Irmak Nur Sunal Lutkin

Irmak Nur Sunal Lutkin

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Born in Turkey and educated in the UK, Irmak Nur Sunal Lutkin is currently based in London, serving as Director of Digital Design at Reuters. She looks after a design team that contributes across Reuters News products and services.

Previously she has worked with Atlantic Records, Sony Music, Puma, Adidas, CNN International, The Wall Street Journal, and XOXO Magazine. She cultivated more than 10 years of experience and insights in the design industry across the worlds of branded content, editorial publishing, news, and high-end digital, UX, UI, and print design.

Our conversation was originally scheduled as a guest lecture for my class on web design, app design, and usability, and recorded together with a live audience.

Specifically, Irmak and I spoke about her journey – from struggling to find internships to being a design director at one of the largest media companies in the world. We spoke about how her work has evolved at a hands-on level, as she progressed from junior to director level, with the methodologies and know-how that she’s been deploying. For the benefit of our student audience, we talked about how to get hired as a designer, as well as her approach to hiring and team-buildling.

This has been a rare and insightful look inside the head of a senior design leader, bringing value to all of us navigating design careers.

The transcript below has been edited for clarity, brevity, and readability.

Links to books and products may be associated with affiliate programs. At no extra cost to you, we earn a commission if you purchase from these links.

It's so amazing that we get to connect to all kinds of experts all over the world, no matter where they are, and learn from them. And you represent two different geographies at the same time: you are working in London, and you grew up in Turkey.

Can you tell us your story? You are a design director, and you've been working at some of the largest and most established media companies in the world. Can you tell us how your life transpired and brought you to this situation?

A lot of it was just good luck – which is the most frustrating thing to say. Well, good luck, then, fueled by, I guess, being a nice person – and hopefully, good at my job.

I studied graphic design at university, here in the UK. Actually, I did a foundation course, which was a prerequisite in England, or it used to be, for any arts degree. So, you had to do this one-year foundation. They make you try everything. You do a little bit of textiles, you do a little bit of fine art. You do this, you do that. So you just, sort of, get a feeling. And for the second half, I signed up for Fine Art.

And then, the day that we were supposed to start the second term, I went into the fine art room, and I was like, "I don't think I should be here..." And I don't know what it was... It was it was very much, like, my best friends were in that... I was just, like, "I don't think I want to be in this room... I want to go and join the visual communication room."

So, I did this really weird move. And the tutors got really annoyed with me: "What do you mean, you change last minute?" And I was like, "yeah, I want to do visual communication. Sorry." So that's kind of where I started the journey for graphic design. By making a really random, on the spot change in what I wanted to study.

I finished foundation. Studied undergraduate graphic design. Through a bunch of slightly unfortunate circumstances... I mean, it was fortunate that I ended up doing a masters degree as well. But it was visa issues, which I'm sure you are more than familiar with, that forced my hand about when I was going to do the masters, and where I was going to do it...

I'd already moved down to London at that point – I went to university at Loughborough, which is a small student town in the middle of England. And I had already moved on to London.

I secured myself an internship at Atlantic Records through through a friend at uni, which also was completely by by chance. They did an internship, and met the designer there, and said, "hey, my friend's a designer, can she do an internship?" And he was like, "yeah..." So I feel like a lot of it was happenstance. And I'm so happy it happened that way. Because, you know, the rest of my career kind of followed off from that.

I did my MA while I was working as a designer – an intern, and then a junior designer there. And then I decided, I'm moving back to Turkey. I've had enough of England, and its visas, and its ways...

I moved back to Turkey, pretty much prepared to stay forever. I was just like, I'm done with England. Like, we're good. And just before I left, I met the person who is now my husband in England, which was, yeah, interesting timing.

So I moved home, and started exploring what I could do there. I found out that, when you study in a country that isn't your own, and you come back, people are like, "oh, your degree counts for nothing. Who are you? What's that work experience you have? We don't count that, especially at a junior level." So I couldn't find any work. And I was like, "oh crap. What am I going to do?"

I went through a bit of a phase, where I was just like, "maybe I shouldn't be doing design. I'm obviously not good enough to get a job in Turkey." None of the design agencies wanted me, none of the advertising agencies wanted me... So I was like, "I'm going to go to marketing."

