My guest today is Morgane Peng who is the Design Director at Société Générale. In this episode, we discuss the benefits of debating in the open vs beating around the bush, Morgane's journey into design from the business side, designing flash games in high school for extra pocket money, launching the in house design practice at Société Générale, why designers fail B2B job interviews, raising $33,000 on Kickstarter for an indie game, trending on Reddit, the importance of side hustles and 360 feedback. For show notes, guest bio, and more, please visit: www.designmba.show Level Up Your Design Career (Free Email Course): https://levelup.designmba.show/
Morgane Peng is responsible for the design vision and strategy of Société Générale Corporate & Investment Banking. She delivers united and meaningful experiences with her team across Societe Generale products for start-ups, corporates, and financial institutions.
Previously, Morgane adventured into various fields of consulting, financial markets, and tech. In her spare time, she’s a gamer at heart and works on an indie video game successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter.
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Jayneil Dalal: Today's amazing guest is Morgane Peng. Morgane is responsible for the design, vision and strategy of Société Générale Corporate and Investment Banking. She delivers united and meaningful experiences with her team across Société Générale products for startups, corporates, and financial institutions. Previously, Morgane had ventured into various fields of consulting, financial markets and tech. In her spare time, she's a gamer at heart and works on her indie video game successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter. So, if you are big into games and love playing indie games, do yourself a favor and check out Morgane's recently successful game on Kickstarter. It actually ended up raising more than 26,000 Pounds. That is freaking awesome. So, head over to Koruldia.com.
Morgane, thank you so much for coming on the show. So excited to be talking with you.
Morgane Peng: Hey, Jayneil. Thank you for having me. Very excited.
Jayneil: You are the first French person that I am interviewing on the show.
Morgane: Ooh! So honored.
Jayneil: Because I spent two years in Canada, I think, in the early 2000s and as you're in Canada, you have to take French because it’s mandatory there as a language.
Morgane: Does that mean we can do it in French?
Jayneil: I got an F grade in French. So, I don't know about that. I had a hard time learning that language. So, how did you learn the language? Were you born there?
Morgane: Yeah, born and raised. I spent most of my life in different parts of France but especially French education and all this.
Jayneil: France, when they won the soccer world cup, the scenes were insane.
Morgane: I remember. It's not so much ago. It's more like everyone gathering, I mean, sharing very special moments. Now it's very different but we all lived in this kind of living through this collective experience – you meet someone, a French person and you talk about the world cup. Everyone remembers it. So, it was a really nice moment to live as a country, as a nation.
Jayneil: It's a very historic moment. And I’m just going to make an assumption but what I’ve noticed through some of your talks and other French people that I’ve interacted with, maybe it's a part of the French culture, but it seems to be openly sharing your disagreements. I’m based in Dallas, Texas in the USA and here, when people get into arguments, they beat around the bush. They don't tell it to your face. They go behind their back. There's no open confrontation. So, tell me a little bit more about that.
Morgane: I actually do not live in France right now. I live in London and I’ve been here for eight years. I’ve definitely seen the difference. And I also lived in Hong Kong and traveled quite a bit in Asia. Of course, it's different. I guess maybe it's something we learned at school, first, critical thinking that when you argue, it's not a bad thing. It doesn't mean you disagree. And sometimes we just like to argue for arguing, taking the opposite side. This is so cliché. I think it's part of trying to be able to see both sides and then make a conclusion and we are invited, at least at school, to do this kind of exercise. I don't even know if it's that common elsewhere but it's really part of the French education and also because we study all the Lumiere like Voltaire and all those people who wrote a lot around critical thinking. And I think everyone kind of lives by that and something I’ve learned because, as I said, I’ve been living here for eight years and we have non-French people in the team, obviously. It's not natural for everyone. The first time I [inaudible] the London team and someone says “I disagree,” they'll be like “Wow! Did they just say “I disagree” to the boss?” but this is something I really value. I actually even remember myself asking my boss “Okay, I totally disagree here. Can I say why?” and that at least in our teams, that's normal.
Jayneil: Yeah, it's definitely not normal.
Morgane: You pay people for their brain, not for whatever. I mean that's the point of having a team, right?
Jayneil: It’s like let's say that we were in a design meeting and I was presenting my latest design or wireframes that I presented and I, let's say, they didn't like your designs. Then the way we would do it here is like “Oh, that's good progress. That's a good angle but let's take another approach.” So, instead of saying that “Hey, I just don't think the work is to the point” and kind of getting into an argument, people just want to avoid it. So, they can tell you in your face that “Oh, it's good. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we'll look at it” but you know when they say that “We'll take a look at it. We'll see,” it's like “No.” So, when I work in corporate America here, it's like I have to have another brain running kind of deciphering these codes when people say “Oh, nice work. Good job.” It's like they are being polite or is it just like they're trying to be nice to me.
Morgane: That reminds me of something. Actually, I have a lot of friends, when they arrived in the UK, they were like “Oh yeah, I’m nailing every interview. They always say “Yeah, you're very insightful.” What was the worst they were saying? That's so interesting.
Jayneil: That's so interesting, yes.
Morgane: I mean, in France or in French we say that. I mean, normally people are really interested because they wouldn't say that otherwise. And then here I came to learn that it's mostly like a conversation. It's like “Fair enough.” It's like you don't know, “Yeah it’s fair enough.” It's just like something you add to the conversation but it doesn't actually mean anything. It's funny because since in the team we have different kinds of cultures and different kinds of sensibilities and myself, I’ve been living in Asia for a while, I at least let people know and I try to say upfront that I’m quite direct, I would appreciate that they are direct to me as well. And when we do reviews, I actually ask them kind of in video games, it's like “On a scale from 0 to 10, how direct do you want me to be in your review?” And again, they can choose. And it's funny because I can guarantee you that most people, when they're given the choice and they know it's their choice, they are like “Yeah, yeah, okay, you can be French direct or maybe a little bit French direct.” It's also part of your job as a manager to adapt your style but we made it very clear that it's okay in the team to disagree. Then we still have to progress, of course, in terms of making sure that nobody is offended and have good critique sessions but I know that it's probably easier because the whole company operates like that.
