Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Lara Salamano on Recruiting and Supporting Talent in Modern Design
Modern design drives experience that is essential to creating differentiated products and services. But how can companies attract and retain a workforce with expertise in this hard to find discipline? Lara Salamano, Design & Innovation Hub Lead and Senior Digital Strategist at Infosys, explains.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“Whatever we're developing, it all has to start with that human interaction and with the experience that that person, that human, is going to have with our product, with our design, with our experience.”
- Lara Salamano
What is it about design that excites Lara?
How'd she come to gain expertise in this area?
Lara talks about Hanna-Barbera Cartoons and her experience working with Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera.
Lara talks about the creative process that the writers, the animators went through to make these things that have become iconic 20-30 years ago.
Is there anything about that period developing stories that she either thinks about today or she thinks that people could take a lesson from?
What were some of the things that kept Lara up at night when she was a marketing lead?
Keeping the chief marketing officer hat on for a moment, from the time when Lara was in that position until now, how has technology changed or evolved or how has that changed the role of the marketing leader?
Moving to industrial products. What about these companies that are trying to see beyond their former customer all the way to the consumer?
Stepping aside from the marketing perspective, what about design? When Lara thinks about design, what are the fundamentals of design and how does she bring it to life?
What's novel about Lara’s approach? Talking about hiring good talent.
How is Lara developing a very difficult set of expertise with very junior people?
What are the biggest challenges that Lara faced and how has she overcome them?
Someone new coming out of school and maybe not fortunate enough to have to get a degree at Rhode Island School of Design, what can they do to get better at this magical thing called design?
Lara talks about design thinking.
Jeff and Lara talk about the relationship between the chief marketing officer and the chief information officer at companies.
What are some elements that are essential in today's world to be effective at partnerships?
What are three things that executives and senior leaders can do to have more of a design-oriented approach and perhaps more effectiveness in their own organization?
Who or what has been a major influence on Lara’s career?
Jeff Kavanaugh: Welcome to this episode of the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. Design is more than function. It drives experience and is essential to creating differentiated products and services. Yet what is modern design and how do you attract and retain a workforce with expertise in this hard to find discipline? Lara Salamano believes it is about diversity and being open to new ideas while respecting traditional design fundamentals. Lara's work is the head of emphasis design and innovation center in Providence, Rhode Island helps clients move from the functional to the experiential side of design powered by a new wave of human talent. Today I'm happy to be joined by Lara to discuss design digital age. Welcome Lara.
Lara Salamano: Thank you Jeff, happy to be here.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What is it about design that excites you?
Lara Salamano: Everything. Design is what gets your emotions going. It's what you interact with. It's what makes brands sticky. I have a 25 year career in marketing communications and it is all about the emotion and it is all about what makes people interact with our products.
Jeff Kavanaugh: How'd you come to gain expertise in this area?
Lara Salamano: I've spent about 25 years in the marketing communications field. I spent my first 15 years at, well my first three years, at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, and then I moved to Viacom and I spent 15 years at Viacom in their marketing department, first in consumer products and then across partnership marketing. And that was across multiple platforms, demographics and brands. And then I moved my family back to Rhode Island and I became the chief marketing officer for the state of Rhode Island. And then I came to Emphasis about 10 months ago January, to help spearhead this amazing innovation and design center.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Talk about a diverse background. We've got to start with the whole cartoon thing. Was it a serious job?
Lara Salamano: It was a great first job. So, I spent most of my time with Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera, the founders and the owners of Hanna-Barbera. I mean, you'd remember Tom and Jerry and the Flintstones, I mean all these quintessential-
Jeff Kavanaugh: More importantly than that. Did you ever help the road runner get caught by Wiley coyote?
Lara Salamano: No. But it was pretty incredible. They were these amazing animators that really, that started, they were our age and they were all at Hanna-Barbera. We were all in our early twenties and all these guys went off to create the Powerpuff Girls and Genndy Tartakovsky is an amazing animator now and he does tons of movies and so it was an amazing first jump into my career.
