Ron Bronson

If you’ve had any sort of interaction with government services on the Web, particularly at the national level, there’s a pretty good chance your experience in some form was designed or conceived by this week’s guest — the one and only Ron Bronson.

Longtime fans will remember Ron’s first appearance on the podcast seven years ago, and our conversation starts off with a quick recap of what lessons he’s learned over the past year. From here, we talk about his career shift from education to civic tech, the emergence of consequence design, and even a Finnish sport akin to baseball known as pesäpallo. Ron’s story is a testament to the power of reinvention, and hopefully it convinces you that whatever it is you’re imagining, it’s possible!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Ron Bronson:
Hi. It’s Ron Bronson. I’m based in Portland, Oregon and I’m a design director in civic tech in the government.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2021 been for you so far?

Ron Bronson:
Interesting. Obviously, we’re all coming out of COVID slowly. So that’s obviously been a thing. And ascending to this role, I’ve been a manager of a team of seven before and now I’ve got over 30 direct reports, obviously some managers who report to me, but there’s the whole department now. So that is definitely a different set of expectations and challenges. Trying to work on a book, trying to stay involved. So 2021 is interesting to try to remap all the stuff that you lost from being in the house for a whole year.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What lessons did you learn in this past year? When you look back, how do you think you’ve changed?

Ron Bronson:
Wow. I think momentum doesn’t necessarily have to stop. I thought last year was, in my mind, when it started and things started to shut down, I was like, “[inaudible 00:03:38] a wasted year,” all the stuff I had mapped out for myself, career-wise, thinking about work, and it turned out that wasn’t true. Opportunities still came and I was still able to do things and write stuff and read stuff and speak at events, obviously virtually.

Ron Bronson:
So that was interesting to me and surprised me, but I think maybe I got a better sense of the things that motivated me a little bit. I don’t know that I necessarily … Like I said, I was operating with my outlets … not autopilot, but kind of just doing stuff and taking for granted that every day was going to be, “This is what you do. You go to these events and you go to nonprofits or you go to work and you see your friends,” until have all that taken away and realize that some of those things fueled you, that you liked doing that stuff or it inspired you in some way. To not have that is crystallizing. It also means you appreciate it more. So it taught me a lot about myself. Maybe the times when somebody calls and says, “Oh, let’s hang out,” and I’m like, “No,” now I’m probably like, “Hey, yeah. We should hang out. Let’s do it.” So it’s a big lesson for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s been interesting how … I’ve noticed this trend among friends of mine, even from guests that have been on the show. I feel like we’re at this point where everyone is reevaluating what their next step is. We’ve been in the house or in some form of lockdown or restriction over the past year and a half and, now that things are starting to open up again, everyone’s like, “Well, let me think about what I want this next thing to be. Do I still want to go ahead in the same manner that I have with work or with my schedule or do I want to change things?” I’m seeing that everywhere now, which I guess is a good thing.

Ron Bronson:
I think so. I think it’s cool that … not cool, but I think it’s important to have these conversations because we weren’t really able to take stock of them before, been able to see the world for what it was maybe a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Now, I know you can’t talk directly about the work that you’re doing because it is a government agency, but can you give just a broad overview about the work that you do?

Ron Bronson:
I think, at the core of the work I’ve been doing, for years, really, even before I became [inaudible 00:05:49] in federal service and was working in state government, is trying to identify problem spaces that exist, working collaboratively with teams to identify problem spaces, big problems, small problems, murky problems, and trying to operationalize a way out of those problems and doing that in a way that’s sustainable.

Ron Bronson:
It’s one thing to go into a place and say, “I’m going to help you solve this,” and then solve it and leave. It’s like, when you break something and you fix it, you don’t know how they fixed it. So now they’re gone, so you’ve got to call them every time, instead of doing it where you’re like, “You’re going to help us. You’re going to work with us. You’re going to be our eyes and ears [inaudible 00:06:26]. You’re going to be part of the team that helps us figure this out.” And the way, you know how we did it so that, when we’re gone, you can do it. And not only can you do it, you could teach other people to do it, too. And so I think, at its core, that’s the work that I do, that we do, and it’s pretty rewarding. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s definitely rewarding.

Maurice Cherry:
What makes it rewarding?

Ron Bronson:
I think it’s fun to see a murky situation that doesn’t necessarily have an explicit answer. And maybe a thing I learned from, say, when I started to now, is where I identified a problem, like, “Oh, I know exactly what the problem is here. Do a little research and we’ll just confirm what I knew the problem was. You get on this team and you work together to answer … Do some [inaudible 00:07:07] research, talk to some users or stakeholders and get some answers.” It turns out, not only were you wrong, but what they asked you to do was maybe the wrong [inaudible 00:07:16] problems. Now you need to revisit it or you got a prototype of a thing or idea and you talk to the people who actually use the thing and they say, “No, no, no. You’re missing the point. What you actually need it something completely different,” and now you’ve got to revisit and reboot and rethink.

Ron Bronson:
And so it’s fun to go through that, not initially. What’s fun about it is, if you can go through that and you do it in this way that’s thoughtful and you bring [inaudible 00:07:39], bring the people along, then at the end of it, the end result of what you get is more sustainable and it’s fun to see the fruits of that labor. I know, gosh, you build things. Some people who build stuff … It’s one thing when you build a thing and you’ve got to do all the work yourself or your work on a team and then, when you go away, it collapses, but it’s fun, even at my non … I started Indianapolis Design Week and then, when I left, somebody else took it over.

