In Part 6.1 of my series, “Applied UX Strategy,” I focused on strategy implementation, discussing organizational redesign, design-management patterns, and planning and tracking changes. Now, in Part 6.2, the concluding part of this series, I’ll discuss how some exemplary companies are transforming product design within their organization.
In recent years, we’ve seen huge leaps forward in digital-product design, with more and more companies institutionalizing design. As Thomas Lockwood wrote in his Fast Co.Design article, “5 Key Trends in Design Leadership”:
“In the past, business competition was between companies with good design and not-so-good design. In the future, companies with good design will be pitted against companies with good design. So the competitive advantage will be on internal design leadership, not just design alone.”
What Does a Company That Values Design Look Like?
Several recent studies on the design industry have analyzed successful design companies. Many of these reports have focused on the US, but digital-product design is not so different across countries, so their learnings should be useful to all product-development companies.
Research by Leah Buley
In 2015, Leah Buley conducted an interesting survey of the role of User Experience in product-development organizations, while working at Forrester Research. In addition to the 112 UX professionals who participated in the survey, Forrester interviewed 23 companies, with the goal of understanding how their design teams work. Her report, “How to Modernize User Experience,” (PDF) identified some key characteristics of the strongest companies from a design standpoint, including their internal structure and design-team engagement. In her talk at Interaction15, “The Modern UX Organization,” Leah talked about these findings in detail, as shown in Figure 1. Subsequently, after leaving Forrester, she published the results of another survey “The State of UX in 2016.”
According to Leah Buley’s research findings, here are some of the key characteristics of mature companies with effective design teams:
They empower User Experience to improve end-to-end customer experiences, not just digital user experiences. This may include user support, offline stores and events, packaging, and hardware.
They connect UX strategy to brand, corporate, and CX strategies.
User Experience helps shape the product roadmap.
User Experience impacts a broad set of metrics that provide a clear understanding of the financial value of experience outcomes.
User Experience addresses both short-term design goals—to improve and ship the next version—and their long-term product vision—to achieve an ideal state.
They have a higher designer-to-engineer ratio. While, on its own, headcount doesn’t mean anything, such ratios are another indicator of UX maturity. The best companies have a ratio of 1:4, and the absolute minimum for sustainable design growth is 1:12.
Everybody on a product team has user exposure hours.
Nielsen/Norman Group conducted a survey similar to the Forrester survey across 360 companies in 2017. Their report, “Poor Management = Mediocre UX Design” reveals problems that UX design teams encounter when trying to implement healthy design practices on a company-wide level and offers many good insights. According to the NN/g report, UX designers feel they’re effective in smaller companies and in companies where they report to a design leader.
In 2015, when John Maeda worked for KPCB, he published his first “Design in Tech Report,” shown in Figure 2. He published another edition of this report in 2016, shown in Figure 3. Since leaving KPCB in 2016, he now publishes these reports on his own. Figure 4 shows the 2017 edition of his report. Maeda’s reports provide lots of fascinating data and facts, showing the impact of investments in design and why business is investing in User Experience, changing the whole industry.
Management theory began more than a hundred years ago. In contrast, design agencies and industrial design companies have been accumulating expertise for decades. In the digital-product industry, there are few case studies of companies that have implemented design on all levels. However, there are several models of organizational change from which you can learn.
While many consider design thinking a good methodology for envisioning the future, it often stops there. However, design thinking in conjunction with adaptive leadership, a modern management approach, lets you accomplish much more. Maya Bernstein and Marty Linsky have proposed an adaptive design methodology that connects design thinking and adaptive leadership and enables the implementation big ideas and changes. (Unfortunately, people may confuse the name of this method with responsive design or adaptive design for different devices and screens.)
Don Norman advocates the DesignX methodology for solving complex social, economic, and political problems. This methodology promotes incrementalism, the process of moving forward in small, well-considered steps and addressing the opportunities that each successive present offers rather than tackling the entire problem all at once by taking a single leap into an unknown future. Why? Because major projects involve so many cultural issues, changes in work practices, and the division of work across different professional specialties. Plus, when there are strong contrasting viewpoints, political issues tend to dominate, either leading to a stalemate or requiring so many compromises that it is not feasible to make a solid prediction of a future state on the basis of current knowledge. Therefore, the vision for the future is extremely likely to overlook important emerging effects, causing a project to fail. So we need to “eat an elephant one bite a time” and constantly adjust our future vision. Don’s article with Pieter Jan Stappers, “DesignX: Complex Sociotechnical Systems,” covers this theory in detail.