Jeff Kavanaugh: In semi seriousness, what was it, I mean think about it, 20, 30 years later or more. We're talking about these things. Do you remember anything about the creative process that the writers, the animators would go through to make these things that have become iconic?
Lara Salamano: Absolutely. And that's what brought me into marketing in the first place. Again, it is about human emotion and creating that, so what they would put into their work and to their art, it was really all about how do you touch the customer. I mean, we called the customer the consumer, but in their eyes it was their audience.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Is there anything about that period developing stories that you either think about today or you think that people could take a lesson from?
Lara Salamano: I do. I mean, I do think in my entire career, it all starts with the customer. It all starts with the consumer and that's exactly what this team of people, that's what they start with. When they start thinking about the experience, even the technology, whatever we're developing, it all has to start with that human interaction and with the experience that that person, that human, is going to have with our product, with our design, with our experience.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You'd mentioned that in your current role at Emphasis and you're not emphasizing as much emphasis as this journey of trying to think about design. Design literally with cartoons, and then you headed as a marketing leader. What was it when you were the marketing lead, I think it was at Viacom you mentioned. What were some of the things that kept you up at night?
Lara Salamano: Well, I think knowing what's next, really thinking about trends, where people are going, what's next on the curve, making sure that you're there. So I do think, again, it's walking in people's shoes and understanding how they consume and what are they going to want next and understanding that. And again, and you and I talked about this a lot, understanding that consumer, having deep research and knowledge on that consumer and on the landscape, and I think that that is always a challenge. Understanding what the future looks like, but really being able to put yourself there and your customer there.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Keeping the chief marketing officer hat on for a moment, from the time when you were in that position until now, how has technology changed or evolved or how has that changed the role of the marketing leader?
Lara Salamano: Well, it's amazing. people are so afraid, I think, of it, but as a marketer you embrace it, you love it, you love having this knowledge. And I think it makes us better at selling our products, whether it be our partners at Emphasis, or in the world that just makes all of our brands deeper and stickier and you can speak directly to that consumer. I love getting dynamic ads. I love knowing that something's being served up to me. I want to buy it. It's right there. It makes my life that much easier.
Jeff Kavanaugh: I get that for consumer products. What about for industrial ones? Because, so many companies didn't used to be able to see their customer. For example, working with a car seat manufacturer that sold it to the OEM that never ever knew. What about these companies that are trying to see beyond their former customer all the way to the consumer?
Lara Salamano: Yeah. Well again, it gives you so much intel and you and I talked about this too, just everything, this is just research. This is research that where you can understand your consumer, you can understand the landscape, you can understand just so much more. When you have knowledge that just makes for a more brilliant product, no matter what it is. No matter if it's a digital product, no matter if it's an industrial product, no matter what it is, it's going to give you just a better outcome.
Jeff Kavanaugh: There seems to be two schools of thought as you talk about marketing and maybe you could make the same case for design. There's the engineering, a very technical side, and there's this creative that don't bother me with rules or addressing formally or anything. Can you contrast the two and is there any middle ground here?
Lara Salamano: Well, I do think that that's what merges here.
Jeff Kavanaugh: When you say here?
Lara Salamano: Meaning at this Emphasis, at this center, this design center. I do think that the people, the designers, that we have here, they're incredibly creative. They all come from four year design schools, top tier design schools, they all have UX experience, but their right and left brain, they understand the business case. We're really evolving and creating next gen designers here, we're calling full-stack designers because they have to have that ability to understand how an engineer's going to work, how this is going to become something beyond themselves. So, I do think that this really merges all of that together.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Reminds me of the corpus callosum, it's that actual small part of your brain that connects the right and the left. Kind of translate. Stepping aside from the marketing perspective, what about design? When you think about design, what are the fundamentals of design and how do you bring it to life here?