Ron Bronson:
It’s cool when you can see a thing that you started, somebody else takes it over and they put their own spin on it. And that’s sustainable and it has a legacy. And so to have that in my professional work, as well, is super rewarding. Even if it’s, like I said, a longer process to get there, it takes a long time, it’s nebulous, the answers aren’t as clear, that’s super fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I like that part about you saying that it’s sustainable because I think, certainly if you’re a designer or a developer at … I’m just naming companies here, like a Dropbox or something like that … No shade to Dropbox. I love Dropbox, but if you’re at a product-based company, the work that you do may really not even be seen. It can easily be overwritten. It’s kind of ephemeral. And also, you don’t really know if your service is going to be around in the next five years, 10 years or whatever, whereas the work that you’re doing, you know that it has a home, almost.

Ron Bronson:
Exactly. 100%. Yep. And I think that … You talk about public sector, working [inaudible 00:09:05] or working in, say, civic tech where maybe you’re adjacent or something. By being able to do work that you know … Again, it may also be [inaudible 00:09:12] and no one will see it, but at least you know, at the end of the day, who you’re working for, either for the people in front or the folk behind the scenes [inaudible 00:09:20] people in the front. And I think that’s a cool cycle of life to have.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s a typical day like for you?

Ron Bronson:
It varies. It varies dramatically. And it’s varied, obviously, when you talk about being in sales, for instance, leadership in this situation versus maybe when I was [inaudible 00:09:35] contributor or even a couple years ago when I’m working at, say, local or state situations, but I’d say that [inaudible 00:09:41] we have a lot of meetings, obviously, but it’s a lot of content switching. So there’s meetings, obviously, to deal with just the things you would deal with in any kind of leadership role. There’s also kinds of some project-related stuff that happens, as well. In my case, right now, lots of strategy and trying to figure out how to build resiliency into teams and supporting people where they’re at, but it’s really variable. Other than, say, there’s a lot of meetings, I don’t think any two days are alike.

Ron Bronson:
The content of each day is very different because it’s so responsive to what’s happening, not only in the world, but individually or organizationally or whatever. So it can be really very variable, which is cool. Obviously, if you’re a control freak, not that I am, but maybe a little bit, it can be a little discombobulating because sometimes you don’t know what’s coming, like, “Oh, what’s going to happen a month from now?” I don’t know. It could be anything, but as long as you can relish in and embrace that sort of mystery, it’s kind of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
How have your responsibilities changed over the years? I guess, aside from going up to the ranks to where you’re at as a director, but how have your responsibilities really changed since you’ve been there?

Ron Bronson:
The scope and the size. Actually, when you talked to me years ago, I was a director then, too, but I had [inaudible 00:10:57] only a few direct reports and I was leading statewide strategy, but it was a different sort of … scale was different and also the purview is different, the responsibilities are different. And then I go to a smaller government and, obviously, I don’t have any of that kind of responsibility, more principle designer kind of work.

Ron Bronson:
And then, over the last couple of years, going from IC and doing more information architecture and content strategy work, but [inaudible 00:11:19] more strategic work, in general, to leading projects to staffing people to projects to, again, now just trying to shape an entire … figuring out how you move a team forward in an industry that wasn’t really a thing, designers working in the public sector, much less entire teams. Maybe it’s one or two people, okay. We’ve always been around, but to have the scale of, let’s say, a small agency of design type people and [inaudible 00:11:49] definitely alike. It’s a lot of making things from scratch, trying to invent it as you sort of fly the plane as you build it kind of thing.

Ron Bronson:
So for me, I think the work is similar. I think I’m doing similar kinds of things, a lot of similar kind of thinking. I think it’s just, over the years, playing a video game and going to different levels and taking the coins you get from level three and now you use them at level six because you’ve got a lot more coins in your pocket or you got [Selixir 00:12:14] on level four and you put that in you and now you’re on level eight and you’re like, “Oh, I’m ready. I got that. That wizard gave me that thing.” I mean, it’s a funny metaphor, but that’s kind of what it is. I don’t feel like it’s that different. It’s just that the other experiences prepared you for, A, more meetings and it prepared you for nebulous things and having to answer questions that are not …

Ron Bronson:
Also, you get to choose sometimes the things that you get to decide. You’re working with other people, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you, at a certain point for certain things. And that’s weirder than when you’re … I joked before I did this with, oh, well, it was really cool being the person that you could talk to people about the work and the problems, but it’s like watching your favorite sports team on TV and being like, “If I was the general manager, I would do this, this, and this,” and then now you’re the general manager of the baseball team. Turns out there were things you didn’t know about the problem space he was in. You didn’t know that the budget was here or you need to do this or do that. So that metaphor, I think, matches very well to my existence now, where it’s the things you just don’t know until you’re in the seat and you’re like, “Oh, maybe I was wrong about that other lens I had before.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Has it changed, I guess now with things being more remote? You’ve always been remote in that role. Right?

Ron Bronson:
I’ve always been remote. So for me, no, it has not changed anything about anything. I think the scope of the work is different, maybe a little bit, but no, it’s the same. Nothing changed in that way at all, which is great. I mean, I’d say this, that across government, across public sector, civic tech, whatever, it was definitely a sort of … especially when you get down to state and local levels, certainly a resistance to remote work to this kind of thing for a bevy of reasons. I know when I worked in local government, we had a heck of a time trying to get even a day where you could work remote. Well, they had to change that last year [inaudible 00:13:56]. Right?