Jayneil: Oh, the whole company operates like that. Wow!
Morgane: Yeah, I don't think if I disagree with someone or anyone, of course, there's ways of saying it, right?
Jayneil: The scale we talked about, yeah.
Morgane: But you can definitely say it and this is something we definitely encourage people to do because it will be horrible for you as an employee to do something you disagree with. I mean, that's not really fulfilling as a job.
Jayneil: Wow! So, pretty much in your team, I think, people are just open about it. You never get blindsided. Because you're so direct, it seems to me that you're never going to be caught off guard – “Oh, we never talked about this” – because people have been taught in your team that “Hey, you can go to Morgane and be honest like “Hey, Morgane, maybe I’m just not enjoying the job anymore.” I don't know how I can be that direct but, I think, just talking with them being that direct but …
Morgane: I actually had this conversation.
Jayneil: Oh, can you give an example like what happened in that conversation?
Morgane: A company is not a marriage. You're not going to die with the company, especially because people can have jobs and they can do other things. And, for me, I wouldn't want to do the same thing my whole life. It's kind of normal to talk about your career path or what things you can do. Sometimes it happens that the things that people want to do may not be there. So, there are two options. Either they can create that thing. It's a bit like before us, we never really talked about design externally. I work in a bank, Société Générale. We usually don't really talk a lot. I mean, there are conferences about financial stuff but it's like for experts and it's not something that you just find on YouTube. Actually, I don't even know if people will watch that. So, maybe that's the first reason why you won't have that. So, I’ll give you the example. So, when we decided we wanted to share a bit more about what we do, then we discussed and it started like a pet project. And as of today, we still have a Medium blog, we have articles online, we do these conferences but it just started because we decided it was something we could explore. And then there are things you'd like to do and you cannot do either because the setup is not appropriate, maybe it's not aligned with whatever your environment is. Then, I think, it's we need to talk openly about this because I wouldn't want to have someone being forced to stay in the team.
Morgane: Maybe after this podcast, I get several requests for discussion, I don't know. I hope that all the team feels like that.
Jayneil: I’ve worked in big, big companies in corporate America and there are some bosses where I feel like I can trust them but for the most part, disagreements or just openness like the way I’m talking with you, is not usually the norm. I mean, you have to go around, you think about it, re-frame it. I can't just very openly tell you like “Oh, you're my boss” and “Oh my God, I’m not enjoying it.” Maybe if I have a relationship with you or I trust you. So, I think it's just amazing for me to see that how your upbringing and the openness that you learned as a child, you're bringing that to the workplace and that's in a way fostering a healthier design team.
Morgane: I know it can frustrate people sometimes. I remember I met someone in the plane once. It was a long flight. So, we ended up talking about everything. And the person was Brazilian, I think, and he was like “Man, managing French people is so hard. They always want to know why. They keep saying [inaudible] and try to argue with everything.” And I was like “Yeah, that can be painful.” So, I felt for that guy.
Jayneil: Oh my God! Wow! Wait, you felt for that guy?
Morgane: Yeah, felt sorry. If you're just used to saying things and people do it, I mean, then suddenly you have like all the people asking you “Are you sure you want to do like this? Are you sure it's this way?” It's nice to have a discussion. And, actually, I’d like to mention that sometimes it's normal to have disagreement, especially if you're representing different points of view like a design leader or like an IT manager or like a business person because you have different objectives and you have different points of view and different information. So, it's kind of normal to have a disagreement but once you've discussed and you’ve made a decision, you have to commit. So, it's not about always trying to question everything. Explain it once, yes, but then when we made a decision, let's stick to it unless there's new factors that may want to make you change your decision. I know that sometimes people may think it's chaos.
Jayneil: It's like how the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos puts it – “Disagree but commit.” It's kind of like saying “I disagree with your idea but I’m going to commit to it so that we can move forward and test that out what's going to happen with the idea instead of just arguing all day.”
Morgane: Yeah, it's actually part of one of our principles, this motto. I know it's not easy because people can just argue.
Jayneil: I’m going to make sure I get the pronunciation right. Société Générale, right? It sounded like some secret society because such a cool name like Société Générale.
Morgane: Really? Because it was the first time I heard that. I know that in the States people just like to call it SocGen because it's shorter. It's easier. You can just call it like that.
Jayneil: SocGen. Did I get that right?
Jayneil: SocGen, okay. I think somehow the Société Générale sounds cooler.
Morgane: Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.
Jayneil: So, you're working in the financial industry. How did you end up here in the whole design career? I believe you were initially in the trading side of things, right? So, how did you end up from where you are today all the way from there?
Morgane: I guess it's very tangled but I actually did not study design. I studied on the business side. I studied Finance and Business at school. And when I first started, I was working on financial products. So, in Paris, then in Hong Kong. And then, I moved to London to work on electronic trading. And this is, I guess, when things started to click because in electronic trading, we started to give a lot of access tools to our clients. Before in the past, everything was done over the phone or by email very traditionally or Bloomberg. And more and more we started to develop solutions for them online. And I actually had a secret. It is that I was an undercover designer in the bank because since actually very, very young, I was drawing and then doing computer graphics on my own.
Jayneil: Oh wow!
