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Google's Annie Jean-Baptiste on why collaboration is critical to building inclusive products

"Build for everyone, with everyone."

A head shot of Google's Annie Jean-Baptiste, over an orange and purple gradient background. Her name appears in all-caps type above and below the headshot.

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Let's face it, navigating work in 2022 is different. So we're picking the brains of design leaders across the industry to help us navigate it all. As part of our ongoing interview series, we’re asking designers to share their work life advice, design do’s and don’ts, and secrets to effective collaboration. Consider it our take on the Proustian questionnaire, with the aim to give you insight on how top designers work and think about design in a time unlike any other. (And they might just spill a few work-life secrets along the way.)

Annie Jean-Baptise is the head of product inclusion and equity at Google, where she leads strategy, research, and development processes to ensure that all of Google's products, like the Real Tone camera released on the Android Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro last fall, are inclusive. Jean-Baptiste is the author of Building for Everyone, a practical guide to building inclusive products, based on the strategies and experience of her team at Google. She is also a founding member of Chief, a San Francisco-based think tank that advocates for women in roles of executive leadership.

Here, Jean-Baptiste shares her advice for leading a design team, why she acts "like a talent agent" to encourage collaboration within her design teams, and the underrated design skill everyone needs to create equitably and inclusively.

Images courtesy Google.

The key to effective collaboration is?

Active listening and creating space for quieter voices at the margins.

The most surprising difference between in-office collaboration and remote?

I think in some ways, remote collaboration has allowed for different voices to be heard. People who need more time to think, or aren’t the loudest in the room, can use a raise hand feature on Google Meet. And the chat function allows people to voice their opinions in text form instead of verbally.

When is collaboration most important?

When things are time sensitive. In those moments, people may feel pressure to act quickly, and this is where perspectives might be left out. When I see this happening, I recognize it as a sign to take a breath and ensure that all perspectives are present and heard.

What's your advice for leading a design team?

Invest in building relationships and trust as people. Bring diverse perspectives and backgrounds together. Be clear on the end goal, but open to different ways of getting there. As jazz musician Mike Farley says, when a jazz band is in a groove, they’ve got swing… when you’re swinging, everyone can be creative.”

What's your advice for making a design team more collaborative?

Create multiple modes and opportunities to collaborate. As a leader, I try to ‘act like a talent agent.” That means knowing people’s strengths, allowing them to grow, connecting people to opportunities that will allow them to shine, and get out of the way.

I also believe in creating a safe space for people to think independently, and take risks. Being able to “break” things – or adversely test our products – is important. Our team members need to feel safe in order to do that.

What's the one quality you always look for in a designer?

Humility. Product Inclusion and equity work stem from understanding that we all have bias, and there’s no way that we can fully understand everyone’s story. In order to build for, we must build with, and having humility allows you to bring other perspectives in, even if they are in friction with what you believe to be true.

"In order to build for, we must build with, and having humility allows you to bring other perspectives in, even if they are in friction with what you believe to be true."

What’s your proudest moment?

I’m proud every time my parents say they are proud of me. They’ve sacrificed so much for me to get to where I am. They immigrated from Haiti and have always instilled in my brother and I that we must be open to other perspectives, give back, and use our voices to impart change.

What was your biggest learning moment?