Vinh vs. Veen at Signal vs. Noise

If you’ve got a great idea, you’d better do it quick, before the guys over at 37signals do it better and with more fanfare than you can. Take, for instance, this brainstorm I had a few weeks ago to start doing interviews with designers and technologists here at Not long after the idea occurred to me — and before I could share it with anyone, much less act on it — I got an email from Matt Linderman from 37signals, inviting me to face off with Jeffrey Veen, formerly of Adaptive Path and now with Google, in a side-by-side interview over at their own weblog, Signal vs. Noise. Rats!

Little Guys in Huge Companies

Moderated by Matt and his 37signals honcho Jason Fried himself, the interview was posted earlier today. The topic at hand is “In-house vs. On Your Own,” or, how working for The Man is different from being The Man yourself. Both Jeff and I came from small, entrepreneurial shops that we co-founded, so it was interesting to compare notes on how life has changed inside our new respective, mammoth machines. As it turns out, our jobs are remarkably similar, even though The Times and Google are such different companies.

Also, if you read carefully through my responses to the questions, you will in fact come across some of the topics that I discussed in my talk last week at An Event Apart NYC. Among them: the idea that in many ways, the less actual design work that a design director does, the better, the notion that meetings might not in fact be poisonous, and that they’re actually very important to the success of the work that designers do, and the concept that it’s a designer director’s job, first and foremost, to create the conditions under which good design can happen. For anyone interested in the management of design and what it takes to get good design done in large corporations, this will be an interesting read.

  1. Really enjoyed reading the chat, Khoi. Keep putting your stuff out there, and I’ll keep reading it. You always have inspiring and interesting things to say.

    (end ass kissing.)

  2. hey khoi, great read. i completely understand your “less is more” approach to design management. the drive to clear a path for your designers to apply their talents is a must have in a large organization, no matter how much the collective “gets it.”

    though, i must say — in retrospect (from my time at ameritrade) — bending to allow other groups to have a degree of ownership of certain aspects of the experience would’ve gotten me much farther within that culture, and very well could have improved the overall client experience. my problem was trying to carve out explicit ownership of the UX for my team.

    i mean, where does “user experience” begin and end in companies like google, the times or ameritrade? so many business groups have a vested interest in the “user” experience, as the interface is a representation model of the functionality (editorial, technology, design), but also the brand (marketing), the customer (customer service), liability (legal, compliance), etc.

    the biggest challenge for design management is within these large organizations; knowing when to fight, when to lead, when to follow, when to listen, when to relinquish… it’s truly collaboration on steroids.

    thanks again for the read.

  3. Great comment, Sean, thanks! I don’t think I would disagree with anything you’ve said there; it’s very important to be flexible with other groups, and also to remember that, in some respect, the user experience is the business of everyone in the company.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.