Department of Design

Curated by Timoni West.

Primarily focused on product design, technology, cognitive psychology, and the brain. Also—pretty pictures, sometimes moving.


Posts about jobs
March 13th, 2014
I was just noticing that a professional acquaintance of mine just changed jobs for the third time in two years—going from startup to startup to startup without, ostensibly, accomplishing much at any of the companies. They certainly didn’t become huge successes. Yet, for some reason, everybody seems to think he’s really good at what he does. Why?

- - Who’s any good?

I think the answer to this question is: ‘he is really good at what he does, and his job does not directly involve making the company profitable.’ Either that, or he/she is great to work with—which, for most higher-level positions, is the same as being good at their job.

That being said, there is a certain bias assuming that one’s work can be judged by the companies they worked at. While it’s certainly not a bad indication, it’s always best to check out the portfolio —and go with your gut.

January 21st, 2014
Every person who works in a creative field has an aspiration for her work, a yearning for that ideal plane which is the culmination of her taste. When an environment fails, over and over and over again, to provide her with a means to follow her internal compass, then she will leave. If you are in a position to influence that kind of environment, take heed. Lay the foundations for a space that nurtures, that yields the kind of work the best creative people can be proud of. Then, you will not need to ask why designers leave.

Why Designers Leave, Julie Zhuo.

I posted this quote not because designers need particular coddling; they don’t. The creative aspirations mentioned above are true for everyone.

I post it instead to illustrate the importance of hiring people who share your product vision. In my experience there is literally no greater deterrent to getting shit done than hiring talented people whose vision for the product does not match your own. You will disagree about features, road maps, priorities, and audiences, and if you are adamant, their resulting work will an uninspired pastiche.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the [do what you love] credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love—which is, in fact, most labor—is erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from our consciousness.
October 1st, 2013
I’ve had a few really great ideas over the years of really awesome things I’ve wanted to work on, and sure, you get people saying “yeah that’d be awesome to have!” But then I couldn’t find anyone to work on it with me. That’s a huge indicator. It’s easy to get people to agree with you, but if you can’t convince them to donate their time to make the vision a reality, it’s a massive signal that what you’re doing isn’t great.
August 19th, 2013
Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does. I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.
October 30th, 2012

I was just reading “True or False: These Tests Can Tell if You Are Right for This Job”, in the Wall Street Journal. They gave a sample question from a personality test:

1. On television, I usually prefer watching an action movie than a program about art.
A) Often
B) ?
C) Rarely

This question, from 16PF, the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, addresses an applicant’s preference for logic versus feelings and intuition, says Ralph A. Mortensen, chief psychologist of the test’s publisher, the Institute for Personality and Ability Testing.

Interesting, I thought. Obviously the action movie fan prefers feelings—the adrenaline rush, no brain power needed to be happy watching action movies—and the art program fan is interested in facts, shows about real things, and educational programs.

Then I kept reading:

Someone opting for an action flick may be more fact-focused, an important trait for analytical jobs. Those who answer “rarely” may have more creative personalities. If they choose the question mark on B, it doesn’t tell you much: Perhaps they do both an equal amount or perhaps they simply aren’t sure.

I can think of literally no reason to assume someone who likes action movies would be more fact-focused—and especially more analytical—than someone who prefers programs about art.

Okay, that’s not true. I can think of one reason, but it has nothing to do with action movies or programs on art, just basic gender stereotypes. But I’m sure the writers of that questionnaire have thought about this much more than I have, and so have much better reasons for assuming that action film fans are more analytical. In other words, I’m guessing it’s not just casual sexism. Before I sink into cynicism, dear readers, please tell me what I missed.


June 18th, 2011

The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions.

The employee’s incompetence is not necessarily a result of the higher-ranking position being more difficult — simply, that job may be crucially different from the job in which the employee previously excelled, and thus requires different work skills, which the employee may not possess.

Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”.