Morgane: And I actually started freelancing when I was a teenager to make pocket money. And I had all these, I don't know if you remember at that time, there were a lot of silly Flash games. I was making those because I was in a niche, I was making a lot of cute games because I realized that in Flash, you can code and you can design at the same time. And usually it's not the same person who can design and code. and I was like “Okay, I can do both. So, I keep everything for myself.” So, from Flash games I got more and more interested in gaming and this is how I ended up doing indie games, again, as a side gig really, not linked to work. I had no idea that one day those two would just click. As I said, it's very tangled. Back to my work day work, we reached a point where we started to have a lot of online tools. They were all different. That's the classic story. All the buttons were different, all the interactions, you felt like you were on a different planet every time you were switching. And we decided to do an audit. So, I was still in electronic trading there and I was tasked to do it. And, actually, I remember, after this audit, we actually decided to build the team and I was in charge of it.
Jayneil: So, you essentially started the design team in a way at Société Générale by doing that audit. Wow!
Morgane: I mean, we had designers before but they were kind of sprinkled around those lone designers.
Jayneil: More of like “Go ahead and make this pretty. Do this for us.”
Morgane: Yeah. And most of them, they were either contractors or maybe it was agency work. There was no vision and it was not coordinated. So, when I got in charge of this audit study, we knew back then that that was going to be really important, I think, it was in 2014 maybe, and that we needed to have this capability in-house, the same way that we invest a lot on sales people you know so they talk with the same voice to our clients, that they can pitch the company, understand the products, etc. So, we invest a lot and more and more of the business happens on the web, I mean, online. So, we also needed to invest online, which seems completely normal today but I can guarantee that four, five or even eight years ago, that wasn't really the case.
Jayneil: Yeah, I can imagine that, calling in like “Hey, I want to buy like 100 shares of Facebook. Can you place an order over the phone?” and now you can just use Robinhood or use any of these services. Just go online and do it yourself.
Morgane: Yeah, exactly.
Jayneil: My brother actually works at a private hedge firm. So, he works in Finance in Chicago. And all this day, they talk about finance and I’ll hear all these complex terms and I’m like “Hey, bro, you got to explain in plain English what's going on here.” He's like “Swaps and this and that and puts and options.” I remember, for the first day he spent three hours when he explained to me why we have derivatives and options and I’m like “Oh my God.”
Do you feel that this time you spent for so long on the business side of things, understanding the financial instruments, almost made you a subject matter expert when you started to work on the design side of things as Société Générale?
Morgane: That's an interesting question. For sure, I wasn't falling into the classic trap of trying to oversimplify tools. Actually, I’ve written about this because it's a tendency I see way too much, especially in junior designers, where they come in, we give them a test, we show them whatever, an existing interface and the first thing they're going to do is they're like “My God, it’s so complicated. There are so many fields. I can't do that. I can't do this.” So, I will put everything into a stepper and I was like “Yeah, you can't use it but that's not for you. It’s for professional traders. It’s not for you.” And then I would say “How would you feel if any of your design tools, using the new tools but even just if you remember Photoshop, there's a lot of panels everywhere. So, how would you feel if every time you want to change a style on a paragraph, you have to go through a stepper because we're not sure that we'll do that and we're not sure that you understand your business which is designing stuff.” So, yeah, there's this tendency to try to have this wow effect and remove everything and think that it would be better. And it's actually true because we know all the consumer apps but I can guarantee you if you look at Google, one of the most, I guess, packed is Google Ads.
Jayneil: Yeah, it is really complex and dense.
Morgane: Yeah. And you need this to manage your ads and everything. So, I guess, because I came from that side of the business, I wasn't tempted to oversimplify everything although I have to admit, we made that mistakes. I remember there was some time and I remember when we oversimplified things and we were so happy of ourselves, we made it so intuitive and so nice and progressive disclosure all along. And when we shared the first draft, people were like “My God, this is horrible. I don't want to use that. The experience is terrible.” That's what they said. And this is where I was like “Is this change they're not used to it or they really got it wrong?” And at the end of the day, we kind of removed everything that made them stay in the flow of their work, everything that allows them to be efficient. I think it's still nice because you don't learn from other people's mistakes. So, at some point, you have to make your own as a team. So, it's nice that we have this example because now, whenever you know we have a new joiner in the team, we can share this and this becomes part of the global knowledge of the team.
Jayneil: I feel like, in a way, because you worked for so long in the business side of things, you may appreciate the complexity of it. You understood why the traders needed to see this many options and this many interfaces like this complex interface versus if somebody had just worked on a consumer app like YouTube which is all about simplification and just jumped to join it, they're like “Oh, let's make it simple. Let's make it very clean.”
Morgane: Yeah, it's very interesting because what we do, and again, it's part of the article I wrote, I’ll give you the link for people who are interested in that, is there's a balance to find between the business complexity and the interface complexity because often people think it's the same whereas it's completely different. Business complexity, as I said, it's maybe all the things you need to know to do your work correctly. And then the interface complexity is everything you can cognitively put out on the screen. And very often, all the legacy tools, they're very badly designed. I mean, they're designed around the system. It's because they have high business complexity and high interface complexity but the new talent says “Everything that was high business complexity, we want to oversimplify and dumb down everything.” And this is why it's dangerous because you're actually not empowering your users anymore. It's actually very dangerous because you're removing the ability to work. And having the right balance is actually what we do every day as a B2B design team.
Jayneil: Wow! I think in a lot of my design products at AT&T as part of the B2B design team, I have made that mistake too where, I think, in the first meeting, I kind of really oversimplified it. And then I actually talked to the users who wanted those features, the complex screens and they were like “Now it's going to take me 10 times more of the time to do it because we just hit away all the options like I got to go through all that” and I was like “Wow!” And in one of the user researches, it literally came back saying that “Give me as much data as possible on the screen. I don't care if it looks pretty or not. I just want it there on the screen.” I remember that very vividly.
