Capital One Labs

Dan Makoski
Vice President, Design
Capital One
101 Post Street
2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108

Dear Mr. Makoski:

If you thought pitching hay to cattle was pretty awesome, you’re going to love my more recent professional development experiences. I felt so excited, flattered, and humbled to engage in dialogue with a designer of your game-changing, executive management calibre, thanks to the great democratizing power of 21st century technology:

Typically I pride myself on my ability to meet deadlines and keep promises. Thank you for understanding the delay in my follow through is due to the proverbial sh*t leaving the metaphoric fan and sailing around the room coincident with our conversation. With your work history, maybe you can empathize with producing innovative solutions through similar high-pressure, intense situations?

Your critics may not be able to imagine the motivation for your career shift from elite tech to mass market banking, but I can. You’re at the top of your field. Where else are you going to go? Where better to apply your skills than within a field long overdue for disruption, as the biz kids like to say? What I would like to learn from you is not why a boring field like banking, but how did you persuade the visually challenged bankers of design’s ability to reimagine how people relate to money?

Thrilled again to notice your search for a Senior Art Director at your DC office, with the position’s qualifications, expertise, and your interoffice culture written as if describing my workplace ideals combined with my humility and modesty when talking about my depth and breadth of skills across analogue and digital media that I prefer to credit to education and hard work. But you may call me talented as long as you reciprocate my respect.

Of course you must realize that banking’s biggest problem isn’t that it’s boring:

pink elephant

Six Other Press, 2008, product development, copywriting, typesetting, design, full press production

From my experiences observing global design talent in Seattle, first during the advertising industry’s 2010 portfolio night hosted at Publicis [insert link to forthcoming and retrospectively hilarious blogpost here]; again while participating in the collaborative breakout session of the city’s first Designers Accord, where the passive aggressive executive management style at Boeing later cost that company $12 billion and some change; and again during the worst application of social science that I had up to that point ever witnessed at the 2012 AIGA/Pepsico-hosted Design for Good summit with communications and branding professionals from at least three global firms enthusiastically pursuing “personas” – or flesh-and-blood human beings who matched their preconceived stereotypes – around the streets of Seattle to avoid solving a problem already identified by NSF- and NIH-funded research, to name just three examples, I encourage your caution with the effectiveness of developing “personas” by way of deriving innovative design solutions for the banking industry.

As Alan Cooper readily acknowledges, he devised the persona methodology out of his personal self-awareness of his struggle, as an engineer, to empathize with other human beings:

He never intended for his ideas to encourage designers or marketers to replace primary design research, or active listening, or getting to know your clients well enough to identify their real problems before devising market solutions. As an artist and a designer, I have no difficulty empathizing with perspectives different from my own. I watch people interact in their environments. Struggle with their currently available technology. People tell me things. Maybe they tell anybody and everybody, and I am just somebody who listens? Mr. Cooper’s “personas” are what sociologists describe as “the sociological imagination” or what in art we teach/learn as the difference between the personal and the universal, or the subject/object problem common to art, design, and psychology.

You say “persona,” I say design research.

As I explained to one of your former colleagues, here is the pain point in education, a design problem where the pain point data has doubled nationally between 2007–12, and the U.S. Department of Education’s “solution” to the problem is psychologically and biologically unsound. My design analysis of that problem looks not dissimilar from the solution nearly simultaneously derived by MIT grad, past-president of RISD, and now Bay Area venture capital consultant John Maeda, though arrived at independently, without his resources. His solution is better designed. I had given in to my resistance to learning Flash, where I saw the writing on the wall, but potential employers were still requiring knowledge of that bloated interface. Sure enough, Adobe soon lost that battle to Steve Jobs.

And there are still flaws with the application of Mr. Maeda’s solution, as visibly evident in one sample case study of a private charter school that has latched onto his written vocabulary, while visibly communicating their ongoing lack of visual literacy via their brand and online presence. What Mr. Maeda does not mention is the deeper reason we need to better communicate – and match funds – between the arts and humanities and STEMs is those empathy building skills that Alan Cooper realized he missed. Doing that deeper design research, what I am also finding is a strong correlation between abuse and visual illiteracy: childhood trauma unremediated by art-making becomes replicated in adult bad behaviors and visually communicated in graphic design.

