If Culture Is Character, What Are Your Organization’s Distinguishing Marks?

Getting to know the culture of Beezwax — a custom web, mobile and database solutions firm

Interview with Julian Nadel, President and Founder

At Cooper, we’re interested in how design tools and methods can be used to shape inspired work cultures. In that vein, this blog post is the first in a series of exploratory interviews to learn tips and tricks from other companies. If you, your team or organization would benefit from a day away from the office to explore how to evolve your work culture, join us for our next Designing Culture workshop on Wednesday, Dec. 10 in San Francisco. Or, we can bring the workshop to your turf. For ongoing work culture inspiration, also check out our #DesigningCulture topics page on the Cooper Journal.

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A 15-minute investment in creativity

Despite the allure of the Newton’s apple story (Apple falls, and presto, change-o: an idea is born), creativity doesn’t fall from trees. On the contrary, the kind of creative thinking that drives true innovation takes nurturing. And by nurturing, I mean an honest and consistent commitment to exploration and out-of-the-box thinking in the form of time, resources, and space.

Because, here’s the thing: as product-design company Zurb aptly puts it, “People struggle to be creative when it’s not part of the culture.” Companies may tout “Innovation!” as their driving goal, but that proclamation means nothing if there isn’t infrastructure to support true creative thinking day-to-day.

Which leads me back to Zurb and a simple little practice called Friday 15. On Fridays, their team dedicates, you guessed it, 15 minutes, to some kind of creative exercise. They do this for team-building, fun, and to inspire a creative culture. Here’s a taste of the brain-ticklers they’ve explored together:

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Designing Culture: New Ways to Think About Work

How might we…

  • invest in relational chemistry?
  • encourage personal leadership?
  • integrate new team members?
  • gain alignment around vision?

These are just a few of the questions we explored in our last Cooper Parlor, Designing Culture. The evening was focused on ways to be intentional about creating a creative culture and work environment. Attendees from design, digital technology, city government, engineering firms, art museums and more shared their desires, challenges, and experiences in shaping the culture of their workplaces.

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Cooper Parlor: The Gender, Leadership, Design Axis

When: Thursday, August 29, 6-8:30pm (Networking at 6, event starts at 6:30)
Moderators: Teresa Brazen, Design Education Strategist and Susan Dybbs, Managing Director, Interaction Design
Where: Cooper’s Studio, 85 2nd St., 8th Floor, San Francisco
Cost: $10

At Cooper, we have an internal book club (affectionately known as the “Cook Blub”) designed to encourage conversation, debate, and boost our collective knowledge. After hearing all the hype about Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, we decided to give it a read and tackle the tricky topics of gender and leadership ourselves. Needless to say, that book club sparked rich discussion that we thought worth bringing to our broader community.

So, in this Cooper Parlor, we invite you to take a deeper look at the gender and leadership dynamics in your own organization and the design and tech communities at large. We’ll discuss if/how the definition of leadership is changing, whether gender imbalances in fields like engineering (approximately 14% are female in the USA) are a phenomenon of oppression or a natural tendency for men and women to gravitate toward different fields, what men and women can learn from one another’s approach to career, and much, much more. We also invite you to submit a question you’d like to discuss in the comments below.

Please Note!

  • People from all fields are invited to attend. While we’ll talk about some aspects of gender in the design/tech worlds, the conversation will inspire and apply to those of any industry (and we welcome your diverse perspectives!).
  • We encourage you to read “Lean In”, but it is not a requirement of participation. The book is a catalyst for conversation, and you’ll have plenty to share and learn whether or not you had time to read it.

What is the Cooper Parlor?

The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design.Save your spot now!

Additional Reading

It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back
What ‘Lean In’ Misunderstands About Gender Differences
Stubborn Obstacles: What’s Hindering Female Engineers?

Designing Culture: The Secret of Great Teams & Organizations

Upcoming Cooper Parlor:Designing Culture: The Secret of Great Teams & Organizations

Moderator: Teresa Brazen & Kendra Shimmell
Cost: $10
When: Thursday, July 11th from 6:30-8:30 (doors open at 6)
Where: Cooper Offices, 85 2nd St, 8th Floor, San Francisco, CA
Get your tickets here.