Morgane: Yeah because when you design, you have to remember why you’re designing the solutions you're designing. Maybe it's because you want to be able to spend more and have the right funnel but a lot of time in B2B, it's not so much about selling more stuff. A lot of time, it’ll be allowing people to be more efficient. For example, some of our solutions can only be used by a few people because they have to be licensed on the market. So, there's only a few people. So, we're never going to have KPIs such as “increase the number of users”. We must do everything to make their work efficient because if they're not able to use this tool, maybe then they won't be able to contribute to the market. And if they can't contribute to the market, we may lose a banking license. So, very important. Very, very small number of users are actually having to use that tool but we have to make it superefficient and that itself is one of the design goals. There are other goals that you can have but there's all this range of design objectives you can design for. And this is actually why I really enjoy working on the B2B and B-2-Employee side. It's, for me, very, very rich in terms of design usage. Sometimes we joke about it but we're never going to get “Wow! All the traders are looking at the screen right now. Go buy, buy.” I mean, we end up doing that but like don't really see the point because it's just not like the use case there.
Jayneil: I understand. You're working on designing a delightful product for a small subset of users but making sure that they're able to increase or decrease their task time specifically instead of trying to focus on “How can we get more and more users to the platform?”
Morgane: It depends on the objectives of each project. We talk a lot about design KPI and the value of design. And I’ve been asked this question a lot in the team “What is a value?” I would say we can have value as a design team in terms of what we achieve, how much design led we can merge projects to be but really what gives you, whether it's a good design or whether what you do work is did the project achieve what they wanted, was it simpler or did we scale a business because we implemented a tool that facilitates the life of the operational people or are people wasting less time doing whatever task they're doing. Sometimes it can be like are there less incidents because someone didn't see something that happened on screen and all are like cluttered and with very weird names or even maybe sometimes people don't even see the information because it's not being shown with the right hierarchy. Again, it really depends.
Jayneil: I love it. I’m going to switch gears a little bit. So, you started off with your love for indie games, Flash games and you're still much involved in the game scene like designing games?
Morgane: Yeah. So, no more Flash games, as you know. I’m still involved in a small indie game called Koruldia. And we did a Kickstarter two years ago and it was successful. So, we’re very happy about it. We're on the progress of the game. And so, sometimes, I may have my day of work and then close my work laptop because everyone's working from home today and open my other laptop and design a tree or a fighting animation or something like that. So, it's kind of funny, the difference.
Jayneil: And what tools are you using to design the game interfaces?
Morgane: It depends what you make but I’m still very used to Photoshop because I’ve been using all, I guess, my life but there are other tools today. I'm especially doing a lot of Pixel art. So, I’d say I’m still like this kind of a veteran of Photoshop when it comes to game assets.
Jayneil: Okay. And Koruldia is an action RPG game, which I believe is like a role-playing game, kind of like the Age of Empires. Well, the Age of Empires is a strategy game, I think but more like where you have a character like a GTA or something where you just move around. Is that correct?
Morgane: People can get very specific about the different RPG generals but without going into too much detail, I would say it's more like a story-driven RPG. It's much more about exploration. The pitch of the game is you're going to wake up in a strange world and what you're able to do in that world because you have to recollect what happened and what's happening, you can actually dive into people's memories. You can choose whether you want to be aggressive or merciful in fights. And we're bringing all gaming experience around that because, and this is actually why it's interesting to be in the game because we can explore things, when you dive into people's memory, you can actually dive into people who live through crazy things or maybe someone who has a poor recollection of their memories, a kind of amnesia. And that’s very cool to explore because for that, for example, when you dive into people who don’t remember things, we've decided to create this kind of visual atmosphere where we're only using very old school graphics like the Game Boy because everything is resolution.
Jayneil: Oh wow! You're doing it purposefully.
Morgane: So, you kind of change depending on where you are and it's very exciting. It's really nice to design around.
Jayneil: So, you purposefully chose to make it retro feel like the pixelated version of the Game Boy back in the ‘90s. Was it to simplify the design process or was it just because the retro look is cool?
Morgane: Not all the game is like that. So, it's actually more work for us because we have to recreate the assets in different styles. It's very interesting. So, I’m not doing the music but we're doing the same with the music which is when you go into a retro style memory, you also have all the retro music such as the Mega Drive Chips, all the sounds. So, we wanted to recreate this as well.
Jayneil: My earliest experience with some of these games, some of the pixelated ones or ones I played on early Windows were this game called Wolfenstein. I don't know if you played that. It was like a gun that just went about shooting different people. And there was like a chicken and a health pack you would get. I remember that. And then on the console on the TV, as kids, we would play this game called Contra and Street Fighter. So, I very much remember that era just playing those games and getting immersed in it. And if you don't mind sharing, how much money did you all raise on Kickstarter to fund the game?
Morgane: I think the equivalent in dollar would be, I mean, of course it changes depending on the rate, but it'd be 33,000.
Jayneil: Wow! That is amazing.
Morgane: Kind of like a pre-sale really. I mean, it was quite a journey in terms of mean doing the Kickstarter campaign.
Jayneil: I bet. You guys must have planned a lot in advance like the goals and everything.
Morgane: We, I think, went through all the wheel of emotions possible. I’ve kept a daily log of everything but I haven't read it yet because I don't feel ready. When the game is released, maybe I will read it again. It's everything, the joy of having people who support your idea or people who don't even know who will just join you, also the disappointment with yourself when you thought you would do something that will help but it's like not working at all but also just bonding with other game developers because they're living through the same thing as you. So, we made some really nice connections while we did the campaign. And I almost had a heart attack the last day because we began trending on Reddit.
Jayneil: Oh wow!
