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Spotify’s Vicki Tan: Learning from new voices

Spotify’s Vicki Tan: Learning from new voices

Episode 58 of the Design Better Podcast

Vicki Tan has worked at companies that change the way we travel, think about our mental health, and access music from around the globe. To each of these roles she has brought her background in psychology, to better understand the needs of the people using these products.

We chat with Vicki about some of the things she has learned over the course of her career, from Lyft to Headspace to Spotify, the ways that the pandemic has changed her work and her creative process, and how her team does research. 

Vicki also talks about why she regularly takes a sabbatical from her work, and why “finding umami” is important to figuring out the core mission of a company. 

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Vicki Tan is an Associate Principal Product Designer at Spotify Earlier in her career, she was a senior product designer at Headspace, worked on communication and UX design at Google, and product design at Lyft. According to Frank Yoo, design director at Lyft, Vicki “is positive and thoughtful and puts as much care into people and teams as she does creating the artifacts themselves.”  

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Summary (via ChatGPT)

Vicki Tan, an Associate Principal Product Designer at Spotify, shares insights from her career at companies like Lyft, Headspace, Google, and Spotify. She emphasizes the importance of self-coherence, taking sabbaticals, and finding one's unique value as a designer. Vicki discusses the concept of burnout versus being burned up and the need for individuals to reconstellate their lives and values. She also reflects on the impact of the pandemic on creativity and collaboration in the design process.


  • Vicki Tan brings her background in psychology to her design roles, aiming to understand user needs better.

  • She took a year off to explore self-employment and self-coherence after feeling overworked in the tech industry.

  • Vicki believes in the value of sabbaticals and distributed retirement, which can lead to new perspectives and re-energization.

  • She describes the difference between burnout (out of fuel) and being burned up (no hopes of rekindling) and advocates for self-recovery and reconstellating one's life.

  • The pandemic has affected Vicki's creative process, making it harder to find motivation and excitement without external stimuli.

  • Working remotely has allowed Vicki more time to work alone and build confidence in her ideas, but she also recognizes the importance of collaboration.

  • The long-term impact of the pandemic on the design process and teamwork is still uncertain


  • Vicki Tan brings her background in psychology to her design roles, aiming to understand user needs better.

  • She took a year off to explore self-employment and self-coherence after feeling overworked in the tech industry.

  • Vicki believes in the value of sabbaticals and distributed retirement, which can lead to new perspectives and re-energization.

  • She describes the difference between burnout (out of fuel) and being burned up (no hopes of rekindling) and advocates for self-recovery and reconstellating one's life.

  • The pandemic has affected Vicki's creative process, making it harder to find motivation and excitement without external stimuli.

  • Working remotely has allowed Vicki more time to work alone and build confidence in her ideas, but she also recognizes the importance of collaboration.

  • The long-term impact of the pandemic on the design process and teamwork is still uncertain.


Speaker 1 (00:00):

Vicki Tan. Welcome to the Design Better Podcast.

Vicki Tan (00:03):

Hi Eli. Hi Aaron. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be chatting with you both.

Speaker 1 (00:09):

We're very excited to have you here. And the last time I chatted with you was at the front conference where we were both giving a talk and we capture that interview also undesigned better. And at that time, you somewhat recently transitioned from Lyft to Headspace. So we talked a little bit about your career up to that point. We'll include a link with that in the show notes, if people want to catch up, but for now, we were really interested in your transition from Headspace to Spotify. And how has your perspective on design and leadership changed from your times there to your current role?

Vicki Tan (00:43):

Wow, that feels like so long ago. I think mostly because of the pandemic and the time warp that we're all experiencing now. But when I was leaving Headspace, that was 2019 and I was just feeling really over tech. So I decided to take a year off to explore self-employment or more specifically, I was interested in this idea of self coherence. And what I mean by that is I was looking for a situation that working, earning money that would allow me to make decisions and choices that felt right for me, where I wouldn't be constantly forced to compromise where I could live and speak my values, where I wouldn't feel like stuck in misunderstanding or kind of constrained by these expectations that it wasn't really interested in. So I say that because working at many tech companies can often feel unsustainable because they feel like that, or they feel like the opposite of what I described I want.

