Designing Mindful UX at Headspace with Cal Thompson

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Cal Thompson⁠ (they/them) is a design leader and the VP of User Experience at Headspace. They are leading a talented and mindful team of researchers and designers. Cal has extensive experience working with emerging tech, enterprise and customer experience challenges.

In this conversation, we will focus on strategic product design, how UX is done at Headspace, what matters most to them when crafting mindful experiences, a career in design tips and much more.

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Also available on all major podcast platforms and Youtube.


Vy: [00:00:00] Hey, so this next conversation is with Cal Thompson and Cal is a VP of product design and research at Headspace. What we discuss in this session, though, is a lot of things. We go full speed into the actual Headspace UX culture and design team, and we touch a lot of strategic, tactical, and cultural elements.

We talk about. AI and principles to do with designing kind experience and what matters when they’re powered by AI. And also we cover the product design strategy and how to be a much more strategic designer. And as such, I hope you enjoy this session because there are so many gold nuggets in it. And if you do enjoy this session, make sure to share it with a friend or give a like on whatever platform you’re using to view or listen to this conversation.

And without further ado, it’s Cal Thompson. 

Cal: My background in getting to design, um, It makes [00:01:00] sense when you look back at it, but I wouldn’t say that it made sense as I was coming through it. When I’ve looked back on it, I realized that I was designing playground equipment as like an eight year old. Like I was always interested in some form of design.

I just didn’t know that that was design. Like, I just thought I was like having fun and, you know. Whatever, um, turns out that is designed. And so, um, so I grew up, you know, always, you know, very creative and interested in things and, you know, an artist and painter and just, you know, all the, all the kind of fun stuff.

And, um, went to undergrad for, For art. Um, and, you know, went to like a liberal arts school where, where you could study many things as well as art. And my senior spring, my very last class of undergrad was a product design course, and it was taught by a guy who had worked at Stanford and gone to the D school.

And I had never heard of user experience design before that moment. I had never heard of. User centered design, you know, like none of that was, and this was in 2005. So it was like actually a little kind of, [00:02:00] you know, it was still pretty early for like parts of our industry. And I was like, this is the best, this is so fascinating.

This is so cool. You gotta be kidding me. We’re like, we’re able to do this and learn from people and da da da. It was my very last class of my very last year of college. So I was like, God damn it. I studied the wrong things, you know, but I still liked art and you know, it’s fine. So, uh, fast forward, I went to grad school for art.

I ended up being a bit bored by it and I actually dropped out. And then I went to design school. And so, and I went to a really interesting design school in Austin, Texas. That was, um, this is really where I learned design research and I learned it really deeply and really learned, like, how do you actually work with humans and learn from them and understand their pain points and take that through a design process to get to a human centered service at the end.

So it was like a very strong, rich program that was very tactical, incredible teachers. A lot of them were former frog designers [00:03:00] from the design consultancy frog. Lauren Sirota was my research mentor at that school, and I want to shout her out because she is still an incredible hero of mine, amazing design researcher, and I really learned the value there of actual generative qualitative design research in the field.

You know, true synthesis, true ideation, true prototyping, you know, just really like making things real, going from like observations to like really cool solutions. So that was a fabulous school program. And, um, and then I, you know, moved into working in design consultancies and worked. I did that for many, many years before I came to Headspace.

Headspace was the first product company that I came to. Um, and I. I joined headspace because it was, um, a product that I was very interested in being part of and just like to be around really strong designers who had really strong visual execution skills, um, as well as a really strong behavioral [00:04:00] science team that we got to collaborate with.

That was to me, like a kind of gold is like, how do you take knowledge of human behaviors and really, really good designers and also like content producers. Headspace has its own amazing content team and come together to make a product that could help people. So that was how I ended up in Headspace.

Current role is, you know, the, the VP of product design and research. So ironically, I now manage the folks that are, Part of that kind of old behavioral science team, but, um, but I think it’s because yeah, that scientific research is really important to our user experience. 

Vy: I’m very interested to hear a bit of insider knowledge in terms of what you do at Headspace or like what matters in particular to do with AI and emerging tech, because I think everybody struggled to balance things out.

And there is a lot of people who are a bit Cautious probably would be an understatement. Um, some are definitely losing their heads, uh, pun, unintended , but [00:05:00] it’s, it’s kind of, you know, it’s, it’s very crazy climate, I think, for everybody. And, um, as you mentioned before, we even started with chat, but head Headspace is quite unique in, in, in its, I guess, approach or maybe how you work.

I’m very keen to kind of dive into it, but before that, I just wanted to kind of call out because you mentioned your, I guess, journey into, um. you know, design leadership. And when I say design, I mean, everything UX. It’s so many hats to wear. One of the things which why, why, why initially I wanted to chat with you was a course I literally randomly discovered, which was to do with a future London Academy.

And it was The product design strategy or product design leadership, um, I really wanted to hear, like, how did it originate? Like, because it’s super specific, right? Like, and anyone who wants to create something educational for the industry or community naturally probably is coming from something where, um.

You maybe see some gaps or what, what was that thinking? [00:06:00] 

Cal: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a really great question. Um, when eKaterina and the Future London Academy team approached me, you know, they’re like, Hey, we’re having a lot of like UX and product design leaders come to us saying they need more guidance. Are you hearing that too?

And I was like, yes, I do. I do feel like there’s this moment where, um, And I mean, this has kind of like been a tension, I think, for design for a long time, but you know, for designers who are more strategic. And they do really want to have a sense of ownership over the product and the user experience.

They’re, they’re butting heads with product managers and they’re finding themselves in some cases at the effect of product managers where product is deciding the roadmap, they’re deciding the features, they’re saying, here’s what we think will solve this problem that we’re seeing, or this will change this user behavior.

Um, and designers and design leaders. feel that they also know the answer to that and they want to get to try their solutions. And so there’s this sort of [00:07:00] like head butting going on. What I wanted to do in that course and what the course focuses on is how can a product design leader take all of the skills that we are really, really good at as designers and leaders, like really understanding qualitative data and, you know, doing user interviews and understanding really memorable human stories.

Coming up with really interesting generative solutions that can solve multiple problems at once, not just one, you know, not, not like a, Oh, I saw a, and so B is needed. Okay, great. That’ll get a C. It’s like, well, you know, a designer might say, I see this and, you know, here’s something that solves many problems at once, you know, make a long story short.

What we wanted to do is basically create a curriculum, like the chapters of that, um, course with future London Academy, take you through. Empowering yourself as a product design leader, but also giving you skills to better facilitate product managers, engineering leaders, your executives at your company to start to have more influence on the product roadmap, because especially in a resource [00:08:00] constrained and, you know, time, which a lot of us are in.

