Tara Greer — Chief Experience Officer, Green Stone
Tara talks to TheNextGag about why a full remote company is the way to go in 2018, how to become a brilliant UX Designer and life after big agencies.
Tara Greer is Chief Experience Officer at Green Stone in the USA.
Tara is veteran level UX and creative director with over 17 years in the design industry. She has won over 90 awards in her career and shipped iconic platforms and products for clients such as Nike, VW, Taco Bell and Converse. She regularly serves on ad juries such as D&AD and ADC and speaks on design and technology at events like PSFK. She was also named one of Business Insider’s ‘Most Creative Women in Advertising’.
She is currently working as CXO for Green Stone, a remote-first product design agency. At Green Stone she is helping shape a new company and way of working that embraces a diverse and networked collective of contributors enabled by today’s collaboration tools. Green Stone focuses on creating meaningful experiences that cultivate Modern Loyalty for brands and people.
Prior to this, she worked for Deutsch LA, the biggest full service agency on the West coast, leading their product design practice and she launched VW.com mobile and Tacobell.com as well as projects for Anthem, Pandora, Target, Uber and Sprint.
Tara came of age as a UX professional at R/GA where she worked for 8 years moving through the ranks from UX Designer to Executive Creative Director. There she lead the team who launched the Nike+ Fuelband. This project won the Cannes Titanium Grand Prix. She also lead the teams who launched NikeStore, NIKEiD and NikeTeam. Other clients at R/GA included Converse, Verizon, L’Oreal and Corbis. She helped open R/GA’s brand new LA office in January 2013 and grew that office from 3 people to around 44, creating a set of award-winning work in its first year and taking on duties for Beats by Dre, UCLA and other global clients.
THENEXTGAG: I HAVE TO SAY I WAS IMPRESSED AFTER READING YOUR BIO — YOU’VE HAD A BRILLIANT CAREER. DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AMONG THE BEST AT WHAT YOU DO ?
TARA GREER: Well, if you think of yourself as “the best” I think you stop growing. For me, it’s personally important to maintain a learner’s mindset, to always think of myself as a student of life and my craft and approach each project with an open mind. I’ve been very lucky with many opportunities that have arisen in my career so far, and I count each of them as important. I’ve also worked with amazing people who really supported me and lifted me up which I am grateful for.
TNG: WHAT IS GREEN STONE ? WHAT DOES IT DO DIFFERENTLY ? WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO JOIN THEIR TEAM?
TG: Green Stone is a distributed design consultancy that specializes in user experience design, research and strategy. They have some of the DNA of a design company, like IDEO, and a little bit of what digital agencies like AKQA or R/GA have. So, I would say we’re a hybrid as far as the work we do.
But it was the Green Stone’s model that really attracted me to the company. It’s radical — I was instantly drawn to the approach of Matt Walsh, the founder, and what he’s trying to do. The company is completely remote, so there’s no big office, no headquarters. We all work remotely, taking full advantage of the most cutting-edge collaboration tools and tech to ensure we stay in sync with each other, and mine each other’s talent no matter where we are in the world.
In an office-bound model, you’re limited to a particular geographic location. If you set up shop in New York or Los Angeles or Paris or London, that’s the talent pool that you have to draw from. The downside is that you’re tapping into a group of people who may have gone to the same design schools, and who are living in the same place and within the same culture. When you unchain yourself from that model, however, you can really start to think about creating a workforce that is far more diverse. So it was the work I liked, but also the way of working that drew me to Green Stone.
Everyone that works at Green Stone has some kind of personal reason to be there. You get a really interesting mix of people who may have moved to a smaller city for whatever reason, maybe to be closer to family or to have children, but they have a world class quality of work that they want to maintain. It was similar for me, as I had recently become a mother and needed a more adaptable setup. The big agency world is a difficult place to raise children as a working mother. Green Stone offers a flexible, modern model which not only works well for me, but for a lot of people including young millennials who are rejecting traditional offices. We’ve also got a startup mentality that makes each day feel fresh.
TNG: WHAT EXACTLY IS YOUR ROLE ?
TG: I’m Green Stone’s Chief Experience Officer which means that I lead our User Experience & Strategy teams. My job is to mentor those teams, remain closely engaged in the work and make sure that it’s coming to fruition in the best way. It’s about making sure we deliver world-class work that we can be really proud of so that we can continue to win the right kind of clients to fuel our growth. We are a young company, so growing our depth and breadth of service is still a big part of what we are doing.