You say “pain point,” I say artists roll up their sleeves and go in where developers in both architectural and virtual spaces – or angels – fear to tread.

Your STEM colleague could not respect my expertise because I am one of the “pain points” in banking, curiously connected to another of banking’s historic pain points, Patty Hearst. Like eight percent of America, unbanked by the Great Recession, to your team I bring deep expertise of that “persona” as well as empathy for the abuses that your bankers so visibly suffered.

On the upside, under your design leadership and with the support of trustworthy team members already well-versed in the language of people, Capital One is well-positioned to serve tea and crumpets to the pink elephant.

At least three things you and I already have in common: a sense of humor, inattention to our cuticles, and an ability to connect seemingly disparate dots, or the gestalt of human psychology. We both like to make things with our hands:


There’s a pink elephant in the living room (reverse)

Where in 2008 I was developing a method of printing typically viewed as its waste product, what I coined “laundry printing” or printing while cleaning the press, making beautiful of that detritus, by 2014 I am wondering what would happen if we make beautiful of those human beings typically viewed as detritus in a capitalist culture?

Are your bosses open to deeply reimagining their brand and revolutionizing the banking industry? How deeply committed are they to doing the right thing, economic development, and supporting children and families?

Because right now, that high-lighted, three-dimensional maroon boomerang looks like something that went sailing out of the Vegas airport in the early ’80s and got stuck in one of those brass palm trees, or that same aggressive narcissism that triggered the Great Recession. You do get back whatever you send out, as the Boeing and Pepsico executives painfully learned.

While that C-to-the-first-power in a red square of Capital One Labs is much better designed, what does it visually communicate? This artist’s first association, you might be surprised to learn, was the periodic table of the elements-? But carbon doesn’t come with a one. I also like to play with words, so maybe a letter in Scrabble-? But ‘C’ is worth three times that. As much a technology lover as any other designer, next the tentative rebrand speaks to me of Adobe’s suite of tools. Collect enough of those little Chiclets, and pretty soon we can start speaking a new language on a newly redesigned game board. Maybe Capital One’s new red square is meant to convey Das Kapital? But shouldn’t that be a ‘K’?

Before you get too far along with it, are they open to renaming? Maybe Post-Capital? Uncapital? Reappropriate Unbank to mean a true revolution in banking? I know, it’s going to mean a new URL and rebranding costs a fortune and can take years to fully roll out and all that jazz.

With your visionary leadership, Capital One’s data, and my expert experience at the pain point in banking, who nevertheless arrived at billionaire philanthropist Charles Feeney’s approach to money, only four decades faster, we could collaborate to much more nimbly accomplish our shared goal of a peaceful, maker culture than bloated government left to its own devices. You can do better than another of your former colleagues, virtually competing with visually and morally reprehensible brick-n-mortar payday loan vendors that have sprung up across the nation, without researching the systemic and global cultural harm of microcredit. You can do better than naming your products after militant terrorist groups. Capital One can do better than their colleagues at Bank of America, Citi, Chase et al who recognize the value of art to place-making without making the correlation, quite, that means living wages for artists and designers, visual culture producers and imaginative problem solvers, not just another layer of NGO administrators competing with government bureaucrats.

So set your design or community contribution standards, and build into your credit card plan what social justice activists describe as universal base income (UBI) to promote meaningful work and innovative solutions to social problems. As I found in my deep design research where no educated, hard-working human being should have to go, big business and big government are already providing that anyway. But what are you buying with your money? At what social cost?

From the button to apply on your Capital One Labs jobs page, it looks like I may have missed the deadline for your Senior Art Director position. But maybe not. Maybe just a miscommunication between a web dev on one end and a human resources professional on the other? Or maybe you still have room on your team for one more? Would your bankers invest in a buyback narrative for “talent” that no quantity of data can replace? Or invest in a data-proven business model capable of disrupting the very lucrative pharmaceutical industry, only without causing social harm, while visibly appreciating the value of community real estate?

Thank you for playing my new commitment to transparency in human resources.

Warm regards,

Jana Brubaker


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