Interview with José dos Santos- creating the right conditions for design talent to thrive


With over 20 years of experience, José dos Santos; Head of Design for Philips Lighting Americas, is no stranger to design. He is a trained industrial designer, who has seen many of his designs come to life over the course of his career. Alongside his own design work, he spends his time managing design talent. Working side by side with many different designers and researchers, he considers his greatest talent to be finding the right conditions for design talent to flourish.

With such a long history in design, what do you enjoy the most about your work?

First and foremost: I like discussing design and the quality of design, its processes, tools, and methods. Thinking and learning new ways about design are aspects I am very passionate about, and it’s a passion that continues to grow over the years.

Secondly, I love approaching professionals outside the design industry and make them react positively to design. Finding people who give us the opportunity to work together is a big aspect of my day, and whenever there is an opportunity for me to go out and promote design, I make the best of it. It’s a combination of these different moments that build on who we are. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than making sure a designer’s work is valued, understood, and appreciated.

What is the most important aspect of design for you?

We want adoption in a prolonged manner, and satisfaction in a deep manner. What design should do is create this deeper level of satisfaction. It is about finding ways for people to keep using your product, to boast about it, to make photos and share them, maybe even have people break it and then mend it themselves. It’s the ultimate user experience. This is what makes a lasting, deep connection to your product or brand.

For me, creating this experience is what design is all about.

How do you deal with obstacles preventing you from achieving your goals?

There are three different approaches I take to overcome obstacles in my work:

  1. I create a vision, and make that vision visible to the team I work with. Thoroughly discuss this vision, so that everyone is on the same page. This by itself can already prevent further communication obstacles, because everyone in your team knows what to do.
  2. Persistence and perseverance. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s important to keep reminding yourself of this, to slow down and to accept the fact that you can’t make big changes overnight. This doesn’t mean giving up; in fact, it means that you should keep going, but be realistic about the time frames in which you try to achieve your goals.
  3. Understand how your problem relates to the bigger picture. When you encounter something that is problematic; breathe, pause, and see how you can move forward towards that bigger picture. It is important to realize that sometimes we need to take two steps back in order to move one forward.

What has been your proudest achievement?

I have designed many different products over the course of my career, and some of my work is still out there today. It’s nice to see products used by everybody and implementing these products in their everyday tasks. Probably my proudest achievements are always related to the success of others. Having the opportunity to work with, tutor, and mentor young designers who then go on to become important in their respected fields. I have managed many different people, who grew in their careers and are now recognized designers. Having played a part in their growth is one of my proudest moments.


Do you have any advice to young designers trying to make it in the industry?

Advice is based on experience, but the reality is that we are all different. What worked for me may not work for everyone. But one piece of advice that might help other people would be to find the balance between “learning how it’s done and what other people do” with “what do I have to offer”. This isn’t an easy balance to find, and it’s not a static focal point. Your unique selling point changes as you become more experienced, and the field you work in changes, too.

This is especially important as a designer. Sometimes, people are so focused on themselves and what they have to offer, they don’t pay attention to what is already out there. Other people are so focused on what is out there, they forget to be true to themselves.

Find out who you are as a designer and what you bring to the table. Not just as a deliverable, but as a promise.

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