The levels in Intuit’s alignment triangle, shown in Figure 7—Mission, Values, True North Goals, Strategy, Priorities, and Metrics—ideally, should determine all product decisions. Intuit defines missions to reach their long-term goals, as shown in Figure 8.
In his UX STRAT USA 2016 talk, Jeffrey Onken proposed modeling stages of UX maturity as a familiar customer journey map. This approach makes it easier to discover and fix problems that prevent good design. Figure 9 shows his presentation.
In her workshop at UX STRAT USA 2016, Leah described her approach to changing design in a company.
Brian Solis uses the OPPOSITE methodology to effect a company’s digital transformation. OPPOSITE is “a step-by-step approach to digital transformation:
Orientation—Establish a new perspective to drive meaningful change.
People—Understand customer values, expectations, and behaviors.
Processes—Assess operational infrastructure and update, or revamp, technologies, processes, and policies to support change.
Objectives—Define the purpose of digital transformation, aligning stakeholders and shareholders around the new vision and roadmap.
Structure—Form a dedicated digital experience team with roles / responsibilities / objectives / accountability clearly defined.
Insights & Intent—Gather data and apply insights toward strategy to guide digital evolution.
Technology—Re-evaluate front- and back-end systems for a seamless, integrated, and native customer—and, ultimately, employee—experience.
Execution—Implement, learn, and adapt to steer ongoing digital transformation and customer experience work.”
Rosa Wu and Jess McMullin
Wu and McMullin’s article from 2006, “Investing in Design,” (PDF) makes many interesting points about understanding the language of business. The authors describe their approach to change, which consists of three steps:
Find a senior ally on the business side of the organization. Demonstrate the value of design to this ally, who will become a champion for User Experience and sponsor design investment.
Launch a pilot project. Get some quick wins to show the value of design in practice, with minimal risk.
Widely promote your successes. Make sure all product teams and departments in your company see the value of design.
Then, start another round: evaluate the pilot’s success, launch a new project, and again, promote its success. Finding like-minded people and new projects to which you can add value will help.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff invented the V2MOM methodology, which stands for:
Vision—What do you want?
Values—What’s important about it?
Methods—How do you get it?
Obstacles—What might stand in the way?
Measures—How will you know when you have it?
Every single person in the organization writes a V2MOM at the beginning of every year, which lets the organization align on its vision. It’s like an OKR (Objectives and Key Results) process in an optimal format. As a result of this process, business goals cascade to specific actions and tasks, connecting all parts of their business strategy together.
Toyota Kata and Kaizen
Thanks to their mix of simplicity and method, Japanese management practices have been widely popular in recent decades. Toyota uses a four-part “Kata model:
In consideration of a vision or direction…
Grasp the current condition.
Define the next target condition.
Move toward that target condition iteratively, which uncovers obstacles that need to be worked on.”
This model lets organizations move from their current situation to a new situation, in a creative, directed, meaningful way.
At the UX Strategies Summit, in 2015, Darren Hood of Bosch spoke about using Kaizen to change design within a company. This process involves a series of small, incremental changes. Anything that increases value to the customer or decreases a company’s investment in resources, time, or effort is considered an improvement. Kaizen benefits include improvements in training, morale, communications, employee retention, and customer relationships—all of which are beyond the stereotypical purview of User Experience.
Systematizing Design: Case Studies
More and more companies are getting better at rethinking and systematizing design. However, there are not a great many useful case studies. Nevertheless, here are several.
Accenture & Fjord
In 2013, Accenture, a major consulting company, acquired the well-known design agency Fjord. At UX and Digital Design Week 2016, Celia Romaniuk, Group Design Director at Fjord, spoke about Accenture’s CEO being a supporter of the studio and design in general. Therefore, he gave Fjord a place at the decision-making table and backed them up in many ways—even though he didn’t quite understand the designers themselves. Celia’s supervisor told her, “There are plenty of both good and bad people in the company. If you stick with the former and don’t think about the latter, everything will work out.”