Vicki Tan (01:52):

And I think having that constant tension is what leads to burnout or even worse being completely burned up. So I took the better part of a year to just focus on clarifying, like what are my personal attendants values and really being able to tune into why. And when things felt off when certain knobs were turned up or down, and that process like that time I spent with creative coach was just so valuable for my design and how I lead as a designer, that mindset coming into my current position at Spotify and from the outset, like when I was interviewing for the job. And now when I'm working with all sorts of different teams, I found it really useful to be just crystal clear about my approach and the unique value that I, as this type of self coherent designer bring to their team. And, you know, it's never easy to be the voice of question or descent in big forms, especially, but I think we just need much more of that.

Speaker 3 (03:03):

Talk to us a little bit about that feeling of burnout and how you knew that you had kind of hit the edge of what you were capable of. And then, you know, what's it like to take that leap and say, you know what, I'm going to step away from a full-time job that has health care and benefits and so forth. I'm going to be on my own.

Vicki Tan (03:23):

Yeah. So a long time ago I heard Stefan Sagmeister talk about his perspective on sabbaticals and it kind of just clicked for me so well, so that I've naturally adopted it as this like self justified response to burnout. And his explanation of a typical life timeline is that, you know, the first 25 years or so, you're devoted to learning you're in school and the next 40 you are working full time for most of your days. And then you spend the final 25 or more before lucky in retirement. But the question that he asks is why don't we cut off five years of that retirement and intersperse them into our working years. I think of this as like a distributed retirement of sorts that you can kind of enjoy during the different phases of your life. And more than that, I think it's really cool because whatever explorations or side projects that you work on during that time, they create these dividends back in creativity, which are just worth their weight in gold, because you come back to whatever role you come back to with new perspectives and hopefully you're inspired and feeling kind of re-energized.

Vicki Tan (04:44):

So at this point, you know, I've done that quit pause, restart cycle a few times now, and I'm going to be honest, it gets less scary each time, but I think it's worth acknowledging that there is going to naturally be a ton of fear around losing that security because, you know, having health care, having retirement, those are real things, really important things, especially depending on your life situation, your support network, things like that. But what I do want to say, what I do think we tend to undervalue is the relative ease of going back into a full-time job. And there's this whole category of cognitive biases that cause us to shy away from things that are unknown or less certain or more risky because we as humans are just loss averse for good reason. But the reality is if you were easily employed at the time, you found your current role and you leave with strong references, you know, good, good bridges.

Vicki Tan (05:50):

There's really no reason why you couldn't put in the effort to find another job in six months or a year plus later. But there's one thing I also want to acknowledge, which is that the feeling of burnout, um, that you were asking about? I think it's completely changed due to these years that we've been spending in the pandemic. And when I clarify burned out versus burned up earlier, I was specifically referencing this newsletter by Mandy brown, where she talks about how there's something off about that word burnout. And she describes burnout. Is this visual of being out of fuel or kind of like this tank run dry or a fire with just a few embers left, but that's not quite right for what we're feeling right now, because that concept assumes that we're these empty vessels just in need of refueling. Whereas the idea of just being burned up is completely different, burned up invokes this like pile of Ash with no hopes of rekindling. And that's how a lot of us feel right now from there. I think we have to ask ourselves like what might rise up from that heap of Ash and how can we do that?

Speaker 3 (07:07):

I think that's a message that probably resonates with a lot of people coming out of the pandemic and our value systems sort of recalibrated or, you know, just coming into clarity of what's really important.

Vicki Tan (07:20):

Yeah, exactly. And I think it's surprising that anyone wouldn't feel burned out being consumed by, you know, this culture that we live in, which is obsessed with productivity and individual achievement and ladder climbing. I think sadly we've started to accept it as natural as the air around us. But what I hope will happen is that people will start to see this cycle of kind of perpetually burning out and refreshing and burning out and refreshing as, as unsustainable and realize that they are actually burned up. And once we give ourselves time to recover, we can just take stock of why that happened and then change our situation so that the next cycle will be stronger or more self coherent than the last a term. My friend Buster introduced to me the other day, he called re constellating, which I think describes this process perfectly. And as he says, re constellating is not about like wiping out or starting all over.

Vicki Tan (08:29):

It's more of this dismantling or shaking of an existing pattern in a way that can help you see the parts within the whole again. And, you know, taking that time off, taking that sabbatical. I just think that that can allow for the time and the space that you need to kind of shift and wiggle. And re-imagine how those pieces can fit together. I love this idea because it's about reusing the same pieces. You're not throwing things out. You're not going to live on a desert island. You're, re-imagining what you have and how you can shift things to better fit in this moment in your life. There's something really kind of beautiful about that. And, you know, he says that this new constellation of course, will also eventually lose coherence and become just the future pieces for another re constellation in the future. It's this exact type of cycle that I'm hoping people will become more curious about for themselves.

