Spotify’s Leonardo de la Rocha on Building Relationships Through Transparency and Being Data-Driven

Christian: Welcome to Design Meets
Business, a show where design leaders talk

about practical ways to quantify design,
about making our work more transparent,

and about how designers can make a
bigger impact in their organization.

I'm your host, Christian Vasile,
and before we begin, I'd like to

thank you for tuning in today.

On the podcast today, Global
Head of Design at Spotify

Ads, Leonardo de la Rocha.

It's an insights packed conversation
about the advantages of being a

T-shaped generalist, about trust,
transparency, and relationship building

at work, and about something we don't
discuss often enough – design ethics.

You are going to love this one.


Leonardo, Welcome to Design Meets Business
I am so excited to have you on today.

I'm very thankful we're able
to have this conversation and I

have a lot of topics to discuss.

So let's just jump straight into it.

You are running as you're calling it a
startup inside Spotify, which is Spotify

Advertising, but you've got a long
history of running design organizations.


With Yahoo.

In the past.

So for anyone who doesn't know who
you are, can you give us a brief

tour of your career so everyone
can get acquainted with you?

Leonardo: Absolutely.

And thank you for having me.

I'm glad to be on the call with you.

Um, my name is Leonardo, the literature.

I'm a, an American born and raised
in Denver, Colorado, but live in

Silicon valley, which is where
there's a lot of opportunity for

disruption and you know, through
design thinking and through design.

Um, I actually got my
start as a developer.

I was a backend engineer, moved to
front end engineering and then front

end design eventually where I found
my love, I co-founded a company back

in 2004, which was acquired by Yahoo.

And that was a publishing company.

And I joined Yahoo to
oversee Yahoo publishing.

Did that well for a couple of years,
moved into Yahoo advertising to help

rebuild that portion of their business.

Also successfully, and then eventually
landed at Facebook where I joined, um,

an amazing leadership team to oversee
part of the business products there,

specifically the advertising tools.

And after about five years at Facebook,
took a little bit of a break back

into entrepreneurship, but then
eventually went to Intuit where I

oversaw their design system discipline
and help them build a design system

that joined the, all of their brands
together in a really amazing way.

And then, ended up at Spotify where I.

Advertising design.

And if you didn't pick up on it, I've been
in enterprise design my entire career.

So publishing, advertising, design
systems, generally the less sexy side

of design, but to me the most amazing.

Christian: Yeah, well, I've,
uh, I can relate to that.

Most of my career is
in enterprise software.

So I find that to be so many
opportunities there because everyone

wants to work on the 60 stuff.

Everyone wants to work
on the consumer product.

But there is so much space for disruption
in the enterprise world because

nobody really wants to work there.

I find that to be fascinating as well.

One of the, yeah, go ahead.

Well, I was

Leonardo: just going to build on that.

You're absolutely right.

And there's also the biggest
opportunity for designer growth

in enterprise space because.

Tackle some of the gnarliest challenges,
some of the most difficult things.

And in my opinion, and in my experience,
if you've worked in business design or

enterprise design, you're one of the
strongest product designers on the planet.

And you're the most valuable as

Christian: well.

Yeah, for sure.

And I've seen that as well in the
past, we look at portfolios when you

try to hire or anything like that.

And there is more of a,
of a vibe of a generalist.

When you work in enterprise
software, it just seems like

you're able to tackle much more.

Complex issues then specifics like
you sometimes do, in consumer,

especially if you've been with
the same company for a long time.

Most of the time you just work on
the same thing, time and time again.

So, yeah.

So one of the things that I've
noticed about your career and you've

touched upon it a little bit, is
that you have transitioned from being

an engineer, to being a designer,
to being a creative executive, to

an advisor, to different companies.


To me, it sounds and
correct me if I'm wrong.

That you're more of a generalist.

And especially as I'm sure you're
a specialist in some areas, but the

broad experience that you've got in, in
the tech world sounds like comes from

someone who's more of a generalist.

So what's your take on that
because I'm a big fan of generally.

So I believe that you can
become much more valuable as a

generalist in today's design world.

What's your take on that?

Leonardo: Yeah, I, I, well I
think you're absolutely right on

both fronts for me personally.

My career has lends itself to
dabbling in almost everything.

Part and every subdiscipline of
design and it's empowered me and

I can I can speak to executives.

I could speak to engineers, I
could speak to product managers.

I can even speak to non, uh, business
types and help them get excited

and fall in love with design.

And so my experience in moving around the
way I have, and, um, switching contexts,

where I have, has added tremendous value
to me and to others who I mentor and.


I, I, I think of myself as any T-shaped
designer, like broad across the

spectrum and believe it or not, my
expertise is actually in illustration.

I don't read that for a living, but
I love to do it as a side hustle.

So any company I've been
at has reaped the benefits.

Getting free design, free sticker, design,
swag, design, logo, design for their

teams, because that's where my passion is.

Christian: And yeah.

And you were mentioning growth
earlier growth as a designer.

I think that when, uh, one of
the better places where you

can grow as a designer is.

One of the places where he can
wear many hats, most of the

time, early stage startups.

And I find that early stage startups
usually tend to look for generalists

because they can't afford to hire
teams of illustrators in teams of

researchers and teams of UI designers.

They just hire a few people
who can do everything.

So I always say to people, if you
want to grow and you want to grow

fast, try to find a role where you're.

To do, um, a lot of things, some
things even that don't have anything

to do with design in a way directly,
a bit of marketing here and there, a

bit of ads you know, stuff like that.

And it comes in very handy
later during your career.

Leonardo: I think you're right.

