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Joseph Hallahan: Head Of Design At StarRez

On this episode of Digitally Diverse, Ellen talks to Joseph Hallahan, Head of Design at StarRez. Joseph recounts his 15 year career journey from agency work to becoming a part owner and eventually launching his own startups. He shares insights from his current role as Head of Design at Starres, a global student housing platform, and the differences between agency and in-house work. Joseph discusses how he helps maximize value for Starres’ university customers, and is motivated by continuous learning and new challenges like implementing customer research practices. With his background in multimedia design, Joseph brings a breadth of experience across industries that informs his current work. Throughout the conversation, Joseph provides an inside look at his multifaceted career path and approach to design leadership.


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Please note: this transcript has been autogenerated and may contain some errors. 

Thanks so much for joining us for another episode of Digitally Diverse, a podcast where we do a deep dive into the journeys of the movers and the shakers in the australian design and tech industry. We are very lucky to to have Joseph Hallahan join us and they are a head of design at Starres. Thanks so much for joining us, Joseph.

Hi everyone. Welcome to all of our listeners. Thanks for joining in.

So I would love to start off with just finding out a little bit more about you. Can you give us an overview of your journey so far and your career up to now? Sure. I’ll do it backwards, which I think is a common way to think about this.

So I’m the head of design at Starres. We’re a global business. We operate across the australian market, the US market, and throughout EMEA.

I’ve been at Starres now for about five and a half years, which I think in the tech world these days is about as long as a lifetime. Kind of becoming the grandfather at Starz who’s been there and seen it all and heard it all. But I moved across into product at Starz.

So before that I was working in agency land and I spent about 15 years working within creative and design agencies. And for the last kind of four or five years of that, I bought into the agency I was working with. So I was a part owner and we also launched a number of startups.

So that kind of rounds me out for about 20 years. And then before that, sort of get into the industry. I studied multimedia design way back in the early 2000s, back at Griffith in Brisbane.

So I did a multimedia with a major in design over a few years. So that kind of gives you a little background about how I kind of came here and what I’ve kind of been through. Yeah, I mean, speaking to so many designers on the podcast, it’s really interesting to hear what people’s opinions are about moving from agency into startups into then more of a client side environment.

How would you describe your perspective on each of those different industries? They definitely have different kind of goals and focuses. So one of the most important differences, when you’re working at an agency, you’re working really closely with your clients and you’re trying to help them meet their needs, but it means that you’re naturally sitting very close to your clients. So from a kind of product and ux perspective, that’s interesting because you then need to kind of think about how you’re interacting with their customers or their end users.

So it’s a bit of a three way kind of process, whereas when you move into product you’re able to work much more closely with those customers and learn more about their needs. And there isn’t that kind of three way dynamic necessarily though depending on which market you’re in, that can be a bit different. So I guess starres actually operates in a b to b to c kind of way where briefly about starres.

So we’re a student property management platform. I guess those who have studied in the US or been in the US might know a little bit more about the US college system where staying on campus is a hugely important part of your kind of career and journey and progression as you grow up. So I guess in that sense, we’re working with a lot of universities and higher ed organizations, but we’re working with their customers who are the students who are staying in their accommodation.

So you never kind of get away from that dynamic. I think it’s always something to be really aware of. Yeah.

Having that user centric focus, even though sometimes they’re not absolutely front of mind. What kind of problems are you guys solving at starres at the moment? Is there anything in particular that is your north star right now? Sure. So I think like a lot of organizations, we’re constantly needing to listen to what our customer base and user base are needing and requiring, and that’s constantly changing and in a state of flux.

So I think one of the things we’re thinking about at the moment, as we continue to grow and expand and take on more customers, is how do we make our solution easy to use and more focused on maximizing value. So how do we help our customers get value faster out of our products? And I think that’s one of our biggest strategic focuses at the moment, is maximizing their value. And that comes through building new solutions which help them extract value.

But also how do we improve our core solutions so that they’re easy to use? And importantly, we’re also seeing a trend where our customers are having a lot of new users who haven’t been as historically trained as some of our previous power users might have been. So we’ve got people who need to hit the ground running faster and get that value faster as well. So we’re trying to think about how we can look at the overall market, look at what the best practices are, and then how can we build those into our solution.