Speaker 1 (09:41):

I think you maybe talk a little bit about what your work and what your creative process was like pre pandemic and how it kind of shifted and what things you're going to carry forward from that

Vicki Tan (09:52):

Pre pandemic. I think I had a similar creative process to everyone else. My routine was wake up, try to exercise, maybe just commute work all day, come home for dinner, shower, and sleep. And some days were productive and others were less productive, but they always included different physical spaces, people, food of course, and human interactions and outside of work, going to galleries or museums like going on nature adventures, hanging out with friends, reading tons of books, traveling to new cities, absorbing things with new eyes, like all of that daily, weekly, monthly interaction help my mind loosen and flex to feel just equipped and energized for being creative. So in other words, my creative process felt very much in partnership with all of those external stimuli that I just listed off. But nowadays we've lost so much of that and it feels like our space and our worlds have gotten just much smaller, but smaller isn't necessarily bad.

Vicki Tan (11:09):

They've gotten much more intimate. And so my current routine looks more like, yeah, I wake up, I stay at home all day and whenever I feel stagnant, I walk my dog, Charlie along just, you know, one of 15 various paths along Hills within some three mile radius of my house, to be honest, sometimes feels like I'm like this gold fish in a really small tank or even a character in a SIM where they haven't finished world-building. And that is all to say, it just feels much harder to get motivated or excited when you're constantly talking into a screen or constrained to the same square footage of your apartment. And on top of that, the way we as tech people are expected to work nowadays is to communicate constantly. Like our days are just filled with this barrage of incoming messages back and forth, back forth, or on slack or an email.

Vicki Tan (12:15):

Sometimes we get texts, uh, and it's this state of like constant and anxious chatter where it feels like nobody can disconnect now that everyone is remote and in different time zones. And I think the result of that is no one has real cognitive bandwidth to perform really good work, especially if you're a creative lacking the normal stimuli for your creative process. And now kind of shoved into this little box and a silver lining or this byproduct of my specific pandemic working conditions of not being in the same city and time zone as my team is, is that I now have a lot more time to work alone, which means that I now do a lot more of my deep thinking and processing alone. And weirdly working in this way has forced me to build more confidence and conviction around my ideas because rather than waiting for someone to respond on slack or getting like real-time input to help me shape an idea, the idea often I'm finding it just matures on its own within my brain, as I'm taking a walk or as I'm kind of going about my evening. And while of course this happens naturally, and I'm not saying we shouldn't collaborate. I think what we do need to do, and what we might have an opportunity to do now is to really investigate the threshold of useful collaboration and what needs to stay and what needs to go. And I think we, as designers, we can start to practice having and building that same conviction in our ideas before we share them out. Like, what's that saying? Uh, Shong opinions loosely held, right?

Speaker 3 (14:12):

Vicki, do you think the creative process, the way that designers work in teams and work on things individually hand those off to others have critiques design reviews, will that be forever changed in any way? How do you see that manifesting in your work at Spotify today?

Vicki Tan (14:32):

I truly think that's still TBD. And I think that's going to depend on how many of us end up going back into the office to work co located or synchronously, or if we stayed distributed and working from home. And that's something we sort of won't know until, until later, but at Spotify, like many companies, we've been really reliant on the whole getting together in a room and figuring it out way of working, whether it be a design sprint or an offsite. And, you know, for the first half Fisher or more of the pandemic, when we thought it was a shorter term thing, I think we were really just trying to emulate what was working well in person in a virtual setting, but getting into a virtual meeting room for eight hours a day for five days a week, somehow has the opposite effect of, of a design sprint it's draining and to try and facilitate something like that or to be engaged in participatory in that type of situation is really difficult.