I did a three month traineeship at a pharmaceutical company, in their marketing department. I realized at that point that I love design, and I need to be doing design.

So I started looking for other roles, and got a job there at a magazine But I ended up back in England, because because my boyfriend, at the time, was here. And he couldn't get anything in Turkey either.

I met a friend of mine from school in London for coffee. She was just like, "oh, you're looking for a job. My boyfriend works at CNN..." I think that's a really lucky thing that I had in the beginning, where people were like, "oh, you know, I know someone, who needs someone.." It counts for so much sometimes, especially in the early days.

And so, I just I went in for an interview. The role was more junior than what I had been working at. But at that point, again, visas... I was like, "I need to get my head in somewhere." So I started there. And that's kind of the beginning of my career.

The second half of it started because that's where I started working in their custom content team. They create advertising content for clients that sort of uses the CNN... What's it called? Words are escaping me today...

The brand identity?

Well, they create videos, and articles, and sort of microsites – which feels like such a 90s word, and I don't like doing it, but that sort of sites... And even now, in my role at the Journal, it was similar, where it has the brand's header on it... So it's sort of endorsed, essentially, by the brand, but it's created by a completely separate team...

Is that what they call advertorials?

Yeah, pretty much. The point is to make the content that's actually sort of brand agnostic, so that it's for the reader.

And so, at CNN, I started there, kind of not really knowing what the role was going to be. And my senior designer that hired me left a month after I started. So I was kind of left a little bit wallowing, and being like, "I don't know what I'm doing! There's no one here to show me the ropes...." And it was a lot of digital design... At the time I didn't know, but it was leading me towards UX. With a lot of animation work, and flash banners, if you'll believe it.

I was there for three and a half years. And then, after that, similar role at the Journal. Same sort of team. And then, recently, in November, I started at Reuters in a slightly different role. I now look after a much larger team.

It's so interesting though, you know, you go through all this education, and you put together portfolios, and you have your CV... And then you end up finding all of your work through friends. That seems to be a very common pattern among designers. I've actually started doing design, doing websites for my friends and people in my university, different clubs, and things like that.

And my first job... I was actually just sitting in a in a café with a friend, talking about things... We were both graduating at the same time, and he found a job somewhere. He was telling me about his job, and how how interesting it is. And I said, "that sounds really cool. Can you get me a job at this company? I want to do this too." And he got me the job! He literally got me in, I started the next week. It was so random. So, being nice to people, I guess, as you said, pays off.

Yeah. Especially in the design industry as well. And I hate this, but it's kind of... And it's not "who" you know, because that's just a horrible thing to say...

Yeah, that's not the case... But, having a network....

Like, your own network... But that's one thing that I didn't really have... I don't think I had that much of a network, you know what I mean? Like, it was just lucky. It was a random network. I think, being open as well, to trying things... Because I feel like, you know, when I moved back to London, and my friend said, "You know, my boyfriend works at CNN..." And I'd been like, "Oh, I don't know, maybe..." I kind of just jumped in, and I was like, "Sure, why not?" Like, let's go see. Having the openness to just try stuff out, to go and see what that's like.

I have some hands-on questions for you.

What even does the job of a design director involve?

You're doing this right now at Reuters. And you were a design director at CNN before... It's two different companies. Reasonably similar, I guess... Are they similar in size? Or is one tremendously bigger than the other one or something?

I was a design director at the Wall Street Journal. I was a senior designer at CNN. Just, you know, I want people to be like, "Hey, she's lying on her CV..."

It's very different, in the sense that, at the Wall Street Journal, I was design director for the Custom Content Team. It was a smaller team, the team that I looked after. Whereas at Reuters, I've moved over into a role that is part of the product team, rather than the custom content team. So I now look after a significant number more of designers.

The job of a design director depends on what company it's at. In certain circumstances it's more around being the decision maker around the design decisions. Leading those conversations, coming up with the visual language. And if you've got a team that you're looking after, it's looking after the senior designers, the mid-weight designers, the junior designers, the interns, and helping them move forward with their work. That's actually that's pretty much it. And I do the same thing here, just different size.

So at Reuters... Reuters itself is probably similar in size to the Journal, but the greater company that Reuters belongs to, which is Thomson Reuters, is huge compared to the parent company. Here, I look after a team of UX designers, digital designers, ad developers, and UX researchers as well. So it's a bigger team that I'm responsible for.