I guess in that sense, we’re trying to think about how we can use opinionated design to help improve our solutions. Whereas typically our product has been very configurable and adaptive. But it’s required our users to often invest time and set things up in the way that they want.

So one of our bigger challenges over the next few years is how do we find that right balance between best practice of designated design and flexible and configurable solutions? Yeah, I think there’s a sweet spot and it’s always going to be changing. It’s like pin the tail on the donkey situation. Sometimes I refer to it with my team as walking the tightrope.

One step in the wrong direction and we’ve gone too far. So how do we find that balancing act? And I think for our design team, that is the biggest challenge that we have working at stars at the moment. For me, anyway, someone who went to university here in Australia, I did not live on campus, but lived close by.

It’s not necessarily something that I think about that would need a technical solution. However, when you look at a market such as the US and North America, living on campus is such a rite of like, what has been the big differences between each market? Do you have to cater the product to each user and to each market? We’re definitely always paying attention to the different markets. And you’re right that us experience is definitely intrinsically different.

And it’s important to kind of, and I tell this to all of our new starters, it’s really important to recognize the scale of some of these operations where we could be dealing with customers throughout the US who have easily 510, 15, 20,000 beds under management. So just imagine how many people and how many things are happening in an operation of that size. And we’ve got private companies throughout the UK and Australia who are looking at expanding even more, potentially 65,000 plus feds.

So they are just hugely significant operations. So that’s definitely one of the first things we need to kind of make sure our new starters are aware of is how many people are involved, how complex some of those operations are. And even if you just think about today, in the age of Amazon, how many packages are just being delivered and run through and managed by some of our customers, even that single kind of space itself is.

Package management is a huge domain and there’s new entrants who are hitting that market that we need to integrate with so we can help our customers improve. I never even thought of that side of things. That’s just like set off a bit of a light bulb for me, because I think anyone who’s, I don’t know if you’re aware, but I have been sucked into on TikTok, Bamarush, TikTok where all of these girls are rushing for sororities in the University of Alabama, and they’re always got, like, their impeccable outfits and look at all the unboxing of all their beautiful clothes that they’re getting sent to their dorms.

And I’m like, that would be a logistical think so? Yeah, absolutely. I’m not familiar with that TikTok, but I can relate to the problem. Oh, that’s really cool.

So, Joseph, you’ve been with Starez now for, I think you said, over five years. Can you tell me what’s the culture like there? It’s obviously been good enough to keep you around for that long. Absolutely.

Yeah. I think stares is our CEO, Travis likes to refer to it as a 30 year old startup in the sense that while we’ve been around for a fairly long time, we’re still open to disruption and disrupting ourselves and trying out new ideas. So it’s meant there’s usually been plenty of opportunity to actually explore it and grow.

And the business has continued to kind of evolve and mature over that time as we’ve become more strategic, smarter, better focused on our customers. And I guess some of the most important changes is our actual product and design practice has just continued to grow and mature over that time. And I see kind of notes stopping that we’re just going to continue to evolve.

We’re lucky to be, at the moment, on a very strong growth trajectory, which, unfortunately, not many businesses can kind of talk about at the moment. So we’ve continued to hire and build out our teams, and we’ve been lucky enough to bring on more great talent as things have kind of grown and evolved. So part of that, as we’ve kind of matured.

Yeah, I mentioned our design practice and product practice has really evolved. So we’ve heavily committed now to kind of, I think, really deep discovery. When I talk to a lot of other people, even throughout the world, our product and design teams are approaching these customer problems in a really deep, kind of meaningful way.

That’s been a really exciting place for us to kind of grow and move to. Yeah, that’s great. And the fact that you guys are growing, especially at this time, where a lot of things are just plateauing, is super exciting.

Did you folks notice any big shifts over the pandemic? I’m sure that that kind of hit the university accommodation sector pretty hard. Unfortunately, it had a huge impact on our customers. It definitely hit their bottom lines.

Some of our bigger property customers had empty buildings for a long time. Thankfully, it’s a robust enough market, and it really has bounced back, and foreign student exchange programs and all of that has really bounced back. And things have kind of bounced back to where they were relatively quickly.