Ron Bronson:
And so I think that, now, you deal with people and you see this and now people have a level of … it’s not savvy, but they certainly have more experience with it now. So the resistance they used to have isn’t there like it used to be because folks have had to adapt to this new reality. And so I think that takeaway has been great because it was such a difficult thing before. I think, again, you get down to these lower levels or certain, whatever, agencies, whoever [inaudible 00:14:23] maybe. I don’t know. So that part has been, I think, great to see, is just people’s comfort level with it changed in ways that you never saw before.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Do you think that an interest in civic design has changed over the years?

Ron Bronson:
Yeah. I mean, I was actually talking to a friend about this, a friend who left the country for awhile and wants to come back to the country and was like, “What should I do?” And I’m like, “See, when you left, it was really just a few things you could do, a few places you could go, [inaudible 00:14:49] digital service or an ATNF or something or places like Code For America.” [inaudible 00:14:55] New York City, but you didn’t have the options.

Ron Bronson:
Now, there’s tons of cities that have these digital service teams, different states like Colorado that have them now. Local governments are starting these. San Francisco has their own teams. There are lots of private sector companies, of course, that are doing this that built in very similar models that use a lot of the same tenents. And so I think that, yeah, there’s a ton of opportunity for people now to be able to get involved in using their skills for good and for helping move things forward and helping accelerate conversations that maybe were harder before. You wouldn’t have gone to work for the IT department in your local town before. You wouldn’t have wanted to do that, but now maybe you would because of all the different ways that civic tech conversation has elevated and proliferated.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I’ve had a few service designers and designers working in government on the show over the past few years. And I think, certainly, all of us have seen how design and technology can have a profound effect on how people process information. I think we can clearly look at the last five years and see how that has been the case.

Ron Bronson:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
If you had to give a pitch to say, I don’t know, current designers and developers now about going into civic tech, what would that look like?

Ron Bronson:
So I think people [inaudible 00:16:14] to a lot of the other things that I work on, personally. It’s one thing to be upset about systems and structures and processes and things not working well. It’s another thing to actually try to figure out how you can not only leverage your skills to make things better, but to be on the inside, at least to see … You’re not going to do it forever, but at least to see how it operates, see where the problems are, see where the issues are, see how you can solve those. Don’t just complain about the problems. How do we fix some of the problems? And you’re not going to fix all of them, but you can fix some.

Ron Bronson:
And also it’s a nice proving ground for being able to leverage … especially people who are hybrids. You’re an interaction designer who likes research or you’re a service designer, but turns out you’re really good at product design. To be able to leverage your content strategist who also does PM stuff, to leverage those sort of skills because, in a lot of [inaudible 00:17:04], especially the lower you get down in government, they’re not going to have these massive agile teams. So you’re going to deploy those multiple skillsets. I did that when I was in local government. I really liked it, personally, because it gave me a chance to sharpen some skills. My [inaudible 00:17:17] skills got way better, being in that situation, because they had to get that way. Maybe in a bigger place, that simply would never happen.

Ron Bronson:
So I think my pitch to people who are considering this kind of work is that, if you care about community, you care about your technologists who cares about the work, it’s good way for you to give back and be involved, but also to grow skills that’ll serve you well moving forward, beyond where you are in your career right now.

Maurice Cherry:
We’re all digital citizens, in some way.

Ron Bronson:
Agreed. 100%. Yep. That’s it.

Maurice Cherry:
Actually, that even, in some way, we totally are all digital citizens. With social media and such, you really can’t escape it.

Ron Bronson:
So true, so true.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when you and I first spoke back in 2014, and you’ve alluded to this earlier just now, you were in Kentucky, I believe. What do you remember from working back during that time?

Ron Bronson:
That job was [inaudible 00:18:08] all I want. That job was the state headquarters for the community college system. And so it was higher ed, but it really wasn’t. And actually, that was the first job that I’d had that wasn’t on a campus, at that time. So for me, it was a little weird at first to be in this [inaudible 00:18:25] higher ed, but what it really was was a government job. You’re a bureaucrat and you’re making policy and you go to 16 different colleges and you’re setting digital strategy for the entire state and working with an internal team. A lot of the processes and things didn’t really exist before we built them, when I had that job.

Ron Bronson:
So it’s why I’m here, frankly, in many ways, even though I don’t know that that was my favorite job, but it gave me a great glimpse and lens of how to manage a big team. How do you manage people who don’t report to you, but you still set policy for them and your decision impact your work? I had to learn that and develop that skill over time. How to develop training for a massive internal team, public-facing stuff. So it was a great trial by fire. People [inaudible 00:19:11] what you see on Twitter a lot. Folks will say, “Oh, if you’re qualified for a job, but you’re not sure and you’re nervous, apply anyway because you might learn something.” Well, that job is [inaudible 00:19:21], but you feel a little in over your head, a little bit.

Ron Bronson:
I wouldn’t recommend that all the time, but in that situation, the pros for me in terms of what those lessons taught me after … And a lot of them were bad lessons. It was people-related lessons, but still … So I remember that time very vividly. I’m not going to get into all of it, but y’all have to DM me and I’ll tell you all the dirt.

Ron Bronson:
But any case, the positives of that were the lessons that I learned really allowed me, moving forward, to be a much more incisive designer, a much more compassionate leader, better communicating, to own what I know. So yes, there were some really great lessons from that time that have served me well, even to this day.

Maurice Cherry:
And now, you first entered into civic designer just right after you left Kentucky, went to Indiana.

Ron Bronson:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
You were principal service designer for the City of Bloomington, Indiana.

Ron Bronson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Was it a big shift going from education to now civic design work?