There isn’t a lot of wiggle room in roadmaps. And so, you know, sometimes designers will kind of like appear on the scene and they’re just sort of told what to do. Like, Hey, go build this. You know, it’s like, Hey, I’m not like a production arm, you know, 

Vy: massive pain points. 

Cal: Yeah, exactly. You know, it’s like, no, I want to, you know, I’m a creative person.

I like to have a sense of ownership of the solution as well. You know, that’s what drives me. That’s what motivates me. So, um, so anyway, what I walk folks through is. You know, deeper roadmapping processes, deeper facilitation skills, using all the things that we’re really, really good at as designers to kind of shift our impact from just being.

Someone who like, you know, does what the PM says or, um, does what an executive says to someone who co creates those solutions and then gets to make them, you know, either ourselves or with our teams. So that’s, that was the real impetus. And, um, and if anyone who’s listening has done the course and you have any [00:09:00] questions or feedback, I would love to hear it.

Um, you know, feel free to, to send me a note, um, or send a note in on the podcast, because I think. I do, you know, I hear lots of different challenges from product design leaders, but kind of the common thread is a sense of disempowerment, like, like we are leaders and yet our roles are not always perceived as equal to product management leaders of our same level.

Vy: I think typically design also tends to report at the some level, if you climb it high enough, um, and, and this is, again, depends on the company, right? But the theme I think has been so far that design does report to product at some point. Or, or the leadership is common and it’s quite like a typical, I would say that product managers would come from design background.

Um, or there is just, you know, a few, um, I think we need more product managers who are a bit UX savvy and come from that lens, but on a flip side, I feel like also a lot of that tension, and I don’t know if you would agree, [00:10:00] please challenge me. Um, The friction between design and product management come to be because a lot of activities are being shared and then it becomes almost like a, like a single sheet of paper being pulled from side to side and, and, you know, the division isn’t clear and the standards are unclear.


Cal: go ahead. I just love the metaphor of the paper being pulled out from both sides. I can feel that. 

Vy: But, and I also don’t see it as a, I see it as a, like a natural progression to some roles, but. My, my challenge to everything is I guess, um, and also because I’m trying to, you know, give back to a community, educate people.

So I understand where you’re coming from like deeply, but I don’t see many courses done for product managers to do UX or to empathize with designers or work better with designers. And I see like, you know, how the best product managers are the ones who,[00:11:00] 

I don’t know if you would agree with that. 

Cal: Oh, I absolutely agree with that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I would say not, you know, at Headspace, but also from what I’ve heard from friends, you know, across the industry, it’s like really the, the collaborative product managers are really, are the ones that, you know, that designers love working with, like people who will do workshops with the designers, you know, even sit in on design research, interviews, user interviews, like, and actually ingest the product.

The, the data and observations themselves as well. And like, you know, pay attention to that primary research and then kind of synthesize it with the designers. Like, yes, those are the, those are the best ones. But I think you bring up a really interesting point sort of, so if designers are super willing to get better at collaborating with and.

And working with product, um, how do we do that with, you know, the other other party in the relationship kind of play the game as well. And I have seen a lot of product managers take design thinking classes and kind of like, oh, yeah, I need to understand design strategy more. And I need to [00:12:00] understand how you get from.

Observational research to like a concept that would solve for the pain points that you saw in the research. Like, I think that cognitive leap is pretty tricky for, for a lot of product managers, especially if they come from a more kind of linear, like, you know, rational kind of thinking way of working.

And they’re not like a, a creative designer who can go like, yes, I see this and I know things from my life. And so I can come up with all sorts of really cool concepts that would solve this. So I think I have seen product managers take increasingly take design thinking classes and I think that’s good in my idea of the ideal.

Here’s how it would go is, you know, product manager designer, they really are like two in the box, maybe a three in the box with the engineering partner and, and really they’re riffing together and they’re going, okay, we’re seeing this issue. What do we think could solve it? Okay. Let’s talk that through.

How could we test that? What’s a lightweight way we could test that. Okay, great. Let’s do it. You [00:13:00] know, but that really requires everyone to say, let’s collaborate on this and to sort of drop their egos, become willing to not be a right or wrong game, but just a, Hey, you know, how could we solve this? Like a much more open minded sort of collaborative spirit about it.

Vy: A lot of, uh, you know, things which maybe are. Typically missing in the books or online is that humility aspect or kind of simply or ability to almost pause the standards so that you like, there is, there is like a very graceful act of introducing or imposing things or like kind of building up the trust and so forth.

I wonder like how. Maybe that touches what you just discussed about Headspace and how do you do that at Headspace? Because I would presume a company who’s looking through, you know, to help people with wellbeing and kind of producing these, what I would describe as a kindness experiences. I wonder, like, what is your experience like?

Cal: Yeah, that’s a really [00:14:00] good question. And, um, you know, people always kind of. Ask like, well, does headspace actually like walk? It’s walk, you know, or walk. It’s talking like we do. Actually. I, we had a designer who, um, was leaving for another role and we were having his, uh, goodbye party and we were just talking about, you know, what, what will you miss?

He’s like, well, you know, honestly. This is like the most humble, no ego design team that I’ve been part of. Especially like for people who are really talented. Yeah, exactly. I know. Right. Um, there can be a lot of ego in our profession and, um, and I mean, it’s well founded, people are very talented. They’re very smart.

They know how to make things like it’s, you know, yeah, it’s really good. Um, but I think, and then this was like such a sweet reflection that he was sharing of just like, you know, when you are willing to sort of. Drop some of that ego and say, Hey, it’s not really about me. Like the fun part is we’re going to get to make things together.

Then it becomes more like a playground. And it’s like, You know, [00:15:00] everyone is, is able to contribute and there’s no like, um, people butting heads. So like within our design team, the designers, the product designers are super, super collaborative and kind to each other, boosting each other up. Oh my God. I love that.

We’re a great job presenting in the all hands. Like there is a strong, I mean. I didn’t believe it was real when I first started. I was like, these people are being fake. There’s no way. There’s no way they’re this nice, you know? And I was like, Oh no, it is actually quite authentic. Like they actually do mean it.

You know, they’re, they’re being supportive of each other because they know that when we lift each other up, we’re all going to succeed better. And we’re all going to have better ideas when we come together. And we, you know, you have a bunch of different people sharing their ideas and then you, you have a better outcome.

So, which is, you know, to go back to the product manager piece, I think that’s, that’s where I would love to see UX and product management, you know, UX being as a broad term, inclusive of product design and everything to come together with product management and engineering in that, in that way, the same [00:16:00] way where it’s like, Hey, this is a playground, let’s use our respective, you know, talents.

Brains data sources that we each have access to as different legs of the stool and let’s build something together and design and engineering even need to be involved at the outset, not like product looking at stats and saying, okay, because of X, Y, Z metrics, I think the solution we should do next is this.

Now I’m going to go to the team and say, we’re building this next quarter. You have, you know, whatever, many weeks to do it and kind of, cause that, that I just don’t think that gets us to, well, there’s a couple important things. I don’t think it gets us to, I don’t think it gets us to interesting user experiences.

I think it’s like we get a culture of sameness and sort of like it gets us to rapid kind of incremental iterations that uh, an ex engineer from meta had a really just charming quote about it. He said, you know, I spent most of my days just nudging [00:17:00] a button four pixels to the right because it would perform 2 percent better.

And, you know, I mean, that is, I hate to be so blunt, but that’s very soul sucking for a designer like that doesn’t motivate and inspire, you know, it’s like, well, you could for sure get AI to do that. You know, that’s like speaking of AI. It’s like, you can for sure get AI to do that. Whereas what design can do is build intricate and human centered and elegant.

Systems and services and touch points that go across a user journey that feels so consistent and so coherent. It’s so beautiful that you’re just amazed that they even could work like that. That even could exist. And that’s something that like AI for sure cannot do. And that is something that like, that’s where a good designer I think overlaps with.

And I was, I was talking to a member of my team, Jonathan DeFavre, shout out to you. A good designer like overlaps with the combo of like a museum curator, an event Like [00:18:00] producer, a good storyteller, and maybe like a great therapist. Like this is like the world that we like operate as it’s like, we’re able to take someone through a journey if we are doing our jobs, you know, well, and, and of course, like time and space doesn’t always allow for this, but to take them through a journey that changes them in some way, and to think about all the different touch points that they’re going to experience as they go through that journey and design those in a way that is delightful and supports them.

And. You know, orients them and, and is cohesive and branded and, you know, whatever our, whatever in Headspace’s world, it’s very colorful and very branded. You know, I say all that to say, I think that design, you know, in, in the current kind of like rapid experimentation, iteration, culture of things gets pigeonholed a little bit to like very, very small tasks that most of us could do in our sleep.

And it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, It’s an underutilization of the skill set. 

Vy: I agree. And I feel like, I’m not sure if you noticed this, [00:19:00] but I keep bringing this up in, in variety of channels, you know, in discussions, but I saw just a couple of weeks ago, there is like a massive boom of, um, AI product managers, which is basically just another flavor of.

Super technical product management. And to me, that’s like a clear signal that designers brace yourselves because it’s likely that we are going to be super reactive for a while. And not to say that the technical PMs might not do such a great job, but it’s quite natural that people who come maybe from more UX background or user centric background going to make perhaps the UX life’s a bit easier.

And as such, I’m trying to almost highlight that. You know, we now, now need to become not necessarily okay with being too reactive with the things, but also being understanding that I think there’s going to be almost like a way throughout the industry where if the things weren’t right already, it might be that maturity of design could drop.

And the expectations could change and, you [00:20:00] know, designers might find themselves patching things up here and there instead of being quite proactive. And I’m sure maybe at Headspace, you know, you are in a better relationship with FPMs and, you know, maybe processes and things of that nature. But it seems like the industry as a whole could be on that very rocky ground.

Cal: I want to like divert a little bit just to tell you What we’re doing with AI at Headspace, because I think it’s quite important. And I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t want like people to associate Headspace with AI in certain ways. So like tangibly what we’re doing is that we have, we have tasked a clinical psychologist who is also a product manager, but like obviously has the human awareness of how the human psyche works and you know, how to build things that, That will not damage someone, um, along with a very strategic pair of designers.

And we were very nervous about using AI in the Headspace app because we’re a meditation, mindfulness and mental health space. And our members are coming [00:21:00] in, you know, in varying degrees of, of vulnerability and need states, and we want to make sure it is a real and. Warm and caring environment. And so we tasked this team with basically doing a discovery process and doing research, doing surveys with our members, doing generative research and concept testing, like really looking at like, what could and should this be if it’s coming from headspace and they narrowed it down to, it can’t feel like it cannot pretend to be a human, it cannot.

Like, we do not want it to pretend to be human. That would be artificial. It would be wrong. It wouldn’t, you know, it just wouldn’t feel right for our members. And we want it to be able to do things that users have wanted help with for a while from Headspace. So things like how does it navigate you to the meditations and sleep content and focus music and, you know, movement content that’s right for you.

Based on what you need in that moment, which is like a little harder to do in sort of like a search and browse, like UX [00:22:00] modality, like it is actually nicer to talk to something or put in some inputs and get a, you know, get a more detailed recommendation. Like, so that has long been a user problem and like, Oh, this is a mechanism to, to solve for that.

But yeah, I think that’s where like design strategy and research is really important to, you know, say, how do we harness this new technology in a way Well, not only safe, but also in alignment with our brand, in alignment with our values and solves a real user problem. It isn’t just like, Hey, we should add AI to this, you know, 

Vy: which is, which is quite typical.

And, and it’s exactly why I brought up that boom in, in, um. AI based PMs, but it sounds like you do start with the actual user needs, right? Like you, you kind of laid out the foundation of the principles of like, okay, this is basically how we do things if it’s AI. And if it’s not, then it’s probably not appropriate [00:23:00] to, to the actual, I guess, customer experience in the end.

I bet that the actual reality and the day to day is a bit more. Um, as everything you ask is, is always messy, I think, but I wonder like, how do you actually, as the teams work through those challenges, how do we balance that? Because I could give you an example. Let’s say I worked with the teams where we, we would basically have to intentionally separate the experiments from other projects, because if you don’t make it explicit that, okay, this is just an experiment, it’s very hard for people to understand.

understand how far can we go with AI or like how far don’t they care about the principles or user need. It’s kind of like you, you almost have to define certain boundaries and constraints for lack of a better term. 

Cal: Yeah. Well, I also, I mean, especially with AI, we really pushed the team to do lightweight prototyping and to not put like an in product experience.

In as the first experiment, like, you know, not only do we [00:24:00] do surveys, we also did a, you know, a D Scout where it’s like a diary study and had people play with a prototype of the, of the tool and give a lot of feedback. And it was really interesting and like, we could see responses to it based on, you know, age and.

Race and sexuality and gender. And it was like, Oh, wow. People have really different responses to AI and like different levels of trust. And we wouldn’t have known any of that if we hadn’t done a kind of what I would consider, like not an in product experiment where you’re just like throwing it in. And then you look at quant data of like, how well did it perform, but more of a hybrid where it’s like, no, we have rich qualitative responses to these early prototypes.