And I think we were also lucky enough. I think the businesses that really struggled throughout that time were those businesses who weren’t kind of continually delivering value and able to demonstrate that whereas a business like stares, where we were able to continue to deliver value, we were able to roll out some updates relatively quickly that helped our customers deal with some of their challenges during that time as well. Those kind of things meant that when the auditors were sitting down and looking through the list to see where they could, or the accountants were kind of looking at which line items they could slash off, I think Star has managed to get through that fairly confidently, and since then, the market has really bounced back.

I think one of the most important things that people need to think about when they’re thinking about what makes a successful business kind of commercially make sense. And I think one of the biggest things is finding a niche and owning it. So, as you were mentioning at the start, you didn’t realize that student housing was such a big space and that it needed such a kind of big tech platform.

And I think that’s actually one of Starez’s successes, is sort of going in and finding that niche and really owning that niche. If you look at a similar market to us, which is the broader property management space, that’s a huge balloon, a huge bubble of market, but there’s lots of competition in there and lots of different organizations who have well established themselves. So if you can find the smaller niche and you can really own that, that can really set your business up for success.

Yeah, definitely. If you can do that one thing really, really well and provide a ton of value, and with the same token, you know that it’s not going to decline that industry, it’s only going to grow. So, yeah, super exciting.

And I guess that’s probably one of the main reasons why you’ve been there so long, is there’s always growth, there’s always new experiments to try, there’s always new things to explore. I guess I’d kind of love to do a bit of a backtrack, and I’d love to know how you kind of got into the tech and the product space. I know you mentioned before that you used to be an agency land and business owner.

So what kind of education path did you choose initially? Sure. Well, going right back to the start, when I finished up school, I actually originally thought that I remember thinking that there were two different directions I could take. It was kind of the multimedia design interaction.

That’s what it was called back then, back in the old days, the OG days, yeah. It was either going down that direction or it was environmental management, environmental science. I’ve always loved nature and thought that working in that space and helping protect that would be important.

And I actually went off and studied that for a little while and really enjoyed that. I love learning about all different things, but I remember traveling during one of my summer holidays. At one stage, I think about a year in, and realizing that I had this need to do something that was creative and it was hard.

That really put me out of my comfort zone. And I just remember getting facing this really compelling decision point where I had to kind of pivot and change direction. I went back, I had to take a break for a year before I could go back to uni again.

And I took a break and moved into kind of design and technology. And I remember it just being this. It was really challenging at the time, and what I studied was a combination of design and technology, and I’d never programmed anything, done anything like that.

And I remember learning all of that and finding that really hard. But again, it gave me that kind of motivation and passion because I was doing something that really did challenge me and kind of pushed me out of my comfort zone to do something new. And faced with that challenge, I just remember being yet super motivated, super excited, and learning as much as I can.

So when I was studying for the last kind of year and a half of my study, I was actually working three and a half days a week in an agency, and I had a whole bunch of my own freelance clients. I was a crazy workaholic and just dug in and learned as much as I can. Yeah, that hands on experience is absolutely so important when you’re first starting out.

That’s one of the most important things, is getting that exposure and trying new things. And this is definitely something that I’ve seen change over time. Back in those days, most of us who kind of entered the field were broad generalists.

So I was kind of a half designer, half programmer, jack of all trades. So when I started working at agencies, of course we were working with clients. And it was a different time when you didn’t have to kind of always have the value proposition.

A lot of brands just wanted to do interesting things and showcase their brands and bring them to life. So there was a really kind of unique kind of creative time when you could pitch crazy ideas, things that you’d never done before to clients and they’d go for it. The challenging piece then was that you then had to deliver upon it and work out how to do it all.

And I see that in contrast to what I see sometimes coming through with people as they enter the field now is they’re specializing really early. And I think that’s one thing to really be conscious of, is how do you get exposure to all different markets and ideas early on? Again, I’ve worked it through ecommerce, fashion brands, music, websites, you name it, I’ve done it. Branding for new businesses, all sorts of markets and things.

I ended up doing a lot of work in services. So how to helping government organizations deliver better services. And all of that kind of breadth of experience adds up to now.

