Google’s Andre Le Masurier: Be nice, fail fast, and seek discomfort
The Executive Creative Director for Google Brand Studio EMEA, Andre Le Masurier understands the importance of getting outside your bubble—whether that’s on a team outing, a quick walk around the office, or field trip to a different country.
Here, he shares the value in planning your own life, the importance of a work-life balance, and the magic behind working with people who are nothing like yourself.
You started out as a junior graphic designer, and now you’re Executive Creative Director for Google Brand Studio EMEA. How’d you get to where you are now?
Like most people, I got here with hard work, long hours, and dedication to something I’ve always inherently been passionate about. I created several three-year plans for myself along the way and just got after it. Hustle really counts, but taking the time to plan your own life is highly underrated. Do it.
Advice? Okay, here goes. Work hard and be nice to people. This industry (and world) is smaller than you think. Never stop learning and growing. Stay hungry, curious, and humble. Push your craft, knowledge, and portfolio of work forward every day. Focus on the user; everything else will follow.
Lastly, find ways to become indispensable to your team and company. Don’t complain or whine. Come with solutions, an entrepreneurial mindset, and a clear point of view. Our president at Google here in EMEA, Matt Brittin, says, “Act like an owner, win as a team.” That’s great advice.
What’s a typical day like for you?
There’s really no such thing as a typical day here at Google, and that’s one of the things I love most about it.
One week, I’m shooting a film with The New York Times about the power of artificial intelligence and civic discourse online, and the next I’m in the middle of the North Sea flying a drone and telling a VR story about wind energy. It’s kind of nuts.
I feel incredibly fortunate to lead such a talented, diverse group of makers from all walks of life. I oversee a world-class creative team who tackles anywhere between five and 10 projects of varying sizes at any given time. I also help steer the creative brand work for Google across EMEA by collaborating closely with the country marketing teams. It’s a blistering pace and I love it.
But back to the actual question. If I’m not traveling or on a film shoot, I’m up around 6:30am with the kids and out the door by 7:30, either going to the gym or dropping them off at school. From there, it’s normally back-to-back meetings and creative reviews from the time I enter the building to the time I leave around 7pm.
I oversee the creative and help grow the team and culture internally at the Brand Studio, but also work with many of the regional country marketing managers and PMMs across EMEA from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, UK, and MENA. I help raise the bar on the work, uphold the brand standards, and maintain a consistent tone of voice. I also sharpen briefs and strategy, supporting their agency partners to produce the best work possible. It’s a jam-packed day that goes by like a blur.
Having said that, we have a real focus on maintaining a work-life balance here. Our studio space is normally empty by 7pm, and that’s just how we like it. People need to recharge and unplug away from work in order to reach their potential. We want everyone coming in excited and passionate about the work every day—not burnt out wishing they were somewhere else.
Best and worst parts of your job?
The best part is definitely making meaningful experiences and content alongside an incredibly talented team. Most of our briefs are centered around how can we use the power of creativity and technology as a force for good to help our users. We get to work with super inspiring teams like Jigsaw to communicate some truly significant projects they’re working on: How can conversational AI assist The New York Times with civil discourse in their comment spaces? How can technology protect election information against digital attacks? Given the state of the world these days, I want to spend my time wisely, creating work that I’m proud of—and that helps—versus simply interrupting people.
The worst part I would re-frame as the most challenging. For me, that’s finding ways to scale myself and grow the team with top talent so we can get more done, help more of our users, and maximize our impact. There are so many interesting opportunities to create something meaningful at Google, so it’s tough to watch some briefs slip through your fingers.
How is your team set up? How many people, what are the different positions/roles, and what about your structure makes the team work efficiently? Any changes you’ve made to increase communication and efficiency?
We have a relatively small team, which is why efficiency and scale are constant areas of focus. We have anywhere between 30-40 people on the team at any time, including freelancers. We also work closely with our embedded agency, Phantom, and a bunch of incredibly talented agency roster partners. That allows us to scale and take on multiple large projects at once.
We are a collective of makers comprised of designers, writers, UX, motion artists, producers, PMMs, and developers. Everyone participates; there are no over-the-shoulder art directors or armchair quarterbacks. That makes everyone accountable and involved.
We go deep on user insights and refine briefs together as a team, and the work goes up on the wall so it’s owned by everyone. We’re all required to give input at all stages of the process. The producer or PMM on the project can help shape the work as much as the designer, developer, or writer.
We’re always working on getting better at process, communication, and efficiency. Our team is a living, breathing organism that’s always changing. Especially as people grow into new roles, freelancers come and go, reorganizations happen, projects launch, etc. There’s a stand-up to kick off the week with focus and clarity; weekly meetings to discuss what’s happening on the team and in the company; and weekly one-on-ones with all of my direct reports.