Ron Bronson:
It wasn’t, partially for two reasons; one because, again, that job in Kentucky was pretty much a state job. I mean, it was state related. So everything we did was bureaucrat-level state stuff. That job and my job now, they’re different, but it was a lot of the same kinds of economies of scale. So that prepared me pretty well for being sort of in a faceless situation. Local government was fun. I really enjoyed it, especially at a sub-100,000 size city level. In a big city, it’d be probably similar to what I do, but in a city where [inaudible 00:20:56] 80,000 people, folks have problems with the website, they print a thing out and bring it to City Hall and say, “Ah, I went to this page. It didn’t work. Can you fix it right now?”

Ron Bronson:
I really enjoyed that. I thought that was really cool. You go to parties and folks tell you that they found a thing. So much of the work that we do as technologists in any part of the space that you’re doing, and I’m being very broad about this, you don’t really get to … You interact with users in user interviews or stakeholder things, but you’re not dealing with your users in this very retail way. The same ways that, if a thing breaks, I can go take it back to the store.

Ron Bronson:
You can’t do that with a website, but in local government in a city of that size with the team that we had … That was an amazing team. I want to shout out Bloomington, Indiana [inaudible 00:21:37] open source development team. All the stuff they had built was in-house. We transitioned the site from our in-house CMS that we had to Drupal. So it was a whole process, multiple things that went on there, but it was really, really cool, actually, to get to do that.

Ron Bronson:
So no, the transition wasn’t weird. I think the hard part for me was going from being director and doing a lot more leadership stuff to going back to being hands on. I did that on purpose. It was a deliberate decision for me to … I was in an IT shop, so doing a lot more front-end development and doing design and building the design system initially, but also doing a lot of service design stuff. I did all the service design. They never had a service designer before.

Ron Bronson:
All the user research … [inaudible 00:22:20] was a collaborative effort with some other folks, but leading that UX design, writing tons of content, so wearing a ton of hats, but I wanted that experience. I missed it. For me, it was really great to get to do that while also doing strategy, while also shipping an actual, physical thing. They needed a new site app. It had been 10 years old and we shipped it. So I loved it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, through the work that you’ve done, there’s this phrase that you’ve coined I’ve seen come up called consequence design. Can you talk about how you came to that idea and what exactly does consequence design entail?

Ron Bronson:
I used to always joke with anybody who asked me about consequence … I feel like I have a better answer now, but I feel like every interview I do about this [inaudible 00:23:00] changes. So you just [inaudible 00:23:02] all us together at some point. We’re going to figure this out together, as a community. But really, what it is is … I feel like consequence design is really born out of a lot of the conversations that are happening right now around … I think there are several conversations. There’s some that are around any patterns or dark patterns, for instance, which I don’t like saying, but people know what I’m talking about when I say it, so I just say it, or [inaudible 00:23:26] some of the hostile patterns that you see online.

Ron Bronson:
And I feel like a lot of these conversations, well, one, they’re not calling a spade a spade. We already have words for what deception is. We already know what … something that’s fraud, but we don’t want to call it that. So instead, we call it, “Ooh, it’s a dog pattern.” No, this website is trying to scam your grandmother. That’s a scam and we should call it what it is. It’s fraud. We should call it what it is.

Ron Bronson:
But through doing talks about these topics over the previous couple of years all over the world, people would ask me, “Okay. Well, what do I do about it? I’m just a junior designer at a bank. What am I supposed to do about this? How do I fix it?” And so I felt like all the conversations that we have around ethics and ethical design and so forth is a philosophy washout. I didn’t like those conversations because, one, they triggered me to thinking about [Hagel 00:24:18] and not doing great in philosophy. And I’m being funny right now, but also … which is true. I didn’t do great at that.

Ron Bronson:
But the other reason I don’t like it is because it takes the agency out of the hands of individuals. Yes, you’re not going to fix certain structures and systems, but there are things that you can do, that you can impact at your level or have a conversation about with your colleagues and eventually impact through glacial change, through iterative change. So I wanted a term that was, how do we take the areas [inaudible 00:24:48] policy, service design, the user experience, how do we merge these things together and how do we take real-world experiences, things like kiosks in public spaces that have really terrible UIs? That’s not divorced from the work that you and I do every day, but people act like it is, how we foist these experiences on people.

Ron Bronson:
And so I wanted to bring all that together to have an industry-wide [inaudible 00:25:12], practitioner-wide conversation around, “Let’s identify these are problems and let’s talk about how we might be able to fix some of these things.” First, we need to identify that they’re actually problems. And I didn’t just want to keep talking about the individual pieces of it. I wanted to be able to have a way to encapsulate it. And that’s how I got to consequence design as an idea. It’s still very fuzzy. The book is not out, will not be out until next year, but I’m trying to get there.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, that’s right. You are writing a book. I saw online-

Ron Bronson:
[crosstalk 00:25:41] very slowly.

Maurice Cherry:
I saw parts of what you’ve been putting together online and we’ll link to that in the show notes so people can take a look at that, but it’s not your first book that you’ve written. You wrote a book back in 2017. Right?

Ron Bronson:
Yeah. That was really more of … You know how people do … when you write your blog for years and you put all the blog posts into a book. And so that’s what that was.

Maurice Cherry:
That counts.

Ron Bronson:
The web management guide. Yeah. It was fun to get all that stuff together, mostly because all those blogs are dead now. So I’m kind of glad I got a few of those things together into a piece, but this is going to be the first time I’ve published a real print book. We did that online and you could go on GitHub. It wasn’t anything too fancy, but this will be a real thing you can put in your hands and, hopefully, use the reference guide. So I’m pretty excited about that. I’ll be more excited when it’s done, but I’m excited about getting further down the path.

