Design Mind frogcast Ep. 25 – DesignOps at Scale

Our guests: Andrea Sutton, VP Design Technology, AT&T and Timothy Morey, Global Managing Director, frog

On this episode, we talk about the role of design in bringing large, complex organizations into the future. To do this, we feature a conversation between Andrea Sutton, VP Design Technology at American telco giant AT&T and Tim Morey, Global Managing Director at frog. Andrea and Tim are two leaders merging creative instinct and business strategy to deliver the next generation of products, services and experiences. Hear their candid discussion on scaling DesignOps in a massive organization, leading creative teams and insights from their careers in design, business and consulting.

Listen to the podcast episode and find transcripts below. You can also find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotifyand anywhere you listen to podcasts.  

Episode Transcript:

Design Mind frogcast
Episode 25: DesignOps at Scale

Guests: Andrea Sutton, VP Design Technology, AT&T and Timothy Morey, Global Managing Director, frog

[01:22] Andrea Sutton: Andrea Sutton, Vice President of Design Technology at AT&T. I run a crazy team of talented folks here to help in AT&T’s big transformation.

[01:32] Tim Morey: Timothy Morey, I’m the Global Managing Director of frog, part of Capgemini invent. Andrea, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve been really looking forward to having this conversation. Let me begin by just sort of learning a little bit about your career. You’ve obviously been with a number of companies from Weiss, Visa, Electronic Inc, Comcast, Yahoo, Sears, Brandle, and now AT&T. Tell me about how your approach to design in those organizations has changed over those years. And what elements have remained consistent as you’ve been through that journey?

[02:07] Andrea Sutton: That’s an insane question, Tim. That journey went over a pretty long period of time, a period of time from HTML1.0 till now. I’ll tell you, at the beginning, designers could have great ideas that could never happen with the systems or the technology. And today any idea a designer has can come to fruition with the kind of technology we have. So that range represents a wide, wide swatch of differences, for sure.

[02:44] Andrea Sutton: I think the thing that stays the same is the idea that human beings and technology are still doing their dance. And humans still get frustrated with technology, and it goes so quickly, and it moves so fast that human beings are constantly frustrated by it. So paying attention to the people who use it is still a good thing to do.

[03:05] Tim Morey: There’s two things I want to pick up on that. I think first is the role of design in organizations in that period that you just described has really changed and evolved. You know, 15 years ago, there was a lot of discussion about can we get a seat at the table? And what does that look like? Today, I look at organizations like yours in AT&T and large companies, which all have these large design teams that are making impact throughout the organization. And on the business side, business people have become super aware of design and the power of design in their organizations. Again, when I went to MBA school, people thought I was mad for joining a design firm. Why not go to a more traditional consulting firm? Whereas now, we’re inundated with resumes from business people who want to get into creative consulting. So I wonder if you can talk about or reflect on that change that you’ve seen, and how that’s impacted you and your team’s ability to drive change.

[04:01] Andrea Sutton: Let me go down to the early, early days first. Let’s go to, like, HTML 2.0 where there was a wide gap between the designers that would be designing 16-bit icons for, you know, emerging technologies and Yahoo bulletin boards and crazy stuff like that. And they would get sometimes one designer ratio to 20 or 30 developers back in those days–it was real commonplace. I can remember doing 16-bit icons for a tool called FrontPage that eventually sold to Microsoft. Those icons and digital pieces were…I mean, I was given two days to fill an entire application. Okay, so like decoration. “Decorate the cake, designer. Come on in and decorate the cake. Get this thing out of here.” The vast difference today. I think design has emerged in American corporations since maybe 2014, 2015, when companies started buying Adaptive Path and those other major design firms thinking that if they just strapped it on to the rest of their business work, design would automatically happen (snaps). I think one of the things we’re seeing here at AT&T is that design can be a business tool if it’s used very far upstream in the ideation stages for business, and it can really help business frame its ideas. But those contrasting ends of the spectrum stick out to me from a career and experience base. And it just, it’s been really a remarkable ride to see that happen.