That's good advice and to build on
that, I would say that if you go into a

small business or startup environment,
wearing those many hats often means

moving quickly and being decisive.

So on top of.

Gaining great experience
at places like startups.

I think it's also good advice to tell
designers going there to be emboldened,

to just have a strong point of view,
to be decisive because the faster you

can move through your decisioning,
the more you can accomplish and

the more challenges you can take on

Christian: yeah.

Being able to move fast though.

Isn't it also something that you're
able to do much easier when you

already have built that trust with
the rest of your organization.

W, what would you say to that?

Leonardo: I think that's true.

However, yes.

And there's also some trust that you have
that maybe you don't recognize just for

being there, that like you got hired at
this company because they believe in you.

And I think that we often look
past that initial trust established

when you join a company.

And my guidance to young designers is to
embrace that like trust in yourself, trust

in them, trust them the trust that they
have in you and make those larger leaps.

Don't go overboard to where you break the
trust, but just remember the trust that

you have that got you there and embrace it

Christian: and beyond just getting
hired and having the natural level

of trust from that, how can you as
a designer, joining an organization

build even more of it and it could be a
long-term play, but how can you go about

Leonardo: doing that?


Gosh, that's a great question.

And I would say that today, looking
back on my own career, but also

with the people that I've mentored.

The thing that I think gets you more
trust is to be, and I know this is

cliche, but I'll say it anyways, like
to be data backed to lead with your

brain and take your heart with you
versus the other way around frankly,

data wins arguments, whether it's
a small company or a large company.

And if you can speak through the lens of.

Uh, qual and Quan, you're going
to start proving yourself as a,

kind of a target driven designer.

And I think that's what that's
where the most trust gets unlocked.

Christian: Well, I don't
think it's a cliche at all.

If anything, I think it doesn't get
talked about enough and it is the

whole, the whole reason of this podcast.

So one of the reasons why I brought
you on in the first place is because

I know that you and your team now,
but also in the past, Made constant

efforts of putting design in a
spot where it's seen as a business

functional, capable of moving metrics.

So I want to read a couple of
paragraphs if that's okay with you

from from one of the articles that
you wrote about this exact topic.

And then we can unpack that a little bit.

I find this to be very interesting.

So you're saying.

One of the best pieces of advice
I was given early in my career

and advice that continue to give
to early career career creatives.

Isn't about the craft isn't to make
everyday is not to curate with care.

The work that you let
pull your heart strings.

It's not even to work in a handshake
mindset versus a handoff one

with your development partners.

All of that is excellent advice.

I encourage designers to.

He'd just not the best.

In my opinion, the best advice
is about unlocking your left

brain analytical thinking to
become a metrics guided creation.

And then you continue a measurement
mindset allows you to look beyond

your immediate or near term solution.

It forces you to challenge even
your best design sensibilities

and make you comfortable with the
idea of putting your solutions up

against quantitative evaluation.

Let's talk about that.

Cause I find that to be a
really good summary of what

I'm trying to do and with this

Leonardo: podcast.


Well, I'll do math for a second and
tell you that I, I got some tradition.

Our training through a school
called the art Institute.

It was the artists in Colorado.

And I found myself troubled
because it was after I had already

left my first stint of college.

It was to go back to get a
design management degree.

And the professors who were mostly
speaking to younger kids were also

speaking to me, somebody who went
back in my older age and were saying

things that just didn't make sense.

They were saying to fight for
your design to fight for the

decisions that you made it.

Some marrying them there's that
makes sense to believe in what

you did and to be intentional with
what you're designing, but what

they weren't saying to these kids.

And to me was that if you test your
designs, quantitative data can actually

help unlock and, and show you things
that you didn't know because you built

something with your hands and your heart.

And I think that's the crux of the.

Designers get too passionate about what
they're doing and to intentional when it

comes to for their designs and they don't
have the ability to step back and look at

it more objectively, that's really what.

To be more like, and that's what
I encourage designers to be more

like, try to be objective, try
to step out of your own shoes.

Can you look at your design and
your work from different lenses and

not just PM and engineers, but from
executive lenses, from the people

that you're supporting as a manager.

And if you get really good at getting
out of your own shoes and looking at your

work from these other lenses, coupled with
data on how your design performed, you are

one of the most powerful assets to any.

Right because you're able to
change and you're not locked

Christian: in.

This reminds me, in a past episode,
we had director of design at BP, and

he was saying that one of the, the
aspect of their work is this thing.

Stakeholder experience.

So yeah, you have user experience.

You have all of that at, you
already know about, but you also

have stakeholder experience.

How do you talk about design
to people in your organization?

How you, how do you frame design?

How do you bring them along on journeys?

And I guess that's what you're also
talking about is absolutely having that

empathy for everyone else in the team.


Leonardo: and it goes beyond empathy.

I think one of the, some of the best
creatives, and by the way, I got to go

back and listen to that podcast episode.

It sounds amazing.

Um and the person you interviewed from
BP, I think has it right on the head,

being able to get out of your own mindset
and getting in others that's empathy.

And that's great.

We should build on that, but when you can
articulate your story and you can tell.

Back to yourself, back to design
from the lens of a product manager,

why this is so amazing and why it's
going to make a difference and what

metrics it's going to push and what
levers it's going to attach itself to.

That goes beyond empathy.

And that's like commiseration and coastal.

And when you become a co celebrator
and it could in a commiserate or around

the work that you do again, you're
trusted, but you also learn and you

make a bigger impact on your team.

As I think there's a lot of value and
not just looking at your work from

different lenses, but being able to
speak to your work in those different

languages or those different times.

