Acquiring Talent Is Not Enough: You Have To Be Willing To Listen

Recently I spoke to a company, very technology and features-driven, around for a little less than a decade, about their need for a UX person and what they wanted out of the role. My primary contact said that they were coming to the conclusion the company “needed their own Johnny Ive”, better known by his full name, Jonathan Ive, SVP of Industrial Design at Apple.

Finding your own Johnny Ive isn’t that hard: just throw money at an executive search of top-of-their-class grads with stellar subsequent careers. However, if what you are after is Johnny Ive-class results, finding this person is not enough. History shows that Mr Ive had started work for apple in 1992, and yet, as talented as he obviously was as shown by his current output, for the next five years Apple steadily slid backwards with a confusing, unimaginative, and mediocre line-up. It was only after Mr. Ive started working for someone who put good design above all else that his output became so stellar. In 1997 Mr. Ive had been empowered by a CEO Creative Director From Hell who, for example, was willing to move heaven and earth at great cost to make the outward appearance and feel of his product better six weeks before launch, while all his competitors were satisfied with the status quo. In that kind of environment, a designer can shine and the products end up spectacularly well designed, because spectacular design has now become the end arbiter of what gets made. Not ease of production, not time-to-market, not check-box features.

It’s not just the hire that matters, but how they fit in your culture and process, what you will give priority to as a company, how you will change to get the results you are after with this hire. When asked about how they saw their new “own Johnny Ive” fitting into their company, the team was very clear they wanted the “low-hanging fruit” picked up first, instant measurable ROI, features put out there before they were “perfect”, and fixing the current user interfaces without asking for fundamental changes to the existing code-base. Basically what they had been doing already. Only if  that was in place could they tolerate the design research to be done for their new products.

I warned my contact he had more work to do for the new desired results than finding the right person.