When I solve a problem, I can think, hold on a moment, how could I use some of the thinking from that ecommerce project that I did ten years ago, or some of that learning, or some of that strategy as you’re looking at moving into UX and design? I just encourage people to be open to new opportunities and new ideas. And if a kind of opportunity comes along that you’re not confident you can do, I’d suggest that you think about what you can learn in that and give it a shot. Because at the end of the day, we’re really all solving new problems.

So it’s how we take those previous experiences and things and build upon those and learn from those. And I think it really helps build up empathy as well, because each of those things that you’ve learned about that you can kind of add to your repertoire, you’ve learned about how different users anticipate things or different business needs. You’ve learned about all those different things, and that helps you.

Again, you’ve got to be careful not to jump to assumptions when you’re dealing with similar problems, but it can help you understand a little bit more of the landscape and move faster and instinctively know what questions to ask to help validate some of your thinking. Yeah, that’s a great point. And I think it’s good to remember that there’s always going to be new problems, no matter how much experience you have in any.

You could be a generalist in an agency, or you could be working at a very niche 30 year old startup for five years, and there’s always going to be new problems that you’re going to have to attack at a new angle. That’s what we want as designers and product people. Are these new challenges.

I think it’s learning about new things and digging into things. That is the really interesting kind of fun part about what we do and the hunger for the new. It’s like a muscle that you have to consistently work on.

And the second that you feel comfortable, I feel like there should be some warning bells ringing in the background, because that’s not why a lot of people get into product. And I guess going back to how you found that a lot of juniors right now are quite specialized. I’m really curious to see what the industry is going to be like in the next 1015 years, because when I was recruiting in Europe, I definitely noticed that there was a lot of people who were specializing right out of uni.

Really? And it’s going to be super interesting when we compare people such as yourself who started off quite general, started off quite tech leaning, but then kind of moved around a bit. You do get a lot more experience by doing that, or just different experience. So I’m wondering what the new cohort of designers are going to look like when they’re in leadership positions.

Are they going to be super duper specific on what they do or it’s just going to be a different vibe and I wonder what it’s going to be like. I mean, I think that’s a really exciting thing. I think anyone who works in the design and tech space, it’s one of the fastest growing, continually changing spaces ever.

Like, if I kind of go back to when I started my career, the things that I’ve been doing for the last 15 years didn’t even exist then. It’s constantly changing and constantly evolving, and I think that’s super exciting. One of the initiatives that I’m kind of helping lead at the moment at Star is helping standardize some of the ways that we approach design and product, and that’s so that we can hopefully help our teams focus on solving the bigger, more important customer problems rather than thinking about, well, how do we go about solving this problem each time and having to kind of learn their way through it? One of the most important things that we’re also making sure is that is a dynamic and fluid thing because there’s always new techniques and new methodologies that are coming out that it’s important to stay across.

I think through being involved in design and tech and product for so long as well, I’ve seen the trends kind of come through and how those things kind of play out and wash out, which can add a degree of cynicism to sometimes the latest and greatest ideas. So it allows you look, rather than being fully committed and bought into every new idea. You can sit at it and critically analyze it and work out the best pieces and then integrate that into your.

I mean, going back briefly to the idea of this kind of generalist designer, you’re dead right. Over in the UK, we found a little bit more challenging to find someone who works from start to finish. And I think that you can have mean, clearly, many organizations around the world do have dedicated researchers, and then they’ve got the UI specialist, the UX specialist, and then all these different roles that contribute even just to the design piece.

Again, this is through personal experience and what I’ve seen. Every time something passes from one group to another, I think you run the risk of the ideas being not translated as correctly, the age old whispering game as the message gets translated and kind of move through. And the other thing is having people own and be accountable to things and be invested into the problems they’re solving.

So I think if you can have people involved in the early research through to the solution space, into the building and executing upon that solution, and working with the engineers to make sure that that design vision is being brought to life appropriately and then following through on that once it’s in market to make sure it’s being successful, then they’ve been on that whole journey. They’re invested, they haven’t had information kind of passed to them and then handed on to someone else. And I think that can help create more ownership within those teams.

Yeah, I totally agree. I think it’s a blessing and a curse, right, to have a generalist versus a specialist. But in smaller teams, definitely there is a lot more pros than cons to having a generalist on board.