Christian: I also remember I'm going
to bring you back all the memories,

but I used to work with a fantastic,
uh, or in the team of a fantastic

director of design a few years ago.

And a lot of the work he was doing
was the work of a translator.

He was taking what we were doing on the
ground and translating that in business

language at executive level to get buy in
for the next project and the next project.

And I found that to be such a.

Uh spectacular skill to have, because as
a designer, you don't get trained in that.

It's probably the only way to
build it is through experience.

And I think you also need
to have you also need.

In order to learn that you need to have
a focus on it relentlessly for years,

to be able to learn how to frame design
in a way that other people understand.

And in order to be able to do that, you
need to understand what they understand.

So you kind of put
yourself in their shoes.

It's a, it's probably a
monumental amount of work.

So let's talk about that because running
a design organization consists of.

A lot of these work that nobody really
sees you're not pushing pixels anymore.

You're maybe not even sitting in design
critiques anymore because you don't have

the time you're doing a lot of sitting in
meetings, really talking about designs,

shed some light on that work for us.

Leonardo: Yeah.

Well I think you're right.


I continue to strive to
be a servitude leader.

And to me, servitude means spending time
with the people that you support and

to understand their needs intimately.


So I will get to the stuff that you're
wanting to hear, like what is the

day-to-day like for a creative executive,
but I also want to say that good creative

executives, which I hope I'm remembered
as spend the time with their team.

To get to and understand them
and, and build on those nuances.

I think a lot of my week does
go to one-on-ones with my direct

reports, but also I have a lot of
skip levels because I say to every

team that I've led my calendar.

I'm here for you and I'm only going
to be successful if you're successful.

So get on the calendar, like be
proactive, find time with me.

And I take that a step further.

And I actually my old boss, uh,
into it, Kurt, well, lucky he

had a ritual there called kerf
coffee with Kurt and no managers.

It was all of the direct reports, the skip
levels at every level, he's a VP SVP like

head of design, essentially for Intuit.

He was still meet with the ICS on each
and every one of his business units teams.

And it would be casual, there'd be coffee.

And it would be a place to
have spicy conversations.

We say conversations that are difficult
to have when your managers in the room,

because you don't want shaped or not.

You don't want to feel like there's
going to be any retribution that I think.

It's a big difference between a good
creative leader with multiple teams and

the ones that are just kind of doing
the work, but the work's important too.

And two, going back to your
question, the day-to-day for

me, it is a lot of strategy.

It's a lot of alignment sessions.

It's a lot of understanding what our
leadership at Spotify sees as opportunity.

Grokking those opportunities and then
creating a strategy on how the team is

going to go after those opportunities.

So that's what strategy means.

It's like, you're basically putting
the plan on a page for what leaderships

think we can accomplish and how
your team is going to get there.

Not prescriptively because you want
a, a good culture is one where it's

high autonomy with high alignment.

So you want to say, here's the challenge.

Here's how I think we're going to get
there, but the teams are the ones that

solve and create the tactics to go.


Christian: And part of that strategy,
is it also, here are the metrics

that we need to hit with this, or
does that come at a later point?

Leonardo: Great question.

Because they should change.

I think, poorly run organization.

Are like they have sticky KPIs.

They have KPIs that don't change.

And I used the word sticky intentionally
because they're kind of gross when

you have KPIs that don't adapt.

Nobody wants to touch them.

Like we've already tested.

We've already tried.

Nothing's moving the
needle on that metric.

Why is that metric still there?

Blow it up, rethink it and have
KPIs that adjust and adapt based

on what market needs are and based
on what the team capabilities.

Christian: And how do you encourage
your teams on a daily basis to.

Use designed for what it's meant
to be used, which is moving those

metrics rather than the alternative,
which is here's, here's the next

feature that we need to design.

Go ahead and do it.

And you know it might be a bit of
a tough question for you to answer

because I think it also heavily
depends on the organization that you're

working as part of and the culture
of that organization, but not every

business has the metrics driven design.

Organization a cultural story.

So how does that work for those
people who are in different types

of companies than Spotify or Intuit?


Leonardo: Well, firstly.

Um, I'm really proud of you
for recognizing that it's

different company to company.

Cause that's a nuance that is often
overlooked and you do need to understand

what is the culture of a team?

What's the culture of a
company is a product driven.

Is it design driven?

Is it engine driven?

All of those are factors that can
impact the way that you frame something

to be inspiring to your design team.

But I'll challenge your
point a little bit.

And I'll say that I think it
starts with the not framing,

the work of designer to push.

Obviously that's the case on the
surface, but I don't think it's

healthy to frame it that way.

The way that I want to frame challenges
are just that like, as customer challenges

that are going to bring joy, delight,
and solve things for the customer, if you

do that well, and you're aligned with,
and you create a culture of customer

centricity or what we call that into, it
was customer obsession and I'm pushing

for that culture at Spotify as well.

Then you can start framing
opportunities as customers.

And you're in it with them.

Like you're alongside the customer.

You understand why it sucks and
that's what you're trying to fix.

And then smartly you're aligning your
KPIs or metrics to those customer wins.

And so you never really have to frame
or inspiring the team by framing it's

metrics and its KPIs that we have to move.

I'd always prefer to frame it
as how are we going to help you?

How are we going to help them
have a better listener experience?

How are we gonna help them have
a better publishing experience?

If you're a podcast here and how
are we gonna help them have a

better advertising experience?

If you're a brand, just trying to push
your narrative through our products.

That's where you frame the challenge.

And that's what inspires design.


Christian: a great point.