“We’re way off schedule. Everyone is disengaged. No one is onboard with the vision.” Sound familiar? What if you could create great products and services without all that drama? What if there was a secret sauce for stellar team dynamics?

From “Ship It Days” to involving teenagers in ideation sessions, in this Cooper Parlor we’ll talk about curious, compelling ways that people from every role in organizations are creating inspired cultures. We’ll look at how culture impacts teams and what they create together, what constitutes a “healthy” culture, and trade tips and tricks for fostering environments we all want to work in.

Participants will share their own success stories and challenges, so come prepared to be an active part of the conversation. Then, we’ll do some hands-on exercises to come up with creative new practices to take back to our organizations and teams.

If you lead a team, want to lead, work remotely, build stuff, wrangle people daily, or just want to hear about (and create!) invaluable techniques for solidifying team culture, don’t miss this Cooper Parlor!

What is the Cooper Parlor?

The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design. Save your spot now.

Related Reading

Designing for Unnatural Selection: Bionic Bunny Ears for Bengal Tigers?

Guest blog post by Zak Brazen, our May Cooper Parlor moderator and Creative Strategist for Brazenworks

Prefabitats for polar bears? A jet pack for pandas? Bionic bunny ears for Bengal tigers? It’s amazing how much ingenuity 55 people can exhibit in two short hours. But that’s just what can happen when you facilitate a motley crew (wink) of design professionals, biologists, and technologists toward a common goal. Entitled, WTF, Evolution? Designing Unnatural Selection, the Cooper Parlor on May 23rd explored the science and fantasy of creating gadgets for animals to ‘leap frog’ the 6th wave of extinction. As Karolina, one of our attendees put it, “Still buzzing after today’s Parlor & lively presentation. Pandas need design advocates too!”

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The Great UX Debate

Are designers responsible for the impact of their work upon human behavior?
Is it actually possible to create “connected” experiences across devices?
Do designers need to speed up, or do stakeholders need to slow down?

In January, Angel Anderson, Mikkel Michelsen, Robb Stevenson, Lou Lenzi, Donald Chestnut, and I poked and prodded at these topics during the Interaction 13 conference. About 500 people attended the debate, and they threw their own perspectives into the mix in the latter part of the conversation. Have a listen in the video below.

(And thanks to SapientNitro for the opportunity to meet such interesting people, expand my own perspective, and make use of what I learned on my high school debate team. Ha!)

The tea, leadership, loyalty axis

About six months ago, I switched from coffee to tea because I wanted to reduce the influence of caffeine in my life. After a somewhat painful adjustment period, I now look forward to my morning tea ritual as much as I once did my morning cup o’ Joe – and I feel better. Until yesterday morning, though, I hadn’t given much thought to the impact of how I was drinking my tea.

It started with a quote from a Fast Company article about leadership (Buddha Had It Right: Relax the Mind and Productivity Will Follow) that inspired me enough to end up on this index card:

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What’s Next for Design Education? Interaction 13′s Education Summit

Last week, a handful of Cooperistas attended the Interaction 13 conference and wrote daily recaps of what they heard for our blog readers (Catch up with a quick read about day 1, day 2, day 3, and day 4). The Education Summit, a full day workshop that explored the global problem space of interaction design education, merited the lengthier share-out below.

The Interaction 13 conference in Toronto was a five-day whirlwind of speakers, workshops and networking. Threaded through all this information was a tasty glimpse into the future: a world where technologies play nicely with one another, don’t demand our undivided attention, and are great at helping people do what they do best: be people. My sense (and hope) is that this utopian vision just might be possible (rather than the “Terminator-style” future Angel Anderson warned us of in the Great UX Debate. Scary! Let’s not do that, pretty please.).

