I started out in user experience before it even had that name — in fact, some would say I’m one of the people who helped give it that name. I co-founded a design agency, Adaptive Path, which was the first company to use that term to describe its work, and went on to international renown for helping to pioneer the field of UX. My book The Elements of User Experience (also the first book to use that term in its title) has been considered a foundational text for UX designers for nearly 20 years, and is used in college courses around the world.
My book and my company had influence far beyond anything I ever dreamed of, helping to establish the practices and philosophy that would become what we now call user experience design. I’ve traveled all over, teaching and public speaking, from huge conference keynotes to engaging with local communities around the world (Hello, Grand Rapids!) as our field grew and matured.
I’ve seen a lot over the years: I’ve been a designer, I’ve managed designers; I’ve worked in agencies, I’ve worked in house; I’ve led project teams, corporate initiatives, departments, and an entire company. I’ve worked with tiny startups all the way up to global giants, across industries ranging from media and entertainment to health care and financial services to non-profit and community organizations.
When Adaptive Path started out as a UX consultancy, our clients needed a lot more than just design work. They were often brand new leaders being asked to take on hazily-defined challenges under continually changing circumstances. Supporting our clients in being successful design leaders was critical to the success of any design work we shipped.
As Adaptive Path grew, we found talented designers and helped them develop into leaders. As Chief Creative Officer, my primary role was to provide active mentorship to our project team leads. The leaders I mentored there have gone on to found startups, build and grow new design teams, and lead design teams for some of the largest and most influential companies in the world.
After Adaptive Path was acquired by Capital One, this mentorship function evolved into a dedicated role as in-house leadership coach to the company’s design leaders. This gave me the opportunity to work with a group of peer leaders on broad cultural factors impacting their ability to orchestrate their teams’ work toward common goals.
In my practice as an independent coach, I work with leaders on the personal and interpersonal challenges that can make the difference between teams that hang together and teams that fall apart. I draw on all of my experience working with dozens and dozens of design leaders over my career to help today’s leaders avoid burnout, grow healthy team cultures, and tackle the hard conversations leadership sometimes requires with courage and compassion.