It's impressive that you're saying that you look after them. You're not "managing" them – that's what a lot of people would say.

I feel like I have a responsibility towards them. To look after them, and make sure that they're happy in their jobs, and able to do their jobs well. I don't feel like I'm managing them. I feel like they're my team.

Actually, before I started, a lot of the designers that were in my team were disparate. They didn't really connect with each other a lot. There wasn't a design community. One of the biggest things that I've been doing since I started is actually trying to bring everyone together, whether they work on product, or they work on commercial projects, or they do ad work. Get them all to share with each other, collaborate a whole lot more.

Here at Reuters, we use Figma. They made the switch before I started, and one of the things that I was told was like, "You need to get your whole team on Figma." I was so happy about it, because, like, Figma is my jam.

We use Figma too, when I teach with the class. I always do my work in Figma too. It's so good.

It's funny because when I talk about it, I hear myself, and I'm like, "It sounds like they're paying you to talk about this." I'm not. I just genuinely think it's a great product.

It is one of my business goals within the next few years, to be paid by Figma somehow. I just love it.

If you find out how to do that, like bring me on.

I think they have a little fund, like a venture capital thing, where they invest in startups who are, for example, developing design tools, sometimes in the form of Figma plugins. They have sponsorships that they give out to content creators. I would love to be able to get in touch with them. I just need to grow some of these a little more, before that happens. But it's in the trajectory.

When I talk to my students about how to do design work, we have discussions about business outcomes – what does design do for business... And we have discussions about deliverables – the kinds of documents and things that we create. As a design director, what are those for you? What kinds of business outcomes or purposes are you interested in at the company where you work, and what do you actually produce? Like, what is the thing that you do, in Figma for example, to make that work happen?

What we use Figma for is, essentially, designing our products. We use it as a collaborative tool, and as sort of a space where we can have our design libraries.

I look after three-plus different products for Reuters. I'm not going to go into the weeds of it, because they're very specific... But one of them is the website.

For example, we recently – literally yesterday – had a launch of a new header, that was designed by my team. We worked on it together over the span of multiple weeks. All of our web design and UX design goes on to Figma.

I will return to the topic of Figma later. There's some other questions I want to go through before I do that, because that discussion has the potential to go very deep down a rabbit hole...

Do you have any visual styles, methodologies, or tools or anything that you've been using frequently during all of your design adventures?

For example, I'm a big fan of Swiss design, because I do a lot of work on the web, and it's very easy to implement in websites. Is there anything tactical like that, any kind of design trend, a method, or anything that you love using all the time?

I wish I could say yes. And that sounds really exciting, the Swiss one.

I don't think it's a design trend, but... Creating things that are useful for people, and are, as much as possible, based in usability over anything else, but also still look good....

I don't know that there's a specific thing for it. I think, a while back when I first started at CNN, I was doing really these like big pages... It would have been in the early days of the parallax...

What is parallax?

You know, like, on websites where the background is almost like static, and things move over them, and it almost feels like you've got more movement on the page? We got a lot of parallax backgrounds in my early digital days, where I was just, like, absolutely obsessed with it. But that was a while back. And I feel like it's had its day. And everything has been moving more towards clean and simple.

How do you even design that? What were you designing inside of, in those days? Was it Photoshop?

It's Photoshop. Good old Photoshop.

How do you make a parallax animation in Photoshop?

So, you don't. You you imagine it. You do a static design of the whole page, and then you hope that your developer, you know, feels your feels. You share the file with them, you sit down with them and say, "Hey, by the way, I want like these four images to like be parallax." And they go, "OK."

Actually, while I was at CNN, our developer also left at one point – I swear it's not me pushing people out! He left like a year after I started. He found another job somewhere else. But between him and our new developer starting, I was like, "Hey, I'll do a little bit of coding." I've always been interested. So I did a little bit of HTML5, CSS training. So actually I had quite a good idea, I still do, of what is and isn't possible from, like, what you've designed statically to what you want to build. That actually helps a lot, having that background and the knowledge, and being able to communicate, for example, with your engineers, your developers, that you work with, to be able to say, "here's what I have in mind," and even give examples of other sites, or like code patterns, or something where you can go, "This is how I imagine it working."

You're a design leader in your company. I presume you make hiring decisions or participate in them. You interview a lot of people.