We’re not basically throwing it in as an end product experiment. Um, but I want to know, like in the examples that you’re sharing, just so I’m, I’m, you know, making sure I’m responding to your question correctly. Like, do you, when you were separating those experiments from, from like product things you knew needed to be made kind of brass tacks, things you knew needed to be made for the product.

Did you all treat those experiments with like a [00:25:00] lighter touch? Were they more like prototypes or like, how did you sort of. You know, 

Vy: yeah, 

Cal: separate those. 

Vy: Well, there, there is a few aspects to that, but you know, as a, as a, I guess, design leader, I was more so struggling to keep, keep the people from, from, you know, from actual design and research teams thinking of it as a, I guess, as a temporary solution as a quite reactive.

Type of approach. And it’s almost more of a leadership challenge where you trying to, you have maybe a limited timeframe and you need to deliver something by then. And you have this experiment you need to do, and you still have your standards of how you would want to, the actual discovery to be done and the actual design to loop reiterations and things of that nature.

So to me, what kind of helped was really setting the principle foundation that, Hey, maybe these type of challenges. We in unison just agree that we’re going to be, you know, quite scrappy in a way. [00:26:00] And then that almost gives a license for designers to let’s say if it’s a vision type, then everybody knows vision type.

And that vision type might be a throwaway work because by the end of it, when you go to the actual details, the solution is going to look. Absolutely different. It’s, it’s going to be massive Delta and as such, it’s kind of classification of a projects in a way that, okay, if it’s AI, you know, we might need to flip the double diamond and start experimenting first and iterate and basic conceptualize tested if it’s appropriate, of course, and then try to basically learn from it.

Cal: I mean, and it depends on what, you know, kind of AI you’re using and wanting to use, but. I think most of us as design leaders are really aware of like the top problems that our users are facing when they are using our apps and websites and services, you know, and so I think like what can be powerful, even.

Is okay. Yeah. We know that this has to be scrappy. We’re flipping the double diamond on its head, but secretly every design leader [00:27:00] knows what the top user needs are. You know, we know where we’ve gotten user feedback over the years. You know, I know it from, from Headspace, like from our, we have an app NPS survey that has like an opened end question at the end, so we always are getting messages through that and, you know, other channels too, but, so I think like the secret magic of a design leader is to be like, okay.

It has to be scrappy. We’re flipping a double diamond and we know we have some user problems here. Like what could we sneak in as basically like, how can we use this rapid experimentation time to solve a few user needs along the way and like properly map this to our service? Versus like, Hey, this is cool and new and shiny.

And we love AI. Let’s try it. 

Vy: Yeah. Yeah. I guess from, from my perspective, it’s like, there’s a space for new and shiny as in like, there has to be a good balancing act again, between the core experience and that evolution and then trying things out and trying to break things out. But like rarely the companies do [00:28:00] have.

Set foundations, especially now. And again, my perception is that Headspace design maturity is quite high. 

Cal: It is. Yeah. 

Vy: Obviously probably there is team by team as typically is like where, you know, some teams might do better, some not, but majority of the industry is Always like, again, I’m, I’m generalizing, but likely is going to be quite low maturity and, you know, the challenge is probably going to be that designers might need to skin chatbots or conversational UIs or, you know, something which is basically very reactive and tools, which, which are AI based emerging tech, very cool, very snazzy, but.

Might not answer any user needs, or even as you, you describe those kind of foundational principles. Okay. But this is what we can do with AI. I doubt anyone would have that and it’s an old praise for headspace, you know, that you have that. But I, like, I feel like the industry is, uh, it’s probably far, you know, like quite [00:29:00] behind on that.

And my challenge, I guess, and the follow up question is really like, how do you see, I guess, us as UX industry really catching up? To that, it could be that we’re going to create so much debt or so many products, which Are quite frankly going to be, you know, crap load of experiences, which don’t really resonate.

They’re not viable. They’re not great experiences for anyone, 

Cal: which is okay. I mean, those are, those are a learning experience as well. I mean, to the point of, of designers sort of being treated as like, Oh, you’re just The visual designer who puts like a layer of color on a chat UI, you know, for, for an AI chatbot, some of my favorite designers, and I will shout out one of them, Stephanie Nakame, who’s on my team, who’s just an incredible product designer, product design lead.

What she will do is she’ll be given something like that as a task. Like if you gave that project to her, you’re like, okay, Stephanie, you know, your whole assignment is just to like make this UI look better. She’d be like, okay. And [00:30:00] then because of how she operates. You know, and, and a lot of designers at other companies do this too, but I just, I, I want to shout this out.

For her and as advice for anyone who finds himself in those circumstances, she will, in the margins of her Figma file also like document and solve several other user problems and basically say like, okay, yeah, I know all you asked me to do was like, you know, make this. Chat UI purple, whatever, but you know, I’ve noticed that we have kind of like a, a funny moment when they’re joining the chat where they don’t really have anything to do.

What could we add to that moment? Because so I mocked that up and that’s here, you know, and then I had this other idea and like, we could do this. So I did, I mocked that up over here and you know, sometimes she’ll just do like low fidelity, like wireframe mockups and stuff where she’ll use like our design component library and, you know, our design system and just like put things together.

And then you realize like, Oh yes. Uh, design is strategic design isn’t always about just like being told what to do. It’s like, you know, and [00:31:00] not all designers have time to do that. So I want to honor and acknowledge that. But, but when you do like, here’s some other possible solutions that could help and it’s kind of the sneaky way of like, it’s like a design design.

I feel like it’s sort of like, well, I know you asked me to do this. But like, you know, we also could, and I think what it mostly does, and actually it’s funny because I actually did, there’s a part of this in the product design strategy course, but what it also does is it gives product managers and engineers and business leaders and executives, like a moment of inspiration to where they, they they’re in this very own, very narrow minded, like, okay, we’re, you know, we’re seeing these numbers and, you know, my personal bias is that the only way we’re going to like move this number is by.

You know, changing this area of the user experience and the way we’re going to do that as AI and so they actually have like a very clear and strong cognitive bias when design kind of opens a new door or like builds a window in the wall and says like, have we ever thought [00:32:00] about this? It actually provides an opportunity for them to shift their thinking a little bit.

And because it gives them the sense of possibility, and I think that’s like a really important skill of designers that we don’t always use where it’s like, because we are generative people. Like, we know how to make things like with our hands and our minds and our words and on screen that is us generating something from scratch.

Like, we’re, we’re, we’re. We’re capable of, you know, inspiring people by basically like getting them to, to see what is possible that previously didn’t exist. And so anyway, the reason I shout out Stephanie is like, I just think it’s, and I don’t want to make Stephanie embarrassed if she ever listens to this, but a lot of designers do this, but you know, I just, I’m always like wowed by her, but.