[05:49] Tim Morey: Yeah, no, it’s been fascinating. The first designers I met in my career in North America were at Sun Microsystems, and we actually kept them in their own building, you know, they were separated. I was a product manager, they came at the end of the product or service design lifecycle. And now that I have worked at frog and have sort of seeped myself in this world, it’s almost offensive what we did. What you just described the two days, you know, “Can you hit this with a pretty stick on the way out?” It was really this sort of aesthetic afterthought and fundamentally misusing the potential and power of design. So it’s been fascinating to watch that. And for me coming into frog and meeting these sort of very strategic, driven designers who own you know, the product and ideation and creation process, and become real thought partners to our clients, that was an eye opener. When I joined frog 15 years ago, I think that’s now become fairly common across industry and across corporate America.

[06:43] Andrea Sutton: It’s not quite there yet, though, is it? Right, because there’s patches of naivete. Even as big corporations are dead certain that design can be used strategically. It’s not widespread through at scale, right? It takes a while for that kind of literacy to get through a massive scale organization. Those are the kinds of things that keep me up late at night, I think–trying to make that literacy pervasive.

[07:10] Tim Morey: Yeah, it’’s interesting you say that because consumer tech and financial services seem to be the leaders in this. For example, we’ve been working with financial institutions in the US for many years. But as you go into emerging markets, some of the first types of companies that hire designers and build internal teams have been in FS [financial services]. And I would think AT&T and telco, as in that sort of tech and consumer tech space, so you would be one of the leaders, compared to say some other industries that are probably laggards in this regard. But you’re seeing sort of challenges even within the tech and telco and consumer tech space?

[07:46] Andrea Sutton: I absolutely am. I think on the FinTech side, it’s a no brainer. I think there’s a lot of advancements there. And I do think in a lot of ways, we’re ahead of the game for a company of our scale. Like, as an example, we have a design operations team that’s formidable. And that’s really unusual. And we’ve been practicing it for three years. And that’s kind of unusual. But we also still have leaders internally who want to better understand what the value of design is because they haven’t experienced it from end-to-end yet.

[08:21] Tim Morey: So we still have our work to do. I wanted to then touch a little bit on how you structure your team within AT&T. I know you’ve described it as taking a startup approach, but how does your team work with the larger organization and the businesses? And how has that evolved over time?

[08:37] Andrea Sutton: When we started, we were primarily a work stream-based organization. I’ll stay within the last three years because that’s been the hockey stick trajectory. You know, we worked for AT&T’s behemoth product lines of wireless and broadband and fiber products. And so we were doing the work, and helping those product leaders understand how to even ask the right questions about what the customers wanted to experience in their interactions with those products. I think about a cat’s paw, you know? A small group of a researcher, a few great designers, a content strategist and maybe a producer in those early days. And those cat’s paws would dive in hard and try to innovate the very design practice, while teaching the design practice to maybe a little more naive product teams. And so that was very hard to do early on. And it took longer to do design, because it took a long time to teach what we were doing and what its value was. Today, fast forward, after three years, we have a formidable DesignOps organization that is managing nine work streams now. And those work streams are underpinned by a research and insights team that’s feeding them all, and also doing an enterprise type of research that’s giving AT&T at-large insights about their customer and archetypes.

[10:18] Andrea Sutton: We have a content strategy team, I think, it’s one of the most important teams that we’re running because it’s the content strategy team that first awakened some of the business teams to understand that content strategy is not copywriting. It’s in fact a strategic tool by which you unfold information for your customers. And now we’re running pretty well. But one thing I don’t want to forget is an organization that we have called the literacies organization under design technology. And what we do there is we have a program where we teach design as a literacy to business teams, but we also teach business as a literacy to design teams.

[11:00] Tim Morey: I can see that that would be important going in both directions. I wanted to double click on the DesignOps team, so that’s a term you know, we started to hear in the industry five, six, seven years ago, and I think it’s become more mainstream, but I wonder if you can share your journey on rolling that out and the impact it has had on the effectiveness of your team.