I think it's critical for the job of a web designer, or an app designer, to actually be familiar with the technical infrastructure – the HTML, or whatever language the app comes in.

My question is: What is the stage where that becomes really critical? Would you hire a junior designer who doesn't know HTML? Would you hire a senior designer who doesn't know HTML? Is there a point where that really becomes, you know, you must understand the technicalities of it? Or is it never – would you would you have that opinion?

I would list it in a job description as a nice to have. And if they talk about it during the interview process, that would be interesting.

For me what would be important is more that they have an understanding of it. I don't think that I would not hire someone because they don't have that information.

I do think I  agree with you. It makes the job so much easier if you have that understanding. And I would probably err towards the side of picking someone who had that background.

Yeah, that's what I mean... You get a lot of applications. You have to eliminate, somehow. And this is one of the things that, for me, stands out. Especially if you've had more experience, you know, years into the game, you should have, over those years, gotten your hands on that stuff as well.

It also highlights a designer's intrigue and curiosity into other fields. I think you need that, because you don't want someone who's going to go, "Well, I do this one thing, and it's the only thing I do." For me, having curiosity and constantly learning is really important. You know, things like Figma are coming along.

If you're not open to learning new things, you might be like, "Oh, what's this thing?" And then you get left behind, which is the worst thing that anyone in a design career can do – to not keep learning, and to not keep looking at, "What's the next technology out there? What's the the next tool that I can use, to do my job better?"

What are some other filters that you apply when you're in that process of screening CVs? With my students, we were looking at a lot of their portfolios recently. I try to give them advice about how to improve those things.

I'm always wondering, when I talk to someone like you, who's involved in these decisions... Is there anything that you see on people's portfolios or CVs where you go, like, "OK, no, this is in the no pile"? Or is there anything that, when you see that thing, it always deserves a second look, it moves on to the next stage? Are there those patterns?

The more the more CVs I see, and the more portfolios I see, the less I actually care about the CV part. Not to say that it doesn't matter. I think a good, a well-designed, informative CV is very important.

Cover letters are incredibly important. That's the one place that, on a page, you have the chance to tell me why you're right for the role, and what you can bring to it.

How long do you like the cover letter to be?

Not too long. Short enough that like I can read it quickly. Long enough that it gives me enough. So it's not just like, you know, "Hey, I'm amazing. Hire me." No, I need a little bit more than that.

But, to me, the portfolio is the most important. If I had to rank, I'd say: portfolio, cover letter, then CV.

From a portfolio perspective... The "no pile" would be either a portfolio that doesn't have a wide enough variety of work.... If it's an irrelevant portfolio... If I'm hiring for a digital role, and the portfolio has just illustration work in it, that doesn't show me how you're going to be right for the job.

If there's too much on there, and a lot of it is not your best work, but you've just shoved it on there because you feel like you need to have at least 10 pieces... It's a red flag. I'd rather you show me four pieces of your work that you're really proud of, and that you can talk me through, then having like 15 things that are half-baked and you don't love them, and it's just there to be fillers...

Also when I look at a portfolio, I can generally get a feel for someone's aesthetic abilities, and their values, and what they feel is good design...

If it doesn't match with what I'm hiring for, it'll mean I'll go into that cover letter and read that through, to see if there's something in there.

For junior roles, especially, sometimes your portfolio isn't as as polished, or as good, as someone who's been in the industry for longer. That's where the cover letter comes in. Really important, because you can make a case. You can be like,
"my portfolio might not be amazing, but I'm super keen, and I love your company," or a list of reasons why you're great for the job...

I'll summarize your career to set up a question that I've been meaning to ask you.

You've been a designer for Sony Music, Atlantic Records, lead designer for XOXO Magazine – a Turkish lifestyle publication, I believe, even though I don't know what that means... Then you moved to London. You were a senior designer at CNN International, senior designer and design director at the Wall Street Journal, now design director at Reuters. And this is over the course of ten years. That's a long time.

I imagine that you learned a lot over these roles. Even just saying them out loud is a job... I imagine, the actual learnings, there must be some gems in there.

What is one thing that you know today, that would have made a significant difference, if you could go back in time and explain it to yourself as a design student?

I would have gone back and said, "Find mentors." Find more mentors. Utilize their generosity. Take their advice. And find the right mentors. Because I had good mentors, and I had a couple of bad mentors that tried to discourage me from actually doing what I do now, which is probably an entire multiple hours worth of conversation another day...