But if a student or somebody who is thinking about getting into tech or design was to ask you what your advice would be, what education pathways would you recommend? I think you can get into the space in different ways, but I think if you want to be involved in that broad generalist way, then I do think some kind of design education at its core is really, really helpful. I know a number of people move across from different fields of study and then go do a boot camp kind of ux course and then enter the field that way. But I think one of the things with design is that you want to, again, challenge things, and at the end of the day, that is breaking rules.

But in order to break the rules effectively, I think you need to learn the rules. And by rules, I mean is all the different processes and methodologies and things that are kind of best practice. So I do personally think that having a strong design education definitely helps people in the longer run move into the space.

But that said, I wouldn’t treat that as a limitation. And I think that all design is learned and trained, and I’m not a huge believer in natural talent. I think that it’s actually hard work and hard thinking that helps you get where you want to go.

There are heaps of different ways to enter the field. They’re all valid and they’re all exciting. I guess when you’re doing that, know what that background has given you, but also be aware of your limitations.

So think at then about how you can kind of improve and uplift that. So if you’ve never had any formal design experience or design training, I’d suggest like a UX boot camp can be great, but I’d also suggest a typography and design boot camp to learn some of the nuances of how that works. Yeah, just get like a little bit of design context is really helpful.

I myself did quite a traditional design degree and I really enjoyed it. However, it wasn’t very practical. I can hand on heart say, like, I refer to theory and think about the theory quite a lot.

Yes, it doesn’t necessarily show up every single day, but I’m still really glad that I did it. And yeah, something really poignant that you just said, but then just kept on going as if it was nothing. In order to break the rules, you have to know the rules.

I think that’s really interesting as well, because knowing the context and knowing the tradition and the history behind a lot of design is hugely important. And you have to have that backbone, I think, to be able to do something really well, that’s a really important thing. That I see this tied really closely to how people mature within, particularly the product space, is that it’s really easy to look at a product or a design externally and say, look at all these mistakes they’ve made.

You could do this much better. But underneath all of that, there’s a whole bunch of context and there’s a whole bunch of technical constraints. And like we were just talking about for our business, there’s different kind of profiles throughout the world that have different needs.

So design is about getting the best outcome from all of those constraints. So it’s about knowing all the constraints that you’re working with and getting the best solution and best outcome for that. So while it can be really easy to look at something and think that’s bad design, sometimes when you dig into it, it can actually be really good design because it’s actually getting the best out from a really challenging landscape or challenging environment.

And I see that happen sometimes where young designers will be idealistic and they’ll have this preconceived view of what they think the best solution is or good design is, and not know as much about some of those broader constraints and challenges that you’re operating within. It ties into that learning the rules or learning the landscape, learning the context, because only when you’re within there can you get then the best solution from that set of constraints. Yeah, preaching to the converted there.

I really love the fact that you are working across so many different markets. There must be like lots of. What kind of research or what does that look like for you? Day to day, we’re constantly evolving and improving our research methodologies.

But at stars, we’re huge fans of the Teresa Torrance continuous discovery and continuous discovery habits approach. We’re always pulling in as much data as we can. We do a lot of customer interviews when we can, we do on site.

So I personally love having my team have the opportunity to go over to the US and go and walk through some of our customer sites and get a sense of what it’s like and see the. So we’re actually looking at implementing some kind of like standards about how much customer contact and user contact we kind of expect of our teams to try and create that foundation because it’s just so important. We’ve just had a new vp of product join us recently who’s come on board with some really great, inspiring new ideas.

But one of the best things that I’ve seen is he’s continuing to share videos and quotes and photos from his customer visits and how he’s going about talking to end users and he’s really showing us how to do it by playing the game himself and demoing that to our teams, not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. Yeah, exactly. Leading by example is a really important thing.

It lets you put aside what could be presented as a great idea and just show it and show how to do it and demo it and display it and live by those values is really important. Yeah, definitely. I mean, it sounds like this is something that really lights you up and motivates you to do the best work that you can.

