Design Gurus Summit: Q&A with Tom Hacohen, Head of Design at Houzz
Tom Hacohen is the head of design at Houzz, the leading platform for home renovation and design, where she is responsible for design strategy and execution across product and brand. Tom led the complete redesign of the Houzz website and apps, creating the blueprint for the Houzz brand and visual design language. Prior to joining Houzz, she worked as a lead branding designer for Adler Brands (Grey Israel) and as a graphic designer for influential media publications in Israel. Tom studied design and visual communications at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Tel Aviv.
She will be speaking at the Uncharted Minds Design Gurus Summit on September 19th. Click here to get 20% off tickets to the event.
Q. When you were growing up, were you always interested in art and design?
A. Yes, I was born to a very creative family. My dad is an economist and an artist, and my mom is a TV producer. As a child, I was always exposed to different forms of art, media, creative ideas and craft techniques. I would spend time painting and drawing at my dad’s workshop and on the production sets with my mom. At first, I wanted to be a photographer. When I was 16, I got an old Pentax camera, and started taking photos and developing them in darkrooms. I really enjoyed creating compositions in beautiful frames. I started noticing compositions everywhere, and began collecting print posters, postcards and magazines in a big box. I learned that those materials were created by graphic designers and decided that’s what I wanted to be.
Q. What were some early influences on your career choice?
A. When I moved to the Bay Area about five years ago, I was amazed by the power design had in the tech industry. I was still doing a lot of branding work, but also wanted to learn everything I could about the digital world and quickly fell in love with product design. I took coding classes and a UX class, read everything I could find and met with many people from different companies. I loved how the local design industry was open to sharing knowledge through design talks and events, and I realized how design thinking applies in any media and form. I was excited to bring my skills into this new world of design that had opened itself to me, while learning new skills and working with new teams.
Q. What did you study in college?
A. I studied visual communications, and majored in print design at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Tel Aviv.
Q. Tell me about your first creative job.
A. During college, I was a graphic designer at Haaretz, one of the largest local newspapers in Tel Aviv, working across multiple desks including news, art and culture and the weekend magazine. Deadlines were very tight, and we basically worked every day until midnight when the newspaper would be sent to print. I would often work with five different editors standing behind me, watching my every move and making last minute edits, sometimes completely changing everything. It was very different from school where we would spend a great deal of time on design iterations and design critiques. I learned a lot from that experience, mostly how to be creative within boundaries, how to meet deadlines while sometimes making tough design decisions, and how to be open to sharing my designs early on with the team.
Q. What were some early lessons you learned about creativity?
A. Usually the first solution that comes to mind isn’t the right solution. Keep exploring until you’ve really come up with something innovative.
Q. Tell me about your role with Houzz?
A. As the head of design, I oversee design strategy and execution across product and brand and work closely with teams across the company and around the world from engineering to marketing. I’m also responsible for growing and leading our talented team of designers.
Q. How do you approach creative brainstorming? How do you generate creative ideas with your team?
A. We let our projects define our process, depending on the project’s needs. Sometimes we’ll start a project with a design sprint, sometimes with data analysis and user insights, and sometimes with a short team conversation. The goal is to empower individuals to develop ideas. Designers get to explore, and then work directly with the research and analytics teams to test any assumptions they have before developing ideas into concepts. We then develop these concepts together during our design critiques. On most projects there are between two to five designers collaborating and understanding the project details, goals and requirements, which helps us to provide valuable feedback.
Q. What do you do for creative inspiration? How do you stay motivated and inspired?
A. Inspiration can be drawn from everyone and everything. I like looking at people and trying to understand their behavior, how they think and what they want. Identifying a problem to solve is also a great motivator. That’s a lot of what we do at Houzz. I’m constantly asking questions and trying to find ways to create something that will solve a real problem for our community members. I’m lucky to be working with a great team that inspires me every day. It’s incredible how you can fill a room with designers, give them the same task, and each will come up with something fresh and different.
Q. What career advice would you give to young people today?
A. Be bold, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people you want to learn from. You’d be surprised how much people are willing to share if you buy them a cup of coffee.
Q. Hardest part of being the Head of Design for Houzz?
A. Working at a fast-growing company means that I constantly have to adapt our processes and workflow.
Q. Favorite part of being the Head of Design for Houzz?
A. My favorite part of working on the design team at Houzz is our process. We work fast. We’re fearless. We try new things, we get get things done and we get to explore. Designers at Houzz own a big portion of the product decisions, they really get to shape and decide how our users experience our product and brand. I also love the people and the culture at Houzz. Everyone here is talented and passionate, and I’m always learning from them. That’s what drew me to join the team, and it’s still the same. Finally, I love the content. Who wouldn’t want to look at beautiful homes all day?