But I say, take the good advice. And consider the advice that doesn't sit well with you. If it really feels wrong, then maybe it is wrong.

And also, just, "Have hope." Continue being nice. And continue working hard.

That would be the thing that I would tell my university-self. Because I used to worry a lot. Even now, I still worry. "Will I find a job," you know, especially coming out of graduating, I was just like, "Oh my God. Like, will I ever find a job?" And it wasn't even a job... It was, "Will I ever find an internship?"

"Will I find an internship? Will I find a job? If I find a job, will they keep me?" That sort mindset... I think that's real for a lot of people, probably most people, where you just worry about it.

So, you know, just keep going at it.

And "know your worth," I think, is a good one, which I don't think I did before.

Have you ever considered entrepreneurship, freelancing? How did you end up focusing on this path of working at larger institutions?

I did freelancing for a while, when I moved back to Turkey. I was still freelancing for some of the people that I'd worked with before I moved home. But I think, in the depths of my mind, I had this voice saying, you know, "Find a job. Find a good, stable job."

And, again, from the visa perspective, I needed somewhere that would keep me and sponsor me. So freelancing was only an opportunity and an option if I didn't need a visa. So I don't really think I had that much of a choice.

I've also been quite lucky in the sense that I quite enjoy the corporate environment. I like big companies. I think there's a lot of room to grow. I learned a lot in them.

There was a point a little while back, where I considered going freelance. And I think it would have been fine. It provides you with the opportunity to be a little bit more flexible with your time and the work that you take on.

But for me, it felt right, and I went from one big company to the next. And I think they've all been American companies... Although Reuters is, I think ,originally Canadian... But always North American, somehow. I don't know why. That's interesting.

North American business has a lot of influence in the world. They produce a lot of writing. A lot of people like to write blogs, and write books, in English. It's because of the language, and because of the written record, it's very influential. And in the design world in general, like in Europe, we read about the methodologies they develop in Silicon Valley, for example, to do UX design.

Speaking of UX design, we have a little question from one of our students, which is: "When you're working with UX designers and researchers, what in your opinion is some of the most important qualities that these people should bring to the team?"

For me, on my team, especially at the moment, openness, and openness to collaboration, is a really big one. That's possibly a tiny bit less relevant for a researcher, because they kind of have their own remit and do their own thing. But working together with the rest of the team, and having that, as I said earlier as well, design community, fitting into that... Being happy to share ideas, to share your work, to get feedback, to give feedback...

Those are as high as your ability to do the work itself – essentially providing a community for everyone else.

And if you're the only one on the team, then I would say, pretty much, just being helpful and nice... "Nice" isn't the best word, but it kind of encompasses all of it...

"Harmonious" is a word that I like.

Yeah. And "helpful"...

I've done a lot of courses on coaching and mentoring and things. And there's a thing that gets talked about a lot, about growth mindset. And having people – and hiring people – who have that mindset, where it's never like, "Oh, I can't do that because you know, that's not something we've done before..." But hey, here's how we can try and fix it. Always having that attitude: problem solving, rather than just going, "No, that doesn't work."

We were talking about UX researchers, and I was wondering, because you also said that you are focused on utility and usability, and appropriateness, when you do design, more than any design aesthetic... In these companies where you work, do you do a lot of your own usability research and UX research? Or do you rely on, you know, best practices as graphic designers, or reading the literature? Or do you buy it from somewhere, from consultants? What is the process of gaining insights for you?

There is a little bit of both. In my current role, we do tests. And the wider company has a lot of researchers. But we also either have contract researchers who come in for projects, or we'll run them ourselves.

It depends on the product or the work itself. If we're launching something new, we'll usually test it out, do usability testing. If it's for an existing product, we get a lot of customer feedback. We'll use that as a starting point to create a hypothesis of what we want to design, and take it from there.

I don't think that a lot of places I've been before had much of that. A lot of our decision-making was based more on design best practices, and more about educating ourselves on UX design, and what is better for our readers. And utilizing data and analytics from the websites, and saying, "Well, you know, this page performs really poorly. Let's analyze why." And then look at another page that performs better, and do a bit of a comparison, is how we did it previously.