Morgane: So, when you start training on Reddit, it's crazy. Well, I guess that's what trending means, right? I remember it was the last day of the campaign and without really lots of props, I posted a video saying “Hey, we're doing this.” I can't remember why I did it but I remember I did it. I was ready to go to bed because it was late. And then suddenly I saw the numbers was like … I could see all the upvotes, all the comments hiding in the comments section.
Jayneil: Oh my God!
Morgane: So, I think, the teaser, because we posted the teaser there, ended having like 1.3 million views.
Jayneil: Oh my God!
Morgane: And I actually spent my whole night answering comments. And the thing is I had to actually get up earlier to take a trip to go to work because I was supposed to travel to Paris that day. So, literally I was answering all the questions, realizing it was 5 a.m. but my train was at 7, I had to get ready at 6 to take the train. So, that was insane but it was so worth it because, when they tell it in stories, we had this huge pleasure at the end. So, it was very satisfying because until the very end, we could see the numbers rising. A lot of people saw Reddit too late and we've heard this PayPal campaign as well for late backers. It's really an experience.
Jayneil: You used the tools of design thinking or design in general and applied that to your Kickstarter campaign because the way I see it is usually when we do user research, user testing, we're kind of trying to find a way like is somebody going to use our product, do they like our product. So, I’m assuming that you guys had not developed the whole game before the campaign and you were kind of like seeing if there was a fit before the campaign or how many people would use it.
Morgane: Especially now, I mean, Kickstarter’s changed a lot. I mean, back in the day, you would do mostly all your pre-sell. People would just buy. And it's true there's been a lot of horror stories on Kickstarter, a lot of people got burnt and they're not willing to do it. So, if you really want people to buy into your story, it's not very different. It's more about checking whether your game would have an audience. It was much more about seeing whether the story would fit, if we would have enough players because, again, not all players would want to play this kind of game. We're not targeting the mass market here. And as I mentioned, you don't actually learn from other people's mistakes because we did so much research, we read all the postmortems, and many interviews. We prepared the plan and everything but when it really happened, we made some serious mistakes.
Jayneil: What mistakes come to mind?
Morgane: Okay, I can give you a real example but I think it's more like general for designers and developers. We thought that the game would just naturally trend that we wouldn't need to do anything, that just sitting there, someone would notice us and say “Oh, that's a nice game. I’ll share it with my friends,” not doing any sales work or marketing work because we don't need that. It's even when you do designs like “I don't need sales people'' because you forget that people who are selling what you design or develop are the product managers, the sales people. And as a designer, we often kind of underappreciate this. And so, I remember when we started the campaign, we were so clueless. I want to say clueless. I mean, I had some experience in marketing before but I was still very clueless. So, I could only think about people who'd never done that before, things such as if you want a game website or a journalist to talk about your game, you have to pitch for them. I mean, you need to write a blurb, that's how they call it, but I didn't write a blurb before and we were just sending links around. And honestly, those people, they are probably so overwhelmed. You should understand that you have to explain why your product is different and here it's a game, why your game is different. We were following those magazines and websites but it took us a while before understanding that now we actually have to really pitch the game, pitch the idea, do all this basically sales and marketing thing.
Jayneil: I completely understand your dilemma because that's something I had to do with the podcast too. I had to do the marketing, trying to put it on different platforms and LinkedIn groups and stuff. So, I completely understand even though I’m like “Oh my God, I got to do that.”
Morgane: I guess it's because you can't do everything today. I mean, you can't, let's say, design, develop and sell at the same time but still it's incredible because you can still do it if you want to now because we are online, you can reach out to anyone. And that was also the idea of the game. I mean, we decided to stay indie, that we wouldn't you know go through the classical ways of game development.
Jayneil: Why was that?
Morgane: Basically, to keep creative freedom. And trending on reddit and having 1.3 million views without paying for advertisement or like partnering with an agency, actually, thinking about that, we were like “Our game is so good that we don't need any PR agency” because there's a lot of companies that offer games PR services but we were like “We don't need that.” I think I’ve kind of changed my mind now because in a campaign, you are so busy with everything – answering questions, making sure it works, writing news – that, I mean, for your sanity, you don’t have to do all of it and it really works working with pros but when we did it, we were like “No, no, no, all games don't need that.”
Probably one tip if anyone wants to do that, the quality of whatever you do and where you promote it is really different. There's no shame in doing marketing and sales.
Jayneil: Was there a backup plan on the last day when you posted on Reddit. Let's say it did not become trending. Hypothetically, let's say nothing happened. Was there a backup plan like you were just going to abandon the game if you didn't get the campaign goals or nobody signed up? What was the backup plan?
Morgane: I think we reached the minimum viable funding after a week. So, that itself was okay but it's still funny because nothing is rational when you're in it. We had a lot of stress and we feared that everyone would remove their pledge, for some reason. We were having nightmares about this. So, we were pretty confident that it was okay, we reached the goal. So, it was more about reaching stretched goals. I guess it's more about this than really having plan B. If we completely fail the campaigns and not even reach the minimum viable funding, I guess that's another lesson I learn. And again, it's like we hate failing. And sometimes I have this tendency of if I do something and I fail, I would try to disappear from the face of the earth. You won't find a trace of myself. I mean, I’m almost half kidding here. It's not like you guys in the States where I see a lot of projects that fail and people just keep it there because it's part of the learning experience. And I’ve seen many, many games, when they failed the first time, they did it maybe one year and two years after but for us, it was very hard to think about the scenario because we were like “Oh, we failed. We must disappear from everywhere.”
Jayneil: We even have a conference here on failing. I think it's called Failcon where people who fail big time, they come on stage and share how they failed.
