Design Leader Insights - Kyle LeBlanc on Advocating for the Designer

March 19, 2024


Alex Smith: Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX. Fuego UX is a leading UX research, strategy, and design consultancy. Hey, Kyle. Thanks so much for joining the show today.

Kyle LeBlanc: Thank you for having me, Alex.

Alex Smith: Yeah, for sure. And as we get started can you give us a little bit of context in your journey and design?

Kyle LeBlanc: Sure. So I am a dinosaur. I've been in design since 1998. That was the first time I picked up a mouse and touched Photoshop, I believe it was 4.0, and never really looked back. And I absolutely fell in love. That could maybe be considered my first love. And you know, so started, I guess, started off with design. I was more on the graphic designer side. And then moved to print and then eventually moved on to web. In transitioning into web design, I also went into front end development. So HTML,  jQuery, the full gamut of that, PHP. And that was out of a necessity of the time I was freelancing and doing contract work. So this is the early 2000s. So back then it's like, there's, there's less differentiation between like a web developer and web designer. So a lot of people were kind of doing both. Like in my garter, going from freelancing into doing contract work. I learned how, okay, well most companies have a separation church and statement. You're either on the development side or the design side. And my passion is a lot more in the design side. Diving into customer problems and the customer experience is something that I've always been passionate about. So over the years I worked for my design and several different industries retail, hospitality,  and a couple of others. And I'm able to learn the needs of different users across different industries, which is something I care to really consider. 

Alex Smith: Nice. Yeah. And tell me about where you're at now. How, I think you've made a pretty big journey from over those years from being in the file, designing, to now leading large teams. Like let's, I'd love to learn a little bit about that. Like where you're at now and that kind of journey to from being in the file, to now leading people, tons of people that are in the file.

Kyle LeBlanc: For me, my why was I've always felt like I was an advocate for design and for the craft and for designers. I've always been comfortable having the uncomfortable conversations. Pushing back, asking why, like, why are we doing something right? I was never really good at being like an order taker. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, probably a little bit of both. And so like, even early on in the days, I was always the person asking, like, why are we doing this? Like, sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn't, but I was always looking for clarity. And in that journey, I found out that desire was usually looked at as a service provider, and not necessarily a thought partner. And so, I felt like, I've always felt like, we are more. invested and we're more, we should be more involved in the decision making process on what the user experience is. We shouldn't be getting a drive of order from somebody that needs something to look pretty, you know? And so I felt like for my why going into the leadership tribe goals, it was primarily because I will be someone that could advocate for design and designers and the different crafts that are often associated, or fall in the design umbrella. I feel I've been successful making the leap and I've been able to see like tremendous growth and I'm still passionate about advocating for design and make sure that designers have a seat at the table. And they're able to not just have it, but also keep it. Because sometimes you have a seat, but we'll lose it. But I don't make sure like we're able to keep that seat and maintain one. 

Alex Smith: Tell me about like learning, I think a lot of managers struggle with this cause they were so close to design or whatever their craft is, if it's even outside of design, learning how to delegate and like be okay with the team making errors or taking longer than you may have to do a complex task.

Kyle LeBlanc: So I used to have this issue when I was more of an IC, like I used to chase perfection or what I deemed was perfect. Even in my freelance days, I'd take days, hours, weeks to design this thing. And then I'd be done. And I'd look at it and say, I hate this. I don't like it. And I just start from scratch. And it's like, kind of like killing time. And you keep going in this endless cycle of chasing perfection. 

Alex Smith: Yeah.

Kyle LeBlanc: So over time I learned that it isn’t always  great and that it doesn't have to be perfect. You know, we iterate on a lot of things, but it does need to solve customer problems. And so going from an IC to a people leader, there's a transition you go through mentally of knowing that, hey, I could design this thing, but do I have trust in this other person to? And I talked to like a lot of ICs still, and I always tell them like, hey, like you need to build trust in your manager, but don't forget it's a two way thing. Like you're not, I don't believe like you should be subservient to your manager. I think your manager also has a job to serve the IC also. So building trust is very important, but no, a lot of times, but once you make the leap from an IC to a people leader, you sometimes feel like, hey, it's quicker if I just do it, I just knock it out or this person didn't do it exactly how I would have done it and you know what, that's okay. I have like a four year old son and I'm teaching him now that like, there's multiple ways to do things. There's multiple ways to get places and it's because you would do things one way. It may be the best way, it may not, but there's other ways to do it. And when you look at the growth of someone else, people grow by being able to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. And sometimes they're not making mistakes. Sometimes they are doing a dumb job. And so I think as a people leader, it's important to say, I'm going to back away from actually being in the file and being constricted and saying, hey, do it exactly this way. But pivot more to like a conversation where you're helping other people think about their process and think about why are they trying to do it a certain way and try to probe and coach them on questions and help them actually generate their own questions to go deeper into the customer problem they want to try to solve.

Alex Smith: Love that it's a different, different world than, than when you got started in design, you know, you've talked about learning and code and maybe that's relevant, maybe it isn't now, but, but what advice do you have for people looking to break into this field today? 

Kyle LeBlanc: So when you first break into this field, you kind of get everything drawn on you, right? You think you don't think you're supposed to be a designer, you think you're supposed to be a code, you think you're supposed to be a researcher, you think you're supposed to be a content designer. And you're, you know, you don't initially think like, I need to be the best at all of this, these things. And it's good to have exposure. Kind of like when you go to college, right? You get exposed to all these classes and you know, like you're sometimes thinking like, hey, what am I going to use? Roman literature from the 16th century, right? Like, never used it. 

Alex Smith: Still have never used it. 

Kyle LeBlanc: When, when does that, when does that come into play in my career? 

Alex Smith: Yeah. 

Kyle LeBlanc: But I think a lot of times it's about exposure. And helping you to think about different scenarios in different ways. And so, but as you go on, then you start either finding what you're good at or what you're passionate about. And sometimes they're not the same thing and that's okay also, right? The thing that you're passionate about, you're great at it and you probably have a match by heaven. If not, then you know, that's the area that you can focus on, to continue honing your craft. Take it all in initially. But kind of pay attention to yourself and don't, don't lie to yourself about what you're asking and what you're good at. And just, you know, try to follow your heart. 

Alex Smith: Yeah, always good advice. Kyle, thanks so much. Where can people go to learn more about what you're up to or follow you? 

Kyle LeBlanc: I'm pretty boring on social, but I am pretty astronomical on LinkedIn and it's just, my name is Kyle LeBlanc on LinkedIn. Actually, it's Kyle LeBlanc on Twitter, and it's Kyle LeBlanc on LinkedIn and Instagram. I was able to get, like, my name on a lot of platforms. And if my name is not available, I just won't join the platform. 

Alex Smith: Nice. I like that. Yeah. Cool. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show today. 

Kyle LeBlanc: No problem. I appreciate it. Look forward to joining you again.