Vicki Tan (15:37):

And I think it hasn't been until somewhat recently that we've tried to meaningfully change this way of working, but I don't, I don't think we're quite there yet to my earlier point. I do think if we were all stuck at home for a bit longer, we might take that bigger swing. We might make that drastic change. We might experiment more, but instead it feels like the end of this way of working is kind of, um, near enough and enough people can go back into the office soon enough so that we might just fall back into our old ways of working. But I do think there's an exciting prospect. If we can change how we work. I think asynchronous, remote teams have this chance to like fundamentally change and improve design teams and processes. So like in this world, imagine how the conversation would change. If everyone had the same opportunity to speak up, regardless of their leveling or their personality, like today, we are driven by the leaders in the room, hippo, highest paid person's opinion, the extroverts, the people who are courageous enough to speak up, who can process things quickly and speak loudly.

Vicki Tan (17:02):

And when things are remote, I think it necessitates asynchronicity and that, that can equalize different voices and opinions that aren't usually heard that I think need to be heard. And so I would imagine that this would create more time for consideration for people to self filter. And I think naturally it would mean that there is less of this like hive mind group thing happening. I think that could be a net positive for design teams.

Speaker 1 (17:38):

Nikki, when you joined Spotify, if I'm getting the story right, you joined as a high level individual contributor, or did you have a team?

Vicki Tan (17:46):

Yeah, I joined as an principal designer, which is what they call a high level. I see. And at Spotify, after you reach senior product designer, you can decide to branch off. So you can take the manager path or the principal path, and both roles are thinking strategically about design. But I think the difference is as a manager, you're more focused on teams and projects and all of the details and things to do with the humans that belong to those teams and your impact is created through others. Whereas as a principal, we focus on really just design craft and, and leading by example. And our output is, is just boast to be, um, exceptional design work.

Speaker 1 (18:42):

Just continuing with that theme. Do you have any advice for people who are either considering that transition to manager or who want to stay more connected to their craft as an individual contributor?

Vicki Tan (18:54):

Of course. Yeah. I mean, if you're considering the transition, I would ask you to ask yourself what really gets you going, you know, what do you find yourself speaking up about or just really passionate about? Is it the design details and the pixels are systems animations interactions and the latest design tools, or do you find yourself gravitating towards organizational efficiency and processes and shaping your team and mentoring teammates, things like that? I think it's also good to remember just like the example of quitting your job or taking a sabbatical that these paths are not one directional at all, or set in stone. And you can always choose to go down one path for a couple of years and become a manager and then switch paths to the principal path and go the other way around. I think you'll likely become a better designer all said and done

Speaker 3 (20:00):

Vicky, you gave a talk. I think it was last year called finding umami and the moral of the story. There was about identifying kind of a core mission of what's important. And you were speaking about it on a company level of like, what is the mission of this company? What are we trying to accomplish? And you pointed out that a lot of the times, the things that we're tracking and we're reporting on, which are the things that we are inherently establishing as a value system, this is the most important thing that we should do. We should invest our time in, but not everything that counts can be counted. Could you talk to us about that, about where companies get that wrong and how you think about that balance of, you know, there are OKR is to be reported on there's a business that has to be sustainable, but how do we build sustaining businesses in a different way in that more mission driven way?

Vicki Tan (21:00):

Yeah, of course. So let me just remind folks that the central thesis of finding mommy was that we've really fooled ourselves into thinking that we are mission-oriented companies. When let's be honest, we are profit driven companies that are operating under a lofty guise of a mission. And I think it's just a fatal flaw in nearly all the companies I've worked at, the companies that we work at, that we've confused revenue with value. And if we can think about this problem at the micro mezzo and macro scopic levels, I think that's a really helpful way of structuring how we're thinking. So at the micro level, we, you know, we might be able to start to track more meaningful metrics that I'm calling umami metrics that are aligned with our mission. You know, at Headspace, I gave the example of health outcomes, maybe indicators of happiness at Lyft.

Vicki Tan (22:04):

It could be community cohesion or driver wellbeing, maybe at Spotify. We actually start to track artist and creator livelihood to see if we're impacting them. But the problem with this approach is that we are still limited by the flawed nature of all metrics. So at the macro level, I think we really just need to feel the urgency around creating a broader notion of stakeholder value. And I think we need to start becoming comfortable just generally letting go of, of measurements and just going more with our instincts and intuition, which take time to build up and take a lot of risks when we get it wrong. And I talk a lot about the importance of this like soft mushy stuff. But I, I don't mean when I say it soft and mushy, I don't mean that it's not important. I just think that it's a little bit harder to grasp, and I think we stay away from it for that reason. But I truly think that if we can practice listening to our intuition and our gut about when something feels right and good for the world, we'll be better off. And I think we all know the fundamental change that needs to happen, but no one wants to be the first to take the leap to shift from the short-term thinking that we're stuck in now to this long view,

