Mustafa Kurtuldu is Design Advocate at a little-known company called Google. Chris Finnegan caught up with him to discuss what skills they look for in a graduate designer, strategic design use and why Google got behind our Design Academy programme.

What does Google specifically look for in a designer? 

It depends on the role, but we have been known to hire generalists in the past. In more recent times when our design team went about developing Material Design, a comprehensive guide for visual, motion, and interaction design across platforms and devices, Google began to hire particular specialists such as typographers. The biggest thing we look for when trying to hire someone is passion in what they do – because that leads to everything else. 

So what’s the most common ‘missing’ skill you find with graduates applying for roles?

Not able to take criticism without feeling like it is a personal attack. Not able to adapt or change their designs or understanding that everything can be improved and iterated. Iteration is something designers find difficult in general. 

You’re a big fan of our Design Academy programme – what do you think makes it so worthwhile for students? And what could it teach the graduates that you may look to recruit?

Design Academy offers real-life experience to design students as they work within a team and must collaborate rather than operating in a single silo. Often design students will get a brief from their lectures and disappear for six weeks working alone. This seldom happens in the real world, where you have to rely on others, and they depend on you. 

The responsibility and shift in thinking can be tough if you have never experienced that before. Design Academy emphasises that work life is mostly about the teamwork and rarely about the individual. 

There’s a lot of talk about the importance of ‘design in the boardroom’ – how is design used strategically at Google?

Our VP of Design, Matías Duarte, has been driving design thinking for the best part of seven years. He was the pinnacle in helping us ‘get’ design, as previously it has seen itself as a purely engineering company. Material Design has been very successful, adopted by some of the biggest businesses in the world and even won a D&AD award.

So, what role do designers play at Google? How influential is their input?

There are several different types of designers at our company; Visual, Interaction, Motion and of course User Experience (UX) designers. Most teams will have a UX designer on them and sometimes several depending on the product. We also run a process called a Design Sprint which about cross-disciplinary collaboration that help products use ‘design thinking’. This helps different types of designers, engineers, marketing, sales etc, to work together. This process was inspired by the Double Diamond theory created by Design Council. 

Do you think that designers are playing a more significant role at Google, and in the industry in general?

Yes, designers at Google pushed the boundaries of what we could do. With Material Design, Design Sprints [Google’s design methodology], Progressive Web Apps [a Google-led initiative to create better UX on the web] and UX tooling we have shown how central design can be for an organisation. Since the release of our design guide, we have seen other organisations follow suit. 

Do you think there is a significant skills gap – either now or on the horizon?

There are more jobs than there are designers. The challenge is the concentration of these jobs often means you have to live in a big city. Though, having said that, remote working has become quite common – but it is hard for designers to be on their own after graduating since you’ve spent 2-4 years in a room full of designers. 

I have been trying to share knowledge with non-designers through my YouTube show, Designer Vs Developer, encouraging developers that they can learn to design because these skills must become common knowledge for the industry to succeed. 

How important is innovation and creativity to a company such as Google – is it even quantifiable?

It is all about graft and teamwork. The way we get people to innovate is running design sprints, which involves getting multidisciplinary teams in a room together, working with one another. This has seen the developments such as products like Waymo [Google’s self-driving car]. This methodology has been shared and used by other organisations, such as the British Design Museum. 

Lastly, 50 words you wish you could tell every designer?

Creativity has and will always be about hard work. Hard work supersedes everything else. You just need time, a quiet space and patience. If you do not like what you are doing, that is an internal signal that is telling you that you haven’t finished. Keep on plugging away.

If you're a university and would like to get involved with Design Academy, please email designacademy@designcouncil.org.uk to find out more about course fees and programme structure. 

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