Those of you who know me know these things already, but for you new friends, let me tell you.
In the last 14 months I had a baby, emptied all my savings on a house and a car, moved house (to an odd little town), traveled to San Francisco, New York, Michigan, Florida, Chicago, London, Cambridge, Newcastle, Luxembourg and Portland (all but Chicago and Portland with the baby), and most recently I was promoted to Design Director of Webmaker, a position with a job description I’m still writing. I’m still breastfeeding. I’m still not sleeping very much. Having a baby strains all of your relationships. And I’m still very much figuring out what I’m good at, what I suck at, what I want to do with my life and what I can offer to the world. These are all good and lucky things.
I’ve also never been so jazzed about a company’s mission than I am today about Mozilla’s.
— madhava (@madhava) December 2, 2014
But what does that really mean? A global, public resource?
Invariably it will mean different things to different people, but the parts that resonate with me are “global”, “resource” and accessible”. Meaning those that want to use the Internet as a resource should be able to. And that access doesn’t just mean ‘availability’ — also (to steal a few words from Mark Surman, and add one of my own): knowable, imaginable, creative.
Mozilla in PDX
I’ve just returned from #mozlandia in Portland, an all-company, week-long meeting of Mozilla employees from around the world. Darren Herman, Vice President of Content Services at Mozilla, wrote that it has taken him a year to feel like (if not become) a Mozillian. It’s a perfectly honest way to describe a Mozilla induction. This is a world of disorienting contrasts. A big tech company by some standards, a tiny one by others. A global mission, made effective through individuals. A thousand pieces of input, often single decision-makers. An engineering company, hungry for design. A non-profit perceived as a corporation that acts like a start-up. Weirdness abounds.
— tbiz (@tbiz) December 3, 2014
However, the chaos of the previous year is beginning to make sense. Gaps left in leadership are filling with substance. Opportunities for risk and bravery look promising. I’m proud to be part of this Trojan Horse of the Internet. A browser company with more than browsing in mind. A non-profit that is once again the underdog, eager to change the world.
Big ideas make me consider my own motivations and how I fit: I want to do the best work of my life here. I want to justify the time spent away from my family. I want to have an impact on the cause I signed up for. I want to be a part of the change that sees the Internet as a public resource, as something we have to protect. I don’t ever want it to become the only thing in anyone’s life, and so I want to see it well-designed. Constructed to do the things we need it to do and nothing less. To provide access and connection to experiences, information and people, so that we can use it to live our lives better (not live better lives online).
Mozilla: a design company?
Toward the end of my week in Portland with 1200 colleagues I attended a meetup with Mozilla designers. There were about fifty of us in a room, including some of my closest colleagues. Designers of all kinds – UX, UI, researchers, coders, managers. As a company that operates both remotely and lacks a single design department it was strange to see everyone in one room, but even more invigorating.
Throughout the week’s keynotes — messages that traveled from widescreens and loud speakers across audiences of hundreds — to this compact room of fifty designers, it became obvious that the need for design at Mozilla is real. Very real. Needed. And wanted.
Mark Surman spoke about going back to that place where we first discovered the Internet – what inspired us to join this industry?
For me, choosing tech over print or illustration was very much about finding my people. Shared interests, people I could build stuff with, friends with common goals. Working with folks who also wanted to make useful shit, and make shit useful. Being in that room in Portland honestly felt like rediscovering my people. It’s interesting to me that all the tools of the Internet can’t give me that same feeling, and that’s something I’d like to dig into next year.
What do Moz designers need?
For design culture to have a firm foothold in a historically engineering-dominated company, our meeting surfaced a few needs.
- More sharing and camaraderie amongst designers
- More sharing and camaraderie amongst not JUST designers (more sharing with everyone)
- Effective prioritization, to ensure design voices are heard by each other, by engineers, by managers
- Leadership and champions of design at the top. For instance, where is Mozilla’s Chief Creative Officer?
Design is a rich ecosystem of what appear to be competing principles – visual design vs. ux, design thinking vs. branding. That’s okay. It would not be real without that. We need all of it. They are all layers of an experience, tools to think about how humans traverse different environments.
The other thing that was obvious from this meetup was that no amount of politics or hires can make a company change its ethos. It has to come from within, from people shipping the change they wish to see. That may not be true at every company, but I firmly believe that to be the case within Mozilla.
What’s possible in 2015
I read an essay this morning that mirrors my current frame of mind. Todd Olson argues that it is design thinking that disrupts industries, not technology. He writes:
Apple does not deliver technology to consumers; it designs experiences, then finds the right technologies to deliver those experiences. And sometimes it waits patiently for the necessary technologies and business arrangements to be available to deliver a particular experience. By doing what it does, Apple disrupts. Again, and again, and again.
There is no reason why we cannot accomplish the same disruptive change through design with Webmaker this year and within Mozilla as a whole, starting now. Enough “technologies and business arrangements” have fallen into place that if we wait any longer for design to make a difference it will be because of our own complacence. Not patience.
This is the main message I heard at #Mozlandia: The mission, the drive and the mandate are there, and design has a big role to play in making it possible to succeed.
That means that despite a tough year, despite distributed culture, despite ongoing challenges — we need to work smarter at working together, at bringing others in, and at advocating for good design. These things are possible in 2015, and we can start by ticking off items in that ‘needs’ list.