Speaker: Kristy Tillman

January 5, 2015 • Francesca Wedemeyer

Kristy Tillman is the Design Director at Society of Grownups. Most recently she was a designer at IDEO, working on everything from mobile apps to insulin pens. She's always looking for ways to push design and integrate best design practices across digital and print. Kristy’s dedication to design makes her a great addition to our program at Pro/Design and we feel lucky to have her speaking at our event.

Tell us about your new job, your role, and how it differs from your role at IDEO.

My role differs quite a bit. At IDEO I was a communication designer who worked on a team with designers from different disciplines (e.g. industrial designer, mechanical engineer, human factors). The projects varied widely in terms of scope, fidelity and industry—skewing heavily towards research driven conceptual projects.

My current role is as the design director for the Society of Grownups, where I focus solely on the Grownup product and experience. I work primarily with non-designers and developers, and the role is more for a mix of focused execution and strategy. My true generalist tendencies get to shine at Society of Grownups, where I touch digital, the physical space, curriculum and our service model.

How is design lead research conducted and how do you see it play into your product?

Born as a collaboration between MassMutual and IDEO, design lead research is as at the core of our product, and the initial offering is the direct result of user-centered research. We consider our product and experience as an experiment of sorts. The service offering is a minimal viable experience (MVE). The curriculum, the design of our classroom materials, even down to the food we offer in the space are all under iteration.

We have a full-time researcher on the team who designs and leads user research. We use a variety of methodologies including observations, user interviews, and leverage technologies such as Swarm to help us iterate on our product.

Our Community Managers who lead the physical space, the web development team, and myself all play important roles in the research component. Our ultimate goal is to really understand the needs of our Grownups and give them the best possible experience at every touchpoint on the path to reaching their goals.

What does leading with design mean to you?

Leading with design is about helping to raise the level of consciousness within an organization around how things work, feel, look and most importantly–what they mean. Design is about solving problems, and designers are uniquely equipped to approach difficult and often ambiguous business and product problems. The importance of design leadership has never been more important in these times of uncertainty and changing customer needs. Design is a broad, iterative and multidisciplinary process that provides immense value when baked into every level of a business where even “non-designers” become designers.

What led to your thinking of design as a leadership method?

I think it’s one of the most obvious non-obvious revelations after years of practice. As a designer at IDEO, I knew we were most successful when when our clients left having a different understanding of their own business. Whether it was through a new product, brand identity, or service model--the final form simply represented a culmination of learnings, the natural result of asking the right questions to fuel the design process. Demonstrating this kind of value in a 12 or 16 week project naturally lends itself to asking the question what kind of value would design leadership add?

What do you think are some of the obstacles to design and business working in perfect harmony?

Learning to speak the same language, more importantly stewarding the language of design as the language of business. Although design’s importance at the business table is becoming increasingly apparent, it’s still an uphill battle for designers to continue to reify the value of design. Navigating the business of design is as essential as the practice itself, and today’s designer is not only a practitioner but an agent of cultural transformation whose job is to usher in design thinking.

What are you hoping people will take away from your talk?

I hope people take away kernels of inspiration about our product design process. I’d also love to have feedback.

Where do you see this intersection of design and business going in the future?

I see more large businesses being led and founded by designers. Creative leadership will be essential in helping tomorrow’s most innovative companies traverse the ambiguity necessary to realize the possibilities created by the rapid pace of technological advancement.