How can good design be integrated into your business profitably? Jane answers the question by considering the ‘anti-problem’, sharing 10 ways designers and business people can guarantee their behaviours and activities will ensure they never see eye-to-eye, their efforts will be wasted and everyone involved will know it is not their fault. You will probably recognise most of these techniques in action in your own organisation… Watch, and learn how to integrate design into your team effectively.
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Jane Austin: Thank you. I bet you didn’t know that banging techno was one of Glasgow’s main exports along with deep fried foods and me! So I’m here today to give you a kind of ten top easy ways to irritate your design team. I can hear you all thinking why should I care? This is a business conference. Why should I care about designers and their feelings and their tattoos and their filter coffee and their beard oil and their pugs? What’s that got to do with business?! Well let’s start by unpacking the problem a bit more. This is a really interesting quote from this women Paola Antonelli. Paola is a cultural serious and a critic and she’s also a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. I really love this quote.
“Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology cognitive science human needs and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.”
Something the world didn’t know was missing. Can you imagine giving people this? Can you imagine the competitive advantage this would give your business? But one company that did is IBM – they recently spent over 100 million pounds to hire I mean like literally hundreds of designers across the world and they’re transforming their business from a kind of feature technology business into a design user centered business. It’s completely transformed their business. And their ratio of designers was 1 to 72. So 1 designer to 72 other people in the business life changes to 1 to 8 which is pretty phenomenal. It’s not just them. So Atlassian has gone down from 1 to 25 designers to 1 to 9. Intercom is 1 to 5. You can see that the ratio is roughly around 1 to 9 and this is just from publicly available figures that I was able to find. I also know that Facebook is quadrupling its hiring targets. All the big agencies, the big accountancy firms like EY and Accenture, they find it so difficult to get designers they’re actually buying entire design companies to get access to the designers and researchers. Capital One has been on an absolutely insane hiring spree. Challenger banks such as Monzo they’re talking about design as actually the key recipe for success. And this is contributing to a massive skills shortage. And another thing that’s contributing to the skill shortage is design education. Now I’m not so sure about America but in Britain and in Europe, design is traditionally taught in art schools. Strangely this exception of some really good physical product design courses like the one at Loughborough but it’s generally taught at art schools and it’s generally really behind the times so great designers have to learn on the job. Very few people emerge as a fully fledged designer. So if you haven’t got the time or the money or the ability to invest in junior designers you going to be battling all of these companies to hire people with the ability to impact your business. And then the top of this, the average tenure of a mid to senior designer in our industry in Britain right now is two years. So it’s makes really good commercial sense to attract and retain top talent. So in preparation for this talk I did a survey and I interviewed lots of designers and I spent time on Twitter and I have to say many companies really don’t know how to do either of these well – either retain or attract. So I’m here to tell you some things that companies do that really irritate designers so you can learn from their mistakes and you can succeed in hiring and retaining talent in this really competitive market. It’s not just about designers even though I’m talking about designers because I’m a designer – this is a quote from Lever, you know the startup that deals with like recruitment. And he’s talking about tech altogether. So a lot of this talk is applicable to your tech hires. Employers are having the same problem hiring across tech.