Morgane: This is so interesting, right? I think you still have a stigma sometimes that everything you need to do must just be success. So, I don't think we were ready to think about “If we fail, then we cancel the project or we do it a few years later.” I would recommend it really depends on how much feedback you receive. If it's because the people you reached are super excited about the game but you did not reach enough people, that means you need to work on your marketing and sales. Again, back to how do you reach people because everyone's busy, everyone has different things to do. They may be interested but they're not seeing your product. If it's because you didn't reach them, it's totally worth doing it again but then if it's because the concept is not good or maybe people are not interested in this kind of game, I mean you can keep looking for a niche, maybe eventually you find it or maybe it just means that you need to work on the concept again. And then it's up to you whether you want to pursue it or do something else and pivot.
Jayneil: Makes sense. And how big is your team? Who is behind Koruldia game?
Morgane: It's a very small team. It's me and my partner. And we have contributors, for example, for the music and the game engine. So, it's more like, I guess, a community as well because a lot of the game engine, plugins, everything is kind of open source. And I think the secret is out now.
Jayneil: So, you design and your partner, I’m assuming, codes it.
Morgane: For the engine, he codes but mostly works in partnership with the other developer. He does design too but mostly, I would say, the game environments and also the storylines.
Jayneil: So, did you guys build games earlier Koruldia or how did you guys meet and then like “Oh, we are dating now. Let's just build a game together.” How did that happen?
Morgane: I’m going to feel very old but we actually met on IRC.
Jayneil: As I was telling you earlier, Slack is now a billion-dollar company, it's on the stock market. In my previous life I was a programmer and I worked on Linux and open source projects. So, I worked on the hardware side of things like Arduino, PandaBoard, BeagleBone. I would hack Linux, use it. So, the only way you could get help was yet to go in IRC. And for people who don't know what IRC is, IRC is basically Slack without any kind of visual branding. I think that's the best way I can think about it because it was the same concept. We had a hashtag channel name and that's the same thing we had on IRC. I very much remember.
Morgane: So, it’s Slack actually. Because I was already into gaming and he was as well and this is how we met. It's funny because everything was text-based back then. I don't think you can ever meet someone like that now unless you have a new trend or maybe just meeting people podcasting. We had common interests. We weren't really living in the same areas but we started to talk. Actually, there was a project on Dreamcast, that’s very old as well, that he was on with another team. I was madly interested back then but I was doing my own Flash game stuff and we just kept in touch and at some point, we decided to work together.
Jayneil: That is one of the most amazing love stories if I’ve ever heard one. You hear people meeting like “How did you meet?” – “We met through a dating app,” “We met at the church” – but then you're like “Oh, we met in this secret portal online, IRC. We were talking about games.” It’s a really cute story is what I’m trying to say.
Morgane: Thank you. I don't really share that. I think it's the first time I actually shared it with everyone on the podcast. That never happened. So, thank you for your support.
Jayneil: You've learned a lot from just gaming, the lessons you probably learned from the gaming industry, building your own game. I’m curious to learn what lessons have you taken from the gaming side of things and applied that to your work at Société Générale and your team and with your colleagues.
Morgane: Well, there's so much to be said. I guess you can talk about the design craft because a lot of things start in gaming. We talk a lot about affordance. The cues and the hints you can get about something about how to use it, we had it in the gaming industry first. And also, the need for consistency. We talk a lot about design consistency today. In the old games, they didn't have a lot of consistency. And I don't know if you've been following or watching the YouTube channel of people like the Angry Video Game Nerd. When he plays those very old-fashioned games, sometimes you would have a game asset that behaves a certain way like a platform on one level and then it's just something from the background. So, you try to jump on it and you fall and you die.
Morgane: So, game consistency is another big thing. I mean, now, you wouldn't even think about doing something like that in a modern game. And I guess everything that comes down with design systems is kind of representing this. And also, just the macro interactions, having feedback when you do something in games, we talk a lot about this now in design. So, in terms of craft, I think there's a lot of similarities but for me, I would say the biggest lesson I’ve learned, and I'm probably being influenced by that, is I think a lot about the systemic reason of why people do things. Let me explain here. Do you know the game Journey?
Jayneil: Yes, I haven't played it but I’ve heard about it.
Morgane: It's a lovely game about exploration, connection. And I have watched a very interesting talk by the creator of Journey and he said that it took him two years to tweak the game so that people stop killing each other in the game because basically, when you start giving people motion and collision, the first thing people want to do when they see another player is they want to shoot it or they want to kill it. It's not good and it’s not merciful. And he tried many, many things. I remember he said like first sharing the resource didn't work. Dropping the resource, transferring didn't work. So, he did a lot of things to reach the final state of Journey. A lot of time I’m thinking about this and I’m like “An organization is the same. Depending on how you organize your organization, people will work together or they will hate each other.” And it's not so much about their individuality, with due respect, I know everyone's different, but sometimes the situation just puts you in a place where you can only have aggressive behavior or it's very, very hard to do the right thing. And, for me, it's really the job of the people in the shadows who have power on how you organize your company to make sure or unless they want to do that, maybe it's a strategy they are happy with, it really depends on how you can put in place the right triggers, the right systems like in a game environment so that you nudge people into doing the right thing.
Does it make sense or am I like going way too far?
Jayneil: Let me just be honest about this. Whenever I go to a design conference and you see like “Oh, this person is a director at Google. This person is a director of this like fancy company” and usually, their story is like they're working at that company for so many years but you don't hear much about their side hustles or something they've got interesting on the side. And even if they do have it, you just don't hear about it. You're one of the very few ones that it's just so badass like you are a Director of Design at Société Générale, a banking, old-school 150-year industry of all places, and then on the side you're also making these cool games. And I’m wondering how has that affected your team? Because the way I see it from my side is like as a designer, I’m like “Oh my God, I definitely want to work on our team” because side projects are welcome. It's kind of like the google culture they used to have back in day like 25% of your time, do your own thing.
Morgane: I don't know what to say, that's too much praise for me.