Offers people an opportunity to see like a wider possibility and go, Oh, that’s so cool. Like, I didn’t even think that we could do that, but that actually solves a couple of problems and potentially could help us meet, you know, a metric and a, and a business need we have as well. So let’s think about it.

And it doesn’t always get [00:33:00] built at all. In fact, she has stuff in the margins of her files that like I’ve. Come back to her. I’m like, Hey, didn’t you have something that you showed in a crit like six months ago, or it wasn’t, or like, didn’t you, when you were working on that, like there, there was some really cool, um, ideas that she had to improve our coaching, our chat based coaching, which is the mental health service that we offer for B2B users.

And, um, only now it’s probably been almost a year. Are we coming back to that and saying like, Hey, let’s, why don’t we think about building that because it’s now, now we have room in the roadmap and bandwidth and enough. Interest in it. But, you know, so the work is not throw away, I guess is what I’m, what I’m saying.

And I think designers need it. Otherwise it’s soul sucking. Like it’s soul sucking to be like, Oh, I’m applying a layer of color to these. It’s such a great, 

Vy: great example. And I think it’s perfect habit too. And super, super tactical too, for whoever is listening, because I feel like, um. Actually, not, maybe not the best designers, but the best researchers I’ve worked with were the ones who would [00:34:00] find the right time, the right place, the right message to bring the insights up.

Cause a lot of the user research tends to be like a vast. Amount of signals, and then you have to like crunch it into a report and give it to stakeholders, partner up, communicate, like a lot of it is kind of gets sifted through. And I’ve seen some of the researchers who would basically kind of pepper the messages here and there, but also be very mindful of where is that, like, where does that add most value and then kind of like, just being like, Oh, You know, we’re talking about this thing, bam, we have this, you know, kind of like, like actioning that, that signal.

And of course it takes a lot of time and effort, but I feel like from even design perspective is such a good habit and such a great example, again, you know, kudos, uh, to Stephanie, but it’s kind of like, you can take a lot of pride in your work and kind of add more to it. Right. And, and hope that at least some of it [00:35:00] lands or.

Often what I found myself is also that you tend to communicate the message to someone. It could be senior leadership, executive leadership, or just peers and nobody kind of bats an eye. But then after a week to maybe the end of a session, they echo exactly what you contributed and maybe they didn’t connect.

Who said it? Who cares? You know, again, it’s not about egos, but as long as it lands. Like, that’s all that matters, right? Like in the end, if there’s actually an effect. 

Cal: Yeah, that’s really well said. Cause it’s like, it doesn’t really matter, like who came up with the idea. And ultimately we’re all kind of, you know, working on moving forward together.

And so, yeah, but. That’s a really good way of acknowledging like victory, victory for creativity, victory for innovation, like the executive repeating it back to you. I mean, that’s huge. In fact, I want to, I mean, you brought up research and I would love to just like, share. A little piece about research, because [00:36:00] I think, I think qualitative research is really important.

This will be like, now no one will need to like do the product design strategy course with future London, because I’ve already given away all the secrets, but one of the things that I think was, um, I’m kidding. There’s a lot more in there, but, and a lot of like worksheets and stuff too. But anyway, um, one thing that I talk about in it, and that I think is really important for us as design leaders and designers is that, We have the power to tell human stories from, from research.

And like, you’re talking about good design researchers do this. Well, what I’ve noticed over the years is that those human stories become something that executives will repeat back to you and that will change their minds. And what I’ve also noticed is like, when you show them a quantitative dashboard and product managers, you know, are generally working from more of a quant dashboard, like, Oh, we’re seeing, you know, monthly active users go up by this or down by this.

It’s pretty hard for them to really memorize that and, and make meaning from it from a quant dashboard because leaders [00:37:00] thrive in a world of certainty. Like their job as a leader is to project certainty to everyone. You know, I already know everything and I’m going to lead you and I’m taking the group this way and I’m, you know, I’m certain.

So when they see data, it usually either, you know, goes in one ear and out the other, like, Oh, that’s interesting. Or can confirm a bias that they already have. Like, oh, well, I already thought that we needed AI in order to lift that number. So, okay, now I’m just like, Revalidating my own idea. But when you show them user research and you show them a real human saying, I tried this feature and I hated it, or, you know, I, I tried this thing and I’ve, you know, I really liked this one aspect of it.

I wish this other part was different. I have had executives repeat those moments back to me. And, and those have been the moments where I’ve gone, Oh, wow. Yeah. So design research really can shift strategy because it’s a human narrative and it’s something we can all resonate with and you hear it. And you realize it’s not how you’ve been thinking about it.

And it’s not how you’ve been seeing it. [00:38:00] It’s a different, and you realize, Oh, well, that’s my customer. I need to listen to that for anyone like seeking to kind of have impact and, you know, and change people’s minds. It’s like, use design research for that. That’s the use human stories because those are memorable.

You know, you don’t, but you don’t remember like, Oh, you know, now lifted by a 2 percent last week. It’s like. 

Vy: Yeah, yeah, that’s going to be for and also because numbers are always by definition shifting. Um, yeah, but that’s interesting. Like, uh, I wonder if one of the things which I wanted to also discuss or, or was very curious more than anything is, I guess, how do you shape your team?

Because you already highlighted. A few people and, and, you know, champions, I guess, in their own regard. But what does matter to you when shaping, I guess, a world class UX team, you know, which, which could span, obviously you mentioned also behavioral research and things of that [00:39:00] nature. So I guess it’s even broader than UX, but I wonder like what, what does matter to you as a, as a design leader?

Cal: That’s a great question. Um, I’ll focus on the product design team because they’re probably the most relevant to your listeners, but matters to me besides the no ego part that we talked about the humility is, um, people who have a willingness to learn and they have a willingness to like. Actually, you know, sit in on a user interview or facilitate a user interview and hear what is going on for that person and, you know, ingest that and weave that into their design.

So that’s like, number one, super important. So, you know, a level of empathy and kind of awareness of, of using research and how to use it. And then, um, two, uh, a really strong. Ability to visualize what their, what their solutions are, you know, like really strong visual capacity. And like, thankfully, I got to inherit a portion of the design team that I have now was inherited from a couple other design leaders, Ken Sino, being [00:40:00] one who’s been Great designers at Apple now.

And, um, you know, he always hired strong visual designers and then I always hired strong human centered designers. And so it was a good, happy marriage where like they all kind of come together. And now I think what’s important is those people who are both a systems thinker. And a, and a strong visual executor.

And, and you know, it goes without saying like collaborative and low ego and you know, just kind of enjoying each other. But you asked about like, kind of like the, the design culture. I think that one’s a really important one. And I’ve been, you know, as a leader who is leading a now remote first design team, I’ve had to.