So before I begin I wanted to give you some context about the design process. This is my design process and I’ve got some examples of what I’ve done recently. And I also want to show you the kind of value it can add. So you all know the classic double diamond. You start with understanding the problem. You go wide trying to understand the problem space. You come to a solution you go wide again to try and understand are you producing the right solution to the problem. And then you narrow down and that’s the thing you release. I call this build the right thing and build the thing right. In order to support this we have generative research which helps us generate lots and lots of ideas. We have summative research which means we know if we solve the problem. We also shape the problem space. So we spend a lot of time trying to use ethnographic research for unmet needs and this is where we try and understand it to create some value in the world that doesn’t previously exist to solve some previously unmet problem. This is a space where innovation happens. And once we’ve done all this we ship and we ship tiny little increments in each one we learn we test we measure and we work out what we should do. We can do this by multivariate testing or once we know we have a direction of travel then we can build up and just continue to iterate on what we’ve released. This is what I consider to be a really good design process. So here’s an example of what we did this at MOO.com. So our customer support team – a customer support team are great customer proxies – they told us that they could probably higher sell more to bigger companies if we had an approval flow. And one thing I forgot to mention is that I do work at MOO. I hope people here know who MOO are. You probably know it’s for business cards but we’re so much more than that. Actually the most significant part of our business is the B2B. So we have I can’t really talk about who our customers are but I’ll give you some clues. A very large taxi company, a very large sports brand, AirBnB as well as lots and lots of other businesses. So we have this huge range of our B2B clients and we were told if we get it could give them a better approval flow we’d be able to get and recruit many more big businesses to our platform. So we flew out to America and this is a build the right thing phase – this is our team in Providence. So we did a workshop with the sales guys and the account managers to try work out what this approval flow should look like based on the requirements from their customers. So this was based on a small group of customers but they felt that this was right. So we sketched out the ideas we did the customer interviews with the customers that we knew that would buy this. We worked out exactly how the floor would work. And at this point theoretically we could have just started building. But as Pascal says I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time. In many companies you would just start building. But we said no we really need to go back and make sure that this solution works for everyone. So at this point we were still in phase of build the right thing. So we then went back. We went back from the high fidelity into a lower fidelity. So we did some sketches. We very consciously did sketches because if you do sketches people are much more comfortable about critiquing – if you show somebody quite high fidelity often they actually feel bad or they think some things to complete and it’s a weird psychological trick if you show some really rough comps like this, it acts much better as a prompt to the provocation for a conversation. So we kind of thought well is this going to be right, is this approval flow going to be right? Crossed our fingers but actually no. Sadly very different companies were very different which just seems like a real truism of course different companies are different but actually they were so different and even different departments different people would buy the print, pay for the print, approve the print. And we discovered that this approval flow just would not work for everyone. So we discovered what actually would work, the best way to get value into customers hands very very quickly was to do the MVP of an email. And this was the email. It was an absolute no brainer. This was the right thing to build. We could get this in customers hands and we could work out what to do next. So this point we move from what the build the right thing of the double diamond into build the thing right. This is all about execution. And on the right is our current e-mail. And on the left was the one that we proposed. So this is why we moved to execution we start working out like what should the copy say. Should it be an active or a passive approval. Where should the button be? What should the button copy say? And at this point we tried lots and lots of different attempts. We were iterating and at this point we got the developers to come and sit with us and look at what the how people was responding to this design. And together we did the user research because this is a team sport. So we got the entire team to observe the research together to discuss the findings to agree on solutions. You get these great conversations for example one of the developers said oh actually what we thought as the design team is going to be massively problematic because he really understood the context and how things were going to be used and the customer needed that I could actually just change this line of code over here that would fix this problem. It was amazing. And that also means that we don’t have to have this crazy defensive documentation. I call it defensive documentation, wire frames annotated the hell out of them and then just of sorts at the dev team. But this way you’re collaborating and everyone understands the problem at the same time and everyone understands why they’re building something which is really motivating and it’s back here you can see the example of the user research. So we’ve written all the observations and posted notes with a funny sort of them into themes and once we got the themes we then prioritize. So we’ve got user value to technical effort and then we have something that’s easy and important, so we built this first. Hard and important, we need to start unpacking that more and some things we just say why do this. Maybe the HIPPO (the highest paid person in the organization) wants it but we can’t find a need for it. This is a really good way to try and divert all of the same stakeholder intervention I should call it. Here’s one example at MOO. So this is what I call a really good design process where you’re iterating on the problem together as a group, you’re using research, it’s evidence based, you’re solving a problem, you have the entire team coalescing round the problem to come up with a solution – but this doesn’t always happen.