[11:20] Andrea Sutton: Yeah, we had one guy. We started with one guy. And the one guy started to sit tightly with those few work streams and catalog where the friction was between what the designers were trying to sell and teach, even as they were taking, you know, taking orders. In essence, they were taking orders from the product teams on what to build. And he was very careful to lay out where those friction points were. We really treated it like it was a design thinking engagement, honestly. One of the things that we believed was that every business has a culture that’s a lot like a country. And you have to treat that country with respect for its particular cultures. And yet, you still have to find a way for design to fit into it so that the practice has integrity, but that its edges are smooth and don’t disturb the business but enhance it. And so this one guy started to build a team around principles that started to help design fit into our business organizations. And these things are massive, Tim. I mean, I was with a friend of mine over the weekend who worked for another huge company and had never seen more than 55 Scrum teams before. We’re running 200. You know, this thing is–this scale is crazy. And so as our ops guy started to build people who pull in ops teams from other great companies, we would put an ops person in charge of every work stream. And they started to act like ambassadors with the product teams, and they sat with them. And they, they became like psychologists with them and opened them up to the what ifs of the world, and how you might think about strategic initiatives in a different way. And I think, three years later, those people are the ones that are keeping, designing the business together and having the business come to us now and say, “Help me articulate this for my other partners.” So it’s done well.

[13:40] Tim Morey: That country metaphor, I think, is quite wonderful. And then you talk about ambassadors. You’re sort of extending that metaphor. And it does sound like the DesignOps person has a very strategic role. So it’s not about managing the programs and sort of on budget on time delivery, or it’s that but also, this sort of translation layer and ensuring the effectiveness of your design teams.

[14:03] Andrea Sutton: Very much a translation layer. And also very much I would say a counselor to the business. One who can stay with the business, even as the design teams have to go back and dig into the studio work and work their brains out. This counselor, DPM–design program manager–can go to all the other meetings and be a counselor. And we see that working really well now.

[14:28] Tim Morey: And then, as you think about working with the work streams, in the product groups, do you put the designers and researchers dedicated and sitting with those teams and product managers? Or do you have a centralized sort of studio model where they come and do heads down work? And where I’m going with this thought is tying this back to our earlier discussion about the shift in the industry. It used to be that talent density for creatives existed in firms like frog, the consultancy side. And if you went to the client-side organizations, they were designers, but they were fairly isolated in fairly small teams. I think with this greater acceptance of and leveraging of design in corporate America, we see large teams like yours, and with your industry peers as well, with several hundred. And so they’re faced with this internal structural challenge of how am I going to get the best out of this team? Is it through that sort of creative spark that comes about in a studio model with that high talent dense density in one place? Or is it more effective to distribute them across the organization so that this sort of creative mindset and spirit is seeping through the whole organization and driving change?

[15:40] Andrea Sutton: It’s a beautiful question. You know, actually, our relationship with frog has helped us think that very question through. We believe on our maturity path, if design is to reach a steady state, inside a company of this scale, I think we’re believing today that we have to get to a distributed team, centralized kind of toolkit, Center of Excellence principle model. We’re starting to see that that seems to resonate with the business partners that we talk to. To touch on your question, though, I think that we very much work on a very programmatic plan. And so our work teams shift–they don’t stay constant. And we try to mix the talent per work stream in a way that matches the tasks at hand. That said, I can foresee a day that starts to model what you’re talking about where I have a pool of talent that is discrete, studio-based, thick, and and ready to take off things from the work streams themselves and build out things that perhaps are, at this scale, more reusable. And so we’re starting to see that maybe the more distributed teams do the net new, and there might be a potential for that studio-based model to build out the reusable pieces and put them into the design systems and work that Center of Excellence that way.

[17:25] Tim Morey: Yeah, that sounds like a sort of interesting hybrid model where you’re leveraging the best of both worlds–where you have people seeped in the product lines and the work streams helping to drive the vision for where those products and services should go. And then you have a central pool that likely has a strong creative culture that’s either helping to augment those work stream teams, or as you say, doing the more generalizable, you know, design systems or company-wide initiatives that come up.

