Business and tech skills are critical for today’s professionals – that’s a fact, and something that drives everything we do at Develop. The tech skills that we offer in our Foundation subscription – skills like project management, devops, data science, and more – are applicable to nearly every role in your organization. We recently had the opportunity to chat with David Hoang, Director of Design at Webflow, to get his insights on why these tech skills are even valuable for designers.
David is a design leader, educator, and startup advisor. He is passionate about how the role of design can play in developing businesses and infusing the process of software design and engineering. Webflow is a visual development platform on a mission to empower all humans to create on the modern web. David teaches User Experience Design at General Assembly and enjoys frequently visiting academic institutions to teach.
Prior to Webflow, David led design at One Medical, Black Pixel, and HTC. He earned his BFA in Studio Art with an emphasis on Drawing and Painting. In his free time, David enjoys film, painting, and photography. He lives in Santa Monica, California.
Tell us a little about your background and what a Director of Design does. What does your typical day/week look like?
I’ve lived many lives in design. Over my 16-year career I’ve had the opportunity to play so many roles: director, founder, researcher, brand designer, and of course, junior designer. I found my career in design while in school. I studied Visual Arts and took a job at my university as an illustrator. Upon graduation, I slowly pivoted my focus from art to design, and it was truly great timing. There was this new operating system called iPhone OS (later renamed to iOS) where I got my start. At that time, if you could Photoshop naturalistic Corinthian leather to look like a button, you were in! It taught me to continue to evolve in your design career, find what’s next and develop skills around that.
Among many other roles I’ve had, the two come to mind as being exceptional (aside from Webflow of course). The first was being a founder of a product consultancy with one of my best friends, where we worked on new product development for both Fortune 500 companies and emerging startups. The other one is my four years at One Medical, where I joined the product team as it was growing until it’s prep to become a publicly traded company. I felt like I worked at four companies during that time!
My role at Webflow is simple: create an environment where everyone on my team can maximize their personal growth, have high output in a psychologically safe space. At Webflow, I have the pleasure of leading Product Design, Brand Design, and building out User Research. Since I have multiple divisions, I try to design my week to be as predictable as possible. For example, Wednesday’s are my Brand Design days where I attend their critique and meet with Marketing stakeholders.
How do you see tech skills such as project management, DevOps, or software development being useful to someone in the design field?
In the end of the day, the most important thing for design is to be able to ship with engineering, product management, quality assurance, and other functions. Skills such as project management, operations, and software development help ensure that designs created can ship. I think for most designers, production is the source of truth and the ultimate goal. If what we design doesn’t get to our customers, it continues to remain an idea, and we can’t iterate and improve it.
What attributes do you look for when hiring someone to join your team?
Three themes come to mind for me: Adaptability, Learnability, and Scalability.
Team members who can adapt to the changing landscape seem to be the most effective. I’m not advocating for lack of clarity or thrash, rather being able to respond to unexpected situations. I tell team members I cannot protect them from change, but I can help them prepare for it.
The best designers are experts at learning. This also informs adaptability. The only certain thing is design will continue to change, and the ones who can learn emerging technology will continue to flourish.
Being able to evolve what they work on with the growth of the company and team. I think people who can anticipate what’s needed long term while being able and willing to focus on operating early on provides a lot of value at companies. The more you can be the right person over many evolutions of the company, the longer you’ll be able to stay there and deliver value.
Why do you believe it’s important for professionals to invest in training/learning?
I often say to people on my team “You should not practice your chords during the concert.” This applies to designers and people in tech as well. We should invest time in ensuring deliberate practice; a concept I love from Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.”
At Webflow, our Design team has a Design Lab every Friday, where the team teaches each other new skills and brings in experts. One of our product designers recently taught a workshop on using Amplitude in order to develop the team to think about analytics as part of their process.
Learning opportunities are everywhere, and the key is to be intentional about making the time to do so. That’s why I think online learning platforms like what you’ve built at Develop are so popular. Online learning is really affordable, always available, and Develop in particular has such a great library of skills available, and I love the subscription model – it’s much better for students who want to learn everything.
The global pandemic has completely changed the business landscape and how we “work” – what lasting effects do you think this will have?
Who would have guessed that a global pandemic would be the thing that fosters digital transformation. I think people are waiting for things to “be back to normal” and unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to happen. Life doesn’t work that way and you can’t revert things. I think businesses and people will have to adapt while trying to find ways that are similar to what we’re accustomed to.
For me, the long-term change is I think remote capabilities are no longer a nice-to-have, but a requirement. When it comes to health and safety, this is a big factor. The downstream effect is there is likely going to be more asynchronous work in order to support the new workplace, where the home is partially a hybrid of the office.
Tell us about how Webflow is working to help business and tech professionals succeed?
We really see Webflow as a modern way to create and build for the web. It’s a new way to create, not only for designers but also business; a two-sided marketplace. We are now seeing designers put Webflow as a core skill on their resumes and building freelance businesses from it. On the flip side, businesses are using the power of Webflow and no code integrations to really supercharge their business. I think it’s time for business tools to really get with the modern times and off these custom solutions that aren’t necessary. Webflow by nature is helping people be iterative and lean in their business, which ultimately helps grow their business.
I think what we’ll see is no code solutions being the majority use case for businesses. Of course, engineering and code will always play a crucial role in business outcomes. However, I think instead of distributing all the allocated time all over the place, it’ll be more focused.