I'm a Design Director based in San Francisco who specializes in brand design and building teams.

I started my career 20 years ago as an intern at CNET and have since worked for boutique agencies, mid-sized startups, and large corporations; building and contributing to brands like HP, Cisco, 99% Invisible, IHG, Sharethrough, Metromile, Autodesk, and Netlify.

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Selected Work
Netlify BuildingConnected rebrand Native Ad Summit Sharethrough WAHW I believe that Design should have a significant impact on company culture and the employer brand.

My perspectives on design and management

A little more about my experience and the views I've developed over the course of my career

What I do

I consider myself a generalist, who focuses on brand design and design management. And though I've spent my most recent years in leadership positions, I've still been able to keep my hands on graphic design, filmmaking, web design, photography, identity design, illustration, and product design. You can think of me as a jack of all trades and a master of some.

As a design leader, I've assembled and managed strong, diverse in-house design teams that work to understand, build, communicate, and grow brands. My teams invest in increasing the design knowledge of organizations by facilitating workshops on Design Thinking, advising teams where design methodology is rarely applied, and collaborating with leadership to develop better experiences for employees.

Some notable accomplishments:

  • Led major rebrands for Sharethrough, BuildingConnected, and Netlify, and created several brand identities for startups, large event series, and volunteer initiatives
  • Initiated team efforts in strengthening employer brands by redesigning onboarding processes and leading company culture program creation
  • Designed workflows across teams and built brand management systems with in-house created asset libraries, which include photography, iconography, illustrations, and video
  • Launched lectures and workshops dedicated to strengthening design awareness and encouraging employees to integrate design techniques into their day-to-day
  • Directed and art directed digital, print, event, and OOH campaigns

How I lead

About five years ago, I was presented the opportunity to manage a design team and I was hesitant to accept the role. I hesitated because I had this false notion that introverts weren't cut out to be managers. This pushed me to study general management and get the training I needed. I took the leap and below are three lessons I've learned that shape the way I manage.

  1. Being an introvert didn't hinder my ability to be a good manager. In fact, in a lot of cases, this personality trait that I perceived to be a flaw, actually helped me listen, observe, understand, and empathize where each team member was coming from and where they needed to go. It seems simple and obvious, but listening to your team is the most impactful thing you can do.
  2. People need managers who help them carve paths influenced by their specific needs, style of communication, and aspirations. Managers do their best when they understand the differences between coaching, mentoring, and directing; and when to employ these techniques to inspire growth and independence, improve performance, and mitigate stress tuned to the individual.
  3. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that org charts are poorly designed. Now-a-days, these charts are made in a way that deny a manger's fundamental purpose, which is to support the team. You see these pyramid diagrams everywhere that illustrate a structure where leaders sit at the top, but this is one of those cases where we've tried to fix something that wasn't broken. In fact, that thing was just about perfect.

The first modern org chart was a diagram of the New York and Erie Railroad, designed by major general, Daniel McCallum in 1855. When examining the chart, you'll notice an organic tree-like visualization where leadership is represented by the tree's roots. The reports on the sprawling branches are — in this metaphor — being nourished by their managers. Consequently, the entire organization grows and bears fruit.

This is how I see management. We should recognize that organizations are living, breathing, and fluid because they're made up of beings who are exactly that. Companies, teams, and employees don't flourish under charts that tell you who's boss; they thrive on their leaders' abilities to encourage and cultivate growth.

Why I design and lead

Throughout my career, I've encountered countless interpretations of what design means to the people I've worked with. I have even struggled with putting what I believe design is into words myself. Fortunately, Mike Monteiro came up with a succinct definition that I often reference:

Design is the intentional solution to a problem within a set of constraints.

As accurate and concise as that is, it leaves out a few nuances and thoughts I have about our profession. In fact, even though I agree with him on multiple fronts, there's one thing Mr. Monteiro and I can't come eye-to-eye on. This conflict illustrates my viewpoints on why I design and what I believe design can be.

In a 2018 essay about social responsibility titled “Design’s Lost Generation,”  Monteiro asserts that “modern design problems were very complex. And we ought to need a license to solve them.”

My views align with his argument that designers have let the mantra, “move fast and break things” disparage diligence and responsibility, but the notion of requiring a license to design counters a belief I'm passionate about — design is too important to be left to just designers. If design creates intentional solutions to problems, anyone should be able to practice it. We can't dictate who designs and who doesn't.

The general public often portrays Design as a magical prowess only a chosen few are able to wield. Though this misconception has, without a doubt, benefited our careers and made our profession a lucrative one, it suppresses Design's evolution and its potential.

Instead of regulating design as an exclusive craft, we need to democratize it and empower the public. The concern of Design's use for reprehensible purposes is valid, but the only way to combat this is with a proliferation of Design, not its exceptionalism. The knowledge and experience we've gathered as designers can positively effect the lives of others if we allow it.

I design and lead because design is the most powerful tool one can use to affect positive change and it should be in the hands of everyone.

What people say

Justin's ability to imagine and execute a creative vision is reason enough to hire him, but beyond that he's also a kind, empathetic leader... He's got the resolve to carry big ideas through to completion...

—Jason Lengstorf, Host of Learn With Jason
What people say

“Justin has taught me how be a leader and mentor who listens, is patient and critical in thinking. He's made a significant impression on me personally and in my career.”

—Ann Marie Riley, Head of Preconstruction Content Marketing at Autodesk
What people say

He is a thoughtful designer, a critical thinker, an empathetic leader, and kind teammate. As an engineer, I truly value Justin's willingness to challenge me and be challenged.

—Ryan Mulligan, Marketing Engineering Lead at Netlify
What people say

Justin encourages designers to take ownership and lead in their own right... He constantly worked to elevate the value of design at our company.

—Leigh Hill, Senior Brand Designer at Product Board
What people say

He leads by example, nurturing a culture of empathy, collaboration and accountability. He truly cares about his team and is able to advocate for them and the role design plays to the wider company.

—Michael Everitt, Senior Brand Designer at Autodesk
What people say

He understands how to incorporate design into all other facets of an organization and a brand. He's thoughtful, curious and never hesitates from asking hard questions.

—Robert Fan, Founder and CTO/COO at Sharethrough
What people say

He has provided me with invaluable guidance and tools that helped me grow in my career. I am extremely thankful for having him as my manager and as a friend.

—Helen Yema Hosain, Senior Designer at Salesforce
What people say

He comes to every situation with a well defined point of view and the confidence to push it forward, as well as the open-mindedness to seek out opposing ideas.

—Matt Domina, Art Director & Designer at Sköna