Lara Salamano: Well, I think again, you have to be very creative. We see that the journey, we understand the mapping, the technical piece of it, but really when a consumer sees it, they want something that's intuitive, but they do want you to walk in their shoes and they want something beautiful. They want something again, that evokes emotion, that makes them want to interact with your technology. And so we really strive to enforce that here.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What's novel about the approach you're taking here? It sounds like other places are also hiring pretty good talent. Is there anything different you're doing here?
Lara Salamano: I think we take a very strategic approach. A, we do deeply involved in research and analytics and understanding that customer, but most of the junior people that we hire on, they go through an amazing training with our partners, Rhode Island School of Design. They'll be humble to say this, but they are the best design school in the world. And I can say that as the prior chief marketing officer for the state of Rhode Island. They put our young designers through an incredible program called Strategic Design Program and it teaches them to think in complex ways and I think creates a more innovative approach and more innovative designers.
Jeff Kavanaugh: There's supposedly a talent war out there, we all can call it a talent famine. There just aren't enough people for the right jobs. It's hard enough to hire rock stars with 20 years experience. How are you developing a very difficult set of expertise with very junior people?
Lara Salamano: Again, we're putting them through great training. We, at Emphasis, we're steeped in and so we provide wonderful training, as I mentioned with RISD, with our other partners, Doby, we give an essential training on Lex, on all kinds of platforms, which is incredible that we have access to that. Then it's partnering them with a great leader, with great talent that can give them good development and great skills on big projects where they get to really spread their wings and fly.
Jeff Kavanaugh: I know you're pretty proud and passionate about it. Don't this to be an advertisement for Emphasis so much. What are some of the challenges though, as people are listening, especially if they're in charge of a group. Let's say they're trying to train, they're trying to develop the expertise. What are the biggest challenges that you faced and how have you overcome them?
Lara Salamano: I think the complexity that Emphasis brings, I think we have a lot of new people new to the workforce.
Jeff Kavanaugh: So any large company will be complex.
Lara Salamano: Will be complex, period. And then I do think that there's a lot of complexity just within our organization. How many service lines there are, who do I report to, when am I going to get on that project, and so there are just a lot of open un-ended question.
Jeff Kavanaugh: So, beyond the expertise itself, which is hard to develop? You're talking about, how does someone be effective in a large multi-disciplined company?
Lara Salamano: Absolutely, and I do think that this generation too, the millennials, they want to be constantly challenged and that is, we have to figure out internal projects. They work on projects that maybe they're not scoped on but they'll help out on. So, it is a really rigorous process to make sure that we're keeping our people challenged and effective.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Turns the hierarchical model upside down, doesn't it? What happens when you train people, when you send them out and they get involved with a manager that might be a little bit old school or might not give them some of these things? What's advice that you give them to overcome this?
Lara Salamano: Well, what I will say with the hub model that I do love and I do think it, I'm a human. I'm a human being that you can come to and you can talk to about any situation you're in and I will get people will be on the road. Someone was in Texas for a few months and they were texting me, I'm having this issue with a manager and we talked through the best approach for that. So, I think all you can really do is say you've got people that you can come to that can give you good advice, that can help you to figure out right or left. And so that's really how we just try to individually walk them through how to handle things.
Jeff Kavanaugh: In some respects you're being a change agent for the company and anyone doing this, trying to be a better designer or systems thinker is going to run up against that in any kind of siloed or hierarchical organization.
Lara Salamano: And I think those skills are very important. I believe one of the best skills I ever learned and have in my career is my relationship skills. And I think that's what I'm trying to bring to them. They have amazing design skills. They have people they can reach out to for technical skills, but I can help them in the workforce, how to be powerful and how to make a difference.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Once again, you're listening to the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. We're here with Lara, Infosys, design center head. Lara, if someone's listening to this and they're new coming out of school and maybe they don't fortunate enough to have this program. What are some things they can do? Any professional, to get better at this magical thing called design? How do you make that real for them?
