Google’s Joel Beukelman: “I’m Just a Guy”


BeukelmanJoel_SpeakerPhoto_2015SFHIDCJoel Beukelman may have one of the hottest design jobs in the U.S.—mobile UX designer for Android at Google—along with a resume boasting stints at Netflix and AppStack, but his good career fortune hasn’t gone to his head. “I am just a guy,” he says. “Love my family and my job. I don’t know how I got to where I am, but I love making relationships and sharing openly.”

Beukelman will be doing just that at the HOW Interactive Design Conference September 21 during his session titled Your Bias is Bullsh*t. We recently caught up with him to learn more about his conference session, life at Google and what he’s currently working on inside and outside of the office.

You’re doing a session called “Your Bias is Bullsh*t” at HIDC San Francisco. What types of takeaways can attendees expect?

If I do my job correctly, most attendees should be subtly offended, yet inspired to approach their design jobs and challenges from a new perspective. They can also expect to hear about some real-life takeaways from personal experiences at Netflix and Google that fed this talk.

You say it’s too easy for us to absorb current viewpoints or personal biases instead of exploring and understanding new ways. Do you feel like this reliance on our own experiences and biases to inform our work is becoming more prevalent, and if so, why do you think that’s happening?

I don’t think this reliance on bias is necessarily becoming more prevalent, but it is definitely having more of an impact and influence on users. Everyone has a bias, which is fine, but designers entering the tech scene (specifically mobile) have access to many more people than ever before, which requires thoughtful consideration.

You’re the founder and host of a podcast called The Balance. Tell us a little bit about that and why you started doing it.

Balance and health priorities have always been a topics I am passionate about … and struggle with. I am also very into podcasts, but I realized most design shows were just asking designers about “how they got where they were.” I was less interested in this and wanted to hear more about how they manage the rest of their life, outside of design. I decided to launch the podcast to start and encourage this conversation in our industry, as well as create an excuse to meet awesome people.

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in your career thus far?

  1. Stay humble.
  2. Listen more than you talk.
  3. Learn from those around you… and ask questions (There might just be a rocket scientist next to you—true story.)
  4. Always take the risk and say yes. It will be hard, but if you don’t do anything, nothing will happen.

What are you especially excited about and/or challenged to be working on right now?

Since working on Android, I have really been challenged with designing systems and platform, rather then standalone applications. This is a very different type of design and has challenged my skill set and the way I communicate design solutions. I am also really excited about the expanding environment of tech (TV, auto, wearable) and how UX will completely change as our landscape evolves/expands.

We hear so many great things about working at Google. What’s the best—and worst—thing about working for the company?

Best thing: Being respected by everyone you work with. Google is pretty strict on their hiring process and once you are in, there is a level of respect and appreciation for everyone’s contributions to a project. I remember walking into a meeting on my first day and my director asked me what I thought. This kind of rocked my world. Now, after almost two years, it’s great to say that I have been enabled to do what I do best on every team I have worked on.

It’s also the largest company I have worked for, yet has the least sense of hierarchy. Google is extremely transparent, and it blows my mind that company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin still show up every Thursday for our company all-hands. It really speaks to their value of each and every employee.

Worst thing: I can almost never talk about what I’m working on. It’s great to work on such high-profile projects, but it’s a bummer when you can’t share that excitement until it ships.

Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your session?

I definitely don’t see myself as a speaker, but rather the guy with the mic in a group discussion. My hope is that anyone attending can learn from my mistakes and that my experiences and sharing can benefit designers in any stage of career they are in.

There’s still time to get in on Beukelman’s “group discussion” at the HOW Interactive Design Conference in San Francisco September 20-22. Register by September 3 and save $200!