This brings me to Irritation number 1: Asking your design team to colour in. So what I mean by this is that you have people as I said who have these skills allow them to uncover an unmet need, to innovate to ensure a product market fit, to stop you building the wrong thing which is massively money saving and also to create products that are such a joy to use that people evangelize about them. But facts I’ve discovered that many companies just ask a design team to execute on the vision. In fact just do this bit here. I call this colouring in and this is often the result of a disempowered or centralized design team that has to support multiple tech teams. And this has so many bad effects – the team lacks context so they don’t make great decisions, morale is low so you don’t get to explore different solutions and optimize, you build the wrong thing and waste money, you don’t achieve product market fit. And another issue with centralized design teams is that a load of design and tech teams are both using Jira often you’ll find the tech teams on Agile and the design team is on waterfall, so the design team becomes another blocker and they get even more demoralized and miserable because everyone’s moaning at them. And even if they are embedded in the team, if they aren’t part of a collaborative process this creates a culture of handoffs and huge amounts of documentation and it means that they’re just order takers instead of bringing the full range of skills and the team becomes really really demoralized. And then they ship something it goes into the world and they’ve no idea if it worked or not. So the way that I see to fix this and this is what we’re doing at MOO and I’ve seen this working very well across a number of organizations. It’s something we call the Quad. So the Quad has Product, ExD (that’s our design team) the Tech team and we have the Agile delivery coach (in other organizations this might be the delivery manager). Each discipline has certain ‘pull’ factors that allow them to have certain types of work and responsibilities. But this team is to be so aligned and we should agree based on context and needs that they could kind of pick up different aspects of everyone’s roles. They followed the design process from end to end. So here’s what people are responsible for. First of all product is about shaping the future and inspiring the world with the product vision – No I don’t see a roadmap here – and I call this build the right thing. ExD is helping validate needs and crafting brilliant experiences and they sit on the segue between building the right thing and building the thing right – Execution. Then you have tech and then from tech we move to Agile delivery coach who facilitates this team to make great decisions and between them they delight customers. They build run and own great products and we have a happy team. And this is how you managed to do this kind of work. This is from Jeff Patton and I’m sure you’ve all heard of Marty Cagan as well. He’s just written an absolutely wonderful book. So they talk about these little sprints where you run an experiment something’s not working you kill it, if it’s working you continue you continue and you iterate – this is your discovery Sprint – and once you’ve got that you work into your development or your delivery Sprint. This kind of maps to my notion of build the right thing/build the thing right. This is very very difficult to do. Really difficult to do this kind of discovery and delivery model and there’s no magic bullet for it. The principle is the same and I’ve worked in many companies and trying to execute it and every company has been difficult in many different ways.
So if you’re doing this or you’re trying to do our job but you’re not really doing agile this means you’re Irritation Number 2: You are a feature factory. Which is another word for what people call ‘Agile Theater’. This notion ‘Feature Factory’ was a coined by John Cutler in a really interesting essay in a publication called Hacker Noon, go and check it out if you don’t know it. He talks about Agile Theater – I call it something else I call it Cargo Cult Agile. Have you heard of Cargo Cults? Some of you may have heard of this or not. During the Second World War the Americans established forward bases on these Pacific islands. So they turned up and these poor inhabitants of the Pacific Islands have no context for these visitors people just turned up with planes but also really delicious things like Coca-Cola. And then just as mysteriously they left and the inhabitants really wanted some Coca-Cola and more of these delicious things so they looked at what had happened and so they just copied it somehow Coca-Cola would magically appear. So they built Conning towers they built their parabolas of hay, they built goggles, they’ve built aircrafts different kinds of aircrafts. And this is why I think this is such an interesting metaphor for the Agile Theater that people do all of these things. They have stand ups they have retrospectives but it’s utterly meaningless. And this is how you become a Feature Factory. This is how you can recognize you’re in a Feature Factory. First of all you’re just shipping stuff or projects not products as I call it. So the work has no connection to customer or business outcomes. The team just does stuff and they don’t know why. They don’t have metrics. So the team doesn’t get to measure their work or maybe some team over there, the analytics team measures and then doesn’t tell them if it is measured maybe it’s only the product management but the design of the dev team don’t know. You have success theater. So you have big celebrations and parties about shipping, but you don’t celebrate actually what the outcome was. That’s a really interesting thing to note – you can tell a lot about an organization by what it celebrates. At many places we have parties just because we’ve shipped. Velocity, that’s what this leads to. So people really care about velocity which is the big metric. How fast are we shipping stuff? And then you end up with really over utilized burnt out depressed teams. You don’t acknowledge failure because you just put stuff out into the world and you don’t see what happened to it. That means the features never get removed and if some new info comes to light. You just continue doing what you’re doing. This means you have product managers who just obsess about prioritizing features instead of thinking about outcomes. And then you have upfront revenue which even MOO were slightly guilty of there. We knew that we could win bigger clients if we put this approval flow into place. But if that’s the only reason you’re building something then you’re going to end up with a really bad product. You have to think about the whole thing and the reason it’s existence for every feature in the product. So this is bad but things get worse.