Is there anything in particular that keeps you inspired and keeps you loving the job that you’re in? I think he mentioned earlier that it’s the fact that things are continually changing and you’ve always got new challenges. Being a modern tech company, we’ve got loads of work perks lunches in the office and all sorts of things that help make sure people are happy to kind of come in and get excited about work. But to me, the most important thing is that we’re giving our teams and individuals really good challenges that they can sink their teeth into and own and be accountable, and then helping them deliver great results.

And I think that sense of having challenges and problems that you’re trying to solve and then being able to make sure that you’re actually solving them and executing upon them is one of the biggest things for job and career satisfaction. Definitely. And the same thing applies to me.

That’s what keeps me going. I mean, it’s obviously working. And I think as well, just the ever changing landscape of especially over the last few years, I’m sure the industry probably changed a lot.

So just having new things to think about and having different perspectives to be able to look into and different problems. Absolutely. And I think that that change just isn’t just within design and product and technology.

I think that our customers are changing and the world and the global landscape is constantly changing. So that means that the way you solved a problem for a customer even three years ago is probably less relevant than it might be today as different market trends or influences have played out. So being able to kind of dig in and think about those and explore that problem space to find out how things are changing is a pretty exciting thing.

And I’d be curious to hear as well. Obviously, you’ve been in a few different industries. Has there been any speed bumps in your career or any really challenging times that looking back, they’ve really shaped your career and your.

Yeah, absolutely. So I think if we kind of go back to my time at agency land, one of the challenges there was running your own business or co running your business and being responsible for paying people salaries and their livelihoods and their careers, which is what they invest a lot into and is a very stressful experience. I found that particularly stressful at the time.

It helps you learn more and evolve and grow, but it was a particularly challenging time. I think the other thing that happened is that I became increasingly frustrated with helping people sell things. I was working closely in the marketing space and I just got really tired of helping brands sell beauty products or whatever it was.

So I had to find something that was more altruistic, that I could lean into, that better aligned with my values as I kind of matured and grew. And that was when I started doing more work with government and health and those kinds of spaces in that kind of services space, and I think that starres still appeals to that altruistic thing where we’re helping students have amazing educations, and it’s such a really important time in their lives where they’re moving away from families and often traveling to different locations and hugely exciting, but hugely stressful kind of experiences. And I think where they’re living and the experiences they’re having will have a huge impact on that.

So stares definitely appeals to me. And that’s another thing that kind of keeps me motivated is working with our customers, where our customers really do care about their students and residents. Helps tie into that and make you feel like you’re contributing to a good part of the world, not just helping people sell things.

Definitely, yeah. And don’t get me wrong, I love hearing about what people get up to in agencies because there is a lot of juicy problems that they do solve. However, you’re right.

Like, a lot of the agency work is led by money and campaigns and marketing. And it makes sense that after such a long time in that space, you’re then ready to move on to something more service led and more solutions led, rather than making more money. That makes sense.

When I first moved from agency across to client side, having spent so long in agency, I was always intrigued by client side, and for some reason, it kind of came across as boring. And how do people manage to spend all their time dealing with one set of problems? And it sometimes felt to me like client side moved a little bit slower, whereas you’re able to move a bit faster. I think that that didn’t play out, and it ended up being working in house with the team.

Let me dig into deeper problems, and I wasn’t constantly looking at the clock to track how my time and billing materials and all that kind of stuff. I was able to actually relax, sing into it, and take longer to learn. And I think, honestly, it does sometimes take months or even years to really get your head around a problem space and stare.

Our problem space is nuanced, and we’ve got, you mentioned, different geographies and different customer profiles and different needs and different user personas, and that all have different needs. So I’ve really enjoyed being able to kind of immerse myself into that problem space and learn more in detail about that. I guess there’s definitely, especially later in your career, it must have been really interesting to be able to devote all of your time into something that is a little bit deeper, like really get into the weeds of the different problems that Starez is facing compared to being agency side, where it’s just like so flat out.

Yeah, I think I’d already started moving in that way because I mentioned that we’d launched a number of startups and alpaca, one of our products, the Alpaca product and team, are still out there building really successful, interesting things. So we’d started moving down that route where I was getting exposure to being able to immerse myself into the problems in a deeper way. So, Joe, I know that working agency side and now client side, in a leadership position, you must be pretty busy.