Lara Salamano: I think design is a difficult thing because it isn't something you can just learn in a quick course. I mean, you can certainly take things online, but we do hire people with four year degrees in it, so I would say if you really, really are serious about design, you have to take some serious courses about it in order to teach you that skill. That's hard to learn in a quick crash course.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Understand. Given the people can't go that full route though, if they could take one online course or they could take one thread of self learning, what do you recommend as a starting point?
Lara Salamano: I mean Adobe UX is a wonderful place to start. You can certainly teach yourself that. Udemy has a great platform. They've got some offerings too around UX. So I'd say start there. There's some great design thinking courses that are out there.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Speaking of design thinking, several years ago it reached a fever pitch in the business world. Where do you see it now as a discipline? Hate to use the word 'buzz-word' but where do you see it now compared to maybe that fever pitch it reached a few years ago?
Lara Salamano: It is a word that's thrown around a lot. And when we talk to our partners at RISD, they'll say they're not in the design thinking business and we just had a conversation, I mean, they want to keep people in this complex world. They want to teach them how to navigate complexity not deconstruct it necessarily. And when we are dealing with our partners here, we recently did a workshop, and it was more about understanding what their issues are, breaking those down and helping them to develop their digital end-to-end transformation.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Let's contrast those two things because it's interesting the way you brought it up. The one hand you've got design thinking, deconstructing something complex so you can quickly create a prototype, make to learn, make to think. And then the other, the center for complexity or embracing complexity and amplifying the human's ability to deal with it. Can you contrast how you use those techniques?
Lara Salamano: Well, I think we are in a world of complexity and you can try to deconstruct it, but we are living there and that's what we're developing, is skills to understand how to live in that world and how to make a better product, how to ask tougher questions, how to live in that and not to fight against it. So, that's the model that we're using here. Not really the simplifying of it, but the living within and asking deeper, tougher questions.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Do you think it's an approach instead of design thinking or it's the next iteration or development of the design thinking?
Lara Salamano: I think it's the next iteration or development of design thinking, but I don't know if RISD per se, ever lived in the space, so simplifying, they've always lived in the space of complexity.
Jeff Kavanaugh: The other thing that's interesting is the relationship that company leaders have between functional areas and the one that's really intriguing right now given we talked about marketing, talked about technology, is the relationship between the chief marketing officer and the chief information officer at companies. Given that you lead this hub and then you talk with clients on a regular basis, what have you noticed about the relationship, how it's evolved and also what should these leaders do to be more successful in this relationship?
Lara Salamano: Yeah, I actually think that that's the most interesting question and really a big reason why I came here, because I don't wear a tech hat, I don't speak in CTO terms, I'm a marketing person. And so coming here I wanted to be able to have the conversations with marketing people and speaking a marketing language and offer them digital marketing skills. And we had a company here, I won't name names, we had a company here that we've had a 20 year relationship with and it was the first time that we've had 18 of their business leaders marketing across most of their business platforms, only two people from technology were here. And that's the first time in our relationship that we've ever had a meeting like that. So, it feels like we are entering a whole different opportunity with what we're doing here at this design innovation center. And it really is based in speaking to the CMO.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What skills do you see the CMO needing to have, maybe in her or his organization or with themselves, that they didn't have before?
Lara Salamano: Well, I think they have to understand the opportunities, how to reach their customers. But what I did say in this meeting was, you just need to have a partner like us. And we will help you to do that. We just need to know who you're trying to reach, how you're reaching them now, what your budgets are, and we will do the heavy lifting for you. So, I think it is, you know, we're partners in this space and we're strategic partners in this space. So again, we're not going to give you something off the shelf, we're going to really help you to understand where your opportunity is and how we can deliver on that best for your customer.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You mentioned partnerships and again not making this emphasis specific. In general, in this very rapidly evolving complex world, it would seem that partnerships are important, the ability to strike them up quickly, make them effective and sometimes evolve them or depending on the nature of it, maybe back away, especially if it's tactical. What are some elements that you see they're essential in today's world to be effective at partnerships?