Maurice Cherry:
So I read Web Management for Regular People because this was right around the time I was sort of … I mean, I was coming out of doing Lunch. I was coming out of doing my studio and looking for work, looking for something else, and really was trying to almost brand myself more as a strategist and less of just a designer because I had been a designer and I had done the studio for so long. And honestly, having a team that did the large part of the actual building and construction meant that I sort of fell behind in my skills. Yeah, I could still get in Photoshop and whip something up if I need to, but I’m nowhere near the production level work that I used to be in terms of speed. I wouldn’t say in terms of quality, but certainly in terms of speed. I’m nowhere near that.

Ron Bronson:
I hear you.

Maurice Cherry:
Not to mention, with even web design, I mean, all the stuff that went on in the mid-2010s around CSS preprocessors and stuff, I was like, “Okay, now you’ve lost me. Now that you’re introducing JavaScript into CSS, I’m out.”

Ron Bronson:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
And I remember reading parts of your book because I was really thinking of how I would rebrand myself and eventually ended up doing that as becoming a digital strategist. And even where I work at now, I’m a content strategist, but reading what you had to say about strategy and how to design a strategist and things like that … I’d even talked with other people I’ve had on the show, like Douglas Davis, really helped me to form an idea of where I wanted to take my career next. So I want to just thank you for that.

Ron Bronson:
I appreciate that. That warms my heart. That’s really cool because I didn’t know anybody cared, but I appreciate it. That’s why when you asked about it, I’m like, “Oh, right. I don’t want to talk about that,” but that’s really cool. That’s really, really cool.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s something that is certainly important now. It’s funny, I see so many strategy roles now that I certainly didn’t see a few years ago.

Ron Bronson:
Yeah, there definitely weren’t any back then. Right.

Maurice Cherry:
And I think, initially, they kind of were more in the purview or the domain of advertising, but now tech startups are looking for strategists and different web agencies are looking for strategists. They’re looking for someone that can sort of bridge the gap, I suppose, between the design and the business or at least has been in the trenches enough, I should say, to be able to give an overview of what should be done, where we should go, what pitfalls we should look out for. But yeah, strategy is an interesting field now in design because you’re kind of a professional generalist, in a way.

Ron Bronson:
So true.

Maurice Cherry:
And certainly, at a time in the industry when things were so heavily skewed towards product design, and I would say they probably still are-

Ron Bronson:
Still are, right.

Maurice Cherry:
… to a fault. Strategists occupy a really interesting role in the design industry. So yeah, I want to definitely thank you for that.

Ron Bronson:
I appreciate that.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, one thing that I’ve noticed, looking through your history and everything, is that coaching is a really big constant in your life. It’s something you’ve done since you were a really young man, a teenager. Mostly tennis, but you’ve coached debate, as well. What does coaching do for you?

Ron Bronson:
It’s really fun to, especially coaching tennis because you just see it … I mean, debate, too, but it happened then, too. That moment where somebody goes from a thing you talked about, oh, same thing you keep telling them over and over again … You’re like, “Look, you’re going to build on this.” I remember it happens every season, all the time. These kids, you start them off early and it’s really hard, whatever it is you’ve got them doing. Maybe you’ve got them playing people that are better than them because that’s what you need them to do that week or maybe [inaudible 00:30:07] and they’re not doing as well. And then, by the end of the year, there’s this moment when they play and it comes together for them and then they win something that you didn’t think they’d win or whatever and it’s always fun when …

Ron Bronson:
I was the worst player on a really good team in high school. There were four D1 guys on my high school tennis team. I was definitely not D1 quality. I played D3 tennis, but seeing how good players prepare, seeing how they work, and also trying to figure out how to fit in in that environment. My way to fit in was to basically be the second coach. I was a scout. So I could tell my guys, “Oh, yeah, the number one guy. Yeah, Kenny, you played that guy last year. You beat him two and one.” That was really useful to him. He appreciated that information. And so it’d go from them being curious about me saying that to them to, “Hey, Ron. Hey, did I play this guy? How did it go? Calm me down. Help me out.”

Ron Bronson:
And so I’m in high school and I’m doing this. I’m a high school junior, I’m a senior and I’m doing this for my better players because I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be on the team. And so, as I got older … I didn’t like practicing as a kid. I liked to work on my own, but I didn’t really enjoy the way practices were set up. So I’m like, how do I create an environment where players want to get better and they want to come, they want to belong, irrespective of where they are in terms of their talent level? All you need to do is be hungry and excited about it.

Ron Bronson:
So how it ties to my everyday work is the same kind of thing. You come in with energy. You come in excited. I come in trying to help you get better and it’s not transactional. I’m not trying to make you better to get something out of it for me. I mean, we benefit from it, but I don’t care about that. If it means you getting better, it means you leave and go make more money, shout out to you because you did that. You made that happen. I didn’t.

Ron Bronson:
And so coaching is that and it’s fun over the years. I’ve been to camps over the years. I’ve been coaching high school tennis now. To have this arc of seeing kids from 1998, the first time I coached, to this year … I mean, I’ve taken years off, of course, but I coached this season. Basically, in theory, there were kids in ’98 who probably could have kids now, who could be kids of mine. Right? I’ve done a generation of this, in a way.

Ron Bronson:
And so it’s fun to be a little relevant over the times and you get to see how people evolve and grow and change and how you need to adapt your methods to resonate with a different generation. I’m almost washed, but I’m not quite there yet. I’m getting there. I’m not going to be coaching at 60. Then I’ll be super washed, at that point. So I’m not going to be one of those coaches you see, like … Oh, no, no. I’m nearing my end, but it’s been really fun and it’s … You work online. As somebody who spends a lot of time on a laptop, a lot of time on a computer, it’s very, very nice to have a time where you don’t do that and somewhere you’ve got to show up and be accountable to people and not just a … to be somewhere every day.