[17:52] Andrea Sutton: It’s the scale that makes us think that and it’s the scale that seems to make that resonate. To give you guys a bit of kudos on that you really helped us. We worked with your teams to help unpack what the right models would be. And one of the things that was so beneficial there was that you helped us do some independent surveying of a vast array–I mean, like, it’s like a city of product owners and partners and stakeholders–so that we could really see when that information came back, what they thought was really good about us. Because if I go talk to them, they’ll tell me, we’re great. And then they’ll whisper behind my back. But when you guys got the real data for us, we could really see what resonated and what didn’t. And this seems to be where that model is going to fall.

[18:46] Tim Morey: That’s great to hear. Were there surprises in the work? You’ve obviously developed this team and built and established the design presence in AT&T. So when you sort of did this checkpoint, were there things I guess, that surprised you or pleased you? Or things that challenged you and came up as ways to push forward?

[19:08] Andrea Sutton: Yeah, there’s a couple of very big surprises, and it related to my own team’s fear of advocacy when they were side by side with our stakeholders. So they felt that they were low-skilled in advocating for design. And that was really interesting because they had a kind of a consultant mindset where you tell me what to do, instead of an advocacy for the building of the practice. And that helped us a lot because when we started looking at our business literacy program, now we can start to go back to our designers and say, “Listen, you’re the doctor. You have the medicine. You don’t have to just do what you’re told. Now you can advocate and give the right medicine of the design practice to those teams.” So that helped enormously.

[20:00] Tim Morey: Yeah, that is interesting. I think sometimes designers and creatives have a tendency to want to express through the work, you know? Rather than self advocacy or team advocacy, let the work speak for itself. And I think the second challenge is mapping that to business outcomes. And so even as we have become part of corporate America as creatives, and we’ve adopted the language I think of business, sometimes mapping the things we do to direct business outcomes that a stakeholder understands. That’s not something that’s taught in design schools, and I think, or perhaps is not taught as much as it should. And so I think that’s the task we’ve had as frog and it sounds like you’ve had in AT&T: to make sure that your team can point to the results and advocate for it.

[20:44] Andrea Sutton: For sure, you know, Tim, how would you respond to this? It seems like no matter how much business acumen you teach to your designers, their mindset is always going to be different–the characterization of their mind. And the way their minds work are very different from the characterizations of a business person’s mind. And I love that. And I think I’d love your take, because I think when those two, diverse mindsets get together, if they have some common ground to work, great things happen. But man, they’re different, right?

[21:22] Tim Morey: Yeah. And I think that the difference is our strength and to celebrate, rather than, you know, to try to become more business-y. It’s sort of like learning a language: you can learn to speak to somebody in a different language, but your thoughts and mindset are steeped in the culture and the approach that’s yours. And today, more than I think anytime in recent history, business needs creativity. If I look at the CX that’s out there, you know, it’s a sea of sameness. We’ve raised the bar of design excellence across the board. I mean, if I think about tools I use every day in my work or as a consumer, the level has really improved in the last 20 years. But it’s now sort of a benchmark standard. And it’s good, but it’s rather dull and fairly soulless. And often you can’t tell from the software tool or from an experience what brand, what company [it is]. And so I think we need another injection of creativity to say, “Okay, how do we elevate this now to a point where it becomes something memorable and differentiated and unique to the company, and a business competitive advantage again?” And for that, you know, we need creatives to be creative in business rather than creatives to apologize for who they are and how they work.

[22:42] Andrea Sutton: I love that. That’s exactly right. I think it’s gotten to be kind of bland. I mean, I totally agree with you. I think the only thing is that human beings are so sensitive. They’re so sensitive. And I don’t think what we build has even considered half of that yet. I just don’t think what we’re doing takes advantage of the human beings ability to absorb information that we give and to interact with it and respond to it. I just think we’re lackluster still.

[23:15] Tim Morey: Hm, that’s interesting. So do you have examples? Or what kinds of things are you trying to push us beyond that lackluster nature of the experiences we build today?

