January 27, 2021No Comments

Design career: you need to position yourself

I initially wrote this article in Brazilian Portuguese for UX Collective, and it was published in October 2018. So this text is a full translation of my ideas at that time. 

In a regular meeting, the Product Manager comments to the designer that it would be perfect if they had (at the company) a product to execute the function "XYZ." It would be even better if it was built using the tech stack "A+B+C" to develop it.

The designer is excited about the opportunity. He grabs the idea, goes straight to his desk, and starts building the first prototype without asking many questions. After looking for similar products on the market and doing a brief validation with users, he finds considerable evidence to invalidate the Product Manager's initial hypothesis.

"Yeah ... it seems like people don't need a product that does the "XYZ" function. When they want to, they even use the "XYZ "system to do this for free. - thought the Designer.

While the designer was immersed in prototyping without sharing to anyone his initial findings, a Development Consulting Firm was being hired.

The cost of working alone

At the blink of an eye, the product's idea and the prototype arrived at the board of directors' ears. Everyone was excited about the new revenue possibility. A release date was already being defined.

When the designer decided to take off his headphones, get up from his chair, and finally present his research data, it was too late.

"Well...now, there is no more time to change. We will finish the project and evaluate the result, and if the product does not sell, we can stop selling. It is just an MVP." - said the Product Manager.

Thus, the project continued. The designer presented his research to the team with some improvement points in the prototype's usability -which quickly became an MVP with a launch date- and provided general suggestions for the product strategy.

When executives design | Mind the gap, Web design, Understanding

After a low profile launch, they performed several digital marketing actions trying to increase the user base. Some of these actions were based on the research's findings initially delivered by the designer.

Months later, as expected, the product did not sell very well. It had no responsible team for maintenance and had few active users. The most obvious happened: the product was discontinued as quickly as it was launched on the market. And all the money invested on it went straight down the drain.

This sounds quite familiar

I imagine that when you read this story, you recognize yourself or know someone who has been through similar situations.

A random person assumes without any factual data that a new product or functionality should be built. Someone else (e.g., designer) starts building it because it was requested. A weird product is born from this process, costing a lot of money and probably being used by almost nobody.

Design Process and Development of a Pineapple Agile Lean Product — 2018 and beyond

In general, the details of these stories (and bad decisions) are not visible even internally. Success cases and some small process errors are shared, but nobody or almost nobody shares that they spent a lot of company money, building something useless.

From my perspective, the concept of making mistakes quickly and learning fast has been significantly distorted in most organizations that starts to work with the "Agile Mindset."

Take practical actions, daily

Maybe you have never noticed, but your existence as a designer, especially within a product team, already makes you co-responsible for the financial health of the product you work with.

A significant part of the product valuable deliveries will pass through your desk, it will count on your ideas, and rely heavily on your expertise. Strategically, you should take advantage of this and learn more about the company business, meet people and stop being seen as just a screen maker. It is necessary to change or at least adapt yourself. If you have a more hands-on, proactive profile, similar to the designer of the story I told, take advantage of this reading to think about how to use this characteristic better and not contribute to perpetuating a culture of "doing without thinking." 

"In an effort to move fast, companies sometimes trade rigor for speed. They focus on coming up with as many solutions to the problem as possible, without truly understanding the problem." said Chris Fosdick, Partner, The Cambridge Group

Also, remember that not always isolating yourself at your desk with your headphones on, is the best option to build something cool that people will really want to use. Design just for designers is a Dribbble thing, right? 

I confess that I have already done this a lot. Nowadays, I recognize that it was a selfish behavior that added very little to the process of building any product. We can always build things on our own, but certainly, adding other people help us build something much more valuable.

In a similar context to the presented story, avoid holding your research findings way too long and try to be organized when presenting them. This helps people to understand that, the research process is also part of the job.

Be prepared to receive a new demand at any time, but also be prepared to ask the right questions when new demand arrives. If you don't know what questions to ask, start with the basics and ask why as often as necessary. 

I suppose you want to grow your career as a designer, be more recognized in your job, and participate more actively in important decisions. So, you may need to rethink some things, starting from your own behaviors. 

January 5, 2021No Comments

UX inside out, empathy and leadership

I initially wrote this article in Brazilian Portuguese for UX Collective, and it was published in September 2017. So this text is a full translation of my ideas at that time. 