Having a small team is great because it means we all sit together in close proximity: Instead of sending another email, you can turn around and get an answer in person. We also intentionally switch the teams from one project to the next. It ensures different people get to work together, combining their superpowers to teach each other new tricks and ways of working.
Efficiency comes down to a malleable process. You need some sort of regularity and structure to do great work, but you don’t want to be too prescriptive. Tools like InVision really help because the team can collaborate effectively and fail fast via rapid prototyping and collaborative design systems. We’ve created templated presentation decks that allow people to focus on the thinking and ideas versus how they look; they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.
I’ve grown to love collaborative tools like Google Docs, Slides, and Drive: They allow all of our cross-functional partners to work with us very closely and in real time. Each project is led by a world-class producer who champions productivity and efficiency.
Finally, retrospective project reviews are supremely important so that we can pinpoint trouble areas, learn, and constantly improve.
You mentioned a team walk you do to talk about strategy and ideas. How’d this come about? How often do you do it, and how is it organized? Any structure to it? Do you think other teams could benefit from doing this?
This was an idea that came from our Senior Director, Ben Malbon, as a way to get out of the office as a team once or twice a year. It’s a way to clear our heads and talk about the things we want to achieve as a team in a completely unconventional setting.
When you’re on the walk, you can talk about anything, really. It’s not formulaic. Half the time we talk about shaping the team, projects we want to get after, and how we work; the other half, we’re just getting to know each other and marveling at the beautiful English countryside.
We invite the entire team and meet at the train station in the early morning, then head out. The rules are simple: no computers or phones, except for taking pictures. We have a fun little photo contest.
The leads on the team intimately know what we need to work on, so those conversations happen organically. The environment and exercise creates a feeling of clarity and openness. In the end, it’s more about team building and creating unique, unforgettable moments together.
I would highly recommend it and have even started scheduling short walks with my team around the office during the week. The teams have also started to work and ideate outside the office in unconventional spaces like the British Museum, National Gallery, or a nearby park.
Everyone on the team has lead this change by osmosis, which is how you know it’s been a success.
Is there anything else you do to foster a creative environment? What do you think designers and creatives in general need in order to do their best work?
That’s a great question. I think you need safe, comfortable, communal spaces for everyone where the team has a say in what things look and feel like.
That’s an important distinction too: Don’t just have a company come in and construct a space. Design and build it together. Music and plants (yes, plants) make a big difference. Music can also come with its own issues, so we allow everyone to play DJ and change the music. There are days where there’s no music or it’s a little quieter. We also created a framed picture, which is a connected object: You can shoot it with a Nerf gun, or tap it to change the music.
Fun 20% projects like that are invaluable when we need to think about new, innovative projects without a hard brief. Everyone on the team needs to be constantly pushed to grow, play, innovate, and take risks. We work hard to try and create an environment where that’s the norm. People are asked to take risks, run projects, and feel discomfort. It’s OK to fail. We set people up for success—but overall, we want that comfort and discomfort to live alongside each other. You should feel slightly uncomfortable to do your best work. When it starts feeling easy and natural: That’s when you know it’s time to shake things up a bit and turn up the heat.
We have an emphasis on innovation and new tech. We share the latest work, tech, films, attend exhibitions, and events; have installed and continue to play with VR and AR, Arduino kits, etc.; and are constantly finding new ways to shake up our design thinking processes. The team just recently took a six-week course at IDEO, which was amazing. As part of our research, we go on field trips to see the world and meet our users outside of the London bubble. We travel a lot.
The last thing I’ll say is that diversity is key. Gender, ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic differences all become strengths when brought together. The more we work and play with people who see, think, and react differently than us, the more open we are to growing and learning—and the better our work becomes.
How can leaders help their team feel safe?
Another great question and potentially the most important one for a leader.
It’s hard to really know what people are actually thinking and feeling, but there are many opportunities to create an environment that people feel safe in so that they can create the best work of their lives. There are so many effective resources here at Google, and the company takes this very seriously. Creatively, we always want to start with a “this, then that” approach to building on each other’s ideas. We want to take the time to truly listen to one another versus push ideas on the team.
As leaders, this is even more important. Leaders need to come to the meeting with inspiring ideas and solutions top of mind—but always try to speak last. The HiPPO (Highest Paid Person) in the room can immediately dictate the direction of the project or force their idea on the team by speaking first. Once all the ideas and questions have been thrown into the mix, you can support the strongest suggestions (which may include your thoughts), or offer your back-pocket ideas.
Always have your team’s back—and go to bat for them. Fighting for the right ideas and supporting the team is crucial. Asking for opinions without putting people on the spot is powerful to ensure everyone has a chance to shine and add to the process.