[23:30] Andrea Sutton: Well, I mean, one of your questions in the pre read had a lot to do with where telco’s going. And I thought that’s interesting to answer this question around [the fact that] we need a depth of computer energy. Now we need these edge computing possibilities so that we can drive more and more complexity into the world so that humans can interact with it. And, you know, I think about some of the droids that are doing remarkable things. The droid dogs that are keeping company for people who are sick. We can’t do that at scale yet, but I think that when we can have a three-dimensional world that responds to people, it will be something that will be more exciting than screen after screen after screen.

[24:22] Tim Morey: Yeah, well, we do seem to have been stuck in a screen paradigm since smartphones came out, or maybe even earlier. So that is an interesting direction. I’ll be curious to see the products and services that you’re developing or pushing in this space as they come out over time.

[24:43] Elizabeth Wood: We’re going to take a short break. When we return, Andrea and Tim will share their insights on building creative culture.


[12:15] Hi, I’m Bethany Brown, Associate Director of Service Design at frog. It’s strange how something so ubiquitous can be so misunderstood, but this is the way for the services that impact our daily lives–from buying groceries to paying bills to accessing healthcare. At frog, we partnered with Savannah College of Art and Design and the Service Design Network to uncover the state of service design in the United States. Check today’s show notes to download the new research report. Find out where all the service designers are hiding, what they’re working on and what’s next for the practice.

Featured in this episode

Download ‘The State of Service Design in the U.S.


[25:26] Elizabeth Wood: Now back to Andrea Sutton, VP of Design Technology, and Timothy Morey, frog’s Global Managing Director.

[25:34] Tim Morey: Let me see, we talked a little bit about the frog and AT&T collaboration and some of the things that you’ve derived from that. Given the scale of our team, how have you leveraged frog? What are the kinds of things that you look to an external partner for? And what are the things that you’ve built or managed internally?

[25:58] Andrea Sutton: You have a wonderful team. I think we’ve tortured them in some ways. I think it’s a sign of the times for both the consulting side with frog and the internal organization side because there is such speed inside big corporations and so many unknowns. I’ve said this to your folks a few times: there’s no such thing as a steady state right now. So everything is like painting a watercolor while you’re standing on a moving surfboard. It just never stops. It just never stops. And your folks have to be very flexible with us. And we have to be very clear about what’s happening when it’s almost impossible to be clear. And I think, admirably both teams have really stretched to try and find the nub of clarity in all that moving to help things along. One of the things that I think you’ve been able to bring to the table for us is the outside perspective. So as an example, if we want to find out where the puck is going in design operations, you have a broad spectrum of what’s happening out there. And working side-by-side, we can get a lot of information from that and then test it in our own organizations to see what works. But on both sides of our relationship equation, we’ve had to stretch a lot because of the speed internally.

[27:37] Tim Morey: The speed, which I see across all of our clients in all industries, it just sounds exhausting. I mean, the thought of painting a watercolor on a surfboard takes all your core strength just to keep it going. But as a creative leader, how do you manage that for your people? And how do you allow them to find the heads down time to do deep thinking and, you know, creative explorations that we need to get to those breakthroughs even as you have this sort of constant time pressure?

[28:11] Andrea Sutton: We tried very much to let the culture come from within the team. Don’t take away from this storyline that we’ve got it nailed. But I will tell you, when we surveyed the team to find out what’s wrong and find the things that are causing them exhaustion, lots of young parents as an example, that’s a very difficult challenge. We try and address the top three things with the team. One of the things that came out of a survey and a challenge that the team brought up to us, one of the results came this thing called the ‘Spirit Committee.’ And at first I was like, “Oh, the Spirit Committee at AT&T…what are we going to do with this?” But the Spirit Committee was quite a wonderful thing where they opened up coffee chats in the middle of the day, blocks of time where they could all just bring a cup of coffee virtually, and talk and rest. And we’ve also put these blocks of time on their calendar where they don’t have to go to meetings. So those two things have helped a bit. But the speed kicks up a challenge that’s even harder to address.

[29:28] Tim Morey: It sounds as if you have a mix of remote colleagues as well as campus-based colleagues. And you know, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot as I’m sure you can imagine over the last two years. But have you seen a difference to your creative culture by being remote? And have you done–sort of practically done–things? You mentioned coffee times and other sort of crafting community building efforts.