The way that we understand design is so broad these days. It's hard to define. For example, when we train designers in different kinds of design educations, we teach them how to do things like design thinking and sprints and workshops, post-its and journey maps, and so on.

But we also teach them about typography and graphic design, sometimes photography... These more tactical, visual, maybe artistic things. In the various companies that you were at, are these things done by the same people, or is there a team where these are divided between people? So one person does workshops, and then hands over the results to another person, and that person does the visual design, and so on... How is the merging of responsibilities and divisions of labor change, in your observation. as things like company size changes, or as your seniority level changes?

Surprisingly, even though I've been in big companies, I've always been part of quite small teams. Very nimble, very small teams. So usually, all of the responsibilities fell to either one or two specific people in the team. Especially before I was at Reuters, we didn't have like a separate researcher... We had other teams we could utilize, so we would have a data and analytics team that we could get information from.

So I think, it depends. Even in my current role, we're still quite small in comparison to the greater design team at Thomson Reuters, for example. They've got like 200-plus people in different pods of design teams. They have a UX research team, and they have a design systems team, and all of that, whereas my team is very small compared to that. We're much, much smaller.

So we do have more separated roles. But again, a lot of it is everyone working together. We run a lot of it together.

I feel like, my experience has been in such small teams that it's always been, everyone kind of has their fingers in all the pies. Everyone helps out.

Well, you know, my philosophy in life, when I collaborate with people, has always been to just look at what other people enjoy doing, and what they're good at, and what they bring to the table. And I just try to complement that...

I was doing music in high school, playing with different bands, with friends. And you know, people ask me what instrument I play. But I would just walk in the room... And we were high school kids, we don't have to be virtuosos... So I just looked at what other people were playing. I just picked up the instrument that no one else was playing, and we formed a band, and music started happening. We all eventually learned, actually, in this fashion, our instruments.

That flexibility, I find it similar to what you've described here – to be able to fit into the team and complement what is being done, using a broad array of skills. Something from that array, which is appropriate for that time and purpose...

We are in the last 10 minutes, I believe, of our scheduled time, because I know that you have to go. Is there anything that you would like to say, that we haven't covered so far? Maybe a question that that you wish people ask you more often, or a piece of advice, or request that you'd like to impart on our audience?

Not I wish you'd asked, but a thing that I wish someone had talked to me about when I was learning the trade, is about how important it is to try out different companies, different ways of working, different roles...

And to not be afraid of, like, if you find like that you get a job and... And I'm not saying, "just leave jobs," because obviously, you know, we need to make money. And I'm not advocating for people just walking off... But if you're in a role, and it doesn't feel right, or the company doesn't feel right, there is no shame, and it's not a failure. If you say, "This isn't for me, I'm going to try something else. I'm going to look for something..." I think there's so much pressure to get your foot in and stay somewhere, and get that "at least one year of experience." If you start somewhere, and the culture is not right, your manager is not nice, I don't know, you don't like the furniture, you don't like the equipment they've given you...

There's a Turkish saying, I don't know if it translates, but like, you are not a donkey that's been tied to a post. You can leave.

I don't know if that translates to English. I say this more frequently than I think I should, but you are not a donkey. Like, just go. Find somewhere that makes you happy, that gives you work that you're happy doing.

Another thing is, good managers exist. Find a manager that actually helps you, and coaches you, and helps you develop... Find yourself a good manager.

Or good clients, good collaborators... That also works, I think.

I think one thing people underestimate earlier in their careers, which causes this issue of getting stuck, as you described, is how much easier it gets to find a job as you progress. As you become more and more skillful in your craft and more advanced in your job, or plainly by virtue of having looked for jobs before... Because that itself is a skill, and a process, that you improve through practice. It just gets easier and easier as you as you move on.

Yeah. And I think also, I do some mentoring, and the number of people I've spoken to, where they are like, "I've made like 15 applications, and I've not heard back!" It's like, man, you need to do like 100. And you probably might not hear back from most of them, but that's, kind of, the resilience. To build that resilience, to keep applying for stuff...

You might not get it. You might get an interview. You might not get the job. But the experience that you'll gain during that interview, no matter how horrendously it goes, if you don't get the job, you know... It's practice. And the more you practice, the better you get at it.