Speaker 3 (23:36):

Just a one to point out to listeners who are interested in this topic that Brian Chesky, who was on the show last season, talked a fair bit about this, about existential threats to the business, and sometimes doing the right thing is taking that long view, instead of just thinking about the immediate moment and that changes the way you run a business and ultimately can save a business from difficult times,

Vicki Tan (24:02):

Two books that have greatly influenced how I think about these topics are one. This could be our future by Yancey Strickler, he's the co-founder of Kickstarter and time loops by Eric Wargo. And the first one in the auntie's book, he introduces this concept of Ben twoism, which is a framework for how to expand our concept of value, not just in tech, but, but in life. And if you can imagine this X and Y access, um, of time on one, and self-interest on the other, he talks about how we usually live in the me and the now, because we have, um, needs, you know, we need to be fed and we need to be safe. And, and a lot of how we operate comes from that place. But if we can take a step back to extend those vectors of time from now to the future and the other vector of self-interest from me to us, it can really help to expand our concept of success.

Vicki Tan (25:11):

And by assigning rational value to other things, besides money, things like community and purpose and sustainability, we can really refocus our energy to build this new society that feels much more generous and fair and just ready for our future. So his whole book is about recalibrating our definition of value and how that can create a world of abundance. I really recommend reading that. And he also has kind of group discussions weekly about this framework in Eric's book time loops. It's a, it's a little bit less, you know, business-y a little more scifi, but he introduces this mind-bending concept of us as the long self or this four dimensional creature. And the idea is that we are at every moment, a whole life, like a whole biography from birth to death and each day or each moment, we can only see like one, one moment of it, one page of it.

Vicki Tan (26:23):

But when you can start to grasp the concept of the long self, you realize that the past and the future are just inextricably interconnected, and rather than constantly referencing the short term, or as I kind of think about it, this singular sheet of paper this moment, this day, if we can instead hold the entire stack of papers or the entire book or biography in our hand, in our consideration, then that encyclopedic view of us could be so much more meaningful. And I think both of these concepts are so similar and just, I'm so interested in, in kind of learning more about how to apply this type of thinking to the work that we do on our product teams. I think truly that the ripples could be so impactful.

Speaker 1 (27:17):

Vicki, you've worked at some mission driven companies like Headspace and now Spotify, and had the sabbatical in between. How do you think about connecting your own work to your own personal mission and how has that changed over time?

Vicki Tan (27:32):

Yeah, I spend all this time talking about mission driven companies. I'm not sure I've actually verbalized my own personal mission before. Um, but I do have a set of personal values that I try to uphold in aspects of my life, which, you know, a few of them like the first one I call ready for the world. And this one's all about freedom and adventure, independence and exploration. I actually wrote a little post on medium about this another one I call wise and warm, which kind of encapsulates this leadership style that I aspire towards being credible, thoughtful, intentional, truthful, and just in pursuit of knowledge, this one is very aspirational, but there's a handful more of these that I try to connect to no matter what I'm working on, whether personal or for work. And in that way, they really helped me identify when something feels Intune or out of line with what I guess I would consider my personal mission of self coherence and helping all of us make decisions that are in this broader self-interest.

Vicki Tan (28:48):

And so during my sabbatical, this took the form of an interactive book on bias, and this was a side kind of passion project that I had where I wanted to create a book that was meant to help people learn about and minimize cognitive biases that might be affecting how we make everyday decisions. And at some point during adulthood, I had this realization that we learn so many theoretical things in school that are meant to help us do y'all have entry, biology, history, you name it. But what we don't truly learn is a process for making sound rational decisions for ourselves, which can be this big task or even a small task that we're faced with daily. And the design, the like the exciting part of the book for me was that I was experimenting with, uh, concept of movable spreads. And I hoped that the tactile kind of simplicity of being able to interact with this visual scenario of being able to move the spread, to see it with and without the bias, I really hope that that would help people grasp what was going on in our minds.

