Img: Still from “Raging Bull”Hi! I’m Christina and I work in Ann Arbor for a small not-for-profit called ITHAKA. We make products that support scholarly research and knowledge advancement, like JSTOR.I’ve heard a lot of talk/debate in the profession lately about design: “design is a process, not a thing to own” or “design is a methodology, not an outcome”. I don’t want to engage in that philosophical debate, although you’ll hear echoes of it in my tale.Today I want to tell a story about how design can be a shared activity that facilitates communication and enables better product decisions.
Img: James Bond movie opening stillGoals varied for different groups:For the organization, we wanted to launch a new business modelFor the project team, we wanted to help the business owner to set the scope and direction for the initial launch of the product.For ourselves (the UX team), we wanted to get solid input/success criteria so that we could do our job well (and create an awesome user experience!)
We needed to strategize about the approach to introducing the new product and the desired experience around the new business model. We did not need stakeholders and the team agonizing over where the blue button went. And as you may have experienced, sometimes it is really hard to keep the discussions at the abstract, strategic level. People tend to want to move to something concrete, like how to arrange the interface.
Img: Still from “The Dam Busters”If we wanted to do this as a team, we had to have a complete process that represented collaboration:Level set – I realized that UX didn’t understand enough about the business model and that business owner didn’t understand enough about the current interface and related product offerings.Opportunity and risk assessment – bringing together all ideas from different perspectives will paint a more complete pictureParticipatory design – treating “design” as a problem-solving activity made it more accessible for non-designers and doing it together made it less scary. Plus, a good idea can come from anywhere.
How to:Sketch what is known together (come to agreement that this is known!)Brainstorm opportunities and risks (individual or group activity)Place opportunities (yellow) and risks (pink) at relevant places in workflowDiscussBut how do you do it so that you don’t hamper the team by being seen as “the expert” or “the owner”?Play the role of facilitatorStay neutralListen carefullyNever assert expertiseAsk a lot of questionsGuide, don’t decide
Giving up the “ownership” of design makes many UX professionals nervous. And if that is the only value or skill you bring to the table, then perhaps you should be nervous. But I think many are selling themselves short. UX is not just about design: creating experiences is a culmination of the interactions, feelings, and perceptions of the people experiencing your product. If we can fight the fear and understand that our value will be expressed not in staking a claim or planting our flag in the designs, we can see a much larger service we can provide the organization by leading decision-making around designs and creating good experiences around product development.
Movie still: Young FrankensteinWhat happened is that we decided on what workflows to target in introducing the new product and how to alter those workflows.What didn’t happen is that we didn’t get into debates over functionality, or mire ourselves in deep aesthetic conundrums around button colour or cadence and rhythm of the messaging.We achieved a plan of attach that would allow the business to define success criteria, the product manager to make scope decisions, the scrum team to stay focused, and the UX designer to do their job well (create the best experience around the new product).
That there was no need to sell the value of a good user experience when we designed together. The business owners came to that conclusion themselves.
Movie promo: Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThis was a change: we had previously done participatory design with users (FIDO method).This was expanding.What I will continue to do is broaden audience: I have colleagues that do this within context of scrum, running design jams with engineers, visual designers, product managers, and QA specialists.Also, having vastly different perspectives in one room might have an even greater benefit.
When you hear a stakeholder say “make this” or “do that” or “put this here and make it pink”, it is not cause to get up in arms and huffy with the attitude that “everybody wants to be a designer” or “everybody thinks they can be a designer” – it is an opportunity to say “this person needs help making decisions and I can design a great experience around decision-making for them.”
Movie still: It’s a Wonderful Life
TV Promo still: Twenty Questions
Fighting the Urge to Own the Design
Fighting the urge to “own” the designChristina YorkITHAKA@UXtina
The challenge…@UXtina#sharedesignWhat we wanted to do…- Facilitate decision-making- Enable design participation atthe appropriate level- Be perceived as a teammateand not a “design owner”
The plan…@UXtina#sharedesign1. Level-set2. Opportunity & risk assessment3. Participatory design
The execution…@UXtina#sharedesignHow to collaborate:- Sketch what is known together- Brainstorm opportunities and risks (individual orgroup activity)- Place opportunities (yellow) and risks (pink) atrelevant places in workflow- DiscussHow to facilitate:- Stay neutral- Focus on listening- Never assert expertise- Ask a lot of questions- Guide, don’t decide