As a designer, I believe that our design is the result of a series of discoveries made during the process of building something. The goal of the process itself is always to bring enough learning to build something relevant for people. Less important than the process name is it be truly people-centered.

By default, we should keep this objective in mind, but we must keep this look within our design teams. We cannot treat people (team members) as project resources that can be discarded and replaced. Everyone needs to feel good and safe inside their work environments to deliver good results, share experiences, learn from each other, and explore their full potential.

Google itself showed us in a survey of more than 180 teams which are the most important items for good teamwork:

Five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google, 2015

The design leadership

Bringing this reflection to a design team's leadership, it seems obvious the need for it to be equally people-centered. On second thought, any good leader should follow these premises.

Interestingly, according to the study published in March this year by the Nielsen Norman Group, issues related to Management and Leadership are still the most problematic that designers face in their companies:

Poor Management = Mediocre UX Design, NNGROUP Mar, 2017

Julie Zhuo, current VP of Design at Facebook, created a management manifest on her Medium account that could easily be the initial guideline for any Design Leadership's work. 

In addition to that, Poor Management can impair the visibility and execution of design work, affect team members' development, and in more extreme cases, it can even make people sick.

Design within the design team

The design leader has enough knowledge of several methods and tools to help solve complex problems. So, What if she or he used some of these methods within our teams? What if the design leader used his own team to test hypotheses and evolve his leadership skills? What if empathy was applied until it became natural? Below are some simple examples adapted to the team's context.

Going to work: User Journey and Blueprint 
Each person goes through different paths to go to work daily. Some of them take two buses, a subway, train, and still leave home without having breakfast. Have you ever stopped to think about the ups and downs that can exist in just one day of this journey? Analyze it.

Different team profiles: Personas 
Knowing the team's existing profiles is essential for internal project definitions and responsibilities. Stimulate the exchange of knowledge between team members or even outline a better career plan. Know it.

Collaboration: Design thinking, Design sprint, Agile, Lean, etc. 
If everything is done with dedication, collaboratively, involving the user in the process, it doesn't matter what name it takes. It is useless to use or quote "design methods" in the wrong contexts when people do not understand why they are making or using each one. Collaborate it.

Group decisions: Workshops Facilitation
Transparency is as important an item as the group decision. If the team has an internal problem that can be solved collaboratively, it is an excellent opportunity to solve it. Make it easy.

Anonymous feedback: Online Survey 
A simple Google Docs solves a lot. Some people don't feel comfortable to come up to the leader and talk openly. Anonymity can provide the necessary protection for all team members to take a position, even the most sensitive issues. Read it.

One to one: In-depth interview
It is good to have a chat like this from time to time. Everyone wants to be heard, and there is always something new to share in a sincere face-to-face conversation. Whether for salary issues, asking for and giving feedback on a specific topic, or just commenting on how you feel. A good interviewer, willing to listen, really takes a lot out of such a conversation. Listen to it.

Team climate: ethnography 
The leader's day-to-day work should be almost imperceptible. He's not there to do micromanagement or to put his finger on every project. His role is to remove impediments and make it easier for everyone to perform their duties without headaches. A full schedule without space for the team can lead to a harmful distance. Watch it.

A different way to lead

In an interview for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, 2012, John Maeda, author of the book "The laws of simplicity" and former president of the Rhode Island School of Design (USA), comments on his opinion on the current role of industry professionals creative and also about how good leadership works:

“I believe that creative leadership is what we need to seek today. The most important characteristics of this type of model are: to lead by inspiration, not by fear, by creating contact networks, and not by hierarchy, and by experimentation and iteration, instead of finalization. ” - John Maeda

Our market is full of opportunities. Especially for those who work with software and the internet, our career evolves quickly, and some important things end up being left out when they shouldn't have. I hope that this text has evoked in you some thoughts. It is possible to make People Management inspiring and collaborative, using many things that you already know and have available daily.

This article was originally written in 2017, so I probably have a complementary and updated view about some points. However, the article's goal of bringing attention to design leadership's quality keeps the same. Nowadays, more than before, the design leader and the team workers must act to prevent burnout. For sure, it is not easy to remotely manage diverse people working in different contexts.  Check here your burnout index

Design and content © Murilo S Bispo • 2021

Amsterdam Area, The Netherlands