What it means to be a rock star

At Cooper, we hire stars. There, I said it. No apologies.

Not divas, not egomaniacs. Just the brightest designers we can find. You’ve got to be that good in order to leave your ego at the door, which is exactly what our methods demand.

Cooper is a highly collaborative environment: our paired design approach challenges designers to work together to deliver synthesis, ideation and exploration, design, and communication that stands up to skepticism and scrutiny. If you’re sketching design ideas, there’s someone right there with you, pointing out weak spots and pushing you to evolve the designs in ways that better serve your users’ and your client’s goals. You’d better have a deep bullpen of great ideas, because you’re going to need them. And when you’re poking holes in your partner’s design ideas, you’re going to need a stronger reason than “I like my idea better.”There’s not a lot of time for “compliment sandwiches” and “gee your hair looks great today” – it’s just a couple of folks working together to get to the best possible design as quickly as possible. So you’d better know that you’re good at what you do, and be confident that I know you’re that good, so we can just get down to the business of delighting users and clients alike.

Sure, we’ll butt heads once in a while. That’s cool, it’s part of the process. But after 15 minutes of stand-off, we’ll grab another designer (any designer, because we know they’re all playing at our level), talk them through the problem we’re trying to solve, and watch how quickly they untangle it and show us the way. And if you ask us, paired design not only yields better results, it’s also a heckuva lot more fun.

Because of the demands of our highly collaborative methods, there’s no room for the pursuit of personal glory. There’s no pointing to a design and saying “that was all me.” We’ve designed it together, vetted it together, and presented our rationale together. And a great idea is a great idea, whether it comes from our design partner, another designer on staff, the client, a user – you name it, all input is welcome.

So no, we don’t do ego-driven design. But if you want to approach your design work as a humble servant, you’ve come to the wrong place. Being a Cooper designer takes guts. It means telling the client what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. It means making a strong argument for what you feel is right. And it means making tough choices between ideal user experiences and clients’ business goals. Our clients come to us for our expertise and our willingness to tell it like it is, not because we’re the best-dressed yes-men in town.

And since when is being humble a professional requirement, anyway? I don’t expect my dentist to treat me as a colleague when determining how to alleviate my toothache, nor do I take offense when he doesn’t hand me an instrument and let me assist with my root canal. He’s spent years studying and practicing his craft. I expect him to listen to me about where it hurts, and seek my input when there are choices to be made about his treatment approach. But at the end of the day, when he’s sticking sharp instruments into my mouth, he’d better be a rock star at what he does. And if he tells me I probably know just as much about how to do his job as he does, I’m outta there. Why should the design profession be any different?

Cooperistas are the highest caliber, least ego-driven designers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. We take pride in our work and marvel at the talents of those who work alongside us. We know that the sweetest music is made by accomplished people who play together tightly – maybe even with a touch of swagger. If that makes us rock stars, so be it. Want to join the band?

P.S. If the gift of a soda can on your desk is going to offend your tender sensibilities, then you probably need not apply.

Suzy Thompson

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