You can just ship and you forget. People just ship, put something out there, and forget about it which is Irritation Number 3. If it’s because this means it’s really difficult for the design team to understand the impact of new features on usability and if you do understand it’s even worse because they can’t get the work prioritized to do anything about it. So for the design team this frustration of never being able to fix things, to make things better, to learn and evolve is incredibly frustrating. So what then happens – and this is what I’ve seen – you get the team the design team can remove themselves from the Agile team and they do loads and loads and loads of upfront design often in the silo to allow themselves time to iterate and do user research. I have seen teams work for six months like this sink all this money on like huge prototypes and then when they finish to sort of throw the prototype over the wall to the dev team and say “build this”. And then on top of this if you’re in this kind of world you get the stakeholders tried to shoehorn stuff in because it’s their only chance because you don’t iterate. And then you get blocked because you’re in meetings where everyone asks about this prioritization and then working like this you start to accrue design debt and tech debt and it is a nightmare. The way to fix this is to try and do the shippable increments – very few organizations are doing this where they have the big vision and then they break each list down into like little chunks of value that they can give to the customer and then see what impact that has and then change course is necessary to test measure learn because if you don’t do that and you work all the way that I’ve described this means over time the team gradually grinds to a halt and we get to…
Irritation Number 4: Nothing customer facing gets shipped. And I’ve seen this several times. I’ve come into organizations, I do some digital transformation, and I’ve seen that the team eventually has so much tech debt that they’re absolutely paralyzed or the teams are in endless meetings where nobody can agree to what to do next. Or they think okay let’s just do this quick project to get some revenue so that we can then fix the problems but everything is so broken the quick project to get the revenue takes another six to nine months and causes more tech debt that paralyzes the team even further. And then people start leaving in droves. Does this sound familiar? People start leaving in droves. So once you get to this point you need to get somebody visionary in to start fixing Irritations 1 to 4 and then you probably need to do this while hiring because everyone’s left.
Which leads me to my next Irritation: Hiring. Hiring is often a really terrible experience on both sides. So to hire well you need clarity. And the first thing you need clarity about is how your organization expects people to behave. Instead of just defaulting to hiring for cultural fit. I mean what is that? That’s just an excuse for hiring people like us people that are likeable.
What you need to do is understand how your culture should behave, what your culture is composed of, and then find people whose behavior and skills complement your culture and the existing skills of your team. And this moves us away from the tendency to hire people who think the same and towards a company built on groupthink and starts moving us to a company built on a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives and helping us enrich the culture of the team and the organization. The next thing you need is clarity on the advert. I love this one it’s so genius isn’t it?! So if you don’t have the clarity around where it sits the first thing to go wrong is the ad and often if you’re a designer and you’re looking at job ads it’s immediately obvious that the company kind of knows they need design but they don’t really know what… and they’ve heard about that one magical person in a startup that codes and designs and researches and understands databases and they think “I want one of them” or they try to squeeze a lot of work out of one person. So if you’re trying to hire someone to do visual design and strategy and coding and run A/B tests and understand the database, you’re either happy to pay a lot for that special person or you have really amazing support and infrastructure around them, or you’re happy to have somebody who is average at at least several of these skills. Another problem is you’re hiring for a design leadership position and you expect the person to design leadership to be hands on too. This shows to me that you don’t really understand design leadership and you’re not ready for it. Or finally if your ad is for a product person but a large part of their role is research or design strategy. It shows to me that you don’t see design as an equal partner and you’ve handed off the strategy and thinking to product and also see point 1 of the irritations. And all of this makes it really hard to attract quality people. So I would say invest time into seeing how companies that do this well work, and do some organization design before you start hiring designers. And I do know that there are a lot of different job titles out there and I do feel your pain. It’s difficult to know what or who to hire. So this is a quote. There was a recent study – “The State Of UX In 2017” – and it acknowledges that we have so many job titles between so many things. When UX designers started their careers as information architects, visual designers, writers, strategists – we’re used to seeing job titles change as companies start to understand the depth of our work. That’s a really good point. So I would say start with clarity about what problem this person’s coming in to solve because this will show you the shape of the person you need. This is another really interesting quote from that study. Organizations don’t want to hire someone to do a thing, they want to hire a magician who can wear every hat and solve every problem. So the final type of clarity they need is what can they actually solve. What can they actually work on. What can they actually do for you. Because designers are not magic bullet to your problems, you have to understand how they’re going to have success in your organization.
