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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From Vision to Value: Techniques for Demonstrating the Benefits of Design

A guest post by Cooper U alumni Grant Baker.

At every conference session I’ve gone to, someone has asked some variant of “this all sounds great, but how do I sell it to my company?” This is especially true when talking about processes seen as business cost centers, like design. To the initiated, it makes no sense why anyone would try to build a product any other way. Yet our business partners look on these same strategies with a cold eye, blinded to anything but added expense. Add this to frustrations such as impending deadlines and frivolous demands, and it’s no wonder many interaction designers have great theories, but no way to put them into practice.

In March, Cooper U hosted their Design Leadership workshop, which teaches the skills needed to meet these problems head on.

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Leading By Design

In my career, I’ve spent a lot of time learning from great design leaders. The best stand out as creative, thoughtful listeners, able to persuade with grace and speak hard truths, while uniting the team around a focused vision.

Through my involvement in Cooper U’s Design Leadership course, I’ve learned techniques to repeat the success of these leaders. Recently, I had the privilege of co-teaching with two of Cooper’s design leaders, Jenea Hayes and course creator Kendra Shimmell. In the class, these bright ladies presented tools that help the rest of us become leaders who can sell a vision, unite a team, and achieve organizational consent. The following overview captures a small slice of the course content from general principles to practical applications that are simple yet powerfully effective ideas for all of us.

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From Superman to the Avengers: Rethinking Bruce Mau Design

[Excerpt from a UX Magazine article written by Teresa Brazen. Full article here.]

Everyone loves a hero. But what happens to

organizations when their heroic leaders retire?

Four years ago, Bruce Mau Design (BMD) faced this dilemma. The company’s infamous founder, Bruce Mau, left so that he could create a platform to address bigger global issues that were meaningful to him called the Massive Change Network. Those who remained at BMD and its new President and CEO, Hunter Tura, were presented with an interesting opportunity: reinvention. Curious about the culture of BMD today, I interviewed Tura in his Toronto office. Here are some takeaways for teams and organizations from their evolution.

Rethink Your Mental Model

Bruce Mau Design was founded upon what Tura describes as the “Superman model,” which meant the founder was seen as the “creative auteur” of the company. Mau’s exit gave the BMD team an opportunity to rethink how they positioned themselves, what services they wanted to offer, and how they wanted to work together. Read the rest of the article here.

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

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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