Vicki Tan (30:04):

Nowadays at Spotify, I try to find projects that still helped me connect to my personal values in the same way. So I'm on the podcast monetization team, which is focusing on like the technical and experiential parts that can help creators of big and small audience sizes to be able to make money off of their podcasting. And while helping people make money to support their craft is, is important to me, the exciting part is this net effect of, you know, if we can help all sorts of creators, make more money, we can get more creators on platform. And when we democratize access to audio, audio creation, we start to include this much wider spectrum of diverse voices from different backgrounds. And these are people who might not normally have the resources or time or knowledge or even confidence to write and produce a podcast. And over time, what happens is we start to amass this huge audio knowledge base of information of, of stories, of like lessons that we don't normally hear from, from people who we don't normally hear from on a platform that is incredibly easy to access and to share. So this type of work appeals to me, because it really aligns with that future us concept that I was talking about. I think it helps us all be a little bit better.

Speaker 1 (31:41):

Reminds me a little bit of a project in a class. I teach a student took on where there, this is Jason, but they wanted to preserve rare languages. And so they're going about and asking people to tell our stories and languages that are disappearing. So you can imagine podcasting be one medium for cultures or stories that, you know, need a way to get out to the world or to be preserved one way for them to do that.

Vicki Tan (32:04):

That's the other part of podcasting that gets me going, and there's a lot that it has such a high potential to reach this whole other group of people who aren't being well served by the mediums that are available today. Because as a consumer sitting down and reading a full book, I think it's pretty rare nowadays. And as a creator, making a documentary or even a YouTube quickly on your phone is, is a non-trivial effort. Like it takes time to plan it and record it and edit it. And podcasting on the other hand can have this lightweight, intimate, and accessible, very niche feel, and it fits so well in this gap that exists today in this content consumption landscape.

Speaker 3 (32:52):

How does your team do research to better understand the relationships with these audio formats? You know, where people listen to them at what time, what their intentions are, the things that are most attractive to them. Talk to us about your research process.

Vicki Tan (33:11):

Yeah, I think our research process is very similar to those at other companies. We have early stage ethnographic, foundational exploratory studies. When we're ideating, we have concept testing with broad ideas for when we want to kind of narrow in on designs and of course, usability testing for refinement, but two things we have to pay attention to specifically to your point about all of these audio formats is, is one the content. So we started off, like you said, as a music platform, and now we have talk audio content as well, podcasts, audio books, kind of sleep stories. And what's interesting to think about is how people think about this content similarly and differently. You know, podcasts, you may not play over and over, but music tracks, of course you will. And how do we use what we learn in these research studies to design the optimal experiences for both side-by-side?

Vicki Tan (34:18):

I think that's just a challenging thing that research is so helpful with. And the other part is background experiences. If we're doing our job well, you shouldn't have to be spending very much time in the Spotify app. This is where a diary studies and looking at the data coming back are helpful supplements to the qualitative user research process. So what we do is we, you know, we talk to our listeners, we, we rely on them to tell us their firsthand experience. And then we supplement our understanding with these quantitative measures. What's funny is that when I reflect about these, the last three places that I worked at, which are currently Spotify, but Headspace and Lyft, all of these experiences, if done right, you shouldn't be looking at the app when you're spending most of your time with the service. And so the UI is just kind of the one last layer of consideration.

Speaker 3 (35:18):

It's also interesting that your current role and in your previous role, you were present during a pretty significant strategic evolution and designing a product to do something totally new, like a new category, podcasting and music might seem like it's kind of the same thing because it's audio, but it's a totally different mindset and a different use case and Headspace, meditation and sleep, and also exercise like very different use cases. Could you talk to us about designing through that evolutionary phase?

Vicki Tan (35:57):

Yeah. There are so many things to think through on the design and content architecture side, as you evolve from an app built for one content type to an app that can gracefully has many. And when I think back to when we only had one, it's almost like this luxurious, simple feeling. But beyond that, I think that the most important thing I've learned about designing through that type of phase is, is that we need really strong leadership. We need them to have conviction in their vision and whatever that end goal is. And even more than when you're designing a performance feature or trying to optimize something, increase subs or retention, I'm looking out for leading metrics. I think this type of work during, as you call this evolutionary phase requires much more trust and patience. It, it reminds me of this parenting analogy. I'm not a parent, but I have parent friends and I learned of this analogy of the carpenter and the gardener.