Jayneil: People are very humble too.
Morgane: Okay, I’ll tell you something. We don't do well with compliments. And actually, that means when we say it, we really mean it but all the “It's amazing! It's so exciting!”, I mean, in English it's okay but in French, it would sound so weird for me to say it. I think it's probably the same with compliments. I’m feeling very weird right now. Thank you so much. It means a lot but you know what, I kept it a secret for quite a long while because I was like “Okay, work is work. Private life is private life.” I mean, now with the lockdown, everything is the same kind of. I remember when I was doing those video game things, it wasn't really trending. It was quite nerdy and I definitely didn't share my stories at school because that wasn't cool at all. I guess it's true that if you have a passion, you don't have to force yourself into something. If you want to do it, you can do it but it's true that, I think, nowadays people like to hear and learn more about other people's life and not just being labeled into a role or put in a box. It's actually something that we really enjoy in the team. We all have different side passions. I am not sure how much of that is due to the fact that I’ve been doing side gigs as well but we actually have, for example, people who are into improv theater, someone who teaches, we also have people who are part of like a rock band or people who are really into sports. I think everyone has a different thing and this is something we actually value. I mean, there's not just working life, right? I don't know how much of that is French because we like to have a side life and there's a lot of not working crazy hours. I mean, being efficient but also doing something else but for me, when you work in design, you actually need to have this kind of escape just for your sanity because so much of what you do can be really overwhelming because first, you have your design craft, then you have everything that can happen on projects and then you have the change factor like usually when we work on things, we're changing people's lives or how they work. So, it can sometimes become not conflicting but people can sometimes really become too much into something.
Jayneil: Get overwhelmed by it?
Morgane: Yeah and you need this kind of safe space where you'll be like “Okay, pause. I’m going to think about something else” and then come back but when you think about it, even when you design, because if you're all day long on a button, I can guarantee you that whatever you're doing, you will lose track of if it makes sense or not.
Jayneil: I wish that more design leaders would be open about this. It's very formal in some companies you work at, you've got this design director and they're doing the work and you're doing the work but you get this feeling the culture is not open to just talk about your side projects like “Hey, guys, look, I designed this game” or “Hey, look, I’m DJing at this club on the side on the weekends.” It'd be kind of fun to also bond on that and not fear that if people find out like “Oh, I’m doing a podcast on the side,” it should be celebrated instead of being like “Oh, now I got to hide that. I can't talk about it.” So, I think there's still need to be more progress on that side.
Morgane: I guess it's interesting because so much of what we do is changing perspectives. When you design something. You can't just say “Okay, I know everything. This is the way it needs to be done.” You have to co-design with others. Well, it's hard for the ego but sometimes you design horrible things and you have to change your mind about how you do things. We must have this openness on one side. And then on the other side, we put everyone into boxes, so “Oh, they're just the developers,” “Oh, he's just being the POs, the project owners,” “Oh, they're just being the business.” And it's interesting because when you start learning about someone's life specifically, you may learn things that really surprises you. And I guess it's part of being able to embrace this diversity and, again, not just putting people into boxes.
Jayneil: There was a product owner I worked with. His name is Madan. He's a good friend. And we never got along. We would always fight in meetings, argue, argue and people would have to come in and kind of like make sure the meeting is productive. And I think after he switched jobs and we got to hang out outside of work and I found out that he had traveled to 52 countries in one year, every weekend he was in some different city internationally and I think when I got to know about his side hustle or traveling was the side thing like he loves traveling, so learning about that and connecting with him on that level just made me appreciate that more. And now, we're pretty good friends. So, it was a pretty interesting thing that what you got going on. So, I’m assuming, in your team you guys are very open about the side hustles and stuff like “Oh, I’ve got this going on.” And I’m wondering how do you ensure the balance. If everybody's doing a side hustle, then “Hey you got to do the work too. You can't just be doing the side hustles all day.”
Morgane: I mean it depends how things evolve. A lot of time, when you do the side hustle, you want to keep it as a side thing. I don't want to be doing gaming design every day because I would just lose, I think, all my creative juice, same as I don't know if the person who does improv would want to do that …
Jayneil: For a living, yeah.
Morgane: Or maybe they will and maybe at some point they come to me and say “Hey, I’ve considered switching to that” and maybe that would be a different career path. We actually have a colleague who was really into coaching. And now, I think he is part-time working as a coach for startups and people. And it’s his side gig as well and it works pretty well. I guess we're all adults here, right? so, people should be hopefully knowing if they want to do something full-time, not full-time, etc.
Jayneil: One thing I’ll tell you also, on a completely unrelated note, is I was just laughing in my head when you said as a French person, all this “Oh it's amazing! It's so nice!”, it makes you feel awkward. I’m originally from India and there we're like big on shouting praises and like “Oh, this is amazing!” or maybe that's how I was raised. So, when I came to the US, I learned about sarcasm. I mean, you like it or you don't like it. You don't try to be like “Oh this dress is so nice” and it's kind of like a backhanded compliment. It's just very rare. So, here, I was like giving compliments to people like “Oh, nice shoes” and they would look at me like this guy in front of me and then one day, I think, someone pulled me to the side at work and they're like “Why are you making fun of my shoes?” and I’m like “No, I mean them. This is not sarcasm. I don't know what sarcasm is. I genuinely mean I like your shoes.”
Morgane: Oh my God, it's hard. We love sarcasm as well and it's very hard to tell but I think even here I’ve definitely heard the story of someone from the States living here who told me he spent a lot of time with British people and he only recently understood that when they say “Oh, that's inspiring,” it doesn't mean that it's really inspiring. It must be somewhere on Google but there's this list of expressions that people say here and what they really mean.