While visions are great for building hope, the education of emerging designers is a key factor in helping us get us to that future. In an effort to learn more about the issues facing educators (that could potentially sabotage utopia), I attended the Interaction Design Education Summit. Here is a snapshot of the conversations and ideas that emerged:


How did you become an interaction designer?

Most of the attendees’ responses to this question fell under one (or more) of these themes:

  • Serendipity
  • Iterative wandering
  • I built my own journey (through books and mentors)

Takeaway: There are many paths, they aren’t always structured or intentional, and we need to take this into account in our approach to education.

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HealthRally Gives You the Nudge You Need to Change Your Habits

Untitled-3.pngMost of us need an extra little boost (or nudge, or shove) to reach a goal. We can’t do everything alone, and our friends and families can be powerful support systems. The strength of these relationships is at the core of why we love HealthRally. They offer an intriguing new way for friends and family to motivate each other to reach important goals with rewards. You can post a goal and ask friends to support you along the way. Or, friends can proactively post a reward to encourage you to stick to a goal. For instance, if you want to lose a few pounds, I could offer a shopping trip for a new outfit in your new size as motivation to keep trying to lose weight.

We are thrilled to be working with HealthRally through our partnership with Rock Health, offering design mentoring and training to Rock Health’s start-ups. HealthRally is passionate, focused, and mission-driven, and 2012 is shaping up to be a great year for the company. Here are excerpts of a conversation with CEO & Co-founder Zack Lynch about what makes HealthRally so great.

What was the inspiration for creating HealthRally?

You, us and them. Anyone who has ever needed some extra motivation to help reach a goal. Whether it’s losing weight, getting better grades, taking medication, or running a marathon, it’s hard to stay motivated every day. So we created HealthRally as a way to bring your friends and family together to cheer you on, motivate you, and celebrate your success.

How will you know you’ve succeeded?

We are already succeeding. Our beta service launched in January and people are changing their lives, friends and family are motivating each other, and people are reaching goals with amazing rewards.

What do you do when you and your team need inspiration?

We go for a brisk walk up Potrero Hill and take in the view over San Francisco. We get energized thinking about all the innovation and passion occurring right in sight. Then, we hike over to Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous, a Dog Patch must, to reward ourselves with some very tasty ice cream.

What have you learned about human behavior through the process of creating HealthRally?

People really do want to see one another to succeed! They’ll do anything for each other, from cooking healthy meals to going on walks, as well as putting money on the line to help motivate one another to reach goals.

How are you using design to motivate people?

User experience is everything. Each element, from sign up through motivating your friends, each process must convey a sense of ease, fun, trust, and accomplishment. For example, to improve our sign up process, we designed a way for people to build their rally even if they weren’t signed in. This makes the initial product interaction easier and helps people play with our motivation service faster than if we required a lot of info right up front.

How is HealthRally different than other motivation and behaviorial change services out there?

Only HealthRally lets friends and family motivate each other with real money. We do this in a fun and social way to make sure that everyone is involved. We also designed a service called RallyCoach, which monitors the motivational momentum and nudges people to share experiences and motivate each other. We are seeing are amazing results!

Tell us about how you’ve been working with Cooper to evolve your product.

Cooper immediately seized on the opportunity to evolve the initial customer experience with a deeper sense of emotional relevance. We walked through the users mindsets and redesigned landing pages to highlight the sense of support and gratitude people can have from using our product.

What’s your next big hurdle?

Taking advantage of the opportunities in front of us and new ones that continue to arise. Startups are built with great people, so attracting and retaining the best team will continue to be a major focus of our internal efforts.

What goals do you have for HealthRally this year?

Grow! We just signed a deal to be the “at home” version for a new reality weight loss TV series on NBC in Chicago called “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” where contestants get paid to lose weight. We want to go national with the show as it gets adopted in new markets, building out brand relationships to complement the rewards being given by friends and family.

What are you most proud of about HealthRally?

Making a service that helps people get excited about and energized to support one another, no matter what it takes.

If HealthRally won a (pretend) award, what would it be?

The Healthy Human Award given out to companies that inspire millions to get and stay healthy!
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