Ron Bronson:
And it’s different than a nonprofit or something. This is different. It’s in-person. It’s every day. There’s an ebb and flow. It’s pretty simple, but it’s not. You build the culture, but you’ve got enforce the culture. It’s a lot of lessons in it. I learned so much just from this season of coaching. I learned so much. And it’s stuff that I think applies to my everyday work. So it’s super, super cool.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you obsessed with right now.

Ron Bronson:
Oh, man, Finnish baseball. I mean, it’s true. Pesapällo, Google it, friends, but I really want to know what’s next. People tease me, friends of mine. Even second-tier friends will tease me about, “Oh, your Twitter bio changes all the time.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m just AB testing,” but also I just want to [inaudible 00:33:28]. But one of the things I always put in there … It’s not in there right now, but it may be after we hang up, “Thinking out loud about a post-service design world.”

Ron Bronson:
And so I’m really obsessed right now with thinking about, as it relates to the work, anyway, is thinking about what does a world look like that doesn’t involve always just expecting folks to get on the treadmill? How do we build experiences that then involve people getting off? How do we build humane experiences that allow people to say, “Well, you used the thing, but you’re not using it anymore. Thanks for using it,” instead of guilt tripping them because they were going to unsubscribe from your stupid newsletter. I wonder about that. And I think COVID has helped a little bit with that, but I still think we’re still very embedded in the CRM, always be closing mentality of every … It’s permeated everything that we do.

Ron Bronson:
So I’m really obsessed with how do we … especially in terms of human-centered design, what does the next thing look like? How do we ideate paste this world that is very dominated by selling and buying things? Because I don’t like it. I just don’t. So I’m very obsessed with trying to figure that out, not because I want to invent something. Maybe I want to absolve my own guilt for being involved in this, tangentially, but that’s what I’m obsessed with, other than Finnish baseball, which I’m very obsessed with, is this topic.

Maurice Cherry:
Please go more into Finnish baseball.

Ron Bronson:
Long story short … This is your 90-second version of the story. [crosstalk 00:34:53] play a version of baseball. It’s the version they play now, since the 1920s. It’s a really cool design story, Finnish guy. He’s a Finnish Olympian, actually, in track, though. They played a bat and ball game in Europe that, basically, it was one base, whatever. He came to America twice and saw some baseball games. It was like, “I like this, but I can make it better.” So he went home and over 20 years, partially because of the way Finland became a country 100 years ago and so he was able to do this at the time when the country was becoming a country. So they sort of build this national pride over their own sport.

Ron Bronson:
And so he was able to iterate this sport called pesapällo, which is basically a Finnish version of baseball. There are nine players, there are four bases, there’s a bat, there’s a ball, there’s a field. Everything else is different. The rules are a little bit … It gets weirder. I found it online years ago … I invented a sport years ago and so I found it in the midst of doing that, but it wasn’t until about 2016 or so that I, through the internet, through magical Twitter, sort of went mini viral in Finland. It was an article about me in a newspaper. I ended up at the Finnish Embassy in New York. I’ve been to Finland since then. I’ve been on TV in Finland. It’s a whole thing.

Ron Bronson:
So anyway, I just enjoyed the game. I think it’s a really cool design story. It’s mostly a rural sport. You get more nanoseconds. It’s mostly a rural sport. There are some city teams, but it’s evolved into being a pretty rural sport. There are kids that play it from when they’re little. There are adults that play it. I just love the community and the culture around it. It’s a very specifically Finnish thing and I just think it’s a fun story to me. I think it’s been really fun to get immersed in it and you can … Now, I can watch all the games online. Back in the day, when I used to get into this, you couldn’t do that. It was three-day-old videos and there were no commentary and you didn’t know what was going on.

Ron Bronson:
Now, I just think I [inaudible 00:36:42] podcast. So it’s been a really fun way to get immersed in another culture through a thing that we all … many of us appreciate sports. Right? So, yeah, that’s the story.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. I’m looking it up now and I like that Wikipedia calls it a fast moving bat and ball sports.

Ron Bronson:
Yeah. It’s way faster than baseball. It’s definitely not boring. It’s not boring. A baseball game, you can go get a hot dog, come back and you won’t miss anything, maybe. In pesapällo, you would do that, you might miss a lot. It’s pretty great.

Maurice Cherry:
Is it played here in the States or is mostly just a European-

Ron Bronson:
No. It’s literally only played in Finland.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Ron Bronson:
It’s literally only played in Finland. I mean, there are a few pockets of places where Finnish expats have brought it. So there’s a small community in Switzerland, there’s a small community in Germany, there’s a smaller community in Sweden. There are probably eight people in America that might play it. And as it turns out, the outreach that they were doing, it’s actually a community of people playing in Bangladesh in India, weirdly enough, and Pakistan. So there’s a [inaudible 00:37:48] trying to go … not global, but a little bit, some growth going on.

Ron Bronson:
There’s a major league for the men’s [aliment 00:37:55] sport for both, but it is entirely a Finnish exercise right now. So yeah, nothing in the States.

Maurice Cherry:
Fascinating. I’m looking it up as you’re talking about it. I’m seeing all these articles and things about … I’m going to have to watch some pesapällo on YouTube. I’m interested now.