An example I'm going to give.. And I feel like I read a LinkedIn article or something around this somewhere, and then I was like, "oh, I had that!" – I interviewed, about maybe a year or so ago, for a role at a really big company that's not the one I'm working at now, while I was interviewing for my current role. And it went really well. I got like two or three interviews down the line. It was pretty serious. I think they were down to the last couple of people with me. And I didn't get the job. They felt that it wasn't a good match.

And I'm so glad that they told me, because I asked for feedback, and they said, "We love you, you're really great, but we don't think you're the right match for the job. We need someone with more experience with X, Y, Z." I was like, "Hey, thank you for being candid!" And I just said, "Look, if anything else comes up, you guys are awesome, I would love to work with you! Just let me know." And they're like, "Thank you!"

I said that thinking they're never going to call me back. Like, that's just the sort of thing you say. And then they say, "sure," and then nothing happens. But actually, a couple of months down the line – and by that point, I'd found this job, I've gotten this job, and I was 100% committed to it, and didn't want to consider anything else  – I got an email from the HR person saying, "Hey, by the way..." They linked out the job to me and said, "The hiring manager wants you to apply for it because they think you're perfect for it." And I was like, "Thank you so much. I've got something else!" But, you know, if I hadn't found something else by that point and I was still looking, I could have applied for that. And I would probably be more likely to get it, because I'd obviously made this good impression with them. So there's a lot to say about being nice.

That's going to be the title of this episode.

You  are not a donkey. Be nice.

I noticed something recently. I was designing a course about web design, app design, digital product design, and so on. I shared the course with my students. They went through it – and we're still going on, by the way, still adding content to it. But one of the pieces of feedback that I got from my students, one of the things that they noticed, was how few of the materials that I put in covered a female perspective.

For example, a lot of the content was authored, written by men, or YouTube videos produced by men, design portfolio examples by a lot of guys. Women were a minority in the examples.

I didn't do this deliberately. And I told them, you could also say, "Hey, where are the Black people? Where are the Asian designers? Where is the Middle Eastern perspective in all of this?" And those perspectives are also missing.

Perhaps, as someone who maybe represents both of those perspectives, for example, the Middle Eastern or Mediterranean origin perspective and the female perspective, what would be your comment on this issue? What is a piece of wisdom that you possess from this perspective, that you would like to impart on a wider audience of designers and design students?

That's such a heavy thing.

I agree. I think there's a lot of questions around why there isn't more female leadership in the design world and in the creative industries. It's getting slightly better. There is a level of it that ties back also to all sorts of, you know, gender equality, pay equality, like, the larger conversations that are being had anyway.

I guess we shout about our work a lot less than, you know, middle aged white dudes do. I probably don't shout about it enough either. And I think, also, a lot of a lot of women find it harder... I don't want to generalize, but at least in my experience, even when I was asking for job title changes or salary changes, I found it so hard to make that push. You just don't have the same confidence as a lot of others. Possibly men. Possibly white.

Just don't let any of that be a hindrance to what you want. Set your sights, set your goals on something that you want to achieve, and just go for it.

And, and again, find mentors. Find female mentors. Find male mentors who are happy to give you non-biased advice.

Where can we find you and your thoughts on the Internet?

You can follow me on LinkedIn. That's probably the one place, because I don't really do a lot of social media stuff anymore. I mean, again, that's probably like another 2 hours of conversation, right? But LinkedIn is a good place to find me.

I do some mentoring on ADPList. But I believe in, like, longer-term mentoring working better for most people.

I don't have a blog. I wrote like one thing, and then I got my job...

I'm also doing a project with two of my friends who are also recent mothers, around motherhood and going back to the workplace. It's a little bit less design-focused, and we haven't quite put it yet, but we're talking about the injustices that parents, and especially mothers, face.

When you encounter these challenges in life, such as motherhood or being a foreigner somewhere, or, you know, any other thing, as designers we have this this unique superpower of considering solutions to it. You can design a business, you can design an app, a solution, a publication, a resource, whatever, to help other people in that situation, like you're doing with the project for new parents. That's awesome. I love having that superpower, and sharing that with you.

Thanks for being with us. I see that we're out of time. You probably have another meeting to get to – it is a workday...

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Mehmet Aydın Baytaş

Mehmet Aydın Baytaş


Mehmet is the founder of Design Disciplin. He has been designing and building since 2005, and spent 10 years as academic computer scientist and design researcher.