Which leads me to ask subcategory of the hiring irritation which is onboarding. We’ve actually revamped the whole onboarding process at MOO for our design team. So we all work together. So what we did is we interviewed each other we interviewed other new hires. We wanted to understand what did they wish they knew when they started. So now we have a formal onboarding program. We teach them to use the tools, we help make sure that they understand the product, we pair them up with the product and design team, we have a kind of collaboration map, we make sure they know where to get metrics, and if sometimes designers don’t understand metrics that we give them a bootcamp in how to understand metrics. We put lunches in with key people and we set up a buddy system. And I saw this great quote. This is a friend of mine Pete who’s just moved to Google and I’m sure he’s not talking about Google here but I thought this was such a great tweet:
“Observation: there’s a good chance with new starters in big companies that genuine concern and confusion about process and ways of working gets misdiagnosed as imposter syndrome.”
So what are you doing to prevent it? Have you got a really really good onboarding program because it really makes all the difference about people’s success in the role and how long they stay with you. And talking of Google there’s another chap I know Brendan who’s just moved from Invision to Google and I thought this was lovely.
“There’s a wonderful thing at Google called “Blue Dot”. Any fellow Googler with a Blue Dot in their path is a safe, judgment-free buddy if things aren’t going well and you need someone to talk to or hang out with for a while.”
Because it’s really daunting starting a new organization so get people set up for success.
So I think that that means giving them a future which leads me to Irritation Number 6. If you don’t give people a future in your organization they’re not going to stay with you. And I’ve noticed that many senior product job descriptions out there are often actually describing part of senior design jobs and now I’m seeing that there’s no route into seniority in many organizations as senior parts of the job are subsumed into product. So if you really want designers to stick around you need to create career ladders that define what is expected and the role and how to move to the next level, and it should reflect both hard and soft skills. In your organization what is the criteria to be promoted to manager or director or a vice president and what are the expected behaviors? Usually these are some kind of unwritten rules – make them public and transparent because these are expressions of cultures and values, but often people think it’s random and they think people get promoted because of favoritism. So make everything as transparent as possible and then you also need to find out why your team are leaving – is it because they’re not supported by professional development – by feedback, by engagement surveys, and does engagement surveys tie back to the values of your business and doesn’t actually reinforce what should be rewarded? Are you really invested in getting value from design is what I’m asking you.
And the next Irritation – and you might detect a theme throughout this presentation, it’s about collaborative teams building things that solve your problems that are commercially focused, that are customer focused and that continually learn, and you can’t do any of this without excellent research. And it amazes me how many organizations just do not understand design research. They get it muddled up with market research. They have the design research team sitting somewhere over in the analytics team instead of actually close to the product teams. They undervalue design research and don’t fund it properly. They expect people in the crews to be doing the design research which is true, but you also need to be doing all that upfront and the people on the crews need support. So you do need a set of specialist design researchers. It’s different to analytics because analytics is a lagging indicator it tells you what happened but it doesn’t tell you the why. I love this quote. Can anyone guess who this is from?
