Design Leader Insights - Samantha Berg

January 16, 2023

Alex Smith: Hey Samantha. Thanks so much for joining the show today. 

Samantha Berg: Hey, super excited to be here. 

Alex Smith:  Awesome. Yeah and to get started, can you give the audience a little bit of background on your history and UX?

Samantha Berg: Sure. Let's see it. So I decided when I was, I want to say like eight years old that I wanted to be a product designer and specifically that I just wanted to make things that people used every day. And that kind of made their lives happy. I started working with Motorola on how to design keyboards for their smartphones, which just that sentence is very dating. Early in my career, I was at Palm, also kind of dating myself there. So building out web iOS as a mobile ecosystem. I spent a bunch of years consulting. So I was doing work for, you know, all the different tech giants and then around Silicon Valley, working on everything from phones, tablets, cameras, TVs, wearables, to things like AR, VR, autonomous vehicles, voice UI, screenless UI. So all kinds of really cool, like bleeding edge tech, and then more recently have spent time in-house. I spent some time at big publicly traded companies.  I've spent time at smaller venture backed startups. I'm at Chime most recently, which has kind of been, I won't say all of those things as we're not a publicly traded company yet, but I think we were just over a hundred people, maybe 150 when I joined and we're about 1,200 now. So very quickly went from small company to large company.

Alex Smith: Yeah, that's super cool. And I'm sure that's going to lend some perspective to the next question, which is something that you've talked about, which is designing design teams, which I think is an awesome way to look at it. We'd love to hear your thoughts on how to design an effective design team.

Samantha Berg: Oh my gosh. I mean, there's no one recipe or formula and there's certainly no one, you know, silver bullet when it comes to designing the team. I think really what's been fun for me is honestly just doing it in a bunch of different places, because every team is a little bit different. Every company is different, so every company needs something different from a team at a different point in time. And I really liked just playing around with that and figuring out what that right recipe is. I like to call it building my band of weirdos, but you know, thinking about like, who are the people that you need on the team right now, but as you go through that also, you know, I really think about building teams as, as creating relationships for the rest of my life.

And so I have, I don't know, maybe a half dozen folks on my team right now who I've worked with before in some capacity. And that's really fun for me, you know, because we still have to do something different in every place in each team we've been a part of these when we've been a part of it together is really different.

I mean, for me, I think the most important part about building a team is really building a team that has a diverse set of folks on the team. And then that is built to be equitable for that entire group of folks.  So there are a few different ways that I think about diversity. I think there are perhaps the most obvious ways that we think about diversity and that's really in the area of identity and belonging. Things like race, gender, sexuality, income, education, religion, citizenship, age, you know, kind of the, I don't know the bread and butter of what we might call diversity. But there are also a bunch of other things that I think about when building a team. So I think a lot about skill sets and knowledge, there are so many different skill sets that make up design, right? So there's interaction design, there's visual design, there's motion, there's content, there's sound. But then there are things like design engineering or design operations, 

service design, systems design, program management, user research, and, and those are all different types of skill sets and knowledge that you want on a team so that you can do 

all the pieces of the design process really well.

Alex Smith: Yeah.

Samantha Berg:I also think a lot about experience and background, you know, like my own background has architecture and engineering and art school and all kinds of things thrown in there. I really love to find folks for my teams with really different backgrounds because they approach problems in so many different ways. 

And then the last way that I think about diversity in abilities and working styles. So that's your very basic, I mean, that's things like being an introvert versus an extrovert. What kinds of learning abilities or disabilities do you have? Or other kinds of impairment, like seeing impaired and hearing impaired and motor impared? So those are a lot of the different things I think about. And then as we're building the team, it's really like, okay, then how do you design this team to have equity for all of those different types of diversity? So I'm definitely rambling. I'm going to stop there, but there are so many things that go into the idea of building the design team.

Alex Smith: Yeah I love that. It's great to think about all those angles and sounds like a lot of work, but important work to  consider all those. So Samantha, that's awesome that you're considering all these factors and hiring and creating a very diverse team beyond even what we may think of as diverse.  How does this lead to a high performing design team?

Samantha Berg: When you're playing a team sport, you want to be the very best at your thing,

and you want everybody around you to be the very best at their thing too. That’s what I want to see in the teams that I built. That's the kind of mentality that I try to build into the teams. That kind of culture is like look, we're all here. And we're all growing as people and that's great. And there are no lone wolves on this team. You're not here to just get good yourself.  You're here to get good and to get the other people around you good. And to have that whole be greater than the sum of its parts, you know, and for everybody to really come together in that way. And that doesn't happen by accident. You know, there's a lot of energy that goes into ritual.

