Design Gurus Summit: Q&A with Nick Gould, President and COO of Cooper

The Legendary Design Consultancy, Cooper is Celebrating its 25th Anniversary this Year

Nick is President and Chief Operating Officer of Cooper. Nick is a veteran digital business and product development leader with strong ties to the global UX and interaction design communities. An accomplished sense-maker and adept storyteller, Nick can masterfully find signals amidst the noise of customer input, stakeholder priorities, and competitor actions. Nick specializes in developing inspiring narratives that illuminate a product’s performance, envisioning new scenarios, and aligning project teams around experience strategies. Nick is known for his consultative sales approach and abilities, and for building relationships of trust with clients by communicating a concern for their priorities and a genuine interest in solving their problems.

Nick was President of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) and served on the IxDA Board of Directors from 2009 to 2016. Prior to Cooper, Nick held a variety of leadership positions focused on Internet product development and strategic partnerships and joint ventures. Nick was VP of Internet Strategy and Business Development for Scholastic Inc., the global children’s publishing and media company. Prior to that, Nick led business development efforts for BOL.com, Bertelsmann’s international online bookselling venture, and Citigroup. Before that, he was a corporate lawyer.

Nick will be speaking at the Uncharted Minds Design Gurus Summit on September 19th. Click here to get 20% off tickets to the event.

Q. You spent your early years in business development and corporate law? How did you find your way into the design world?

A. In those days, large corporations were still experimenting with different product strategies and organizational structures, so there were fewer bright-line divisions between roles. As a business leader, I had to understand product development, design, and technology as well as business models and strategic partnerships. As a result, I discovered a fascination with whypeople engage successfully with particular products and how businesses can design with specific user needs and behaviors in mind. So, when the opportunity to lead a new user-centric design consultancy came along, I took the leap and never looked back.

Q. Tell me about your role with Cooper? What is your day to day like?

A. My role is to help the senior leaders of the firm maintain a balanced focus on critical, short-term execution of client projects and other initiatives, while also thinking about the longer-term strategic objectives aimed at our evolution and growth. Needless to say, the entire team is already incredibly well-qualified and highly motivated to do great work. So, my challenge as a leader is to provide guidance and support — a strategic “nudge” here and there — while giving a lot of autonomy to work their magic. Day-to-day, I’m constantly interacting with my team — in New York, San Francisco, and Portland — to help them prioritize, problem-solve, and do their best work.

Q. Every CEO wants their employee to be more innovative. What advice do you have for leaders who want to foster an environment that encourages creativity and innovative thinking?

A. Recognize that design is a highly collaborative (and, in many ways, highly social) activity. People will do their most creative and innovative work as part of a group that feels supported and infused with positive energy. The best way to facilitate this is to identify (or hire) people who are skilled at inspiring and motivating others around them. Empower these “innovation catalysts” to engage their colleagues in design thinking methodologies and offer valuable training opportunities. Also, teach “soft skills” like effective communication, collaboration, consensus-building, and design leadership techniques. These qualities are the essential building blocks for an environment conducive to experimentation and exploration.

Q. The design agency business has changed significantly over the past 15 years. Will there always be a place for independent design consulting?

A. Of course! We will continue to evolve and adapt to the changing environment, but there will always be a role for external experts who bring a fresh, unbiased perspective to a problem. Even today, many of Cooper’s most fervent client champions are leaders within internal design teams. The best engagements are ones wherein we partner with our clients’ design leaders, and other stakeholders, to bring our respective strengths to the table.

Q. How do you see Cooper and the design business evolving over the next 15 years? Will you expand your education initiatives?

A. Yes, and we are already doing so. Our vision is to partner with design-centric organizations (or companies who aren’t there, yet, but are eager to develop a deeper understanding of design). We’ll do this with a unique combination of education, consulting, and coaching. In 15 years, I expect Cooper will be less known as a “design agency” and more as a “transformation agency” with deep roots in design methodologies and approaches.

Q. What career advice would you give to young creative people today?

A. Acquire, either by education or experience (ideally, both), a true understanding of business concepts and dynamics. We are long past the era in which designers can limit their focus to pixels on a screen. In fact, within the design community, I believe there is increasing consensus that a “designer” will be required to develop a deep understanding of the value exchange that drives the adoption and use of products and services.

Q. Hardest part of being a creative leader?

A. Resisting the temptation to solve all problems yourself (or even propose solutions). Leadership is about creating a “clean, well-lit place” for others to explore and shine. Leaders should provide high-level direction and then get out of the way.

Q. Favorite part of being a creative leader?

A. When the strategy I mentioned above works and the team succeeds! Celebrating the team’s achievements is, by far, my favorite part of the job.

Nick will be speaking at the Uncharted Minds Design Gurus Summit on September 19th. Click here to get 20% off tickets to the event.