Finally, it’s on you as a creative leader to look at the ideas on the table and add your own little tweak that takes it from good to great. It’s imperative for the team to know you have the juice to step up the plate and hit that walk-off home run when it’s late in the ninth inning.
What is the best way to give truly good feedback?
First off: Clarity is king. I normally ask my team to play back what we’ve discussed, but it’s on me to ensure I’m being crystal clear by staying away from fluffy, nonsensical jargon. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll say so, and we’ll work it out together. Every meeting should end with action items, hard deadlines, and clear expectations.
Secondly, creating safe spaces where the team can be honest with each other and throw out some seemingly crazy ideas is so important. Being able to ask each other hard questions like Is that truly the best idea or work we can do as a team? is invaluable. You want every single person on the team acting like an owner, constantly asking each other—and themselves—that question.
Finally: Be a good listener and allow your team to push back. This way, you can ask the right questions and see how the team reacts. Feedback and understanding with your teams is a two-way street. If you’re the HiPPO in the room, it’s not helpful to spew off feedback and walk away while your team struggles to understand what you meant. Or, worse, they don’t agree with the new mission. Good feedback doesn’t always have to feel good, but it should always set the team off on a unified front to produce better work with clarity and purpose.
How does design thinking come into play with your work and your team? Can you tell us about the design thinking processes you have in place?
In the last 60+ years, there have been so many different proposed processes. To be honest, our process is always in flux, and changes slightly depending on the team and project. It’s incredibly important and something we work at constantly. We’ve taken inspiration from D-school, IDEO, and a mix of some of the best agencies and shops we’ve all worked at. As a team, we make so many different types of work—from films to product-like experiences to large conceptual integrated campaigns—so the process shape shifts a little from one to the next.
There is this inherent push/pull imbalance that happens between process and creativity. The two are diametrically opposed in many ways. Process provides for consistency, structure, and repeatable patterns; creativity yearns for some chaos and uses abstract methods to break patterns and find unusual connections. It’s critical to strike the right balance and take the friction out of generating big ideas so that they can flourish.
If there’s too much process, you’ll get stagnation, and can easily fall into the trap of checking boxes. The process becomes more important than the idea. On the flip side, you can lose focus with too much crazy and not enough process. You need that measured balance between chaos and structure so you don’t lose sight of the mission to make work that matters. To maximize opportunities to catch lightning in a bottle.
One aspect that’s incredibly important being a central team at Google in EMEA is to act like anthropologists and get out into the real world. To get outside without an agenda; work with partners who can help us with research; engage in social listening and travel out into the world; meet people and see by doing. It’s so dangerous to live in a bubble and assume you get it right from one country to the next. The cultural nuances really matter. Sitting here in London making assumptions is a recipe for failure.
We look to find ways to make immersion fun and insightful for the team so it will lead to empathy and understanding. Ideally those aha moments come quicker and have real impact on the work.
As we continue to find new ways to innovate and create work for such a broad audience across EMEA, diversity is obviously more important than ever. We work hard to hire and bring in different points of view. Shifting perspectives and surrounding the team with the best people from different walks of life is crucial.
How does the Google Brand Studio team use InVision?
We use Studio as a front-to-back solution that allows us to design collaborative comps in real time across timezones. The team can quickly test our hypothesis on the fly with easy rapid prototypes that people across the org can get excited about. That seamless process allows us to fail fast, learn, and move forward together quickly and efficiently.
What are some things you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out as a designer?
Being a designer provides so many opportunities for today’s practitioners it’s incredible. You can travel the world, switch avenues of design, follow new career paths, and meet people you’ll connect with for a lifetime.
It’s also so much deeper and powerful than the superficial idea of just making things look pretty. When I started, I was fascinated with the idea of pure aesthetic beauty. But with great mentors and constant study comes a deeper appreciation and understanding. Keep peeling back the layers of the onion. Always do your homework to truly understand your audience and act like an anthropologist.
We are all making something for users, and you are (normally) not that user. Get out of your bubble and into the world. You need to dig deep and find the hard truths. Then—before you pixel push toward perfection—test, fail fast, and fail early.
Don’t get too comfortable in your processes and ways. Shake it up and try new things. Keep pushing and learning. Surround yourself with people who are better than you. Keep searching for ways to reinvent yourself.
Finally, everything starts and ends with people, from your team to the users. Always treat everyone better than you want to be treated, and be empathetic. Take the time to listen, learn, and build on other people’s ideas. Stay humble, stay hungry, and be kind.
We’re excited to share that Andre is speaking at Saudi Design Week in October 2018. Want to attend? Find out all the details here.