In the end, Fjord became a catalyst for change at Accenture by demonstrating what is possible, so other departments have adopted their philosophy. Although Fjord is trying to integrate with Accenture as much as possible, it’s been important for them to keep their own culture—a key element in Fjord’s Design Rule of 3, their new take on design thinking, which is shown in Figure 13. So Fjord has adopted only selected Accenture practices. For example, they still don’t use a grading system and their marketing and other activities remain separate. It’s important for Accenture to devote attention to design management and its benefits. As a result, people will become more design literate, allowing design to help drive organizational change.
Accenture is now leveraging its experience with integrating Fjord on client projects. For example, their client Commerzbank has bought a design agency, which has similarly served as a catalyst for change—changing the bank from the inside.
After creating the role VP of Product Design, Citrix tackled the task of modernizing its old systems. Instead of taking a strategic approach that would force design overhauls on departments that might not understand the value of a better user experience, Citrix worked with any department that was willing. Its pilot project was for the Customer Education department. The results were so successful that other departments asked for help. The design team established trust by working on these projects. Now, Citrix’s design team works with cross-functional product teams to meet critical business objectives. Julie Baher, Group Director, Customer Experience, at Citrix, likens the adoption of design thinking to trying to change a company’s operating system.
David Butler of Coca-Cola looked at other leading companies that were using design strategically. Then, he started working in branding and communications, moved to packaging and equipment, then to retail experiences, and finally, into business operations, which included the distribution system and supply chain. He spends a lot of time growing as a designer, but at work, he doesn’t use the term design thinking. Instead, he tries to speak the language of business. How do we sell more of something?
Brian Beaver of Eventbrite describes how their design team convinced top management to give them the resources to build a design system. To quantify efficiency savings, the designers teamed up with marketing and finance to create an ROI model. They started by estimating how long it takes design to complete a typical project—from wireframes through high-fidelity mockups—prior to the build and test phase. Then, they made some assumptions about how much faster designers could complete projects if they had a design system.
Parrish Hanna, Ford’s Global Director of Interaction and Ergonomics, has described how the company is changing itself. One of Hanna’s key insights was that a key return on its investment in User Experience has been fulfilling its “making people’s lives better” mission.
In 2007, Google’s first attempt at cleaning up the design of its product line failed. However, when Co-founder Larry Page became CEO in 2011, he made User Experience one of his top priorities. Matias Duarte, Android’s Head of Design, led this change from the design side. He wisely realized that centralizing design in a company with so many products is not a viable approach, so put together a small Google-wide design unification group called the User Experience Alliance (UXA}. After developing its strong concept, Material Design, this team worked with designers from specific product teams to implement this vision. Now there’s a two-way connection between the visual design language and the product-design teams: designers bring fresh patterns and ideas to the common design language. Matias acts as an evangelist for unifying the efforts of various teams around a single vision for design. His access to Larry Page and his ability to sell a single design story to the executive team has helped this effort succeed.
At IBM, CEO Virginia Rometty perceived a shift in how businesses were buying technology: more were purchasing software as a service (SaaS), so workers in functional departments who valued usability were often making purchasing decisions rather than corporate information technology (IT) departments. Phil Gilbert—who had been CEO of a recently acquired startup and was a design and UX fanatic—wanted to scale design best practices across IBM. So he proposed the ambitious goal of hiring and training 1,000 new designers, assuming it would go nowhere. But two weeks later, he got a call from Rometty, who said, “Go. How fast can you go? How many can you hire in the first year?”
The company currently employs about 350,000 people, so it’s impossible to build a centralized design team and expertise. Instead, they bet on a design incubator in Austin, Texas, which is responsible for defining work processes, a visual design language, and design education. Their key goal is to improve IBM’s overall design culture, sell design value to managers at all levels, and run workshops to transfer knowledge and experience to non-designers. Mentorship is key.
Intuit’s user-centered transformation arguably began in 2004, with its adoption of the Net Promoter Score (NPS). But, by 2007, NPS improvement had stalled. Although Intuit had lowered its percentage of detractors substantially, it had made little headway with promoters. Company founder Scott Cook delivered a five-hour PowerPoint presentation to managers about the value of design, but there was little energy in the room. However, Alex Kazaks presented a small workshop later, in which managers worked through a design challenge, creating prototypes, getting feedback, iterating, and refining. The group was mesmerized.