Really retrain myself as a leader and a manager to manage a remote first design team, because that isn’t how I was trained as a design leader. Like all of my time at Fjord was walking around the studio, you know, and having crits in person and having reviews and in person [00:41:00] at Fjord, I’d be walking around and I could see that a designer was stumped and they were blocked and they were stuck and they’re at their desk, kind of like looking confused.

And I’d be like, Hey, what are you working on doing a whiteboard together? And we’d like work through it and then they’re off running, you know, and that’s great. It’s very hard to do that for me in a remote first environment, like I fully, at this point, we’re totally distributed. You know, we do have two offices that people come into, but not often.

Like as far as building that design culture, we’ve had to like create a lot of rituals and fun meetings that are just for designers to be themselves. And Grant Nickel, who’s a great design manager on my team, he’s now has this like very fun meeting that’s just ridiculous and silly. And it’s like, Oh, this is so cathartic for designers to just get to be weird together and like, not be talking about business for one moment.

Um, so I think those kinds of meetings are actually important. 

Vy: What is the meeting? Are you able to share a bit? 

Cal: No, woulda, coulda, shoulda. No, no, woulda, what is he calling it now? Hold on. I mean, the actual title is [00:42:00] the work meeting that’s not about work, but the format of it is so funny. Thankfully, I have my handy calendar here.

The meeting is called the work that is not work and the structure is, yeah, it’s work. Woulda, coulda, gonna, and it’s basically two topics that, that the host would have loved to talk about and nerd out on, and a third topic that they definitely are going to nerd out on, and then they give like a basically a TED talk about a weird topic, and then everyone, you know, nerds out about it in the chat, and then another guest host gives the homework for the next month, and it’s like, Watch this movie and we’re all going to talk about it fun.

But anyway, the point is, I think when creating a design culture, it’s like, there is certainly that combination of, you know, of the talent and the personalities, but there’s also like for us as leaders, I think a lot of leaning into like creating the space for Our employees to be themselves and to feel affirmed and, you know, feel supported and to collaborate with each other.

And, you know, so we have, we also have a couple [00:43:00] other meetings through the week that I’ll mention in case you give people like good ideas. But 1 is the warm up and it’s kind of like, uh, everyone has a little. Board in fig jam and they put their current work on it. And so the whole team gets to see what everyone else is working on.

It’s kind of fun. It’s just once a week. And then the other one that Leah Bronstein runs is called the sandbox. And that’s where like, if you’re working on something and you need ideas, you’re kind of like, Hey, I just like want to work on this with some people. You go to that. They work on it together. I have never personally attended that particular meeting, so I don’t get to say much about it.

I just know about it. It’s more like the ICs are in that one. Um, and then another one that might give other folks ideas, especially if you’re working on pretty complex products is Jane Kiyabiab on our team runs a meeting called the monthly link and everyone. Brings all their screens together and basically makes like a mega Figma file of like, kind of like a mega prototype of all the different experiments that they’re working on, because I think, you know, you and I probably know this well, like, if you’re running a bunch of experiments, like, They [00:44:00] can clash and, and if you’re running them at the same time, they can like counter like, like, like UX wise, they might just be bad, you know, like, Oh, you’re doing an experiment and onboarding, but then we’re doing one on day two, and then we’re doing one on the subscription thing.

And so that’s weird because now a user and not that those experiments would run at the same time, but it’s more like, well, if all 3 of these experiments are successful. And get launched at scale. We need to make sure this is like a clear and coherent user journey. So, um, Jane identified that need and created this monthly link.

And so then everyone can see, like, oh, well, someone’s going here and there. Okay, good. You know, they can put it all together. 

Vy: Um, wow. Yeah, definitely borrowing that because that’s a simple thing. But, um, as a, I guess, as a, you know, back in the days to manage a team of 21 people, and that was researchers and designers and.

I used to struggle because we would have, I think, 17 products and they would interlink on a service level, basically. I think [00:45:00] my effort has been always very abstracted. If I ever am in that scenario, or even maybe next, we might be borrowing this. Cause I think this is such a. Such a great ritual and ceremony to go for that stuff.

But yeah. 

Cal: Yeah. I mean, there’s a couple other things we do, like a biweekly all hands just for the team and then like a monthly meeting where we share out all the work that the product designers have shipped that we do for like the CTO and the chief design officer, who’s also our chief product officer.

You know, and our, our content team, because Headspace has a great content team. So we do like some share outs like that, but as far as like internal team culture. Yeah. Cause I think it’s, you know, online is, it’s hard to have like the warmth and humanity of, you know, that wonderful kind of collaborative vibe that, I think designers can get into when we’re in person, so building as many spaces for that.

And so that people get to know each other and they can trust each other. It’s really important. We’re like, I think, as an industry, like designers need to trust each other. Like, we don’t do great [00:46:00] work if we’re in an environment where we don’t like, trust each other or, or we don’t. Feel safe to be brave and explore new solutions and new directions.

So I think that’s, that’s really important. 

Vy: Is, is there anything which, um, the Headspace design research teams don’t do? No, 

Cal: it’s a good question. I mean, I would say when I first arrived at Headspace, which is four and a half years ago, the culture was very, um, it was very much about like, Flashy visuals, like it was very visual and less design research heavy.

And because I came from such a strong design research background and, you know, human centered insights background, that was really important to me. My team started like weaving that in right away. And I think that then permeated the rest of the team. And now it’s. And Leslie Witt, who is my boss, who’s our chief design officer and chief product officer.

She also, she came from IDEO and had worked in some product companies after that. And so she also kind of came in with that human centered design lens. So I think we, we broadened the aperture from like more visual focused to like a [00:47:00] wider, a little bit more. Strategic lens. I think we have, we have some things that we do, which is even our motion guidelines are, are related to mindfulness.

So like the player for our app reads the guidelines around like a lot of the movement of components is meant to look like breathing. So we try as much as possible to basically create a digital environment for our users that is peaceful for lack of a better word, or is, is, is peaceful. Soothing, you know, in some way and like not to nerd out too hard on the design, but I do think like, given that you’re a designer, I think we can kind of like go here.

There is always in this like very delicate tension between minimalism and maximalism in the, in the headspace design crew, like both across product design and our brand team, because minimalism super stripped down, you know, empty interfaces. Like it leans really perfectly towards like, Kind of the zen side of meditation and, you know, like the simplicity and quietness and all this kind of stuff, [00:48:00] but then maximalism is like really fun and it’s approachable and it’s like playful and it takes really complex topics like mental health and meditation and makes them less serious.