Morgane: I mean, that's culture, right? And sometimes, sarcasm is not a bad thing. Being able to share sarcasm together is actually bonding. I mean, culture is hard.
Jayneil: It took me some time but whenever I heard in a meeting like “Yeah, that's an interesting angle,” I understand like “Okay, this is really a terrible idea. We need to go in a different direction.” I’d be like “Yeah, he said it was an interesting idea.”
Morgane: I think you guys have this sandwich thing where you do something negative and wrap it up with something positive.
Jayneil: Oh my God! It would be like “So, Morgane, I really like the design you did today. I think you’ve come a long way but today, this design that you created is really terrible but in general, we really like working with you.”
Morgane: Yeah. Well, I remember one of my first reviews. So, we went through everything that was positive, blah, blah, blah and as I was actually waiting for the negative, because one of the bad thing in France is we tend to focus on the negative things because we assume that if it's positive, we don't need to say, so we'll just talk about what can be improved. That is so true actually on projects as well, I realized, saying this. So, I was hearing all the positive things and then I said “Okay. So, what can I do better?” There was a blank. The person did not expect me asking this and wasn't prepared. So, I can't remember what was said but it was very awkward.
Jayneil: Here, what I’ve learned so far in corporate America over here is that it's all about who you know and who you got to please. You just have to be diplomatic, not saying things to people very directly. Sometimes it's useful but that's what I’ve learned so far. You can't exactly say what you mean as well depending on the situation, who you're talking to. So, it's very much like what they call it beating around the bush. And sometimes, I wish they could just be direct about it. So, there'd be a one-hour meeting where “You know, I appreciate what the team has done here” and maybe like a 15-minute speech like the sandwich thing again, positivity, “you’ve done a good work” and then in the last it’d be like “So we need to redesign this.” And I’m like “If you just had started like “Listen, guys, we missed the mark. Let's just redesign and start thinking about what we can do next. All right, go back to your desk and start doing it.”
Morgane: Yeah. I mean, it's so hard. It's funny. We work on change, right? So, we do new designs, we create new solutions but really people are slow to change and even if you consider adapting to a new tool, now, we should think about how we should think, how we should communicate. It's hard. There's no such thing as a global update of everyone. From where? I don't know. And it's very hard. Okay, I don't know if it's a tip but what I’ve been doing in the team and I’m doing now, I’m very scared right now, is we are running this survey regularly where we ask questions how people feel about the team, what works, what doesn't work. And one of the questions is “About Morgane, what should be improved?” And it's anonymous. So, they can say whatever they want. It's open right now. So, I think I’ll collect all the feedback next week so I can have a look. So, it's being vulnerable, it’s very stressful but I guess this is the way I found to really collect everything because as much as I know, some people would just say it and they've been very vocal. A lot of people may not be feeling comfortable saying things, especially if it's like not how they've been working elsewhere but I found that doing this, at least I can gather everyone's voice.
Jayneil: That's an amazing idea.
Morgane: So, you can be sending emails to your colleagues. This is an anonymous survey about “What do you think about me? Go. Here's the link.”
Jayneil: I had the chance to work with an amazing design leader Andrea Sutton and she did that at work. And at first, everybody was afraid like “Oh, this is the VP of design asking for this feedback. Should I be careful? Would I get fired? What about my bonus?” So, when she sent out the email, people were scared. So, then she sent out the email specifying in bold again that “If you missed it, this survey is anonymous. There's no way we can track it. So, whatever you say will be confidential but this is a way for me to improve.” So, I think that really let people open up about a lot of the issues that people are just scared to talk about. Some of them have got kids. Some of them have families. So, not everybody's just going to go up to you and be like “Hey, I just don't like this” or even email.
Morgane: And then you hold this till something just goes crazy.
Jayneil: And then what she did is, after she collected them all, she called it the 360 feedback, I think it took about a couple of weeks to collect it from everybody, and then she had a whole meeting with all the designers and everybody and then she shared the themes of it like “Okay, these are the top three things that seem to be working and these are the top three things that I can improve.” And the fact that she closed the loop by sharing that, it was not just a thing like “Let's just do it” and put it on the checkbox but more of like “This is what I learned” and sharing that with everybody. That was so powerful.
Morgane: Yeah, you have to share it. And the debrief must be done with the team. I mean, it depends when I collect all the feedback but we'll have to go through the session where we have to go through each question and go through each grade that the team has given to itself. It's stressful for me because there's one question about me in there but it's mainly about the team. So, what we think that we are doing right. What are the things that we should be improving? It will all be there anonymous. So, I think it's very powerful even just for someone who may be concerned that they're the only one thinking something or maybe some people will find out that actually the rest of the team has a different perspective on something. It's something that takes a lot of time but definitely, if you want to have a good team cohesion or culture, you really have to do it.
Jayneil: Any last parting words for designers who have side hustles or want to find side hustles or design leaders who want to embrace the culture of promoting side hustles, what would you tell them?
Morgane: We've covered so much. First, don't force yourself because I don't think that'd be a good thing. I mean, you can't really enjoy something if you're really forcing yourself. I mean, forcing yourself to dedicate a certain amount of time, yes, but forcing yourself into something you don't like to do, that doesn't seem like a good idea. So, if there's something you really want to do but you feel like it's not that cool, just do it. You never know where things click. And I guess, for people who want to promote this, just talk about it. Side hustles, I mean, you can be also spending time with your kids and families. I’ve seen a lot of managers do that recently and I thought it was so powerful that they do that. I mean, with the lockdown, we had people sharing pictures of them working with the kids on them because they're like babies or whatever. So, that is super powerful. That really means that it's okay to have a life.
Jayneil: Thank you so much, Morgane, for coming on the show, inspiring me with your side hustle and sharing your wisdom.
Morgane: Thank you so much for having me. It was such a nice chat.
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