Ron Bronson:
Yeah, there’s some good stuff on YouTube and Twitter. You go to Superfaces, you can look it up. You follow me, unfortunately. You could see my [inaudible 00:38:23]. You can unfollow me after this, but it was a good run we had. It was a good run we had, but you can see all my annoying tweets about it in half Finnish, half [inaudible 00:38:32]. [inaudible 00:38:32] at Finnish. I’ve gotten better, but it’s still pretty bad. But yeah, it’s some really fun stuff, just to highlight. They’ve gotten way better at social media in the past 10 years. So you can actually follow the game fairly well online. It’s pretty neat.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What advice has stuck with you the longest, throughout your career?

Ron Bronson:
I don’t know that it’s specifically advice. I think it’s more modeling. Having had so many good bosses over the years, good managers, people who … or even people that weren’t managers, who just looked out for you. Having that model so much in my life has made me [inaudible 00:39:07] level of empathy and care and consideration that I never would’ve. I think it’s funny how you actually talked about 2014. The lesson is is that that experience taught me that, if that had been first job and that had been my first situation with a manager, my entire career would be different, and not for the better. And so it’s wild how one person or one situation can completely change the trajectory of your situation. So you need to choose carefully the places you decide to start your carer, move your career or whatever because people, unfortunately, have an outsized impact on where you go and how you move forward and how you get to brand yourself and so forth.

Ron Bronson:
But it made me very appreciative for the people before that in ways that I wouldn’t have that. It made me so appreciate for people that looked out for me, who empowered me, who propelled me, who gave me the room to fail, who gave me chances, helped me grow and put me in positions to be successful. And so I just try to pay that forward all the time, anyway I can, because I’m just so grateful for that.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when I look at your past interview and then, of course, when talking with you now and just seeing all the things that you have accomplished in life, aside from career-wise, you also just have very interesting personal pursuits. You’ve sort of glossed over inventing a sport, but you’ve invented a sport, you’re into pesapällo, you’re doing all these … You had a T-line for awhile. I remember the T-line.

Ron Bronson:
Dude, yeah. You go way back.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What haven’t you done yet that you want to do?

Ron Bronson:
I do stand up, too. That was cool. I got that out of the way. Never doing that again. It was fine. It’s just you can’t … I want to win a state title next year. That would be cool, if we can do that, only because my high school coach never got to. My high school coach meant a lot to me and then we never got to do it. Through the way schools work, a lot of the players who train end up going to private schools. So we were good, but I wouldn’t have been on a high school team if we had the players that should’ve been on the team, but we were [inaudible 00:41:06] of our state title. So I’d love to win one for him. So that’d be cool.

Ron Bronson:
Besides that, I don’t know. It’s actually a good question and I don’t have a good answer for it because I’m not sure. It’s a question I’ve wondered, myself, is, “Cool. You’ve gotten pretty far. You’ve done some stuff. Wow. What a run you’ve had. What’s next?” Getting this book out would be cool, things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ron Bronson:
I’m really curious to see, myself, what the next bucket of milestones and goals, myself, are. I’m not sure. A lot of my work right now is focused on trying to build a better world, I guess, which is hokey, but it’s true. And personally, I’m not even sure. Honestly, I really don’t even know.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I guess this is sort of a related question to that, but where do you see yourself in the next five years? What would you like the next chapter of your story to be?

Ron Bronson:
I want it to be intentional. I want the next chapter of my story to be intentional and I want there to be a level of care involved in it. It’d be cool if I could get out of America for awhile and go live somewhere else for a good while, maybe not come back. That’d be rad. That’d be the end of that. So [inaudible 00:42:14] embassy, call me, but something like that would be cool. I think maybe, as it not relates to that, thinking about the work, it’d be cool to see what other kinds of stuff I could do. It’d be fun to help a state scale up their own digital team and go run one of those. I love fixing [inaudible 00:42:33] problems and solving them. And I’ve got some longevity in that now. So I really enjoy that kind of work. So it’d be fun to find a bigger problem space and solve it and help [inaudible 00:42:42] work with a team of people to fix these problems and none of this stuff is done alone. So that could be fun to set those kinds of goals.

Ron Bronson:
I like being behind the scenes. I don’t need anything super, super visible. I don’t want to aspire to anything ridiculously visible, but I like solving problems that other folks don’t necessarily want to solve. But I think, much like when we talked seven years ago, I didn’t know what the future had in store. I didn’t know what my stealing was. And I think that, if I wanted people to get something from this, if you get nothing else from my interview, other than [inaudible 00:43:15] pesapällo, which is amazing, you should all love it, is don’t put a governor or a ceiling or a cat on your potential. Don’t let your own imposter syndrome or something your parents said when you were 11 or something a teacher said when you were 22, don’t let … or a boss said to you when you were 30, don’t let those things, those individual, isolated situations put a cap on where you think you can go.

Ron Bronson:
Obviously, you have to do the work. Obviously, you’ve got to show up. Obviously, you’ve got to have some luck, but if you can position yourself, the opportunities can come. The things can come. You’re patient, but you’re also doing the work. And be willing to reinvent yourself, but I think that that’s the biggest lesson from, say, when we talk to now and thinking about the future, is as long as you don’t put a cap on it prematurely, then who knows what doors can open, what ceilings can be there because I don’t know. I didn’t predict this. I didn’t see this coming. I really didn’t. I’m past where I thought I was trying to go, which is really cool, but also kind of frightening.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, Ron, where can our audience find our more about you and about your work and everything online?