And so we’ve kind of like wiggled back and forth between the two for a while. And I think right now we’re starting to skew towards maximalism, which I’m down with. And I think it’s like actually quite fun. Like I was looking at shout out to design matters. They’re, they’re great annual conferences, um, coming up in the fall in Copenhagen and their new website is super maximalist and just so silly.

Like, it’s so delightful. It’s so fun. And it’s like ridiculous, you know, in that world, like, You don’t want it to be like super dead and overly simple and overly minimalist. So we’re actually using color and brand illustrations to sort of. bring some humanity and warmth into it and make it more approachable.

Vy: I think one, one thing which I want to, um, double click on is, um, where you mentioned one of the key skill sets for product designers, but I would want to even kind of like zoom out for UX [00:49:00] designers, which would include researchers too. I had the chat with, I think it was, uh, Hang Su, he, he’s a LinkedIn persona.

Um, but, but. He basically was saying how the industry is changing towards UXers needing more visual design skills, or, or kind of like being more focused on visual aspects. And that’s probably due to us, you know, there was a pandemic, uh, there was a boom of overhiring, then massive layoffs came and the design teams got leaner by definition, but I wonder what is your take kind of like, is this coming from that regard, but okay, the actual.

Employers or the actual companies now need more of a visual craftsman who can also do a bit of UX. Would that be kind of a fair assessment, if not a conclusion? 

Cal: Yeah, like as uncomfortable as it is to say, I think the ask on UX designers now is for you to be an end to end designer. You [00:50:00] know, like research UX and visuals.

And it’s, you know, it’s like an ask to be a unicorn basically, whether that’s fair or not, you know, whatever, but for folks, you know, and I’m one of them who come from more of like a research and UX part of that spectrum and less visual. I do think we’re at least in a good moment in kind of like the design maturity of design systems and design toolkit libraries, where now, like, I mean, headspace, Like everyone, almost everyone of a certain maturity has its own design system.

And so there is like components that already exist that you can use if you’re creating wireframes, you know, And, and you aren’t someone who is, and you’re even maybe tasked with creating like higher fidelity screens and you aren’t someone who is super visual. At least there are now design systems and components you can pull in and use.

And so it kind of like, it makes that much easier, but yeah, I think we’re, I, for all the reasons that you, you said, I do think UX designers are being expected to be able to take something from like a concept all the way to a high fidelity screen, [00:51:00] whether that’s great or not, you know, I don’t know. If I were redesigning the industry in this moment, I would say it’s not good because I have always seen success from pairs or groups of designers working together.

And part of like the pairs that used to be so elegant was someone who was a UX designer who was much more researchy then someone who was a visual designer who was much more visual. And motion design heavy and maybe even sound design and then you put them together and you end up with this like brilliant Yeah, magic exactly exactly because the two of them work together and they’re a pair.

Yeah when you put that in one person It’s a lot of pressure on one designer and and you know, it’s a lot of different like mindsets for them to operate in 

Vy: Yeah, it’s so hard to be good at Everything is, well, if I zoom out where, where I started in UX back in the day, um, it was much simpler in a way. And that’s also because of, uh, so much, so many things you have to learn, uh, emerging tech and also design skills and everything.

Like, [00:52:00] I feel like even the entry for the most junior people has been. Like the bar has been raised so much, like we have to know so much more than perhaps you had to back in, I think you mentioned, uh, 2005 or, or, or so forth after that, right? Like, when you start, like, I feel terrible looking. Yeah, exactly.

Like, it was almost, you know, the standards were, they were just different, I guess, in a way, like, do you have any advice for people who would be breaking into the field? Because I think there is a lot of, um, career changers, which could be very experienced from different specialties. Um, but also could be someone who’s considering it.

And I know there’s a lot of noise where people are saying, don’t even bother anymore. Um, which to me, I don’t want to hear that. I think design is going to persist, but I wonder what’s your kind of advice for general public. 

Cal: Design is going to persist, let’s say that out loud. [00:53:00] Saying or predicting that design would go away would be like predicting that art and music are going to go away, and like, no.

You know, those are really important parts of humanity and, you know, the design of experiences and spaces and services are things that, yeah, AI can do simulacrums of most of those things, but I mean, you know, it’s, I mean, I’ll maybe sound like an antique when someone listens to this in five years and they’re like, Oh, I’m an AI and I’m listening to this, you know, like, oh, gosh, but, um, anyway, but I think design will persist.

And as far as like someone. Interested in coming into the industry. What I would say to them is that I, the reason I wouldn’t do it is if you are someone who does not consider yourself creative in any capacity in your life. If you are someone who feels that you are super literal. Always super mathematical and you have not a creative bone in your body and you don’t derive [00:54:00] joy from making things.

I wouldn’t enter this field because ultimately it is a creative profession and even as it has changed it is still a very creative profession and you have to like be able to derive joy from making things. And so that would be my advice there. But I also think, I think it’s like an important point to share, designers are going to fall on a spectrum and yeah, there’s the end to end design spectrum, but some people are going to be super, super good at the visuals and they’ll just have like a little bit of the research synthesis ideation concepting, but, but not so great and that’s fine.

And then there’ll be people who are really on the other end of that spectrum. And then their visuals kind of trickle off and that’s okay too. Like they still in the U S like we still call those people all product designers and it is okay if they are not perfectly great at visuals, not perfectly great at design research.

Totally fine. It’s about having a little bit of skills in those areas and an awareness of those areas. And, you know, and, you know, enough to work with other people like design researchers who might be doing that or, or end to end [00:55:00] designers who are doing that, you know, so you don’t have to be great at all of it, especially not to start, you know, definitely not to start, but to have an awareness of that end to end process, know what kinds of things are happening across that journey.

Like, that’s what you need to know. And then I would say like, for all the reasons that you brought up around, like challenges of working in fast paced environments or in prescriptive environments, where a PM is giving you something to do, or an executive is giving you something to do and, or just make something with AI just right now.

It’s like the reason that I said, you have to be creative. It’s like, this has to be something where you enjoy making things enough that like, yes, your paycheck is important. And. You are paid for it and you derive joy from making something new. And so you’re feeding your own, you know, sense of enjoyment as you make things.

And that, that to me is, that’s really, really important. That’s what my advice that I would give is like, you are someone who’s like, I don’t, I don’t like creativity or like it makes me nervous or I don’t want to, I hate making things or, you know, it’s like, don’t do this then you [00:56:00] do need to be creative to do this.

Vy: Yeah, I’m with you as well. And I think, uh, uh, you know, maybe a slight challenge to that is a lot of the creativity also happens in like diverse teams. And I think also common misconception when I talk to designers is that they believe that it’s their job. To actualize, like naturally they produce the things, you know, they, they visualize things, but they often think that it’s their job to be creative in the team.

