In January, Karthi Subbaraman launched an experiment called Friday Office Hours. The premise is simple: She shares a calendar page for fellow designers to book time with her to talk about anything. These conversations are part-mentorship, part-community building — and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
What are Friday Office Hours and what inspired you to launch this experiment?
Karthi: After working in the design field as a practitioner for about two decades, I noticed an emerging problem: Design as a discipline was moving at a rapid speed, but the designers themselves were not catching up. I felt we needed to raise the bar of creative problem solving.
I wanted to try to help solve that problem and make designers industry-ready, so I took on several teaching positions at design and business schools. I’ve been doing that for about three years and I’ve realized that while we definitely need to teach designers at universities, there’s an even bigger segment that is still being neglected.
90-95% of our design workforce are actually self-taught designers. They don’t go to colleges, they don’t go to design schools. Sure, there were a number of bootcamps and things that promise to make you a design thinker in three days. Those are things I was concerned about, so I wanted to find another way to connect with designers to get at the actual aspects of a creative career. That’s where the idea for Friday Office Hours came from.
Friday Office Hours is a way to be connected to the design community, all of it, and to offer my presence to be useful to them. There are some questions we only feel comfortable asking one-to-one. Being able to answer them can help immensely.
I set up my calendar page in a way that lets me speak to three designers every Friday afternoon, right after lunch until about 5 p.m. Anyone can sign up for a spot and it lets me be in touch with designers who need help.
You’ve described this as one of the best experiments of your career. Can you tell us why that is?
Karthi: What I really like about Friday Office Hours is that it’s time and energy boxed. It’s 3-4 hours once a week, speaking to people on-demand. I specifically chose Friday because I’ve found I don’t really do deep work on that day, so it’s a great day for external meetings. Additionally, I never know what kind of questions are going to come up, which has been a fantastic surprise element and an amazing dopamine hit waiting for me every single Friday.
In general, these designers are asking simple-enough questions that they just don’t have anyone to ask them about. That’s the heart of our conversation. There are no niceties, it’s not about me, and they can trust that everything is safe to discuss. That’s an amazing guided structure for someone to have a conversation and it has been mind-blowing for me. Every week, I learn more.
Sometimes, I tell whoever comes to an office hours slot to keep in touch with me and to start the month with an email telling me that they’re going to do something by the end of the month. It can be so helpful to have a senior person from your industry holding you accountable. This has also allowed me to start to build a true makers community. I’ve been skeptical about them in the past, but now I’m seeing we can build a wonderful free community by making it intentional. In many ways, this has changed my career.
How did x.ai help you execute this experiment?
Karthi: When we don’t talk about the tool, it means that the tool has become part of you. I don’t think I could live without x.ai these days.
As a user, it’s all about the value that you get. With Calendly, it felt awkward to be advertising that I wasn’t paying for the program. I used Meeting Bird for almost a year. I set my calendars up there, but then they began sunsetting the product and the whole thing was taken away. This is how we lose trust in startups.
I was expressing my angst about these calendar tools and a friend said, “Don’t think anymore. There is x.ai, just go ahead and do this.” I set up templates for different things, my one-to-ones, meetings with rolling dates. I have different templates for different things. There’s just a mind-blowing amount of personalization I could get to and the customizations are very simply powerful.
The time blocking aspect in x.ai is superb. You can set a limit for how many meetings you can take, you can set a lead time, you can ask questions. These are things that make it easier. All you do is send a link and say “Choose whatever suits you.”
I have three different types of meetings — A, B, C — and I made templates for each of them.
- A meetings are less than one pomodoro, which is like 20 minutes max.
- B meetings are mostly decision-making meetings. We’ve already discussed this and now we’re making a decision and talking through any pros and cons.
- C meetings are all about brainstorming and can be anywhere from 45-60 minutes, sometimes even 90 minutes, because you need space to get into flow together with your team.
I’ll also create templates when things come up, like I need to speak to someone in a different part of the world and I need to align our timezones. I can create calendar pages and remove them when I don’t need them anymore. It makes your life super, super easy.
You mentioned on LinkedIn that you’ve connected with 20+ designers already! How did you initially share the calendar page link?
Karthi: When I first set up the x.ai calendar page, I had it set to offer dates indefinitely into the future. I noticed that the first 2-3 weeks would book up with designers, but then nothing was scheduled after that. As humans, we don’t really look forward to booking something six months down the line. We don’t tend to plan like that. Anything that is happening in the near-future is important; anything far away is hazy in our brains.
Now, I’m experimenting with sharing the calendar page every month. I have it set up to offer availability as rolling 8 weeks and I’ve found the slots book up faster. With one post, the 8 weeks will mostly fill up. I don’t try to backfill slots or get a waitlist, it’s too much work on me. In that sense, I’m not too worried about cancelations.
Posting regularly about Friday Office Hours has also been a good way to stay in touch with the community. It’s just about being helpful, not pushy sales messages, and x.ai has given me a very powerful way of doing that.
Can you share any advice for people considering doing something like this?
Karthi: Productivity is personal. When you’re putting together your meeting templates, you will see patterns of how you work — which days you tend to do meetings, at what times — and that will help you determine what time you can dedicate to this. After you do that, go ahead and tweak your availability so you feel this is achievable and worth doing.
Next, make sure you can take care of yourself and then see if you can be useful to someone else. I see some people opening up their entire calendar, which cannot work because there are tasks and things you do that aren’t always on your calendar (like your lunch time, your gym time). This is why I recommend you take the time to find your patterns, carve out time and time-block it with tools like x.ai.
You’re the master to the tool. If you can create a system design and use time blocking accordingly, the communication around scheduling times will become so much easier. It’s just a link and it takes away all the hassle.