“If the anecdote contradicts the data, believe the anecdote” (Jeff Bezos)
Yes I love it. It’s absolutely brilliant. If an anecdote contradicts the data believe the anecdote. What he’s seen a lot of people I think are just beginning to come round to is that data just gives you what has happened it doesn’t tell you the why it can’t tell you how to innovate it can’t help you to fix the problem. As I said it’s a lagging indicator. What you need is to complement your quantitative with lots and lots of really high quality qualitative research as well, it is so important. And if you haven’t got that your design team can do their job.
So I’m moving swiftly to Irritation Number 8: Meetings. I heard a lot about that yesterday. So when you do knowledge work like programming or designing you have two types of time you operate in. And this is first posited by the very excellent Paul Graham, he talked about Maker time and Manager time. And if you have Maker time you need whole blocks of uninterrupted time to get into your flow as Alison was talking about yesterday. You need a day or at least half a day to really focus and really start to unpack into properly working on and really concentrating. Then you have the manager schedule which is like chunks of hours or half hour meetings that they will just stick in in the middle of your day. And it just destroys your day if you’re trying to work. So what you need to try and do is structure the meetings in a way that they’re actually useful and don’t interfere too much with the maker schedule. I love this quote as well. Jobb.io just released a survey two days ago and about what people’s frustrations were at work and meetings of the biggest waste of time for employees in the UK. I think that’s not a problem with meetings. I think that’s how the meetings are run because actually meetings are really valuable. You should think first of all about ways to maximize your collaboration like working in a quad doing discovery together. And that removes the burden on meetings to communicate. Instead treat meetings as events where the team comes together and where work actually happens instead of this one sided imparting of information.
And then have team meetings and ceremonies and a regular cadence if you can like a morning stand up which makes the rest of the day free. Use tools like Slack for anti-meetings: group chat delivers a sense of communication and momentum and it stops this sort of hierarchy of email which has a sense of space to be filled and documents and structure. Slack is like an anti-meeting and it helps build this team culture and a sense of trust because that’s what meetings should be doing. This is a really wonderful article on ‘Learning by Shipping’ and they say in the course of building a company the most important tool to help create a culture of shared values is meetings because meetings are vital to communication and collaboration. And here’s a quote:
“When you bring together a team of talented and diverse group of individuals the only way they will come to operate a team is spending time talking listening and understanding the perspective individuals bring to contribute to a larger whole. Unless everyone hired shares the same background and experiences (and remember we said that’s not a good idea) there’s no way a group of people can convert into a high performance team without meeting, sharing and learning together. No amount of ping pong, email and shared docs can substitute for a meeting.”
So meetings aren’t the problem. And even though meetings are really pissing off your design team they’re really important. So I’d urge you to think about what meetings are for and how you can make them really valuable. And the one thing that makes meetings really valuable as we heard from Alison yesterday was psychological safety. So I’m not going to talk again about psychological safety but instead I would point you to this article. It’s a long form article in The New York Times all about Project Aristotle and why psychological safety is a key component to good meetings to high performing teams. So instead I will leave this point with this wonderful quote I saw on Twitter.
“Funny how working and a diverse team with people who are kind, supportive, and appreciative gives you productivity and self-worth a massive boost. Do not underestimate the importance of safe welcoming teams of communities and setting people up for success.”
This is so true. Meetings is part of this, onboarding is part of this, and having a great culture is part of this. And this is how you get great work from designers and retain them.
So, talking of culture, I’m going to segue to Irritation Number 9: Space. This is like a classic office space and I remember walking at a job in Holborn I tried to put Post-It notes in the window and facilities came to me said we can’t put Post-It notes in the window because it will stop them being bombproof. And I thought God if only the IRA had known that, it would have been a lot more trouble. So I just ignored them and put them up anyway. But the problem is when you say to the business or facilities like we need some creative space we hear this… or this… or this… or even this… I should now just say this is MOO, this is reasonably sensible. Actually as designers when we say we need creative space what we mean is this what we need is working walls and it’s really important because if we’re designing something we’re designing a system and we can’t really just design a system on a screen you have to see how everything interrelates. So you need to be able to see the connections between everything and that’s why it’s really important to get everything on a wall. You can see patterns allow you to refine the design so you’re not building the same thing twice. You can design in the open so people can come and see what you’re doing. They’ll give you a macro view that helps you bring consistency and simplicity. They help you make connections, they help you sense make, they help you make patterns. They help you do divergent and convergent thinking, they helped spark ideas. They help you run workshops. They are physical container that you can bring the team together in, you can facilitate ??? by looking at the wall, you can affinity mark and see how things are related. They are so important. If your design team doesn’t have walls you’re doing them a vast disservice. So when I said this was about culture – I saw these two really interesting quotes. Your work environment conveys a message about what you value, who you are, and where you are going. And this is a lady who’s job is to shape all the design spaces in IBM globally. She said space defines a culture. Culture defines a space. I thought that was fascinating. So is the space that your design team operating in doing enough to help them make great designs?
