Dennis Cortés - What culture can do for your design team


Dennis Cortés shares his advice on the things he wishes he would have known earlier in his career and how to become a strong manager and leader for your team! Read the blog below and listen to the full episode for great design and management advice!

🛑 Stop doing long-term damage to your mind and body!

Pounding away at your computer, hunched over for 10-12 hours a day, isn't healthy for your body or your mind. Take breaks, stretch, get outside and find ways to improve your workspace to make sure you aren't hurting yourself as you work.

🎯 Soft skills are underrated!

Don't underestimate the importance of soft skills like communication, teamwork, and adaptability in product design. Learning how to be a better communicator to work better with your team and other departments as new challenges arise in your organization will pay dividends along your career path.

🔥 Strong leaders know what their most precious asset is!

Their team!! Investing in your team through understanding who they are, their goals, how they work best, and what kind of culture they are looking for will help you build a solid and long-lasting team.

What culture can do for your design team

In episode 15 of The Product Design Podcast, Seth Coelen interviews Dennis Cortés, the Head of Design at Northstar, a financial wellness company. He has worked in teams of all sizes, both in-house and agency, during his career. You may also know of him through his YouTube Channel, where he shares product design tips and the music he creates, which is excellent to listen to while you create!This episode is filled with loads of career and leadership advice, no matter how long you have been in product design or your current role. During the episode, Dennis shares how he transitioned into management and works as a team leader. We are so excited for you to listen!


How Dennis found his way into product design

Initially, Dennis went to college to be a rap producer and had no idea what product design was at the time. He found an interest in design by creating YouTube banners and 3D work, which he posted on Dribbble daily. Another attendee asked Dennis to meet at a Dribbble meetup in Nashville. He decided to attend, even though he was unsure if he wanted to go. During this meetup, he met with Jordan Albertson, who owned a design agency that focused on product design. This meetup gave him his break in product design! Without any experience in product design, he was offered a job at the agency, but he could learn on the job.

Over the years, Dennis has moved through several companies in different product design roles. Each role has provided him with new opportunities and increased responsibilities in various industries. Each stop along his journey allowed him to gain tremendous insight and knowledge on gaining new skills and growing into a management role in product design.

"To be honest, I've been very fortunate. I've just been in the right place at the right time with the right preparation."

Dennis provides a detailed overview of his career path and continuous growth in the podcast episode. Below we focus on his tips on becoming a well-rounded product designer and several terrific pieces of advice on how to become a strong manager and leader!

How to get a jumpstart on becoming a well-rounded product designer

One of the perks of having 10+ years of design experience is learning what makes you a stronger designer and person. Dennis shares the top four things he wishes he would have known earlier in his career, so you can get a head start!

🤸🏻 Take care of your body and mind!

Get up from your desk and take breaks, learn to stretch, and be more mindful in day-to-day life.

📢 Approach your life and your career with the mindset of continuous growth and learning.

You will never get to the point that you know everything about design or anything for that matter.

🧠 Learn about the parts of design that are not in a design tool.

Be open to learning about best business and product practices, how to work with your team and other departments, what KPIs to focus on, and how they impact the work to be done.

🤔 Learn how to be a clear communicator, both written and verbally.

Whether it is communication with your manager, team members, people you are managing, or other departments, learn to communicate clearly. Be kind and empathetic. Try to understand where they are coming from and how you can best support them.

"Being a great communicator is crucial to being a great designer."

How to become a strong manager and leader

Dennis has experienced product design through several different roles, including management roles. He shared several tips with us, from how he effectively manages his teams and facilitates productive feedback to how he continues to find ways to improve as a manager!

🗣 Always provide objective feedback.

The designs should always be about what is best for the product and the user. Giving clear and objective feedback will ensure the creation of the most useful product.

🔥 Building and managing a team should be rooted in a strong culture.

You can't hire people solely based on skill. There should be more thought on how a new team member will complement and bring something new to the existing team. Looking for a "culture add" instead of a "culture fit" will strengthen the team. They will bring their unique personality and skills that the team doesn't currently have represented.

💡 Figure out your management style and what style best suits your direct reports.

Ask specific questions of the team members you are managing to support them better as they grow on your team.

For example;
-How does this person like to be managed?
-What type of feedback is helpful for them?
-What types of projects do they enjoy working on?
-Do they like to work more independently or as part of a team?

👉 Care deeply for your team members.

Learn who they are, their goals, and what they like to do outside of work. Nurture that relationship and make it stronger. Listen empathetically and try to understand where they are coming from at all times. Not so that you can try to change their mind, but to better help them from their position.

🧠 Understand when you need to teach and when you need to learn.

As a manager, there will be many times that you are teaching your team members about areas where you are strong. There will also be times when your team members are able to teach you something to fill in your knowledge gaps. Be open to that!

"No one 100% knows what they're doing, and I think that's the fun of it. It's just continuous learning and growing throughout your life."

📚 Find resources to keep improving as a leader!

Here are a few examples: links are below!

👉 Making of a Manager
🤔 Articulating Design Decisions
💪 MasterClass on Business Leadership with Howard Schultz

Thank you so much, Dennis!

WOW! This episode with Dennis truly offers an incredible amount of practical design, career, and life advice. We are so grateful that he joined us and shared all of the wisdom he collected during his product design career. Listen to the complete episode on The Product Design Podcast, which includes more about his career path, his personal preference on working at an agency or in-house, and his thoughts on productivity!

Don't forget to follow Dennis and watch as he continues to create and release new music, lead by example in product design and management, and share his knowledge through his YouTube Channel. You can also find him on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and his website!

📬 Newsletter

Subscribe and get info about
our new episodes

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Share the Podcast