Everyone in your organization can contribute to great design.
I can hear some of you now… “Wait, what? I don’t know anything about User Experience. UX is a term reserved for a sacred group of design thinkers and dreamers, fueled by only the finest locally-made beer, brewed with responsibly-sourced unicorn tears!”.
Perhaps in some circles, but in the real world, most of us contribute to (or at the very least, have the potential to contribute to) the design of a good experience every day.
For example, how many of you have done one or more of the following things?
- Organized your cooking spices so that the most used are easy to access
- Placed a mat near your door for wiping off the bottoms of shoes (or a shelf near the door for placing outside shoes, if you live in a no-shoes household)
- Placed soap and a towel within arms reach of the bathroom faucet to make hand-washing easier and less messy
These are just a few simple examples of how we consciously design experiences in our own homes and lives. Using our knowledge of standards accepted by society, plus our own experiential and observational data, we attempt to design helpful solutions for everyday problems. If you care about your (or someone else’s) experience, you’ll eventually end up dabbling in experience design.
Why is it so very important to make these comparisons? Well, when we’re all able to recognize experience design in our own daily lives, it no longer becomes this thing that only “design dreamers” do. It has a relatable context, helping us to understand why UX matters so much. Additionally, for designers, taking UX out of the context of a product and into everyday life helps us step outside our egos and develop a greater appreciation for design contributions which come from outside the design department.
The Participatory Design Practice
While UX designers have specialized training and study a variety of different scientific methods for attaining the best results in their work, that doesn’t mean that we are the be-all-end-all of achieving “good design”. Our data is only as good as what we have the time/resources to collect, our perspective is as broad as our lives, research, and professional experience has expanded it, and no single person can be a subject matter expert on everything. If we’re going to do our best work, we need help from others who can fill in the gaps. Some of those helpful resources will be on our design team, but many of them won’t be.
I imagine some of you might be thinking, “Design-by-committee never ends well, have we all forgotten the video about designing the stop sign?”
I promise, it doesn’t have to go down like that (but that skit was my spirit animal in 2010 – thank you Michael D. Starcevich & team).
Happy employees are more productive employees. Studies show time and time again that productivity increases when employees are emotionally invested in their work and personally aligned with their organization’s goals. Opening the door and inviting others into your world to be a part of the design process in a meaningful way (even if it’s small) gives you and your colleagues a potential new way to stay engaged.
In my experience, most of the “non-designers” that I collaborate with don’t want to actually be designers. They’re often pleasantly surprised that I’ve identified something unique that they can contribute to the process, and just as happy to be involved as I am to have them. At the end of the day though, we all want to leave each other’s work in the hands of its respective subject matter expert and go back to doing what we’re good at.
The inclusive design team builds bridges between departmental “silos”, business goals, and ideas. And let’s not forget that those bridges extend outward from our design nucleus, increasing reach into various areas of our users’ world (areas we might otherwise not often be able to go easily). This is a very good thing!
So, where do we start?
First things first – be positive and approachable. I cannot stress enough how far this sort of attitude will get you. People are more willing to engage in a deeper dialogue if they feel at-ease, welcome, and respected. This doesn’t mean that design input or feedback is a one-way street, or that if people bring you ideas you have to use them. Rather, keep an open mind and be gracious for the dialogue.
Next- I find it helpful to think about what resources I have available in my organization by role (Product Management, Customer Services, Sales, Engineering, etc.). Here are some examples of ways to leverage everyone’s unique knowledge:
These individuals are on the front-lines, communicating with customers day in and day out. I suggest taking some time to check in periodically for the inside scoop on any customer pain points that you may want to research further.
There are a million reasons to involve engineers in the design process (I’ll save the long version for another post), but in short- what ever solution you design, engineering is going to help you build it. And unless you’re also a seasoned engineer, you absolutely need their help to get the best solution you can get for a reasonable investment of man hours. Plus, invested engineers are one of your greatest allies in making the seemingly impossible, possible.
Most sales teams track win/loss reasons, but they’re not always granular enough to tell us *which* features won or lost a deal. Keeping a dialogue open with sales can keep you in the know. If you’re weak against a competitor on features, your sales professionals will definitely be able to tell you.
Product Management / Executives
You’re probably already working closely with product management (and if you aren’t- get closer). Not only will they be able to help you understand the data (aka the “why”) behind the features they’re asking you to design, but PM and execs both will be able to share valuable insight into how these decisions impact your organization’s bottom line.
If you want to know what works to keep your customers engaged as far as messaging and content, this is the place to go. Writing effective content is part of UX, and they can help you get the data on what works/doesn’t for your user base.
Having all of these folks in your organization is a luxury, so if you do, you’re in luck! They can be a tremendous resource for finding out how well users are onboarding and engaging. You’ll also want to consider coordinating with them when you’re releasing new features or a redesign. They’re help you find the best way to get important helpful content in front of your users.
Putting it Into Practice
Depending on the size of your organization and the resources you have available, the amount of bridges you build will be uniquely yours. It always involves fine tuning the most productive way to spend everyone’s time.
Consciously encouraging a participatory design process within your organization is akin to spending some time tending a garden that will eventually provide you with a bountiful harvest. You’ll invest a little time, but gain so much more. And much like your actual design work, which involves creating a positive relationship between humans and a system, you will be creating a positive relationship (and a unified UX alliance) between your design team and the rest of your organization.
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Have you had success opening up your design team to others, or maybe faced some hurdles you’d like to discuss? Please leave a comment! I’d love to hear about your experience.