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Finding Success with notdev: Discovery through Design

In the world of design and consulting, finding the right approach can make all the difference. In this blog we interview Dev Gupta, founder of design studio notdev. We’ll dive into the stories and principals that set his studio apart, as he offers some advice to those embarking on a similar path.

Tell us about yourself, your studio and how you’ve found success supporting your clients

Hello, my name is Dev Gupta. I run a design studio called notdev that doesn’t do development 🤓. We are a group of weirdos who draw boxes, talk about our feelings, and make memes.

We’ve worked with the likes of Toyota, Google Maps, Gmail, Docusign, Indeed, Twitter, Google Ventures, Albertsons, Box…(excuse the name dropping).

I think the reason we’ve had any success is to due to our approach and attitude towards design, we call it discovery through design.
  • We start in the deep end. We are a consulting firm, meaning, we know that you’re hiring us because your house is on fire. We go in accepting that there will be chaos. It allows us to be responsive to a moving target without getting frustrated. “Oh, that thing that was a priority last week no longer matters? Dope—I hated it anyway.”
  • Design first. We believe design is a prerequisite to strategy—things that make sense in a deck rarely work in application so we start with the pixels 👾. I got tired of arguing in the abstract. Let me just show you, and now we can have a more grounded conversation.
  • Screen sharing is caring. In every meeting, we share our screen so we can co-design with our clients. This allows us to deal with all the “what-ifs.” What if the logo was bigger, what if it worked this way…what if, what if, what if. Let me make edits in real-time so we can make decisions together and skip the weeks of passive-aggressive emails.

How did you get started in design and how has that influenced your agency?

I feel like Mr. Magoo—my professional life is a series of random events that, in hindsight, somehow stitch together. I went to school for finance because I’m brown. I got my first job by reading “Flash for Dummies.” Worked as an art director and then accidentally became a college professor. I chased a girl out to San Francisco, where I ran design at a startup. Eventually got bored and opened a one-man shop until my largest client forced me to hire. Now somehow I run a design studio 🤷🏽.

I had a naive belief that, whatever the ask, I could figure it out. Which is why I like to hire designers with non-traditional backgrounds. They’re not afraid to tackle new challenges because, if they taught themselves to design, they can teach themselves anything.

What defines your agency and what sets you apart?

Being a designer is my life’s passion. But my passion turned to cynicism when I collided with the realities of corporate America. It wasn’t until I started building a team that I began to examine my own relationship to design. So to answer your original question, I think our culture sets us apart. Our mantra is, “care without caring.” And here’s how we try to do it:

  • Work how you want. We don’t have an office. Offices are constraining—mostly because you have to hold in farts. Our only requirement is a daily standup at 10:00 a.m. The idea is to work when you want, where you want, and how you want so you can do your best work.
  • One for all, all for one. I hate the idea of a work self and a home self because life affects work. I encourage my team to name their outside work struggles, at whatever level they feel comfortable. Whether this means sharing that their relationship of seven years imploded and they’ve made permanent residence in a hotel. Or they are just having an off day. Either way, we work as a team to pick up the slack.
  • Be more than your work. When I was younger, I was obsessed with doing dribbble-worthy work. Then it was about chasing famous logos. I never felt enough—I was always searching for validation externally. I’ve come to understand that no project will be as cool as life. Let’s do good work with good people and then go home.

What advice would you give to an agency just starting out?

I know I’ve been long-winded so I’ll try to end this with some concise advice: invest in people.

  • Invest in your clients. I know sometimes it feels like they are sabotaging you, but remember they are just people doing their best. I owe most of my success to referrals from clients that I worked with ten years ago.
  • Invest in your team. Create a culture where everyone feels comfortable being themselves and is emotionally supported. The best way to do this is by leading with vulnerability. A happy team means better work.

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