Design Leadership
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Director of Design, HubSpot

As Director of Design within HubSpot’s 300-person Marketing department, I manage a team of six designers and work with leaders from Video, Web Development, and Project Management to build experiences that attract, engage and delight our audiences.

Leading Scale

The most important part of my work is to help the company grow, quickly and sustainably. For design, that means exploring new ways to deliver value and structuring the transformations that take us there. Connecting with, attracting, and retaining top talent are of the utmost importance, as is creating an environment of psychological safety crucial for experimenting, learning, and iterating.

Setting the Vision

The foundation of a successful team is a clear, shared vision; I led several team workshops to surface and codify our values. From the resulting team charter:

Design isn’t just about making things look good—it’s about making them work. We use empathy to ensure that the experiences we create are meaningful and useful. Through craft, we elicit understanding and desire. We transform aspirational brand values and offerings into clear, coherent, and satisfying experiences that move audiences through HubSpot’s flywheel without friction.

We’re committed to:

  1. Advocate for HubSpot’s audiences and remove friction from their experiences

  2. Empower HubSpotters to achieve successful outcomes, through either direct involvement or shared frameworks and tools

  3. Support the growth and evolution of design at HubSpot

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Organizational Transformation

Five months into my tenure, the Creative team shifted from a fully centralized model to “centralized partnership,” a model described by Kristin Skinner and Peter Merholz in their seminal book Org Design for Design Orgs. Instead of receiving design requests via a ticketing system and completing them in relative isolation, each designer is partnered to a key strategic team within Marketing.

In this configuration, each designer is a full member of their team, a part of their strategic planning and goal-setting; rich context results in the highest quality design output. The design team then becomes a vehicle for support, the emergence of next practices, and career development.

Unified Experience

When I arrived in late 2017, the Marketing Design Team was developing their own design system, separate from the Product Design Team’s recently-built Canvas system. I redirected that effort towards a merger into Canvas, to ensure coherent audience experiences that transcend the underlying organizational structure.

Our team then built a public HubSpot Brand Guidelines, to make the system available to internal and external partners.

Colors

Gradients

Gradients

Calls-to-action, light background

Calls-to-action, dark background

Creative Process

Before my arrival, the Marketing team had no set process to follow for creative projects. I adapted IDEO and the Stanford d.school’s design processes for our organization, refurbishing them with existing HubSpot terminology.

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Since HubSpot is already a very data-centric organization, this move brought creative partners closer to existing workflows and supported our move to centralized partnership.

As part of this process I also instituted a project brief template and a three-round design-and-edit process, to provide the design team with the richest possible context for business challenges and stakeholder feedback.

Psychological Safety

In December 2018, HBS Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management Amy Edmondson spoke at HubSpot about the importance of psychological safety—a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.

Based on Amy’s criteria, a senior team member conducted a survey of our safety (4.1/5), creating a baseline for growth and opening up important space for dialogue.

Psychological Safety 3.5/5

If I make a mistake on our team, it is not held against me.

If I make a mistake on our team, it is not held against me.

Dependability 3.8/5

When my teammates say they’ll do something, they follow through with it.

When my teammates say they’ll do something, they follow through with it.

Structure & Clarity 3.8/5

Our team has an effective decision-making process.

Our team has an effective decision-making process.

Meaning 4.8/5

The work I do for our team is meaningful to me.

The work I do for our team is meaningful to me.

Impact 4.5/5

I understand how our team’s work contributes to the organization’s goals.

I understand how our team’s work contributes to the organization’s goals.

Average Score 4.1/5

Diversity

HubSpot is committed to diversity—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we know it increases the value of our workforce and the strength of our ideas.

I work closely with my recruiter, the design team, and my network to discover talent in the broadest possible range of sources, priorities reflected in my hiring practices.

Hires and new freelancers by gender

Hires and new freelancers by gender

Hires and new freelancers by ethnicity

To build experiences for a global audience, we must represent as many viewpoints as possible.

Inclusion

Fostering a sense of inclusion requires a commitment to visibility and vulnerability on the part of leaders. In addition our organization’s adoption of the DiSC behavior assessment protocol, I wrote and distributed my own “user guide” to help my team and colleagues understand more about my background and how best to collaborate with me.

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This document (one of many written by other leaders in the Marketing department) is meant as a starting point for dialogue about working styles, and as a way to open space for those styles to be challenged and shaped.

I also hold weekly office hours, three hours of open time that anyone at HubSpot is free to book or drop in on. Making oneself consistently available for any conversation creates an atmosphere of welcoming and lowers barriers to entry for those curious about design or my approach.

Supporting Senior Leadership

The cornerstone of HubSpot’s year is INBOUND, a yearly industry event we founded and sponsor. Working directly with HubSpot’s CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan, CTO and co-founder Dharmesh Shah, and SVP of Product Christopher O’Donnell, I creative and project managed for their 2018 keynote presentations.

I built a small team of freelancers, and we worked directly with HubSpot’s INBOUND event team and AV vendors to inspire over 23,000 attendees.

Continued Innovation

A diagram from CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan’s INBOUND 2018 keynote about creating a low-friction flywheel to replace the outdated funnel concept

Beginning in the first quarter of 2019, my team and I are building a “coefficient of friction” metric, to measure how easily our audiences move through their experiences with HubSpot, including the ones we optimize and create.

Building from CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan’s flywheel concept, we’ll use a combination of local conversion, experience completion rates, and SUS (System Usability Scale) and SEQ (Single Ease Question) surveys.

This metric will allow HubSpot to measure the amount of friction in a given experience or customer journey segments, so the design team can:

  1. Identify and prioritize existing areas of high friction along the customer journey

  2. Measure the success of individual design projects

  3. Track our team’s long-term success

Connected to the Community

In my first year and a half, I’ve brought in design leaders and professionals to share their work with the team and stimulate discussion, including:

The program has been so successful, team members are starting to solicit and engage leaders from their own communities to join the conversation.