Lara Salamano: Trust. I'd say trust is number one. It is definitely that comes down to building a deep relationship. Being able to say, I trust you to help me with my strategy. I'm going to put a lot of money on the line. What is my strategy here? And it's not, again, a tactical plan. It is really a strategy and being true partners is delivering on that and saying you can trust me to deliver and to provide you tenfold to your clients and get an ROI. And so I think it all comes down to trust.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Let's use that partnership we're now in partnering between the CIO and the CMO, what are some things that you've seen people do as a good practice to develop that trust between leaders and your clients?
Lara Salamano: Well, I think again, they have to communicate. It has to come down to communication. And a lot of times the CIO holds the budget or has certain things that he or she needs to get done. The CMO, again, they've always just, I think, have acted in different sort of budget spaces and different targets, and now it's all the same. So I think it is this world of ambiguity where it is going back and forth and this is what I've seen in many meetings. I need to understand what the CMO's priorities are, but I have to understand what CIO's priorities are, and so they're coming together, I think, on a more regular basis now. We're seeing a lot more collaboration between the two of them and I think it does come down to communication and really understanding the priorities.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Do you see, in those effective collaborations, that the two, actually, I don't want to use the word take, but seem to gather more influence across an enterprise?
Lara Salamano: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. They are the connector between the company and the client on every level. So they have a ton of influence.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Because it seems that most functions in a company either become more of a differentiator innovator or a commodity or utility. And it sounds like what you're saying, that partnership ensures the best of both worlds [crosstalk 00:20:40]
Lara Salamano: Exactly.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Do you work mostly with companies in the US or globally?
Lara Salamano: Yes. I'll see the companies in the US. A lot of our hubs deal with companies directly in their radius. What's interesting about our hub is it's not about location. I mean, we deal with a lot of obviously local companies, but it really is across the entire US and into Canada.
Jeff Kavanaugh: We've covered several things and our discussion covered design workforce and the CMO/CIO relationship. As an executive or senior person listening to this, what are three things that they can do that can have more of a design oriented approach and perhaps more effectiveness in their own organization?
Lara Salamano: I mean, I would say being open minded, being collaborative, having a strategic vision. Certainly when you think about a creative person, you think about those three skills and I think that those are critical to any good relationship in any sort of design product.
Jeff Kavanaugh: If there was one technical skill that a non-technical person could learn or adopt, what do you recommend they do?
Lara Salamano: I mean, they certainly need to know the basics, you know, sketch. They need to understand the basic fundamentals of design. But again, I think it's so much of it comes down to how their brain works and then being open minded and we always talk about opening the aperture here and being able to look at something wider than it is.
Jeff Kavanaugh: As we wrap it up and bring it to a close, I did want to ask who or what has been a major influence on your career?
Lara Salamano: I'd say two of my female bosses were really amazing. They were smart as whips, so strategic but yet so kind and compassionate that you would want to walk through fire for them. And they've been an inspiration and I joined this organization because I really love to lead people and I hope I'm doing a good job for this group.
Jeff Kavanaugh: I'm sure. How can people reach you or your hub?
Lara Salamano: So, we are the Providence Innovation and Design Hub and I am sure you can find us through our website.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yeah, you can go on the show notes as well.
Lara Salamano: Great.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yes, you can find details on our show notes and the transcripts at infosys.com/iki in our podcast section. Lara, thank you for your time and a highly interesting discussion.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You've been listening to the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. Thanks to our producer, Catherine Burdette, and the entire Knowledge Institute team. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Lara Salamano
Lara is Design & Innovation Hub Lead and Senior Digital Strategist at Infosys. She has a proven track record of developing and implementing innovative brand marketing strategies across multiple networks, platforms and demographics that result in long term brand equity and revenue growth. Lara has a broad expertise in consumer, pro-social and new product marketing yielding measurable results and ROI for networks and strategic partners.