Wesley Yun on GoPro’s design approach

The O’Reilly Design Podcast: Managing, mentoring, and recruiting designers.

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In this week’s Design Podcast episode, I sit down with Wesley Yun, director of user experience on the hardware side at GoPro. Yun will be be speaking at O’Reilly’s inaugural Design Conference. In this episode, we talk about managing and recruiting designers at GoPro, Designer Fund’s Bridge Guild, and mentoring the next generation of designers.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Managing is humbling. My job isn’t to tell my designers what to do. My job is to hire the best designers I know how to, or I can hire at the organization that’s right for them and then create this space and the opportunity for them to do the best work of their life. That, to me, is what a good manager does. I very rarely tell my designers what to do. I help them frame problems. I help them sell ideas. I help streamline their thoughts.

[When recruiting], I look for things that are very unique, not something that you can see on a page or a resume. There are people who just bring a sense of joy and happiness and collaboration and trust; it’s nothing specific that you can ever point out.

It’s like if you’re on a date with somebody and if the questions are one-sided or if one person is doing all the talking, that’s a horrible date, and just as in human relationship, it’s got to be a two-way street. I hate when people posture—you walk into an interview and they say, ‘Hmm. You tell me why I should hire you. Who are you? What have you done?’ I hate that. I hate that because it’s not real. It’s not authentic because it’s not what this person is going to do for you. It’s what we’re going to do together. How do you arrive at that? The only way I know is through a real conversation where you’re very forthright about all of the difficulties and challenges, and if those challenges are right for them, they’re going to be excited. If they’re not, then great. It’s a good thing that you found out and no amount of talent is going to overcome the challenges at an organization if they’re unwilling to deal with those challenges. I don’t care how talented you are. You can’t overcome it with talent.

I think that’s where [Designer Fund] saw the gap or the delta between designers and their experiences and the needs of the startups, so they created this program called Bridge. Initially, people thought of it as an internship, but it’s really for mid-level professionals. You reach year 5 or 6 or 7 of your career and you want to make a transition, but you just don’t know how and you don’t want to take a huge step back in terms of position. Bridge really connects some of the most talented designers to some of these startups.

What Bridge does is allow the designers to come together, form a community, and have skill sharing. They bring in experts in different spaces, not just tools in terms of prototyping. I remember going to a session where they were teaching improvisation. There was a professor from Stanford who came and gave a demonstration of how to build trust and break down barriers. He used improvisation as a tool for helping designers do that, and I saw people transform in a matter of 10, 15 minutes.

In my role as a mentor [at Designer Fund], I look for designers who might be a good fit, so I basically introduce them to Bridge. Then when they have candidates or applicants who come through, they have to get interviewed by these companies, so I help them put their portfolio together and think about the interview and then mentor them through that process.

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Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

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