[30:00] Andrea Sutton: Trying so hard to figure this out, right, while everything else is going so fast. We have tried a ton of things to keep the culture moving. In a nutshell, the thing that I think is the most important is for the design team to feel that they have a brand and that they are a discrete practice, but within this massive culture of AT&T. And so I’ve let them radically act on their own power in a lot of ways with just a few guardrails. Someone came to me around Christmas time and said, “What present are you sending the team?” And I started to laugh, because, like, if I’d ever had that when I was in a design team, that would have been laughable. I said, “What present do you want?” You know, so we put in the book from Kat Holmes, Mismatch, and a bunch of things to get them through the holidays. But it turned out to be such a welcomed piece and such a bonding piece. And I haven’t seen that in generations prior to this. I’ve not seen that. So this is about unique generations–because most of mine are very early stage, mid-stage career–the unique scale of AT&T, unique skill sets that are really changing the company. So giving them their own power and their drop-in ability at will has been valuable. I’ve got an average tenure of 3.4 years now for people to stay, which I think is pretty good.

[31:35] Tim Morey: Yep, no, that is pretty good. Yeah, that’s interesting. And I do wonder how this will continue to evolve. You know, my feeling was in the early days of COVID, we were dining out on established relationships and creative partnerships that people had built in person. But you know, I have a similar sort of tenure and attrition to you. And so at this point, you know, half the people who work in frog have joined after COVID, and have built relationships and partnerships, and have been doing this great creative work, you know, fully remotely. And as we go forward another two or three years, then we’re going to have an entirely new group and culture. And ensuring that we maintain sort of that creative culture within that, I think, is a fascinating challenge. And really, you know, accelerated by COVID throwing this on us as a way to revolutionize how we work.

[32:26] Andrea Sutton: What’s been your best idea for culture? What’s been your best shot?

[32:35] Tim Morey: We had a super unifying moment called the Make Your Mark Awards, which was a troll of global, you know, ‘best of’ across multiple categories of work. And people wrote up their case studies, made video recordings with the team and submitted them. And we did our first one a few months into COVID lockdown. And I think, even though we were remote, it made the whole global team feel closer than I think we’ve ever felt before. In that, you know, you got sort of a seven minute overview of projects within each category. And then the best of interspersed with musical performances–I mean, it was a proper award show. And we’re actually doing our second one in the new and expanded frog. And, you know, we had I think 130 submissions coming in from teams across the globe. And those moments, I think, have been great in building a creative community even as we are this sort of large and distributed organization.

[33:35] Andrea Sutton: I love that idea. Is it snaggable? You don’t mind if I snag that, do you?

[33:41] Tim Morey: Please go ahead. Yeah, absolutely. We can share our notes and best practices with you on that one.

[33:51] Andrea Sutton: That’d be great.

[33:52] Tim Morey: Switching gears a little bit, how have you helped to instill a customer-first or customer-centric mindset? Not so much with your design colleagues, but with the broader AT&T?

[34:00] Andrea Sutton: That was hard work because it was simply a phrase without meaning in the beginning. And so we had to actually prove it. We actually had to prove that there was a win. And one of the first wins we were able to get acknowledgement for, that the customer mattered, was with a 12-week, absolutely free, no internal chargeback design thinking engagement for one of the product owners. And we had no idea how this was going to come out. But we were trying to help them frame the right question to ask around a specific piece of work that this product owner thought had to get into the marketplace. And the results of a 12-week effort with prototypes and talking to real customers and iterating and iterating and journey maps, and the whole design thinking frame was, you’d be wasting your money in the market to do this. And we were very concerned that when we gave that presentation, we were very concerned that was gonna be the end of design. And the absolute opposite happened. The Vice President was in awe of the results in the case that led up to it and said, “You just saved me $15 million. You just saved me $15 million.” So the fact that really talking to the customer and finding out that they didn’t want what your idea was prescribing was such a big win. And that became a root for what real customer-centric ideas are, or what real customer experience ideas are. That was…that was big.