It's a very different than what everyone
else used to say on the podcast, which

is well in a way or another, you've
got to link business to this, or does

that the design and what you're doing
with the business to kind of get

buy in for the next project or show
the value of design or build trust.

You, you mentioned earlier yourselves,
you know, data builds trust.

But this is just a different
approach of how you can do that.

I think this approach works
really well in companies that are.

Customer centric or driven by that.

But I have had my fair
share of experiences where

that would not have worked.

So you join a company where people
have no clue what design is.

You've just, they just know that product
teams need to have one of these people.

So they hire one.

The challenge is there are very different
than the challenges at Spotify or at

Intuit or at Facebook, because these
are just companies at the top of the.

So if you had today join a company
that has your you're the first head of

design of this company, or how would
you tackle that challenge of talking

about design and making it more important
than people historically know it

Leonardo: is?


Well, part of the answer is in your
question, Christian, I think the

best thing to do out of the gates.

Speaking to the value that design is
going to bring by showing the work

and I I've had this opportunity.

I helped a friend who has a, an
amazing startup of it's, in the,

um, tax sector is called

His name's Abraham, and we used
to whiteboard in the coffee

shop together, and I wasn't.

Technically his first designer, but this
was before he even founded the company.

And he would ask me similar questions.

Like we just need to ship a product.

Like what's up with all this design
thinking or what, why is it important?

And it was through the
work that I showed him.

It was like when we put together his
first pitch deck for investors, that deck

went from having raw data, that was very.

To having a story, a narrative,
and it attracted different types

of investors, like really, really
impressive investing firms.

And we would circle back and we
would say, this is about design

thinking because we're understanding
the needs of those investors.

We're putting ourselves in their
shoes, we're creating a mental model.

And now we're doing the work in that lens.

That's customer obsession,
that's design thinking.

And then we do a time and time
again from like the presentation to

investors, to the first landing page,
to the first email marketing and that

to everything else that he needed.

And when you approach it that way
with every project, you no longer

have to convince them down the line.

You've already created that culture
of design thinking by doing the work.


So that's how I would begin it.

That's how I have started it.

And it seems to be a pretty
effective way, but it also means

you're doing a lot of extra work.

Christian: Right.

But as part of the job, isn't it exactly.

You said earlier that you like to spend
time with the designers, will you use.

Your calendar is their calendar in a way.


I'm wondering when you have
these conversations with

them, what is it in general?

What patterns can you get from there in
what most designers are struggling with?

Leonardo: Yeah.

Great question.

I think it's a couple of things.

One is given the state of the world and
given all of the craziness that most of us

are living through some more than others.

We have to pay attention to the
emotional health of our people.

And so by starting out the
conversation, the connection with

the very human touch, just like
literally seriously, how are you?

How are you?

How are you feeling?

How are you showing up this week?

What baggage are you bringing?

What have you been working through?

Like understanding how, where
their emotional state is, and then

creating a safe space through that
understanding that's super important.

And, and we should all be doing that
more with our teams, but when it comes

to design and some of the biggest
issues and what I see as themes,

especially with bigger companies, the
high-performance companies where you're

striving to be highly autonomous, highly
aligned decisions get made pretty.

And sometimes that means
designers get left out or they

feel like they're left out.

And I hear it time and time again, like,
Hey, we didn't, nobody called us in here.

We don't feel like we have a seat
at the table, or we don't feel like

our inputs being acknowledged or
the MVP got whittled down to nothing

and we haven't even iterated on it.

We haven't gone back to it.

And I think that that's evidence of a
product led company, which isn't a bad

thing, but that's an issue like when
designers feel like they're left behind.

It means that designers don't have
a good relationship with our PM

partners or their enjoy partners.

And so w where I guide and where I
give advice and where I give tactical

go dues is building rapport and
building bridges to those counterparts.

So the product counterpart or entropy
counterpart, and that's where I

spent a lot of my time advice.

It's like, I understand.

Well how did you try it before?

Like, what does.

What is the process that
this pianos is looking at?


Well, maybe there's an opportunity to
change the process itself, or maybe

there's an opportunity to change your
approach, but I, I try to get to,

what's broken about the relationship
between you and your counterparts,

and then focus on fixing that

Christian: someone said to
me, every problem, every word

problem is a people problem.

So I guess that's kind of what,
you're, what you're hinting at.

Almost anything can be solved
by building rapport and.

Talking to

Leonardo: people.


And look, there's always going to
be people problems, but I think to

take your quote, one step further,
every challenge in an office, or

every challenge in a business can
be solved through a relationship by

fixing something, improving something.

But you're always going
to have bad actors.

You're always going to have
different personalities.

Hopefully you're working in a place
where it's a culture of many cultures

and it's not your place to change people.

It's your place to change
relationships with those people.

Christian: I find a very effective thing
to do when you join our organization

is to take a bit of time to meet with
your most important stakeholders for 15

minutes, but make that meeting about them.

How can I help you?

What are your goals here?

How can design help you reach your goals?

What has the previous designer
done that I could do better?

Or what has the previous
designer done that?

You enjoyed and you liked, and
I could continue doing, how can

I help you reach your goals?

All these questions, not only help
you understand where everyone is

coming from, which we touched upon
earlier, but they also automatically

straight away built trust because
everyone who joins companies.

Oh, that was, or rather should I say
no one who joins companies does that.

So you're setting yourself apart.

Everyone will soon understand this
person is here to be part of the team

and to help everyone reach their goals
rather than, or this is a as a new

designer who joined and wants to change
everything like all designers want to do.



I love that.

I always say I always say to designers
who were about to start their jobs.

Take five to seven stakeholders
and schedule 15 minutes meetings

and ask them these questions.

And you will see the change
in their attitude towards you

and attitude towards design.

Leonardo: Yeah, I, I couldn't agree.

More wonderful advice and I'll push
that one step further and tell you that.

Additionally successful is to
create a space of vulnerability.

So if you're, if you're doing a
good job of connecting with people

and you're helping them understand
that you're there to help.

That's great.

And you're right.

It leads to great relationships, but
what leads to even better relationships

or they understand that they can
be vulnerable around you because

you're vulnerable around them.

And it's, it's a gamble,
but I found success.

Saying look, I'm here to help you.

And here's what I can offer,
but also here's what I can cause

some growth opportunities for
me are this, this and this.

Maybe there's some coaching that
you can provide on that front.

So you're not asking, you're not
only asking, you're only offering

your help, but you're giving them
an opportunity to help you back

in something that they're good at.

And so you're kind of jumping
the line and building that

rapport by creating that arable.


Christian: Well, this is also
about talking and about asking.

I find that whenever there's something
I don't understand in the analytics of

a product, if I go to the product and at
least that we've got on a team, he would

be more than happy to explain it to me.

Cause that's his daily job.

He loves everybody's daily jobs,
just like I love it all my design.


So I think we need to get out of this
little cubicles that we're sitting

in, dude, there's design and there's
engineering and then there's testing.

And then.

And have more conversation across these
teams to try to understand each other.

And the moment you do that, people
are more likely to do things

back for you is as you said.

And I find those to be the
best teams to work with.

I couldn't run it more.

So you've been around for 15, 20 years.

And I can only assume that you
have seen the role of a designer

evolve into what it is today.

What's your take on where it's going
with, new technologies emerging and

all of these uncertainties around,
you know around the world and around

web 3.0 and all of these things
that nobody knows anything about.

How do you see the role
of designers fitting.

Leonardo: Well, first of all,
I'm super excited with how

quickly the landscape changes.

I know that can be frustrating.

Uh, like five, maybe seven years
ago when everyone was like,

holy crap sketches, amazing.

I want to discuss that.

And then two years later was
like, oh crap, here's Figma.

And we all had to relearn like there.

Yes, it's frustrating.

But there's something
really special about that.

Like, we're changing so much so
quickly that in and of itself is

signal that there's value in what.

There's an industry behind it and
people want it to be faster and better.

So that should be signaled to designers
who are listening to this, that

you are valuable, you're important.

And you're a big part of
businesses, whether they agree

or don't like it, that's just,
the industry is showing us that.

And I'm going to date myself
for a second, but to go from.

Cold fusion studio, which was
a macro media product, which

eventually was purchased by a Adobe.

And then it was sunset.

Like that's when I started building
products and it was literally two

different, three different tools
that I would use to create an

experience, not to mention using
flash to make that experience a little

bit more approachable or funner.

And so to have all of that change
to have go from like four different

tools that you're using to create a.

To not even needing a tool and using
a UI or just a IDE and write your

code and it's done, it's amazing.

That's tremendous growth for any industry.

So it excites me so much in
terms of where it's going.

I, and who knows, like I don't even know
much about the metaverse and I'm pretty

close to the companies that are making it.

But I think for designers,
the advice there, the learning

there, the maybe the insight is.

To pay attention more than you ever
have understand what tools people are

using, why they're using them and go
and beyond your own design tools look

at the product development tools,
look at the communication tools.

Um, oh, I forget that.

I can't think of the name of a tool
that I've been using to take notes,

but even look at like documentation
tools and then start to piece together.

What's good.

What's bad where your friends are going
and where companies are going and you'll

start to be able to apply yourself.

This massive change because it's not done.

We're going to see even more.


Christian: Knowing the industry changes
so fast, how can we prepare future

designers in a better way to be adaptable?

To be able to change.

Leonardo: Yeah, damn.

That's a million dollar question and

Christian: knew,

Leonardo: and I kind of am.

I'm not personally, but
I'm using a product.

I'm part of an ecosystem.

Uh, many of our listeners
might know this already.

It's called ADP list.

Awesome design people's lists.

And I think that's at the core of
how to equip future generations

to be amazing when you pair.

People with mentorship that's
meaningful and specific.

And this goes back to a previous
point you were making like, how can we

help designers get that experience to
navigate and to converse and to speak

executive, to speak PM and to tell
stories to engineers that inspire them.

You can find mentors now so easily
through platforms like ADP list, and

I'm sure others, and then ask those
questions like, Hey, can we role play?

Can we just do this interview or do this
a design crit, or do this product review?

That's how you're going to get
good at having those conversations

with cross-functional partners.

And that's how we're going to as
leaders help future generations remain.

Yeah, for

Christian: sure.

ADP list is an amazing tool.

I'm there myself and, you also get
something in return as a, as a mentor, uh,

which is you can't really put a price on
just knowing you contributed to someone's

career just in a tiny little way, but you
know, you've, you've contributed that.

I remember growing up in designer.

Really had any mentors, there was
no platform where he could find

people that was all of these things.

I've kind of learned on my own.

I can imagine how much faster you
can learn and accelerate today.

If you just use some of these tools,
whether it's mentoring, whether it's

podcasts, whether it's articles,
whether it's books, whatever it is.

Um, none of this was around when I
started and certainly when we started.

So, uh,

Leonardo: yeah.


And really quickly you touched on
something that I think is also valuable.

The, the amount of COVID.

Podcast content that we have
access to is just remarkable.

And in addition to the mentoring
I do, and like the guidance

I give with design, like.

Probably do I also advise what are the
podcasts that are teaching me things?

And it's funny.

Like what, what I learned from
now is not what I expected.

Like I learned from 99%
invisible I'm Roman Mars podcast

out of Oakland, California.

It's amazing.

And he talks about
design, but it's abstract.

In a way that gives you insights.

It gleans into something that
you weren't even thinking about.

And I can't tell you how many times I've
gone into an executive meeting room with

like Roman Mars is amazing soothing voice
in the back of my head telling a story and

bringing insights to life the way he does.

So, there's things to be gleaned
from, from all of the podcast

content that exists out there.

And I think that's something we should
build as designers and like a repository,

a directory of some sort, that guy.

Alongside mentors, guides
designers to the content.

That's going to help fortify
some of the dimensions there's

trying to get better at.

Christian: So talking about
content because there is a

lot of content out there.

And I said that today is probably one
of the better times to become a designer

because there is so much out there
for free that you can just learn from.

And someone counter argued.

And said, well, actually I think
this is one of the harder times to

becomes a designer, but to become
a designer because yeah, you've

got all this information for sure.

But first of all, you don't know
what's legit and what's not.

And second of all, the barrier
of entry is much higher than

it used to be 10, 15 years ago.

It's when, as a junior designer,
you're expected to just move mountains.

What's your take on that?

Is it easier?

Is it harder to become a designer today?

What would.

Leonardo: I think that's fair.

and I'll be honest.

I haven't given it much thought, but it's
a great thing to explore and just shooting

from the hip or thinking out loud.

I think there's definitely
expectations that are unrealistic.

I've seen job descriptions for startups,
and they're asking for like 10 years

of experience in Figma, it's like
relaxed, but, and then when you get

to the job, There's also unrealistic
expectations to take things end to end

without having done that before and
without having any guidance to do so.

And I think it starts with schools, D
design schools and just universities

smartly redesigning their curriculum
to meet the demands of the companies

that's where the change needs to start.

But I think to help designers in
this really high bar, this different,

if it is difficult, which I trust
it is, or more difficult than it

ever was to become a designer.

The guidance that I've given folks is
to be an expert at something like find

the niche or that, that bar that goes
down in the T shape of your designer

life and hone that craft become valuable
in something more specific, and then

go after the roles that are looking
for that thing more than anything else.

And if they get that one good
thing from you, whether it's motion

designer or the UX designer, And
then you have the opportunity

to build the trust, to do that.

Well, then you're going to grow in the
other dimensions that you need to, so

maybe, yeah, if it's harder, hone in
on the thing that you think is the most

valuable for the types of jobs you want
to go after and focus on growing there.

I, I

Christian: forgive, I will take
that even further I always give

that advice to people who ask.

Oh, what is your advice on
how to design portfolios?

And I say, don't necessarily put
your best work there, put the

work that you want to do more of.

So if you want to do business to business
software as a service, Put all the

businesses business or not all, you know,
put the best business to business software

as a surface experience you've got there
because in my experience, whenever we

go and look at the portfolio, you go and
look at portfolio with a problem in mind.

You've you've in your team.

You've got a problem to solve,
which is we need someone to do X.

And who are you more likely to
want to have a conversation with

off the back of a portfolio?

Someone who's done X a million times
before or someone who's dabbled in

a, B and C and a little bit of X.


So I only say focus.

Leonardo: I don't think you're
wrong, Christian, but let me

maybe challenge that a little bit.

And there's two things I want to say
one, I've heard the feedback and I've

given the feedback of having a liquid
portfolio, one that adapts to the

needs of what you're applying for.

So you might have various pages
in your portfolio that speaks

to different things, right?

That's not bad advice.

I think that's good.

And it's a lot of work, but like you
said, that's the job, like do the

work, show the work, but the thing
that's controversial that I'll say is.

I don't agree that showing only the
best pieces or to your point, nuanced

pieces, like a handful of them five
to 10 is the right approach anymore.

And I think showing as much
as you can, as quickly as.

Is a better approach.

And I have a hypothesis why that's true.

And you can blow it out of the
water if you, if you feel like it.

But the way that we consume information as
hiring managers, as executives, frankly,

as people like, if we're on Tik TOK
or Instagram, and we scroll so quickly

through things, we are grokking harder
concepts so much faster than ever before.

And I think we haven't applied that
thinking to when we're doing our

own storytelling, our own selling.

And when I look at portfolio.

Like you or any design leader it's usually
in between meetings, um, TMI, but it's

also maybe when you're on the toilet, it's
when you have those split seconds of time.

So what's better in that mental
model or what's better in that

use case to show deep, thoughtful,
well, articulated multi-page.

Or to just show all of the amazing
swagger that you're able to produce.

And then when I'm interested, let me dig
in, but that principle of progressively

revealing, but starting by showing
everything seems like it's going to

land you or serve you better than not.

Christian: We had on a podcast a
director of design at Salesforce.

And she said that she only
has, anywhere between 15 and 20

seconds for each portfolio, she
sees it as an initial opinion.


But that's how you met.

That's how much time you've got
to make the first impression.

And he said, oh, she said one of the,
one of the aspects of a portfolio that

attracts my attention straight away
is when someone can write really well.

What the project is about
in two or three sentences.

And then that acts as a.

But it interests me or not.

That's a whole different,
you as a designer, don't

have any control over that.

But what you can, what you do have
control over is how well you can

write that hook, that introduction.

So maybe it's a bit

Leonardo: similar to
what you're saying it is.

And I'll build on that point and
say, cause 90 sounds very smart.

It's a great advice.

And it's very true.

I don't think it's an
exaggeration if you're able to.

Tell your story in a traditional
three-part way, the way that cinema tell

stories, you introduce the characters, you
introduce drama and tension, and then you

get to this resolution and close it out.

The faster you can give me as a
hiring manager, that three-part story.

The more likely I am
to read another story.


And then start earning trust that yeah.

This person got


Christian: it takes.


Do you know what?

It just, it just clicked with me now.

Cause you said tick-tock earlier, which
I don't use, but uh, you know, I am on

Instagram and you know, kind of the same
algorithm are behind it kind of the same

user behavior of scrolling endlessly.


Your portfolio or a study case
of your portfolio in tick-tock

format or an Instagram or whatever
people can just scroll through.

Oh, great.

You know what?

I might cut this up now.

I won't, I won't.

I was like, whoa.

If people are on Instagram anyway,
and it's just so happens that

they're looking for a designer.

Well, how about them
scrolling through study cases

Leonardo: and let the
algorithm work for you?

Like if you've been on LinkedIn and
they have some of that tracking data,

maybe they know that you're an executive
or you're in a business, right.

And then you can even boost and
promote your posts, like spend exactly

spend the 10 bucks on Instagram to
boost your post and let it be like

a multi-page swiping, Which is your
screens from your portfolio, for sure.

Christian: Yeah.


So there's something that I really want
to talk about, before the end, because

if years ago I was planning a talk about
design ethics, and I just put it together.

I put the narrative together.

I just couldn't make it stick.

And I find very few days.


Talk about this.

I mean, we know Mike
Montero that's all the time.

He's probably the most well-known
cause he's, you know abrasive

and loves talking about it.

So that's, that's why it's
so great to follow him.

He is the man.

Uh, so you also talk about design
ethics in one of your articles, and

I thought it would be an interesting
matter to discuss with you.

So let's dive a bit into ethics and.

What is for everyone who doesn't
haven't hasn't thought about this

what's ethics and how does one practice
ethical design on a daily basis?

Leonardo: Um, it's a great question.

It's a complex one too, because you
can like Mike Montero does, you could

talk about design ethics for days and
you should, because designers have.

A lot of responsibility in terms of
keeping society on a healthy path,

because we're the ones that are
putting the products in their hands.

And we're the ones that are
potentially causing or creating

an ability for misuse cases.

And that's the core of
what design ethics is.

A good designer has the ability to look
beyond the use cases they're solving.

And to almost do postmortems, rather
pre-mortems on how their product

is going to be used and misused.

And it's a dark experience to go through
this with your team, but because you're

going through some really serious
things, like what if somebody uses

your targeting UI in the, in an app
platform to divide two zip codes or

two different parts of the city.

One where there's a lot
of underserved under.

Minorities and one where there's affluent,
you know, more homogenized communities and

you're able to target them with different
messages at the same time to the same end.

That is a misuse case.

That's awful.

And unless you think about how can
my solution be, who is for bad,

you're not doing a good job in design
ethics, and you're frankly not.

At the level of designing
that you should be.

And so design ethics is more of a practice
and being able to look beyond the use

cases and look at things more broadly.

I think when I think about design
ethics, just for, to give you a more

tactical or your listeners, more tactical
advice on how to implement it starts

with the core of what you're building.

I think what's important to do is
have design ethics conversation.

At the design system level, when
you're building components when you're

looking at the atoms of what you're
about to build, how can each of the

pieces be misused or be misinterpreted
or be ignored when they shouldn't be?

And if you build that into your platform,
if you will like where that kind of work

is happening, as well as accessibility
and inclusion, best practices, build

that into where you're building the
building blocks of your products.

Then inherently the products that
you build are going to have designer.

And accessibility and inclusion
built in, but then you also need

to do checkpoints along the way.

At Spotify, we have an amazing
product development process

with what we call phase gates.

So everyone's familiar with the
phases of a product dev process.

Understand it, think it,
build it, ship it, tweak it.

That's great, but what's better
is to have phase gates where

you have design emphasis in the.

Running these kinds of workshops.

So after the understand phase,
before you go into the thinking,

you're sinking with design ethics,
thinkers, and you're getting their

input before you go to the next phase.

And then again, before you go to the
building, and then again, before you

go to the shipper, I think that's
world-class design ethics practice and

what we're striving to do at Spotify.

Christian: Yeah, that sounds
awesome too, to be able to

have those person in the room.

To counsel or guide you or guide
the product development process.

The other.

Aspect of this that I've heard before
is what you just need to create some

sort of guidelines, some sort of
design values, and then make sure that

every single day you follow those.

But I find that whenever you do that,
it's so easy to get lost in a day

to day that you kind of forgetting
about it, but I find your approach to

say, well, let's get a team together
and talk about how could this.


I find that to be a much more accessible
approach, something you can do as part

of your product development process,
much easier to tackle than just every

single thing I move in in Figma.

I have to think through these 10 values
and principles and it's just too complex.

So I find your approach to
be that much more accessible.


You've also written an article
about design critiques.

Um, probably should have talked
about this a bit earlier, but.

You're saying how these are a
fundamental part of the design process.

So let's talk about design
critiques, because I find a lot

of companies are not doing them or
maybe not doing them as well as.

Leonardo: Yeah, well,
I think you're right.

I think design crits for, if it's
new to you, it's commonly referred

to the design crits, but they are
critiques there, their sessions.

When you get your team together
to understand the challenge that

you're working on as an individual
contributor, and then you show

them your approach and solutioning,
and then they're there to offer.


And I think that's where
some of the problem lies.

It shouldn't feel like you're critiquing.

It should feel like
you're asking questions.

And so in, in, I think the article you're
referring to was kind of a guide to a

good, to running a good crit that starts
with provocations that feel healthy,

not that feels like you're attacking the
designer that you're in the critique with.

And so framing, everything is a question.

And I'll give you an example, like I
can tell you Christian amazing use of.

But I think blue is going to work
better for the CTA, because red is

just like a negative situation for
a lot of cultures probably makes

sense and probably good advice, but
that framing being prescriptive and

saying you should use is the wrong
approach and you'll get defensive.


You'll get defensive.

And you create this air of
defensiveness for the entire team.

A better approach would be Christian.

I love the way the button looks.

I love the type style that we're choosing.

I love the evolution of the CTA.

I wonder, have you tried different
color palettes and you can, and

then you can say actually, yeah.

And you know what?

We tested everything and what tested
the best was this red suddenly

I'm like, all right, I just got
educated and now I have an insight.

And now I know why Chris
had made that decision.

So that's step one is framing things
as a question then being constructive.

But step two obviously is back
on the presenter of the critique

you Christian could have.

We've tested these dimensions and
this design and give us, equip us with

all of the background that you can.

That's another really good
step to take the critiques.

Come show up with background.

Assume nobody knows anything
about your solution and take

the time to educate them.

You're going to get better feedback.


Christian: And this also helps build
transparency into the design process

in your organization, which in turn
also builds more trust down the line.

We've talked a lot about trust today.

So I think whenever you open up and
you start to explain to people, not

what you don't give them the result,
but you talk about the process, so they

know how you got to the end result.

There are also sometimes
that as you just get.

Exemplified earlier gets rid of a
lot of the concerns or a lot of the

critiques, because now I understand
where this decision is coming from.

Therefore, there's no reason for
me to ask about the color palette.

Leonardo: That's exactly right.

Um, let me make that last point
though, or the last point that I was

going to make, and I wanted to start
with, this was words matter a lot.

We, we know that.

So we actually just switched away
from calling design crits, or

critiques, and we call it design hour.

But that suddenly just softens
it's so much better for sure.

And so I just wanted to give that insight
as well as it is what you call it.

So call it what it is, call
it what you want it to be.

It's a design hour.

It's collaborative.

It's informative.

It's it should be fun.

So call it something that resonates.

Christian: I love that, right?


We're nearing the end.

I've got two more questions,
which everyone gets asked

at the end of the podcast.

So the first one is what is
one soft skill that you wish

more designers would possess?


Leonardo: a good one.

Um, I think designers are mostly
good at this, but what we talked

about earlier in like building
up on empathy means listening.

It means hearing more than you say,
giving more than you take and that that's

a soft skill or that translates to a
soft skill, just being a good listener.

And, but we're also creative than I
am one too, or I will interject and

I will cut off if I have something.

It's bad behavior.

And I think it's good behavior
to figure out how can I become a

better listener because it's going
to make you a better designer.

You're going to get more information
it's going to fuel you sure.

Christian: But the other one is
what's one piece of advice that has

changed your career for the better.

Leonardo: Well, aside from the metrics
mindedness that, uh was instilled

in me early in my career, I'll
build on something I said earlier

and say having a strong point of
view that is data backed, but also.

Comes with passion and it comes with
experience is going to give you a lot

of opportunities in your career growth.

And I don't say that to mean be a
bully, be the loudest voice in the room.

Obviously that's not going to help
you, but if you're decisive and you're

intentional and you have a strong
point of view, and then you say why

you have that strong point of view,
even if the point of view is wrong, or

even if somebody challenges it, you're
kind of showing that you have this.

To navigate really complex spaces
with passion and strong ability,

and you're going to get shit done.

And I think at the end of the
day, designers, that exude that

energy of like, I'm ready to rock.

I'm ready to go.

Give me a challenge.

And I'm going to tell you what I think
we should do about it is better than

being the silent voice in the room.

Christian: I love that.

I love that analogy at the
end that you made here.

I'm ready to rock and roll.

Let's go there.

Another, this has been
an absolute pleasure.

I think I've learned a lot and I'm
pretty sure the listeners have as well,

but just in case they want to follow
up just in case they want to follow

you on whatever social media you're on.

How can they get ahold of you?

Leonardo: I'm an oversharer and I'm
an open book and, uh, I am active

on Instagram, mostly with art and
design that I curate and collect.

And it's Delarosa with the zero.

And then obviously you can find me
on LinkedIn, Leonardo De La Rocha.

I come up and yeah, connect with me.

And you can also find me on ADP list.

I don't have a lot of time these days, but
whenever I unlock my calendar my calendar.

Christian: For sure.

We'll put this in the show notes.

So it's easy for our
listeners to find you.

They're not, now this has
been an absolute pleasure.

So thank you one more time for being
part of the Design Meets business

journey as I like to call it.

And, um, we'll be in touch soon.

Leonardo: Wonderful.


It's been my pleasure as well.

Thanks for inviting me.

Christian: That's a wrap for today.

I hope you found this episode useful and
that you've learned something that you're

ready to implement that work tomorrow.

If you've enjoyed this.

It would mean the world to me,
if you'd share it with your

community, if you'd leave a review.

And of course, if you'd remember
to tune in for the next one, peace.

Creators and Guests

Christian Vasile
Christian Vasile
🎙️ Host & Growth Product Designer
Spotify’s Leonardo de la Rocha on Building Relationships Through Transparency and Being Data-Driven
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