And also space leads me to Irritation Number 10: Culture. This is the biggest overarching most difficult to fix irritation of all. Everything I’ve talked about so far adds up to your culture. Culture is behavior systems and practices all connected by an overarching set of values and a great culture is when you have all of these aligned and they line up with your spouse values. So when gap starts to appear you just look like you’re bullshitting and people will leave. So you can say you’ve got work life balance but you need people to stay till 10 o’clock at night for a pitch, or you might see that you have a learning organization but then you don’t get people any time to learn, or you tell people that consensus building is the way forward and then you promote that arrogant bully that disagrees with everybody in every meeting. You need to make sure that you’re living your values every way. Great organizations and leaders know that culture is the hard stuff. It takes time to define and it takes time to execute. But if you are able to do this and you get it right you stop people saying I’m leaving because this is just not a great culture. And the other reason is that if you’re having a toxic culture and you have the shiny brand of niceness outside and inside it’s toxic, people will find out. So not just glass doors not just green light list but designers network. We just go to conferences all the time there’s loads of meet ups lots of drinks that we go to and we talk and one of the things we talk about is the culture of the places that we work. So if you get points one to nine wrong people might leave. If you get this wrong people might even come to you in the first place. And I think it is the most important thing to fix because it makes you lose out on the talent that will give your business the competitive edge.
I have a bonus irritation because when I was at the Telegraph I discovered I discovered that listicles with odd numbers were clicked on more, so I thought I’d give you an 11. We found that from the data but we never find out why. So my bonus one is micromanagement. There’s actually a website called hovering art directories dot com which actually has pictures of hovering art directors. And actually that’s not what I mean. What I mean about micromanagement is pretty much the opposite of this book. I discovered this book when I got invited to talk in Chile. I had a year of seeing yes and I went to Chile for the weekend to go to a conference. It was absolutely brilliant. 26 hours there are 27 back. I just stayed awake all the time. And at the conference I met a man called Rafiq who was the man who set up the engineering team at Twitter and was going to be the CTO for The Democrats. And he did this wonderful talk about empowering your team. And he told me to read this book and it was absolutely magical. This is the story of a submarine captain and he was excelling in training but he was promised that he would get the highest performing ship in the fleet. But he had this very different management philosophy of empowering people turning them into leading themselves buying consensus helping everybody really point to being efficient and support them to get there. So the head of the submarine fleet… the Admiral decided that instead of him commanding the highest performing ship he would command the lowest performing ship and he literally turned to ship around. He took it from being the lowest performing ship in the Navy – and loads of the faults were micromanagement, disengaged leadership, and lots of other things that I’ve spoken about – and turned it to being the highest performing ship within 18 months. This book is absolutely wonderful.
And I have to tell you another story when I was in Chile I didn’t realize how many earthquakes Chile got. And I was woken up about 4:00 in the morning and I was on the 20th story of my hotel and there weren’t many higher buildings. And it was rocking and I said Oh my God I’m in an earthquake! So I went to reception and I said “there’s an earthquake”, and they said “yes we know, go back to sleep”. So I went to bed and obviously I couldn’t sleep so I decided to tweet and I said Oh my God I’ve been in an earthquake. And I got two answers one from the head of product that said “Size?” and this one from a UX colleague who said “Oh my God are you okay?”. And I thought that is proof the product managers cared about metrics and UX designers have empathy. And on that note I shall leave you. Any questions?