Which in my experience, as an IC, I’ve been the least creative person in most of the sessions. And that’s because, you know, I can guide, I can facilitate, I can, you know, You know, allow team to diverge, but if, if you talk to someone who has been, I don’t know, a research scientist or some subject, which we have.

No, you know, no understanding of what it’s real like you kind of have to [00:57:00] make them creative or 

Cal: Yeah. 

Vy: You, you know, almost like, uh, I dunno what’s the good expression to that, but almost democratize the creativity in a way. Yeah, 

Cal: absolutely. 

Vy: Because the ideas just overlap in a way. 

Cal: Well, I do think that’s the role of a designer is to facilitate.

It’s not our only role, but we are. Good at helping others have creativity. And I think that part of that is because like, we have our own experience of making things. And so, you know, we know how to kind of pull the data from different people and then go, Oh, what about this? And kind of mash it up into ideas and concepts for me, some of my favorite moments, like just in my entire design career, I’ve been times when I’m facilitating, like I remember facilitating a workshop that was a bunch of like automotive engineers, like kind of like mechanical engineers and, you know, People who were like, they do like the design of axles for cars and brake pads and just like things I didn’t know anything about.

And, um, it was them and a bunch of interesting kind of like [00:58:00] technologists who knew about different materials and how they operated and, you know, just kind of like weird creative technologists. And I was a facilitator and I had some design research, some user needs that we were like doing ideation around, but it was so fun.

You know, I wasn’t the one delivering any of the ideas. In that session, like I wasn’t the one who was the creative one, but I was enabling all of them to have creativity. You know, I was essentially co designing with them and affirming their ideas and extracting ideas from them. And, you know, Oh, I heard this here and you should work with them.

Oh, that’s really interesting. And just to bring it all together, you know, and in that way, I do think secretly, that’s what I think all designers should be doing. Like even with their product managers, with engineers, like taking the research you’re finding and facilitating sessions so that you are coming up with these ideas together and then, yeah, other people are creative, you know, and But you also co own the ideas, which is really nice.

Everyone has this emotional investment in the ideas because they came up with some of them together. [00:59:00] Anyway. Yeah, that’s, I’m very passionate about facilitation. That’s like, like if I look at, I bet like half of these books are like versions of facilitation, like. Different 

Vy: that’s likely from your consultancy days, right?

Yeah. Yeah. Cause that’s where I, I, I myself developed my facilitation skills in consulting different clients. That’s a good 

Cal: point. 

Vy: I think. 

Cal: Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I just, you just gave me a better answer to your prior question. So go ahead. And then I’ll, I’ll give you 

Vy: mine. No, no, no. I, I, if anything, I was just adding, cause I feel like then, then you have mentioned that, you know, you, you consulted some and you mentioned the actual, I guess, working with.

With different clients and, and kind of working with external people and stakeholders, it, it, that’s, that’s where I got a lot of my, I guess, expertise from back in the day. And I think it’s also quite hard to replace a whole new level of challenges of the crap you have [01:00:00] to eat sometimes of, you know, of a lot of, of a lot of good and bad, basically, at one point I was even advising people to.

They should work at least once in a consultancy or agency or somewhere where we deal with stakeholders who might, you know, be quite external because it teaches you so much, but. 

Cal: No, I agree with that completely because I think the better answer to the answer I gave you earlier about advice for someone who’s breaking into the industry is like, I would say work in a consultancy.

Like really start in a consultancy because your skills get better there, you grow there. You, yeah, like you said, everything you said is true. That is where I learned my facilitation skills for sure. Absolutely. For sure. I mean that and being a trained mindfulness teacher since like 2006 where I was like facilitating workshops.

So there’s also that I should credit that as well. Teaching will give you that skill too. But, but I think like for designers who also are wanting to learn, you know, how to use design to solve a lot of different types of challenges. And a lot of different types of problems [01:01:00] and like and do really weird things I mean if I look at the projects that I did in my career like they’re bizarre, you know Like and cool, but bizarre you gain a lot of experience like You know, I was like, Oh, one month I’m doing a VR experience for Disney.

Okay. The next month I’m doing an iPad app for Southwest airlines for the baggage handlers. Oh, you know, a year later, I’m doing like the service design on Carnival cruise ships, like for, you know, the crew and the guests. I mean, it’s just like really interesting environments that you’re like getting to build something into, and yeah, you learn a lot.

Like you said about stakeholder management, you probably get a lot more exposure also to very senior leaders. Like then you would normally get, if you’re a newer designer in, in a product company, because you wouldn’t be interfacing with like a VP or, uh, you know, cause, and oftentimes like in a consultancy, like those are your clients.

They’re like, I’m the VP of innovation at my company and I’m here to work on this project with you. And it’s a good, big stretch for young designers. Or I shouldn’t say young [01:02:00] because for career changing people too, you know, for any new anyone. 

Vy: Yeah. Anyone I think I started in in consultancies when I was already a senior and it stretched me.

Um, you know, it’s it’s been hard but also rewarding and I think if You know, as people go for this episode and listen to us, um, I think this is, this could be also one of those shortcuts for design leadership, you know? So maybe someone stuck around long enough, they could shortcut their career in a way, because also working on so many different projects gives you so much material for, Case studies and portfolio, but that’s again a secret, which, you know, everybody, yeah, 

Cal: no, but just to build on that though.

Like, I think it’s, it’s, it’s even more than that. I agree with you completely. And it’s also like, in working in consultancies, you learn how to solve a lot of different, like, very weird problems. And then if you go into a product company, And you’re tasked with solving similar problems. You’ve already done it once before.

Vy: [01:03:00] Um, I’m sure we, we covered so much ground and I’m really appreciative of your time as well, Cal. Where can we direct the people to like what’s the best place so they can find more about you or what’s, what’s your preferred place to guide them to? 

Cal: I, I, a couple of places. Um, I mean, headspace. com is the Headspace website, but also I’m on LinkedIn.

Um, I’m under Cal Thompson Headspace. On LinkedIn, and then, um, the product design strategy course is offered by future London Academy. And so they can look up future London Academy and, and product design strategy is one of the courses. I’m always happy to like entertain questions on LinkedIn as well. I, I’m, I’m always happy to help.

And sometimes, although it’s quite rare now, cause it’s been a bit busy lately, I’m on ADP list, which is the design, uh, mentorship website. And so, If I pop back on there, I’ll post something on LinkedIn about it. But like, that has been fun in the past I’ve done mentorship sessions. Yeah, be careful. 

Vy: You might get inundated.

It’s fun though. [01:04:00] 

Cal: Yeah, but it’s fun. 

Yeah. Yeah.


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