AB: What types of designers thrive at Google?
MB: I think designers who are interested in creating products from top-to-bottom, who understand the importance of how something functions as well as how it looks and feels. Designers working in brand marketing are often responsible for making sure that brand, content, and functionality goals are met, but often don’t receive the same level of rigor and testing that Google requires. At Google, it’s not uncommon to be working on something that will affect hundreds of millions of people, so there’s an inherent responsibility that you need to get the design as close to “right” as possible before you push it out the door. A lot of people who come in actually appreciate that rigor, that level of ownership and accountability. People with an agency background tend to be great listeners with a strong sense of self-awareness because they have to be—every client is different and their needs are different. That’s a really translatable characteristic that can serve the designer well at Google.
AB: At Google, all designers are hired and evaluated based on the same universal criteria: impact. How does that fit into fostering the company’s design culture?
MB: The idea is that as we hire into roles and grow both the diversity of disciplines as well as the diversity of experience, it will feed back into improving the broad culture of design at Google. We started with scaffolding, or a framework—first aiming to simplify by focusing on the essentials, and then we focused on refining and evolving rubrics. This helps designers better understand and communicate: What is hard about the work I do? What did I do to make a difference or what would have happened if I wasn’t there, and what impact has my work had? When you have peers from different job functions evaluating each other, they’re absorbing this information, and it influences how they think about design roles within the company.
AB: Having a strong criteria is great, but is there a level where feedback and self-assessment has to be tailored to each team?
MB: Really good managers will provide tools and education for their team, they’ll create clear language which people can evaluate themselves and their peers against. It’s important to have a framework for people to tell their story, to help others understand and appreciate the work that they do, especially with the broad range of team compositions. We aren’t doing this work in a vacuum. We observe design promotion committees, we help compose them, we also collect heaps of feedback from pools of reviewers ranging from specialists to leadership. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that people understand their job profiles and criteria for advancement, by routinely providing resources and training. It’s an end-to-end, ongoing process.
AB: Measuring your personal success or job impact doesn’t necessarily require that the project or product you worked on was successful, right?
MB: It can be an impact on a project. It can be an impact on a product. It can be an impact on a team or on Google at large. A good example of impact that isn’t necessarily quantifiable, or measurable, or launch-related could be something like building tools for automation, or identifying common problems that designers have and creating programs to address them. It might be very project specific, and if it is, and everybody adopts that program or process, then it just made the whole team more efficient in their work.
AB: What’s the key to attracting talent at different levels and from different backgrounds?
MB: When we look at the slotting of a discipline at a particular level, we are careful to consider all of the data we have available to us. We look at a person’s former or current role and assess his or her level of influence, leadership, and impact. It’s very important that they will be able to meet or exceed the expectations of the teams when they join. At the more junior levels, we’re looking for opportunities for designers to feel their individual contribution helps them develop a strong sense of purpose and self-awareness. It’s up to them to deliver the value, not just the assets, but younger designers aren’t often wired that way. You’ve got to put yourself in meetings where there’s something to be gained or learned—you can’t always wait for invitations, especially when you have a curiosity or an idea or a concern about the larger product work that you’re contributing to. We look for the hint of an entrepreneurial spirit.
AB: What do you think is uniquely challenging about evaluating design success at Google?
MB: Google is big and has so many different teams. Part of developing criteria for measuring success is to not overly prescribe based on the norm. I’m a great example—I’m a one-off at Google. The ladder has to be general enough to allow me to show how I have impact and demonstrate leadership, yet at the same time it can’t be too vague. We have to be considerate of all the different use cases, and it’s not something we finish and then just walk away from. As Google’s understanding and appreciation of design matures, we need to make sure that the documentation that sets those expectations is representative of the culture that we want. We’re constantly collecting feedback. Some of it’s very small and detailed, and some of it is very philosophical. We’ve come up with different models and frameworks for testing the concepts, profiles, and criteria that we produce. And we regularly observe committees to see how these materials are considered and applied in practice.