There was a push to appoint Kaaren Hanson to promote design at Intuit and create a team of design-thinking coaches, or innovation catalysts, who could help Intuit managers throughout the organization work on design initiatives. The number of catalysts has grown since then, largely because they are responsible for three or four highly visible, big-impact wins a year.
Mauro Porcini of PepsiCo believes that the key to design success within a company is bringing in the right kind of design leaders, who can intelligently manage all types of design—brand design, industrial design, interior design, UX and experience design, and innovation in strategy. Someone with a holistic vision. The right sponsorship from the top and endorsements from a variety of entities are also essential. Quick wins can help an organization to move through the five phases of design maturity.
CEO Indra Nooyi appreciates his approach. One of the first design tasks she assigned to her direct reports was to take photos of anything they thought represented good design and fill a photo album with them. Only a few people returned the albums. Some had their wives take pictures. Many did nothing at all. They didn’t know what design was. Since then, many things have changed. The company clearly sees the connection between design and innovation. In 2014, innovation accounted for 9% of their net revenue. To achieve their goals, they must rebuild the PepsiCo culture and be willing to tolerate more failure and shorter cycles of adaptation. The rule used to be that you would reinvent yourself once every seven to ten years—now, it’s every two to three years.
In the late 1990s, An Yong-Il, Design Strategy VP at Samsung, met strong opposition from managers when he recommended the adoption of a company-wide design philosophy rather than selling cheap imitations of competitors’ products. Reaction was lukewarm. Then, during the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the company cut back on its design initiatives. Discouraged, An considered leaving the company. But his boss urged him to enter a PhD program instead, to study management and organizational design. In 2000, the company created its Corporate Design Center, which sets design goals for the company’s near and distant future, as shown in Figure 14, and plans their implementation by different departments. Although the company is still sometimes criticized for copying others’ products, a significant number of its products are now more than decent.
Although the company has a huge backlog of complicated, clumsy, legacy enterprise systems, SAP is investing heavily in rebuilding design within the company. Figure 15 shows a timeline of key design initiatives at SAP.
My series “Applied UX Strategy” has described key focus areas for design managers—hiring and growing the right designers, building a design system, nurturing a design culture, and driving business value—and proposed a checklist for implementing UX strategy. I hope this information will help readers to transform their companies.
For me, this series became not only a way to summarize and structure my thoughts, but a way of thinking about the future of design in my department at Mail.Ru Group. Each of these articles has described the middle part of our journey—where we are now and where we’re going. In stating our goals, I now feel a public obligation to achieve them that encourages me to go even further.
The following list provides links to all parts of the series:
Applied UX Strategy, Part 6.2: Implementation: Transforming Design—This part has described how some exemplary companies are transforming product design within their organization.
One key thought I want to draw attention to at the end of this series: designers should initiate organizational changes themselves. Nobody is going to take you by the hand, offer you a seat at the table, and tell you: “Here’s the plan. Implement it.” Your company hired you for your experience and vision. Show your company where the problems are and how to solve them. Then, evolve your own attitude about change and just act. Yes, you may experience some hardships, but you need to do the following:
Consider the business value of design changes.
Define UX and organizational debt. It’s the first step toward getting healthy.
Make changes in process part of your plan, even though these are not product tasks.
Don’t just be a product designer. Design your organization and the role of designers within it.
Above all, be in it for the long haul. Transforming design in a company takes several years, not months. These changes affect not only an organization’s products, but the organization itself—its mindset and culture. Think about your job as reconceiving a socio-technical system, not just designing a few screens. To create great products, you must first create a great organization.
UX Strategy Web site—I’ve collected all of the articles from this series on my Web site, where I’ll soon launch a UX maturity assessment tool.
Yury leads a team comprising UX and visual designers at one of the largest Russian Internet companies, Mail.Ru, which is part of the Mail.Ru Group. His team works on communications, content-centric, and mobile products, as well as cross-portal user experiences. Both Yury and his team are doing a lot to grow their professional community in Russia. Read More