Sures Kumar

In Empathy We Trust

July 15, 2021
July 15, 2021

Sures Kumar

In Empathy We Trust

We keep exploring different design paths and ways to skyrocket one’s career in the industry. Today we have a very special guest from Google who found his biggest strength in empathy and support from the team. He also shared tips on how to empower yourself to be a better person in order to become a better specialist.

Sures Kumar, Designer at Google

Sures is an interaction designer and a recognized digital artist, specializing in speculation design. He works on Google’s Research and Machine Intelligence team (Google AI) to advance new, human-centered artificial intelligence and quantum experiences. His works have been exhibited internationally across various galleries and featured in magazines like WIRED, The Verge, FastCoDesign, Core77, Business Insider and Arduino Blog.

Sures, you’ve been working as a Designer at Google for almost 7 years now. Do you remember the day when you had the epiphany: “I’m not a junior designer anymore”?

I remember running a design sprint for the Google Apps team to align product roadmaps across various teams in multiple time zones. One of the senior designers came to me and mentioned: “You’re doing a good job aligning visions across products by bringing in cross-functional key stakeholders from all the teams.” It took me a couple of weeks to plan the sprint, convince people from those teams (that I had never met) to spend 3 days on solving a problem that's not on their immediate to-do list, schedule time across their busy calendars, find a space to run the sprint, etc.

Apart from all the logistics, most of my actual time went into thinking: what’s a win-win situation for every single person in the room? How can I walk out of that sprint with a clear roadmap for my product and my team? This is the kind of work senior designers are expected to do, so I was mentally getting ready to be promoted soon :)

Building trust among cross-functional peers is key to getting ready for a new role in the company
Sounds impressive! What do you think is the most important thing for a designer to establish before getting ready for a role with possibly more responsibilities?

Building trust among cross-functional peers is key to getting ready for a new role in the company. Trying to make your design process as transparent as possible. This will surely build trust over time.

It also helps your stakeholders understand the value you are adding and provides them with an opportunity to appreciate it.

What is your source of inspiration right now? What’s your personal formula for work-life-universe balance, if you have one?

My inspiration is all around me. Pretty much everyone I have ever worked with has had some good qualities that have inspired me. One of my colleagues was great at articulating design rationale in a way that would sound simple enough for everyone in the room to understand, but would also build his credibility over time. I used to actively listen and observe everything he said in every meeting, I certainly learned a lot from him.

Regarding work-life balance, I like to maintain a strict 9-to-5 schedule. I turn off notifications on all personal apps while at work and work apps while at home. This has worked pretty well for the past few years. I do miss out on some important breaking news while at work, but that's something I am willing to trade for a more focused time.

I turn off notifications on all personal apps while at work and work apps while at home. This has worked pretty well for the past few years

My favorite tools for productive work

My first tool of choice would be a whiteboard or a piece of paper. It's simple, always available, and does not limit you to a predefined structure. I sketch pretty much everything – a thought, problem, idea, process, solution.

My second tool of choice would be a presentation tool (e.g., Google Slides or equivalent) or sticky notes. These are super helpful to organize thoughts, craft a strong narrative, and much more.

My third tool of choice would be Figma or Sketch. Being proficient in these tools helps communicate your design vision to key stakeholders and engineers effectively.

If you didn’t have to work anymore, what would you do? Is it related to what you’re currently working on?

Haha, nice question! I find pleasure in making stuff. I have always wanted to learn to landscape and build a log house from scratch. So, I might buy a few acres of land in a scenic area, design and build a home, garden, pond, etc. — all by myself!

Apart from making or building things, I will form a small team with talented folks and start solving problems that I find interesting. I’m working on it, but I can't tell what those problems are yet. :)

Lastly, what piece of advice would you like to give to designers who are just starting their paths in design?

Design is an evolving field with many practitioners joining from different backgrounds. It's also one of the most collaborative professions out there. So, be empathetic towards others on the team, see where they are coming from. I bet there is something they know that you don't, so try and learn that. Once you do this, you will start respecting them naturally. Once you genuinely start respecting people around you, the way you interface with them will change, which will make your whole career super smooth and successful.

If you want to read other stories from senior designers, please check these out:

In search of work-life balance

Minimalism is tricky

The creative process

If you have an inspiring story feel free to share it with us:

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