UI17: Your Toughest Design Challenge

by Luke Wroblewski November 6, 2012

In her Your Toughest Design Challenge talk at User Interface 17 in Boston, MA Kim Goodwin outlined how UX designers can enact cultural change within organizations to elevate the importance of design. Here's my notes from her talk:

  • The most difficult challenge in design is having the time and resources needed to ship great products. All kinds of things get in the way: new bosses, changes in strategy, other group priorities, etc.
  • Project issues are symptoms. Culture is the cause: stated values, artifacts & systems, and shared assumptions. Assumptions include what’s important, who’s important, what’s acceptable, and how things get done.
  • Culture is the water we swim in. It’s mostly invisible. We need a different way to see culture & use it your benefit.

Design your behavior for your context

  • Everyone is convinced his or her way of doing design is right. If it’s working in your organization, it’s right for you. To know what style of user experience design will work for your culture, you need to understand how your culture works and what it values.
  • Depending on the culture you are in, different models of UX can be successful.
  • Different types of cultures: adhocracy, clan, hierarchy, and market.
  • Adhocracy: stuff is constantly being re-invented, no heavy process, and things are always getting re-thought. In an adhocracy there’s general chaos, lack of focus and a resistance to process. Adhocracies value: novelty of vision, experimentation, passionate generalists, and are focused on growth.
  • UX pros in an adhocracy are whiteboard ninjas. They turn vision into actionable designs. Use quick sketches and user feedback to get things done.
  • Clan: lot of focus on employee relationships, involving everyone in decisions. In clans: things take a long time, include huge meetings, lack of clear ownership, and avoid conflicts.
  • UX pros in a clan are facilitators & coaches. They bring people along through research & design. Use first-hand involvement in research and brainstorming.
  • Hierarchy: specialized roles and job titles. In hierarchies there are rigid processes and roles, people are focused inward, and risk averse. Reducing risk sells in hierarchies.
  • UX pros in a hierarchy are experts. They are trusted sources.
  • Market: externally focused companies that like to prove things through research and do it fast.
  • UX pros in a market are scientists. They can measure what they are doing and show its impact. They bake in time for data analysis.
  • Think about culture as a persona for your project plan but don’t be ruled by it. Each culture needs something different: extra time, light process, time to think & feel.

Work to change the culture

  • The real deliverable of user experience professionals is culture: culture that makes bad UX unthinkable.
  • Changing culture is like moving a mountain. It takes 3-5 years minimum even with an executive mandate. Without executive support it can take even longer. If you’re not seeing progress yet, that’s normal.
  • Think of the mountain as separate rocks. Executives need to adapt behaviors not just talk about change. Middle managers need to help move the message from executives to individual contributors and explain how change affects individuals. Not all individual contributors need to buy in. Some will just move on –that’s part of the process.
  • To an individual change is a loss. For change to happen, people need clarity about what to change and an understanding of how to get there.
  • Most culture change happens one on one. How can you design these personal conversations? You can create or amplify people’s existing dissatisfaction. Get them to watch a usability test and witness the dissatisfaction of existing customers.
  • Process: evangelists can sell ideas, autocrats can dictate practices, architects can help establish systems to implement ideas, and educators shape stories about success. We need to change both hearts and minds.
  • In UX change, the “evangelism” stage often takes a long time.
  • Start with you and informal change. Assess your context: what kind of culture are you in & what stance should you take? Define your problem and create a concrete vision of what you want to achieve.
  • Build a coalition of key influencers and make them look good through a few keys wins. After they are successful, ask them to evangelize their results. Repeat this process until you get to senior leaders.
  • When you get a mandate from senior leaders, formalize a change plan that includes evangelism, processes/tools, measurements/rewards, and leadership behaviors. Start with more noticeable big events, but ensure there’s ongoing management support.
  • UX change often hits a capacity wall. As demand goes up, teams try to meet all of it but they can’t and UX becomes the point of failure. Consider focusing some of your time on project work and the rest of it on lighter consulting/office hours. Make a clear distinction so people know what kind of effort they are getting. Set expectations appropriately.
  • Make your own change plan by answering a number of questions: what are you trying to accomplish, what small wins can you gain, who should you reach out, what parts of the company or products should you target?
  • Leadership behavior is the biggest factor. Win over senior executives. People will be paying attention to what they do not what they say.