165 year old Northwestern Mutual’s digital transformation
A spirited design executive, obsessed with building inclusive cultures and improving people’s lives through creation and collaboration.
I don’t keep an online portfolio because my work focuses on new products or strategic initiatives. If you are interested in learning more about my work, leadership, or just want to say hi – please do, happy to share case studies offline.Say hello
Head of Design at Sustain Life, a sustainability-as-a-service solutuion to measure climate impact.
Previously the Vice President, Head of Design at Northwestern Mutual, founder of Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Design Campus, and Brand & Product leader at Adobe.
With over 20 years of design, product, and leadership experience, I bring an infectious passion for creating cultures and products that make a difference in people’s lives. I have grown and led several teams of talented designers, product managers, researchers, and technologists to build exceptional experiences at scale.
- Product design
- Strategic design thinking
- Hardware & software integration
- Creative direction
- User experience research
- A11y and inclusive design
- Experience and service design
- C-Suite executive presence
- Scaling high-performance BUs
- Operations, planning, and management
- New product incubation
- Measured value creation
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Culture development
- Organizational design and recruiting
- Manager of managers
- Mentorship and career growth
Press & Publications
Microsoft ‘Teams for Firstline’ Wins Best of Enterprise Connect Overall Award / Dave Nelson: On Making Design Front and Center at Microsoft / Wayshowing > Wayfinding / How To Build The Digital Subway Map Of The Future / The Surprising Power of Online Experiments / Bing Reinvents Social Search and Discovery
— Emily Kapszukiewicz
Leader in Strategy & Brand/Customer Loyalty and Experience
David is undoubtedly one of the most compassionate and creative Design leaders I've ever had the pleasure of working with. He cares deeply about each and every individual and does his utmost to support their growth and development. As an Asian woman, I saw David as someone who made a conscious effort and choice to advocate for females and minorities, lifting them up and giving them opportunities and visibility that is otherwise hard to get.
Athough I am not an expert in design like David, I developed a much deeper appreciation and understanding of it from working with him. What he brings a thoughtful and unique perspective to the table, one that is beautifully design-forward and human-centric. He seems to live and breathe design in a way that inspired his team to do the same. I have nothing but deep respect for David as a person, as a leader, and as a colleague.
Thanks, David, for your partnership and friendship. I hope we will work together again someday!
— Dave Malouf
DesignOps, Chief of Staff, Design Leadership
I had the pleasure of working with David Nelson as his Chief of Staff and Head of Design Operations at Northwestern Mutual. It was one of the best partnerships I have had in my career. He truly was an engaged thinking partner.
David understood the core requirements of meeting business demands through creating evidence-based design quality. Then following through on that through monitoring and reporting. He turned around the team health & engagement while growing the team 3-fold during his time. We generated more and more demand across the enterprise and were on target to double the team size again because of that demand. David, led through personal inquiry. He brought questions to his team leaders regularly, asking them to take initiative and solve the problems they uncovered with his support. He always reached out deep into his team meeting regularly with everyone in his organization to hear things for himself.
Lastly, David was committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in his team and beyond. He was a leader in our functional area in this area, and supported self-created initiatives across all of his teams, and made DEI goals part of his OKRs and asked every one of his leaders to do the same.
I would definitely choose to work with David if the opportunity and timing ever synced up again.
— Crystal Zeng
Experience Designer at Northwestern Mutual
David has been my mentor since I was a budding UX designer. Breaking into UX wasn’t easy but David’s transparent and razor-sharp approach accelerated my growth. He coached me to be unafraid of failure and to always push forward as a designer and as a human. He taught me to think bigger and brighter, always. It’s hard to come by a servant leader who can zoom out to strategically map a way forward as well as roll up his sleeves and be hands-on with you. His actions show that he is deeply invested in growing eager designers and building collaborative, inclusive teams. He's one of those rare people you want to foster both a personal and professional relationship with because he is both an inspiring leader and a deeply compassionate person. I would be thrilled if I had the chance to work with David again in any capacity.
— Sanchit Gupta
Product Management at Google
David has always provided a unique perspective for our product. He would have very deep insights as to the actual impact of UX, past just metrics that are commonly measured. What I was most impressed with has been how he can help make our innovative solutions much easier for the user by deeply understanding the user persona. He would take into consideration change for the persona that's happening regardless of our product and how we can help the user along the journey, rather than just thinking of the user from a static position of where they are now. David understands all the things that are harder to measure like user trust, confidence, etc. very well.
— Elsa Ho
Research Lead at DoorDash
David is a super talented design leader. He is visionary, easy going, sharp, and smart. I especially appreciate his ability to see design strategically and bring it to the business level. David understands the value of user research and knows really well of how to work with researchers. During the time David was my interim manager, he was supportive and always gave me constructive feedback. The design team he built has a great culture. It was an amazing experience working with him!
— Brittany Mederos
Principal Product Design Manager at Microsoft
There are few designers that I've met who have Design (with a capital D) woven into their DNA. David is a Design leader who cares deeply about creating a space for amazing work to be done. He also can dig into the design details and nitty-gritty work to make something truly special. He has deep expertise in design tooling from his work at Adobe and it makes for amazing industry knowledge and conversations. I feel like I’ve learned so much and still have so much to learn. When it comes to the craft David sets the bar high and shows you the path to get there. He drives for solutions that are at the intersection of business goals, user needs, and technology - the trifecta. He delivers holistic experience design and product thinking. He knows what it takes to make amazing products that people love. As a person, David is cool to work with. He has an impeccable Designer sense of style (his shoe game is strong), and he is always game to get together outside of work for drinks or a game of curling. If you get the chance to work with David, count me jealous. It has been a pleasure to work with David and have him as my manager. Insider tip: be sure to ask him about "the bird".
— Greg Arroyo
Principal Product Design Manager at Microsoft
David has been my manager, mentor, and key thought partner for the past three and a half years, during which time we built Microsoft StaffHub to empower the Firstline Workforce (an estimated 2.3 billion people) with best-in-class tools. We also recently converged StaffHub into Microsoft Teams and won the Best of Enterprise Connect Overall Award. Our success is in a huge part attributed to David’s customer obsession and results-driven approach to leading a team of product designers and researchers. He brings personality, passion, and experience to the team while developing inclusive behaviors and perspectives that enable each of us to have a meaningful impact on the business, our customers, and the end users. David has also had a huge impact on my professional growth as a design leader, manager, and design practitioner. His leadership has built a team culture and product that I am proud to have been a part of. It has been a great pleasure to work with David and I hope to have the opportunity to work with him again in the future.
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