Workplace Culture with Alexander Younger

Alexander Younger, President and CEO of Design Lab came on March 21 to talk to our class about workplace culture and processes.

Alexander started Design Lab 22 years ago, it is a design agency and marketing firm out of Toronto that works with clients such as: RBC Financial, The Beer Store, Holt Renfrew, Laura Secord and much more. Another fun fact about Design Lab: the entire office is run off of solar panels on the roof and they are actively trying to lessen their carbon footprint. I thought this was incredibly interesting as working in design agencies all the computers use so much energy! It is really great to hear they are doing their part for the environment. Below is a link to their green design lab website for more information:

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Culture

Alexander is part of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures which is part of a firm that annually recognizes Canadian organizations and companies for creating a culture that helps enhance the team and their performance. He then continued to talk to us about what is culture and what are the benefits of a good workplace culture. Culture is a collaboration based on trust and having similar goals. It is doing what you love to do and feeling comfortable to voice opinions and discussions. Culture is being apart of something as opposed to just doing something. The benefits are the company is always growing together and it creates a happier team and a team that is moving towards the same goal.

 Process

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Alexander spoke about Design Lab’s general process:

  • Goals and Objectives: clarity on goals with client is important, whether the goal is in numbers or $ figures
  • Research & Discovery: researching what the company wants vs what it may actually need based on competitors and consumers
  • Information Design
  • Design & Application
  • Testing
  • Launch & Evaluation: keep evaluating with new data coming back, usually have to make changes after this stage

Alexander also spoke to us about Waterfall vs. Agile Processes:

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Waterfall has been the standard for a while, it is the basic process explained above. Some companies are getting into agile processes where you take apart pieces of the work into separate features and continue it’s own waterfall process for each feature. This process allows people to work together more collaboratively and allows you to deal with problems as they arrive. However this process is a lot more costly as you need more resources and it is impossible to predict the cost and the time. He said Design Lab is mostly waterfall until the construction stage, and sometimes will break out construction into agile workflow.

Steps for the Next Step of Our Lives (Finding Jobs)

Alexander gave us some awesome advice to use during the next few months while we are finishing this program and entering into the workforce. He broke down his advice into steps:

Step 1: Research

  • Talk to our peers about agencies
  • Go online and create a shortlist of places you want to work and write down why (this will help with asking questions in interviews)
  • Go through agency’s website carefully and write down notes on case studies

Step 2: Write a Good Cover Letter and Resume

Cover Letter

  • Keep it short and sweet
  • Make it memorable / give them a reason to like you
  • Hint you know something about company and how you’d fit in there

Resume

  • Actually design it***
  • Talk about likes outside of work
  • Don’t over-exaggerate what you do – be honest about your work and roles on specific projects
  • Be honest about what you want to do and what you like / don’t like – if you’re not honest you may get into a job you hate

Step 3: Online Portfolio

  • Showcase breadth of skills and experience
  • Keep it clean and professional
  • Explain goals of each project

Step 4: The Interview

Often start with a phone interview:

  • Have one or two questions written down ready
  • Listen very carefully to the questions – don’t want to mishear something over the phone
  • Remember in any interview: we’re also interviewing them and whether or not we want to be part of their team – so ask tough questions

In-Person Interview

  • Ask ahead how many people are interviewing, who they are and what their roles are – check them out on LinkedIn, this could help ease conversation
  • Bring a list of questions you want to ask interviewers – helps you not forget plus it makes you look prepared
  • Come looking professional, even if it’s a casual work environment dressing nicer shows respect to the people who invited you there for the interview
  • Before interview —– walk through your portfolio with someone so you have an idea of what to highlight and talk about for each piece

Step 5: Ask LOTS of Questions

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  • What is the typical day general to the whole company – and specifically to job you’re interviewing for?
  • Where do I get involved in any processes or do I get told what to do?
  • Does the company have clear values and a clear purpose as a foundation of their culture? (Get a feel for the culture and whether or not you feel you’d even be comfortable there)
  • Is this something that is found throughout the company or just at the leadership level? (We’ll be entering in the junior level, make sure we’re being looked after as well)
  • Do they have a good process? Do they use waterfall or agile and why?
  • Ask to meet people we’d be working with if hired, and if possible ask them questions as well.

Step 6: After Interview

  • Thank you note or email
  • Write down any notes or questions for next interview you forgot or would like to fix
  • Keep interviewing – don’t give up

Alexander’s final presentation note was:

Never Settle - Look at our long-term needs and make sure the job is something that will make us happy long-term. Articulate what our passion is and also figure out what we don’t want to do.

My Thoughts

I really liked Alexander’s presentation. It was nice to hear about workplace culture and hear that some agencies are actively working on improving and maintaining a good workplace culture. It makes me feel more positive towards entering the workforce. It was also great to hear his tips to us about job interviews, it was a good refresher right before we finish up our year. As a student, we’re all eager to find any job and start paying off our pesky student loans, but Alexander brought up some good points that I’m going to write down and keep with me when I start going on job interviews.

  • That we’re just as much interviewing them
  • Not every job is right for us
  • Don’t settle if the job doesn’t meet our needs

It was definitely a good presentation to have as we finish off our last assignments and start preparing for Grad Show and the giant question mark that comes after it. Alexander’s presentation helped make me feel more prepared and a little bit less nervous about starting that inevitable job hunt.

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