Ron Bronson:
Definitely always at Ronbronson.com, definitely on your Twitter machine. Your Mileage May Vary There at Ron Bronson and also Consequencedesign.org. I’m trying to throw things up on there, as well. And since Maurice encouraged me to do this, I’m probably going to take that [inaudible 00:44:40] and stick some of that stuff on there, too.

Maurice Cherry:
The strategty book is really good. If people want to check it out, I can link to it in the show notes. It’s a quick read and really I came across it at a time when I needed to think about what my next step was going to be because I had sort of wound down my studio and I was doing interviews and, I mean, the places I was interviewing at, I was like, “I don’t want to go and just be a designer. I can bring more to the table than that.” And so reading just what you wrote about strategy and everything really changed my mindset going into all this. So hopefully, people will check it out.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, Ron, as always, thank you so much for coming on the show, for really giving us an update on what you’ve been working on. It’s been so great to hear about all the work that you’re doing, helping out our government, as whole, with the work that you’re doing. I know we’re not going directly talking about stuff, but just being able to-

Ron Bronson:
[crosstalk 00:45:39] [inaudible 00:45:39].

Maurice Cherry:
Well, yeah, that’s true.

Ron Bronson:
Yeah. Y’all can look and see. You’re smart.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, but I think just, one, being able to do that work and then also how you’re encouraging and paying it forward to other people, whether it’s in civic tech, whether it’s coaching or what have you. I can definitely tell that you have that sort of spirit of paying it forward, which I think will take you very far. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Ron Bronson:
Appreciate you, too, always for all the work you’ve been doing and doing these thankless tasks. It’s a lot of work and a lot of energy and amplifying people, especially back in the day. I’ve given you your flowers while we’re on the show. I was just a guy buried somewhere and I think I tweeted at you and you were like, “Yeah, come on the show.” That is seriously the coolest thing in the world. You didn’t have to do that. You could’ve been like, “Ah, all right, buddy. That’s fine. I’ve got a long list,” and you did. So super grateful for you, not only for this, but for all the things you’ve done over the years, your different projects you’ve put on and amplifying black designers, specifically, but also people of color and just really … not just talking about the work, but doing the work and being intentional about that, and inspiring others to do that, including me.

Ron Bronson:
So just as much as you just said, “Ah, whatever I did,” it goes back to you. Your body of work speaks for itself. So super grateful for you, for now and always.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

According to Kim Williams, it takes real grit to be in the design field. She serves as the group manager for the UX core team at Indeed, where she leads a interdisciplinary team of designers, technologists, writers, and researchers working across the globe.

We talked a lot about design leadership — what it takes to not only build and lead a team, but also how to enable them to do their best work and make sure they have what they need to succeed. From there, Kim shared her journey as a designer, starting from her humble roots growing up in Jamaica to leading design efforts at Ogilvy & Mather, eBay, and now her time at Indeed. It’s important as a designer of color in this field that we own our narrative, and Kim’s definitely someone who is doing that! Get inspired from listening to her story today!

Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Deanna Testa and edited by Keisha “TK” Dutes. 


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It’s been a while since we first had Bobby C. Martin, Jr. on Revision Path, so I’m glad to have a chance to really sit down and talk with him to kick things off for our final month of interviews for 2018.

As the co-founder and founding partner of the Original Champions of Design, Bobby’s identity design system work sets him in a class all his own. Whether he’s handling rebranding for the WNBA or creating an identity system for the Girl Scouts, Bobby has helped elevate companies around the world.

We started off by talking about the business of OCD, including how it’s changed with the times, how they find clients, and what it’s like working with and building a team. From there, we took things back to Bobby’s early days in Virginia, and he shared the inspirations and memories which influenced him as a designer, and we also talked about design curriculum, as well as what it feels like for him to occupy space as such a well-known designer. Bobby wants everyone to know that you can make a living from being a designer, and putting everything you can into your work is the key to success!


Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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As a creative, Delanie West contains multitudes. She has over 20 years of experience in the design industry across product development, packaging, experience design, and creative global sourcing. She’s lead creative teams, served on executive committees, and has been influential in mentoring designers and developers from all over.

Delanie is also the brains behind BeSuperCreative, a consultancy that helps people and organizations bring their creative ideas to life. We talked about how she got her start in design from an ad in The New York Times, what she looks for when hiring for creative teams, her time at Hampton University, and a lot more. Delanie’s goal is to help designers evolve their career past just delivering on a creative brief, so make sure you pay attention to her advice in this week’s episode!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
fbdesign_logo_75
Revision Path is also sponsored by Glitch. Glitch is the friendly community where you can build the app of your dreams. Stuck on something? Get help! You got this!
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Revision Path is also brought to you by Google Design! Google Design is committed to sharing the best design thinking from Google and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter!
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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There’s no single way to becoming a designer these days, which I suppose is one of the most interesting things about this industry. Mikell Fine Iles, for example, grew up in San Francisco around art and design, went to Clark-Atlanta University for school, studied more design in Denmark, and worked for agencies Noise and JWT before his current position at Bloomberg as design director. And there’s more!

We started our conversation talking about Mikell’s day-to-day work at Bloomberg, and from there talked about his time in Atlanta as a student and young professional, discussed what HBCUs can do to prepare the next generation of designers, and he talked about his time studying design in Denmark! Mikell’s talent, drive and hustle have really helped propel him to success.


Did you like this episode? Get special behind-the-scenes access for just $5/month!

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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
fbdesign_logo_75
Revision Path is also sponsored by Glitch. Glitch is the friendly community where you can build the app of your dreams. Stuck on something? Get help! You got this!
glitch_75
Revision Path is also brought to you by Google Design! Google Design is committed to sharing the best design thinking from Google and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter!
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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