There's a lot of energy that goes into communication and language. And also one thing that my team did, for example, we've read the book, Thanks for the Feedback. And then we did a little book club about it and talked about it for a few weeks on end. And that was really great because it helped us all learn as a team about the different types of feedback, about different ways to give each other feedback, different ways to receive feedback. But it meant that we actually had one unified vocabulary of how we talked about feedback. And that was really important. 

So that was kind of one thing we did. The other thing I think a lot about is what are the rituals I can put in place to help the team be high performing?  And so doing a book club is a great one.  We have one called Design U, which is exactly what it sounds like.You know, we bring folks in or folks from the team teach each other about certain things. And so that's kind of like a monthly ritual. And we introduced it and that was it. And you know, the team has run away with it and there are so many things that they want to teach. We just did one last week about the business of design.  We have one next week about user testing, which is going to be really great. We have, well now it's expanded but we used to have a full team weekly design review where we would go and you know, go through everybody's work and give each other feedback. And so that was a ritual of helping people get used to presenting their work and getting comfortable presenting their work and being able to give context and talk about the decisions  they made and the input that went into those decisions and what kind of feedback they are looking for today. And it gave everybody a chance to practice giving each other feedback. You know and again with no lone wolves like we kind of had a rule where everybody gives feedback to everybody else. That worked really really well when we were a team of like 8 people, now that we're a team of 40 people not so much.  We have like multiple reviews every week for all the different, you know, smaller teams. But really, you know, thinking about what are the tools and the frameworks that this team is going to need such that they can think about their own performance and they can think about other folks' performance and invest in that.

Alex Smith: Yeah, I love that. Especially at Design U we've, we've done something similar teaching accessibility in Webflow and you know, just the pace of design and all the new tools and, and areas that are emerging. Like you have experts on your team, that can help out the team. And it's just a great way to lift everyone at the same time. So I love that advice. What advice would you have for new designers entering the field today who might be looking for some of your wisdom and perspective?

Samantha Berg: Great question. I think first and foremost, just go into it with a growth mindset. And so really it was a lot of curiosity and thinking about, you know, what do I know? What do I not know? What do I want to learn more about? I think that part's really important and as much like self-awareness as much as possible. I think it's funny, I remember when I was young and I felt like I don't know. I kind of felt like I just had to be good at everything and that I couldn't really ask for help and that I shouldn't admit where I didn't know something. Especially when you're young, right? Cause you're like, you're just trying to prove yourself and maybe it's your first job and you're worried, I don't know, you know, that you're not going to live up to expectation or whatever it is. And it's a habit I've really had to learn how to break. Like really thinking about, okay, these are the things I know I'm really good at. These are the things I know I'm not good at, and that I'm not going to be afraid to ask for help on, or that I'm going to hire somebody else to do, because I'm not good at it, or because I don't want to do it. 

I think the other one, and this is really for anybody starting in their career, not just for designers is like, you don't have to have it all figured out. I mean secret of life y'all you don't ever have to have it all figured out. And like, you never will. You just have to figure out what's going to make you happy for the next like year or two. So that first job is about learning because you don't even know what a real job looks like. And so you get it. And that first job should just be showing up every day and figuring out what do I like about work?

Alex Smith: Yeah.

Samantha Berg: Does it matter to me that I really work on like bleeding edge, something that's like brand new? Or does it matter to me that every day I feel like I'm doing something new and learning something new? Does it matter to me that everyday I show up with people I really like? Do I just want a five minute commute? Do I want to get paid? Well, like, those are all really important things and they change throughout your life. You know, sometimes you're thinking, hey, I'm about to have a kid. I need to get paid well, and I need my commute to be like five minutes. And sometimes you're thinking like, I really want a job where I could travel the world right now, you know? Or I want a job where I'm working on a really cool thing that no one has ever done before. And you just have to figure that out and figure out what you want for like the next year, because it'll change. And then when you stop being happy, when you realize like, oh, I used to really like these people, but now I don't, or I still really like these people, but money really matters to me right now in a way it didn't before. And you go and you find another job and you do that whole thing all over again, you know? 

Alex Smith: Yeah, I think figuring out what you enjoy and what you're good at is, is always great advice. Well, thanks so much for being on the show. Where can the audience find you or find more information? 

Samantha Berg: Yeah, thanks so much for having me, and to anybody listening, thank you for listening. Thank you for listening. You can find me pretty much everywhere under Sberg75. So LinkedIn, Instagram, Medium. I use the same name everywhere, so I'm easy to find 

Alex Smith: Awesome. Thanks again for joining.

Samantha Berg:  Thanks for having me.