Audience Member: Any advice in educating the company to be… most companies are not design led… I mean we’re a large company. Many people think design is about buttons and styles and aesthetics and UI. They say that it’s the whole user experience but it’s not. This the whole philosophy thing is to go at every level. Any advice how to spread out how to get a company to be like the ones that were on your slide?
Jane Austin: So the way I’ve done this before because I’ve gone into several places that are doing digital transformations and try to get them to buy into doing it like this instead of just getting people to color in. And in every case we’ve found somebody in the organization and made them look good. At the Telegraph… before that at GDS we did exemplar projects where we find people who really like wanted to be made to look better. And we do the projects end to end and this stuff generally works and you would see these people suddenly getting amazing metrics and amazing results and people go I want some of that. Well this is how you do it. So show, not tell. At the Telegraph we did project Bab which was like a little self-contained microsite. It was about football and we were showing how the power of content strategy and design coming together would be really effective and that we could do something really viral and social. Although it’s difficult to say this will be viral. But you know we built in a lot of social hooks and we got a million unique users a month. And suddenly everybody in the Telegraph is saying this is something that we want to get part of. And so yeah I find somebody and make them look good. Document it, do it out in the open. Yes. I mean it’s difficult. It’s really difficult. I think you also just have to make sure you in the right organization I find. Some organizations just they have a very command and control structure with this agile and digital is very completely different set top down control structure. This is a bottom up autonomy. And some organizations just have a tissue rejection of this. So sometimes that won’t work.
Audience Member: We are making a conscious effort to try to get our design team to give input on some higher level product and company strategy. Would you have an advice on that?
Jane Austin: Well I think it depends you wouldn’t get all of the design team to input. So I work with the VP and we’re looking at strategy and the people and the crews are looking at kind of the sort of different levels of strategy and vision and forward thinking. So I think you need to have peers – so my peer’s the VP of product and so on all the way down. You’re kind of looking at different horizons and different points where you can influence. So I’ll be working with the VP of product to we’re looking at strategies but the people in the crews might be executing on a three month strategy. Does that make sense? So it’s not the entire design team inputting, you have different levels of the design team having a peer. I think most important thing is give the design team a peer to work with.
Audience Member: So one of the things I’m worried about… We’re doing this at Redgate and kind of developing the design role and I’m a bit worried about overloading the designer role. So the history was you know they used to be mostly doing graphic design, kind of working as a service and then we’ve kind of evolved them over time but as we’ve done that we’ve added more and more to the role and now we’re asking them to be more involved in product design effectively rather than just doing design. I wondered whether you kind of saw the need to split the role or whether you think that’s OK.
Jane Austin: I haven’t yet. I haven’t yet. I think it depends on the horizons that you’re looking at but that’s what I was sort of alluding to earlier. If you’re trying to get someone to do strategy and code that is just impossible so you need an infrastructure around them like a design system. And we have people on the crews and people outside the crews kind of helping but I don’t think is a one size fits all answer. I think the more that you can kind of pull up the value stream, so even if you’re not working on it they understand what’s going on so you don’t have this big handover which is a problem. I think Redgate are doing awesome, I’m a big fan of Redgate.
Audience Member: Maybe this is a little bit controversial but in the past I’ve worked with far too many designers who think that everything they learned on paper is all what design is about, so it’s very hard to get them to implement to help out on designing products etc.. I guess I’m wondering I’m not seeing that so much anymore but have all those people been re educated and work in the way you talk about or what’s going on there is that still? You talked about the education system, is it still doing that?
Jane Austin: Yes. Yeah I think so that’s why it’s really difficult to hire people straight from university I find. The Loughborough course is brilliant. But I find it quite difficult to hire people straight from universities. So the sweet spots are people who’ve been in the first two years, these poor people try to get to the first two years. So you have to be prepared to invest in people and you do still get people designing like that and you still got companies wanting people to design like that. I think just because we’re all in this room and we all agree with each other it does not mean the world is like that. Sadly. So I think there is still a problem of education both for designers and for the companies themselves.
BoS Europe 2021 BoS USA 2020