Many of the big agencies are not positioned appropriately for the kind of work that clients need in our digitally driven world.
TNG: DO YOU FEEL THAT THE SETTING OF GREEN STONE MAKES IT PERFECTLY SUITED FOR THE FUTURE OF THIS FIELD, MOVING AWAY FROM LARGE WEBSITES AND GOING TOWARD CUSTOMER-FOCUSED EXPERIENCES, SUCH AS VOICE ?
TG: I feel, as many feel in this industry, that the age of the large holding companies and agencies with a big retainers is breaking down. Many of the big agencies are not positioned appropriately for the kind of work that clients need in our digitally driven world. With smaller agencies like Green Stone, there is a nimbleness that is really well suited to the modern mindset our clients have. I’ve worked at the big agencies, and it is really refreshing to be able to offer the chance to work with our clients free from a lot of the operational inefficiencies that build up over time.
Consumers have a lot less tolerance for traditional advertising-based communication and the media that support those forms are being ripped apart. We’re seeing more highly personalized mobile experiences and micro-experiences.
I definitely think that we have moved away from the era of the central “.com” as the singular answer to a brand’s digital presence. Those aren’t going away, but a different consumer expectation is growing, particularly around hyper-personalized, service-driven experiences that are much smarter and build a relationship with a company over time. The service is now the message. And that service is an aggregation of small interactions on different touch points across contexts and over time. That’s a complicated thing to design for, but UX designers naturally deal in this level of complexity so I think that a UX mindset is the perfect creative practice for this era.
As user experience designers, we can’t just design for screens anymore, the entire practice is changing so quickly away from that mindset to encompass other interaction methods that come with voice, VR, AR and AI experiences. We have to follow through much more holistically on the perhaps more lofty idea of being experience designers regardless of device or channel. It’s an exciting time to be in user experience, new tools are popping up ubiquitously to cope with designing for emerging technology and the scope of experiences we’re designing are changing so quickly too. Every day it’s a new job.
At Green Stone, there is also an inherent diversity in the work that I find really compelling. We’ve designed everything from experiences for medical devices for tracheostomy to performant eCommerce. We have to be the kind of designers who can jump into any kind of problem and build an innovative solution that fits the goals and scale of any project.
TNG: HOW DO YOU TRAIN TO BECOME A DESIGNER LIKE THIS ? WHERE DO YOU FIND THESE KINDS OF PEOPLE ?
TG: When I think of a good UX Designer, it’s not so much about the software skills, because skills come and go. I’m not looking for people who can only design beautifully for screens.
I’m looking for people who have a lot of empathy, and at the same time, have a relentlessly questioning mind. The kind of people who, when you give them a problem, don’t take the problem at face value. Instead, they think about the problem behind that problem, the one that didn’t get asked directly. It’s a certain mentality that we need. It’s a bit like being musical I suppose, there is an innate talent for empathy and analysis I’m looking for.
There are some specific schools that train people to think like that, teaching people to think about design in a holistic way and of course, I favor their graduates. There have been some really nice programs growing up in the last 10 years or so at schools like CMU, SCAD, ITP and SFU, and spectacular students have been coming into this industry as a result. But people who come from parallel design fields can have this way of thinking too, those who have come through graphic design or industrial design or even engineering can be brilliant UX thinkers.
TNG: IS THERE ANYONE THAT YOU ADMIRE IN YOUR FIELD OR THAT WE SHOULD BE LOOKING UP TO ?
TG: I always think about the people I’ve worked with in my career and who have helped me the most to advance my thinking. The two people that come to mind are two of my former bosses.
Firstly, Chloe Gottlieb at R/GA. She is an amazing leader in the UX world. She is everything I just described. She reads people well, lifts people up in their careers, has great creative judgement and is a strong positive influence on the industry, as both a woman and a leader. I still call her if I need advice about a major career move.
And, then there’s my old boss, Ian Spalter from my Nike days. He went on to Foursquare, then YouTube and is now Head of Design at Instagram. He is a great leader in a quiet way that is quite unique in this noisy Type A world. He leads with a lot of humanity, gravitas and grace while raising four beautiful young children, respect for that.
I really admire people who manage to have big full careers and also big full lives. So I hope to be more like Chloe and Ian someday, both in work and in life.
Chief Experience Officer
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