[35:50] Tim Morey: That’s a great story. And also a reminder that as creatives within an organization, you know, we have this permission to provoke and to say the unsayable and to push the boundaries of thinking in the organization–not to bow to the organizational dynamics in politics. I mean, obviously, we have to be good citizens and fit, but we get–I think we have license. And, yeah, that’s a very powerful, powerful way to demonstrate how bringing this customer-centric view actually enhances the business. And kudos to that executive for sort of seeing it in a positive light, rather than “Oh, no, you just told me my, my project is not going to fly or, you know, my baby’s not beautiful.”

[36:31] Andrea Sutton: So you’re telling me my baby’s ugly?

[36:36] Tim Morey: Always, always a hard message. If you think about the next generation of design leaders coming up through the ranks of your teams now, what advice might you share with them to enable them to make their mark particularly in complex organizations? Because I think we’re going to see more, perhaps not quite at the AT&T scale, but more organizations building large and capable design teams.

[36:59] Andrea Sutton: That’s another thing that keeps me up a little bit at night because I think where that puck is going is a very much more almost political character inside the corporate environment–one who is a constant advocate for design. And what I see in young leaders now at least, certainly some of mine who are brilliant and great, there is a deep love of the work and the unpacking of the work. But I think that advocacy side has to be exaggerated as we get into more and more complex systems. I don’t know how yet to bring that to bear. And we’re doing things a little experimentally. Now, honestly, Tim, to push my design leaders out into the fray a little more and make them do some of the kinds of things that at the vice president level you typically do so that they kind of warm to that. And we’ve started to use the term ‘prescriptive’ with the business. In other words, you need to be the doctor of design, not the consultant of design. And I think if you look at the kinds of AI that are going to come into play, and the orchestration of AI, we don’t even touch orchestration of AI yet, but when designers have to orchestrate multiple AI inputs and make choices for design, and when design starts to be partially designed and partially coded–which I don’t think is so far away–designers have to rise another level so that they understand those systems and the advocacy needed around those systems to bring the business along with them for a business or a customer. Do you agree with that?

[38:53] Tim Morey: Yeah, I think you’re right, and that’s a really interesting journey. I hadn’t thought about it in terms of advocacy, but I see where you’re going with that. Instead of being the master craftsperson of the design and the design process itself, aspects of that may become automated. And therefore you are the person defending the strategic choices behind that, understanding the impact on the business, and trying to explain that to our colleagues in other parts of the business as to why it matters.

[39:25] Andrea Sutton: And how to keep instinct alive. That’s another side of that coin. Because there are things that a human being can do that AI will never give us. And there’s an instinctive sensory moment that a good advocate can dissuade an organization from an AI point of view. Yeah, the AI can tell you that it’s a lot cheaper to build a network in this direction, as an example. But wouldn’t it be great if you could turn the tables on the AI and put it in a different direction and actually serve people in a way that hadn’t been thought of before? And those are the kinds of things I think that we’re going to get into in the not too distant future where designers are going to have to advocate for the customer against what the data says.

[40:22] Tim Morey: Some of my colleagues in frog and I’m sure some of your designers are fantastic storytellers and highly persuasive people. But there’s a whole other archetype of designer who likes to express themselves through the work and who I sort of think of as the talented person in the cupboard, you know, behind the scenes. They’re not even really that keen on standing up and presenting or defending the work with product management, and so on. So I think that skill, that storytelling and being comfortable taking a stand, is going to be ever more critical with our teams.

[40:57] Andrea Sutton: Yeah, how many years away do you think we are from that? I know we’re moving towards it, but when do you think?

[41:03] Tim Morey: Yeah, I think, you know, always hard to Futurecast and make predictions. But if I look at the pace of adoption of new tools and, you know, Figma comes to mind, where really it sort of came from nowhere to being the utterly dominant tool in a very short space of time. And I think it may be like that, that we would have AI-driven tools that sort of emerge and then get rapid, rapid adoption. So my pat answer would be three to five years. But I know that’s safe. What are you seeing? Do you think it’s sooner?