Is there anything that you regularly do for productivity and self care? Take care of yourself? I think this is a fantastic question and a really interesting space, because in order to kind of come up with great solutions and be creative and let those ideas flow, I think we’ve got to try and be in a good mental state. And some of the challenges are that as a designer, you’re coming up with new ideas and solutions and pitching things, and that means you’re naturally personally invested in those. And it can be a challenging career because you could have teams of engineers who are, they’re invited to provide feedback, but sometimes they might be a little bit ruthless.

I love that. Invited to provide feedback. Yeah.

Sometimes, even though you’ve got a great idea, it might not actually play out that way, and there might be reasons why it doesn’t play out that way. So I think it can be, at the end of the day, that can have a big impact on your self esteem and motivation. So I think it’s really important to kind of recognize that within the design space and think about how we can kind of protect ourselves.

I mean, one of the first things is knowing that’s going to be the case can help you prepare for that. I mentioned that you need to be in a good mental state to solve problems. So I think that if you’re dealing with a challenging problem, that the solution isn’t jumping out to you.

Sometimes by sinking in and working harder on it isn’t actually the correct answer. Sometimes the best solutions come to you when you step away from it. There’s this concept that your subconscious mind is helping you solve these deeper problems.

So when I see my designers kind of hitting their head against the table, not able to progress, I’d usually say, go find something fun to do that’s relaxing, or sometimes there’s a task that takes a little bit less mental effort that you can just do to kind of get back into that flow state. For me personally, I also need to exercise regularly. So I’m exercising usually at least every second day, if not every day, that’s a really big part of it.

And definitely just being able to check in on yourself, take care of yourself. I also like to tell people that at the end of the day, we’re not saving lives or putting out fires or anything like that. So make sure you’re not taking things too seriously.

Being able to kind of step back from it and just recognize that the work you’re doing doesn’t define you. It’s an output and outcome, but it isn’t you. So if for some reason your self esteem goes down on your work, don’t worry about it.

It’ll come back. Yeah. I think that self awareness is super important.

Just being able to take a step back and look at it. You’re right. Sometimes diving deeper into a problem is counterintuitive.

It’s actually not going to help. So, yeah, just taking a step back and looking at it big picture is going to be way more beneficial in the long run. Yeah.

And approach everything. Try and approach as many things as you can with a casual optimism. And I mentioned earlier that taking opportunities is really important.

And putting your hand up and nominate, like volunteering to kind of be involved in things, you can always kind of highlight that. It’s something that you might not have much experience in and you want to learn more about that. People will always appreciate it if you’re volunteering to kind of get involved in things.

And part of that is, I’d always suggest to people to take things into your own hands as well. So if there’s something that you’re interested in learning more about or getting to know about, don’t wait for someone along to come along and hand that to you. Take it on your own, do a little bit of research, put some thinking into it, and then talk with them.

If you’ve done a little bit of thinking there, they will definitely appreciate what you’re trying to do there and being involved and contributing and being honest if something is new to you. Absolutely. Yeah.

The amount of times that I’ve stepped into something and I’ll be like, oh, I don’t really know what I’m doing here. This feels really icky, but you got to fake it to make it, and you got to be confident from the very first go, we don’t have to do that anymore. We can just be like, hey, I’ve never done this before, but I’m really interested in learning.

Can you please help me? Can you please give me some guidance? Can you give me some grace? If I say something really stupid. Just being super honest with the people that you’re working with and just being super upfront with where you’re at and where you want to grow because people want to help. Absolutely.

Yeah. In that regard, is there any mentors or business leaders that you look up to that you’ve learned a lot from? One of the career satisfaction things is being able to look up to and learn from the people that you’re working with. So I’ve definitely always tried to work in environments and spaces where I’ve got someone there that I’m learning from, that I’m inspired by, and that can be a peer as well.

You could be learning something from someone who’s sitting beside you or even in a different discipline. Just, you can see the way that they go about talking and presenting and solving problems and like we were talking, you know, the best experience is jumping involved and seeing it. That practical experience really adds up.

The product space itself is maturing. So I think, you know, I mentioned Teresa Torrance earlier, but just staying across generally, some of the new ways to think and solve things can be really interesting. At the moment, the whole product methodology and process is being discussed and there’s new ideas and things everywhere.

But even if you think about the double diamond, that’s actually a design theory. The double diamond for problem solving actually comes from design. So it’s about using design thinking.

So I’m getting very inspired by a lot of work that’s happening in the product space. Product is usually executing in a slightly different way. Their output is slightly different, but their approach to solving problems is very related to design.

So I’m really enjoying that particular space. And there’s so much information that is so readily available, like books, YouTube. There’s so many online channels that people can find information, find mentorship, even if it’s not like a formal mentor mentee relationship.

There’s so many different places where you can get inspiration and share knowledge as well, which is, and I am actually lucky enough through vista that they’ve got a mentor mentee kind of program. I’ve got a couple of peers from bigger organizations over in the US that can kind of give me a different perspective and some different insights. But I’ve never actually personally had a mentor that I’ve worked with.

It’s probably something that in hindsight, I think would be hugely beneficial and I should have done it more and leaned on more, but I haven’t. So I’ve tried to learn as much as I can from my peers and again, lots of different books. How have you found having a mentor or a mentee later in your career when you haven’t had that kind of relationship with anyone before now? It’s interesting.

I think we’ve actually just got good peer relationships. So I think it’s more about like, I’ll learn more about the problems that they’ve got, and I’ve often got some experiences or advice that I can share with them, and then I’ll be talking about some challenges or problems that I’ve had and that they might have some ideas or a different perspective on. I think one of the most important things is seeing how other organizations are approaching the same problems, and not just in a presentation at a conference, but actually in detail.

And asking more nuanced questions to get more insight into how it really plays out can be really helpful. Yeah, that’s great. Another call out for an event that’s been happening in Melbourne is the no BS or no bullshit conference event.

So I’ve really enjoyed that event for the last couple of years. I think that last year some of the content was less relevant for me these days because it was like agency based content, but I really enjoyed the product content. But again, I think it’s a really interesting conference because it’s not focusing just in on methodologies and techniques.

But again, they’re talking about mental health and impostor syndrome and all these other kind of things that help, that are either barriers or once we can conquer them, can help us unleash more talent. And sometimes some of those things can be more important than the latest concept or theory. Definitely.

Is that a yearly conference or like a meetup? It’s a yearly conference that’s hosted here in Melbourne and I think they’ve been traveling around a little bit more. I’m sure we can grab a link that you might be able to share, but having been to many of these different types of events where they might, as I said, focus on the techniques or tools, this is a very different type of conversation and a very different type of perspective. It resonated a bit more for me and was something that I again, like what we’re doing now.

It was more about a conversation and it’s a good event. Yeah. And everyone’s sharing different stories.

I’m sure that especially in agency land, sometimes those kind of conversations may have traditionally been a bit taboo, and it could be really helpful for people to get together and just connect over their experiences as well. That’s a really cool initiative. I love that.

I like to end the podcast with one of my favorite questions so, Joe, if you could give your younger self some career advice, what would that be? That is a challenging one. I’ve just recently turned 41. Of the questions there is, have you achieved all you wanted in life by the time you reached age 40? And if I went back and spoke to a 20 or 25 year old, me, and if I’d only just done what that 20 or 25 year old wanted to do, then that wouldn’t have been very fulfilling.

So I think your journey is constantly evolving and constantly growing. So think of it that way, treat it like a journey and be open to things. But probably the one piece of advice, I’d say that for myself, having stayed in workplaces, that I probably should have moved on from a little bit earlier.

At the end of the day, it’s about security, and you want to make sure that you’re making the right move and being confident, all that kind of stuff before you make any changes. I’d probably say be a little bit less fixed on that and be a little bit more fluid and be a little bit more adaptive. But again, I caution that because it’s actually through staying in places where you have challenges and learning that you overcome some of that adversity, and that actually helps you become stronger at what you’re doing.

So what a convoluted answer, but that’s real life, right? Thank you for that. And thank you again so much for joining me. I definitely learned a lot, and you’ve given me some things to think about going over the next week.

So, yeah, thank you. Thank you again. Thank you for inviting me along, and thanks, everyone for listening.


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