Vicki Tan (37:08):

And so for this story, let's just imagine our product teams are our children, which they kind of are, but the carpenter thinks that their child kind of can be molded like a carpenter, builds a chair where they go through steps to assemble pieces of wood to build that chair. And the idea is that, similarly, if you can get your kid to do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you're going to be able to shape them into a particular kind of adult. The gardener on the other hand is less concerned about controlling who the child will become and instead provides this protected space to explore. And it very much feels like a gardener planting seeds and then tending to their garden as needed because this style is all about making sure that the soil or the environment, the ecosystem is, is rich and nutritious, but also variable and, and diverse and dynamic.

Vicki Tan (38:13):

And so through the strange analogy, I think if we focus too much on what our products will be, how they will perform, I think the exact opposite is likely to happen. And because we're so busy being so concerned about our metrics and our outcome, the revenue, we start to become unwilling to give our teams that autonomy that they need. And it's the same thing that we've been talking all along with holding the long view, trying to avoid what Brian called existential threats to the company. I think that's going to be so important to get alignment on before you start digging in, when you're in this phase,

Speaker 3 (38:56):

Vicky, what are you passionate about these days outside of your work at Spotify? You talked a little bit about your book on bias. Is that still going? Are there other passions that you're pursuing?

Vicki Tan (39:07):

Yes. Well, sadly for now I've put the book on pause, but just temporarily one of the major challenges I ran into while I was working on it was that, well, I'm not a writer and I'm not a behavioral scientist and I'm not an illustrator. And I have no experience making interactive books spreads, and these are all the skills or all the people that I would imagine working with to make the book, my dream book. So I think during this dormant period of the pandemic, as we all figure out how to work at home and live at work and still be creative through all that, I'm slowly cultivating these new skills and perspectives that I hope will help me be able to kind of restart the book later in, in earnest and with more confidence. But for the last few months I've been taking this paper engineering class with a friend Kelly Anderson, she's this incredible designer and artist who made those pop-up books.

Vicki Tan (40:14):

You might've heard the two well-known ones are, this book is a camera and this book is a planetarium and in the class, her lectures are so great. Uh, they sort of talk more high level about concepts around paper. Um, uh, there are mixed between art and science technology, the real world, and, you know, sprinkling a little healthy distrust of the tech world. Um, it feels really cross-disciplinary and, um, tangible. And it's gotten me to think a lot about paper as a form, as a medium, but also this stimulus and one of the very original and lo-fi technologies that we use to interface with the world and like understand the structure of the world. And we were reading this book that kind of explain this concept of humans being physical beings. And, and to us paper is something that we have learned to entrust ourselves to it's very intimate, like a place where we can express our thoughts and more than just a place to kind of record or write down texts.

Vicki Tan (41:33):

There's this idea that the contact with the whiteness, the crispness, the blankness of paper becomes such an important part of expressing thought and the process of imagination and creativity and ideas. They change. Once you have seen what you've written and you can read it back to yourself, you can have this type of dialogue with paper. And it really, to me, I started to see it as, um, a representation of a way to listen and reconcile your own voice from the outside. Um, so that kind of brings us full circle to some of the stuff I was talking about, about the creative process during the pandemic post pandemic about single sheets of paper are biography, creativity's IFI, and the long self you've gotten a window into the swirl. That is my mind. And I'm thinking there's probably another talk in the works somewhere in there. As soon as I sorted out

Speaker 3 (42:39):

Robert [inaudible] has some of the most amazing calling them pop-up books is selling them short, but books, that challenge your idea of what a book can be animate. They move, they bring a story to life that those are worth checking out Vicki. Where can people go learn more about you and the work you're doing?

Vicki Tan (42:58):

You can find me on Twitter at Vicky heart, and you can follow my dog, Charlie, on Instagram at Charlie polar bear. And hopefully one day you can find my book on bias in your local bookstore,

Speaker 1 (43:15):

Vicky tan. I was wonderful having you and thanks so much for being on the design better podcast.

Vicki Tan (43:20):

Eli, Erin, thank you so much for having me and catching up and listening to my long ramblings. It's been so great talking.

Design Better
Design Better
Design Better co-hosts Eli Woolery and Aarron Walter explore the intersection of design, technology, and the creative process through conversations with inspiring guests across many creative fields. Whether you’re design curious or a design pro, Design Better is guaranteed to inspire and inform. Episodes are released semi-weekly for free subscribers, weekly for premium subscribers. Vanity Fair calls Design Better, “sharp, to the point, and full of incredibly valuable information for anyone looking to better understand how to build a more innovative world.”