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I’m a designer leader in San Francisco with 15 years experience. As former Head of Design at Pivotal Labs, a recently IPOed tech company, I helped to build a design practice of 100 designers across 18 countries. Teaching a design class at Carnegie Mellon is my unofficial second thesis.

I believe mentoring designers to improve their craft, communication and leadership is the best way to improve the experience of a service or product. I believe leadership is a service design project with team members as the users. Underlying every action I take is a need to understand the user, the business, technical tradeoffs, and the system I'm working in.

I love what I do, but it did take me 15 years to get here.

Visual Designer
The first half of my career was in print publication design, mostly in New York City. My clients were magazines and newspapers. The largest audience was New York Times and the smallest audience was either Dog Monthly or Renal & Urology News. All were undergoing extreme pressure spurred by advertisers switching to online ads. I laid out editorial pages, advertising pages and advertorials. In experiencing the fall of print, I was present at many publications'  stressful moments. I learned about breaking points, hierarchy, politics, the business model of ads, and design, of course.

Graduate Student at Carnegie Mellon University
Seeing a difficult future in print design, I opted to return to school to shift my focus from visual design to user experience design. I received a Masters in Interaction Design in 2011. I learned how and why designers must understand the user. My program focused on user research, scenarios and the product cycle.

Teacher
I taught a course called "Communication Design Fundamentals" to undergraduate HCI students for 2 years. I redefined the course from the syllabus to assignments to rubric. I requested feedback from students twice a semester on content and my performance. After a year of teaching this class, I wrote an 80 page guide for future teachers. A large part of my work was understanding the mental models of students and the learning process. I learned about presenting information and creating an environment for learning. I think of teaching this course as my unofficial second thesis.

Designer at Startups
Upon graduating in 2011, I wanted to prove that design should be at the inception of product and service ideas. For me, the best way to do this was co-founding a wedding startup at 500 Startups in Mountain View, California. I learned about design in the real world and how to make user research work with a tight budget and timeline. We folded after nine months but those lessons helped me to work with startup clients launching their first products.

While freelancing with CurrentTV to help them relaunch their site, I worked with their team onsite at Pivotal Labs. This is where I first learned of Agile and Balanced team philosophies. I was so taken with the the efficiency and productivity that an agile approach offered and the collaboration offered by a Balanced team approach, that I stayed with Pivotal Labs.

Practice Builder
At Pivotal, I helped to build a design practice. Prior to forming a design and product management team, they had been an engineering consultancy for 28 years. I defined a "Discovery & Framing" process focused on gaining empathy for the user, validating user needs, and validating a prototype to solve needs. I then documented the process, and trained all roles to perform it. I interviewed designers, mentored designers, created a critique system, collaborated with PM and Engineering leadership to define best practices and worked on many projects.

When I became a manager, I added working with my reports to the mix. When I became a creative director, I added the setup and leadership of design focused projects in the office to the mix. When I became the Head of Design, I added defining career paths and the mentorship of design leaders across 18 design offices to the mix.

Facilitator
At Pivotal, my focus shifted from project work to teaching and facilitating with both clients and employees. I defined 20 workshops and a 2 week long onboarding bootcamp. My workshops and facilitation ranged from teaching technical skills through internal business decision making. Noting the need to scale myself, I documented my practices, lobbied for practice development time for team members, taught team members how to run the workshops, and then defined a documentation pattern for others to create and scale methods.

Freelancer
Now, I'm freelancing as a product designer, teacher and advisor with consultancies and product companies. I focus on working with scaling companies to build collaborative, healthy teams.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimdowd/