Key Learnings From the First Month of the Recliner Designer Podcast

It’s been a pretty busy first-month launching Recliner Designer, a podcast focused on the varied perspectives of designers and design executives around the world stuck at home during the Covid-19 quarantine. So far 14 interviews have been done remotely in seven countries: the U.S., China, Australia, Estonia, Switzerland, Mexico, and Poland. Interestingly, designers live everywhere and not all of the interviewed were nationals in those countries. I spoke with 3 Australians, 3 Italians, 2 Americans, 1 Polish, 1 Estonian, 1 Mexican, 1 English, and 2 Ecuadorians. Based on all these countries and nationalities, naturally, I heard a lot of different perspectives but also a surprising number of similarities in how they are coping and viewing the pandemic. Here’s what I heard.

They feel fortunate to be in design

They largely feel fortunate to have a job that they can work at home and can imagine post-pandemic when they continue working remotely a good portion of the time. Several interviewed mentioned that they saw other industries such as retail or service industries as being much impacted. That said, they also said that they knew designers who had lost their jobs and one guest Joel Hladecek (listen to episode) gave designers advice on how to handle a crisis.

I’ve been through three big downturns before this one. And I think in every instance, that every time this came up, every time that’s happened, I was a victim, just like everybody. The worst thing you could do right now, if you just lost your job, I think this is the best advice I could give somebody is not to wait for that call. There’s a high chance it won’t come. One of the worst things to happen is to hope for that call and then not get it because the company’s just not prepared to do it yet. So front load like hell right now is when you have to call every great person you know, in whose foxhole you would happily sit, right. Beside, call those guys and say guys, let’s invent something, get two or four of you together and invent something new. There are a million problems in the world.

– Joel Hladecek , Chief Creative Officer at Education First

They could adapt to virtual work and collaboration

Most of the podcast guests believed working and collaborating at home is doable with the current tools (Zoom, Adobe CC, Miro, etc.) and their productivity is relatively high. Many of them had little difficulty adapting to working remotely as they had already been working with distributed teams and/or been using collaboration tools. A few even said they believed they were more productive since they weren’t distracted by the noise of the office and could really focus.

They miss the chance encounters of physical contact

They miss the chance encounters and serendipity before Covid-19 and feel video calls can be too formal and controlled. Several also remarked that Zoom calls do not replace random meetings in the office kitchen with teammates, where ideas are often shared in a more casual way. Mauro Porcini (listen to the episode) and Diego Kolsky (listen to the episode) said they missed the excitement and stimulus of New York City, where many ideas and inspiration can spring from.

Designers stay positive by being active and creative

Designers I spoke to had relatively high spirits through exercising, new hobbies, virtual social events, and enjoying time with family and pets. Two designers have started writing books during the pandemic and one is organizing a virtual conference. Momo Estrella (listen to the episode) actually recommended “radical optimism” as a way for designers to cope with post-pandemic. Silvio Sangineto has even taken a new job at Microsoft (listen to the episode) and Radek Taraszka his moved to a new city and started remodeling a house (listen to the episode).

“A key quality of great designers is that they are not only curious, but they are very optimistic. And I think radical optimism is what the world needs right now. And there’s no better equipment I feel in individuals than what designers may have up until now. So use that and spend time thinking and worrying about the future. Use your time well.”

– Momo Estrella, Head of UX at IKEA China

Design will play a key role in helping society

The design leaders I spoke with believe design and design thinking will be extremely important during and after the pandemic in coming up with solutions that solve problems for people and businesses. This could mean helping your company understand people’s needs and translating that to innovations to meet these needs. Or could mean launching new products or businesses using design thinking to inform them. Mauro Porcini said, one challenge designers face is communicating these new human-centered ideas in terms that business people understand.

They’ve learned the value of just slowing down

In the absence of the busy office setting, the lockdown has taught them to slow down and reflect on what truly makes a difference in their lives. Whether this is spending time with family and partners, starting or rediscovering passion projects, or just going outside and enjoying nature more, all of the podcast guests have enjoyed getting their time back. They also talked about a realization that there may be alternative career paths such as starting your own business or doing pro-bono work for a non-profit.

What I’ve personally learned from doing this podcast

I think the last thing worth mentioning is what I myself have learned from doing this podcast so far. There are actually several things but I’ll keep to the most important. Podcasting is a form of public speaking and after listening to a number of my guests as well as myself, I learned that the best way to present your ideas is to be yourself and speak from personal experience. Podcasting (just like any good public speaking) is about storytelling, the more real we’re able to convey the situation we find ourselves in the better. All of the guests I’ve interviewed have had their own unique ways to tell their stories.

I want to thank all of the guests for being generous with their time and sharing their stories with me and the listeners of this podcast. I feel very fortunate to make so many new friends in different parts of the world.

About Recliner Designer Podcast

Interviews with designers during a pandemic. The Zoomed out, 7-days-in-the-same-sweatpants stories of designers around the world during Covid-19. This podcast was created and hosted by Lance Shields, Head of International Design at Adobe. This is a private project.

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