[41:41] Andrea Sutton: I would say that, too. I, you know…you saying that, I give myself a point because that’s kind of where I would have landed it as well. And I do see the speed ridiculously fast. That edge computing, again, has to come into play. Where are those? Those radios have to connect across, you know, vast environments, so that you can go from one thought to the next and one experience to the next. But I think it’s three to five years away, too.

[42:08] Tim Morey: We’ll watch this space. Can I switch to some of the fun questions? I’m told you get by on four to five hours of sleep. Is that true? How do you thrive on that little sleep?

[42:19] Andrea Sutton: You can look this up. I think it’s called the ARB1 gene. There are people that–I’ve been like this my whole life, but I didn’t know it–and then they found the gene. I just thought I was an insomniac. But yeah, it’s great actually. I’m never tired..

[42:36] Tim Morey: That’s a great gene, it must make you so productive. Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister was famously, famously a four-hours sleep per night person and she would spend the time reading briefings and so on. So what an amazing gift. So tell me about the musical instruments that you play.

[42:56] Andrea Sutton: I play blues guitar and I’ve played blues guitar for a really long time. And someday when I don’t do design anymore, I’m going to just go to the Mississippi Delta in the middle of the south and I’m going to find the last great blues guitar players and play with them. But that’s the roots of American music there and it’s just always been fascinating to me.

[43:20] Tim Morey: Yeah, that sounds like a wonderful plan. Growing up in the UK, a lot of UK rock and pop in the 60s and 70s was heavily influenced by blues as you know, and yeah, so it’s music I grew up with as well.

[43:33] Andrea Sutton: Your guys actually exposed me to the Muddy Waters of the world and yeah, it was the Rolling Stones that really awakened me to it.

[43:42] Tim Morey: Yep, it’s a fascinating history. Well, Andrea, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been really great to speak with you and to swap notes on creative teams and the role you’re playing within AT&T, so thank you for your partnership with frog and thank you for your wonderful thoughts.

[44:00] Andrea Sutton: Wouldn’t change it. Really great to meet you, Tim. Thank you so much. It’s been really fun.

[44:07] Tim Morey: My pleasure.

[44:09] Elizabeth Wood: That’s our show. The Design Mind frogcast was brought to you by frog, a leading global creative consultancy that is part of Capgemini Invent. Check today’s show notes for transcripts and more from our conversation. We really want to thank Andrea Sutton, VP of Design Technology at AT&T, and Timothy Morey, Global Managing Director at frog, for joining us to share their experience and expertise leading creative teams and helping design skeptics become design advocates.

[44:37] Elizabeth Wood: We also want to thank you, dear listener. If you like what you heard, tell your friends. Rate and review to help others find us on Apple Podcasts and  Spotify . And be sure to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Find lots more to think about from our global frog team at frog.co/designmind. That’s frog.co. Follow frog on Twitter at @frogdesign and @frog_design on Instagram. And if you have any thoughts about the show, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at frog.co/contact. Thanks for listening. Now go make your mark.  

Timothy Morey
 Timothy Morey
Timothy Morey

Tim leads a global team of business and product strategists who work alongside frog designers and technologists to bring game changing innovations to market. He has worked in Silicon Valley for 15 years in a variety of product, strategy and marketing roles.

Elizabeth Wood
Host, Design Mind frogcast & Editorial Director, frog Global Marketing
Elizabeth Wood
Elizabeth Wood
Host, Design Mind frogcast & Editorial Director, frog Global Marketing

Elizabeth tells design stories for frog. She first joined the New York studio in 2011, working on multidisciplinary teams to design award-winning products and services. Today, Elizabeth works out of the London studio on the global frog marketing team, leading editorial content.

She has written and edited hundreds of articles about design and technology, and has given talks on the role of content in a weird, digital world. Her work has been published in The Content Strategist, UNDO-Ordinary magazine and the book Alone Together: Tales of Sisterhood and Solitude in Latin America (Bogotá International Press).

Previously, Elizabeth was Communications Manager for UN OCHA’s Centre for Humanitarian Data in The Hague. She is a graduate of the Master’s Programme for Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London.

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