Draft narrative for DMI webinar: Embed design DNA


Now, when you use a term such as 'design DNA' that makes m...
In your experience, how do you go about building a team that can help embed
design at a company?

       For a start, y...
So how do you, as a design manager, lead a team like that?

       I've found you need to find a balance between individua...
need to be storytellers, people who can create a narrative about what they
       do for any type of audience.

       I t...
But no matter where you take this inspiration from, you've got to use it to
       ensure that it's your team generating t...
OK, well, before we move onto that, are there any other elements of the people
strand that you feel are worth considering?...
Similarly, people who have been brought in during a development cycle
       won't be ready for the transformational proce...
One of the major benefits has to be creating a better output. We'll get into
       this more when we discuss design equit...
Again, the double-helix metaphor works here. One the one side, you've
       got a progressive design agenda and on the ot...
So, if you aim beyond your target – or the target set by the company,
       then you may find that by the time your idea ...
Peter Merholz recently wrote an article in Harvard Business Review that
       addressed this. As he pointed out, design t...
Before we discuss design equity, does anyone have questions about positioning
and process?

All right, let's discuss the o...
It certainly helps. I think as a design manager, part of your role is to
       convince the company that an internal team...
You spoke earlier about the importance of communicating, both within the team
and out to the larger business. What have yo...
I firmly believe that if existing companies are to weather the current
      economic storm and new companies are going to...
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DMI Webinar Embedding Design Dna V7


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DMI Webinar Embedding Design Dna V7

  1. 1. Draft narrative for DMI webinar: Embed design DNA Intro Now, when you use a term such as 'design DNA' that makes me think of my biology classes - the double strands, intertwined in that classic double-helix structure. How are you applying that in a business context? Well, to me, the process of embedding design DNA relies very much on that double-helix framework. Typically, that framework has been represented by two dimensions – personal and organisational. And it's been used to drive transformation within established companies, companies that might have started with an entrepreneurial spirit but have maybe shifted into a more production-focused type of organisation. But surely if a company has reached that more advanced stage, it means it's more stable, especially from a financial standpoint? Technically, yes, but it can also mean that the pace of innovation has slowed or in the worst case, stopped entirely. Of course, some established companies can make do with incremental innovation, but for real change to happen within a business, periodically, you've got to push for transformational innovation, as well. And in my experience, the team best placed to lead this type of transformational innovation is almost always the design team. So, by changing a company's DNA through design, you achieve transformation? Yes, I think there's a very definite link between design and organisational change. Following on from that DNA metaphor with the two strands of genetic code joined together, I've found that design-led transformations generally have two primary strands: the people, on the one hand, and positioning and process on the other. Like DNA, these two strands work together to store information. Or, in the case of a business, they help generate design equity by putting that information into practice.   1
  2. 2. In your experience, how do you go about building a team that can help embed design at a company? For a start, you've got to look at the basics – make sure you have the right diversity on your team – the right mix of ages, gender, backgrounds, and personalities. But, once you've addressed those, you can turn your attention to the really important criteria for developing what you might call a transformational team. Top of the list is talent. But I don't just mean talented designers or people with beautiful portfolios. When I'm putting together a team, I tend to look for people with talents that don't necessarily appear on a CV. If your goal is transformation, then you need to find people who have rare skills, something they didn't learn in school or pick up on the job. Maybe they're good at visualising ideas or maybe they can reflect and analyse in a short amount of time. The old adage you'll know it when you see it often applies in these situations. Obviously, if you're a design manager working inside a company of any size, you won't be building a team in isolation – you've got to make sure other departments are onboard with the direction in which you're heading. Yes, absolutely. You may find that when you first start building your team, you'll face a lot of resistance. If you can't get HR onboard, you may have to do a lot of the hiring yourself, using your network to find those rare talents. Of course, finding those talents brings its own set of problems. How so? Well, a lot of times, these types of people can be temperamental, sometimes even egotistical. Not only are they hard to hire, they're also difficult to retain but I believe, very necessary. That sounds like a virtuoso team you've just described. Yes, that's exactly the model. But I think it's what you need if you're going to pull off a design-led transformation.   2
  3. 3. So how do you, as a design manager, lead a team like that? I've found you need to find a balance between individual talents and the team play. I compare it to a theatre troupe – you've got talented actors for each role but you need to make sure that one doesn't steal the show or, that if one drops out, the play will still go on. And how do you learn to strike that balance? Well, I wouldn't really say it's something I learned in the 'formal education' sense of the word – it's not the sort of thing you're going to get from a textbook. I think it's a skill that's got to come from experience. I also think it takes time to understand what kind of team manager you are yourself. You'll only know that after a number of years – in my case, 20! Based on that experience, what advice would you give to someone who wants to build a transformational team? From a personal point of view, I prefer people to be independent. I don't do a lot of handholding and I expect people to lead with their own initiative. I think a lot of creative people work better this way – of course, everyone needs some structure but manage people like this too closely and you will kill that creative spark. However, I like to keep a hands-on approach, as well. Even though your role is primarily one of being a manager, you've got to make sure you're still a practitioner, as well. That means do some design work yourself – build a quick prototype to show someone what you have in mind or illustrate your ideas with some sketches. I think that designers expect managers to do this – if you get too removed from the practice of design, I think you run the risk of losing the respect of your team. That said, you're first and foremost the team leader. And that means you're the main person who will be acting as the filter to the other areas of the business – communicating what the team does so that everyone understands the value you are creating. You don't want the CEO to walk past your team in the middle of a prototyping session with Lego blocks and post-it notes and wonder – what on earth are these people doing!? So how do you make sure this communication happens? Obviously, that's part of a design manager's role – to go to those senior strategy meetings and represent your team and its ideas. But I also encourage members of the team to communicate, as well – and not just with each other, but also up and down the management hierarchy. They   3
  4. 4. need to be storytellers, people who can create a narrative about what they do for any type of audience. I think we all know that while design and user experience roles attract clever, talented people, they're not always that great at explaining exactly how some rough sketches or a configuration of Lego blocks could become a product used by millions of people around the world. That's why I think you've got to encourage your team to practice communicating and presenting all the time, either on a small level, within the team itself, or on a bigger scale, outside the team, to the brand and marketing teams, to senior product managers, even at conferences. If your budget allows, you might even consider bringing in an external resource to help the team refine its messaging, a writer or editor, perhaps, who can work with people to polish their narratives and hopefully present a more cohesive message about their work. That may not be an option if you've got a smaller team, but you may find there's already someone on your team who already has those writing skills and you can use him or her to mentor and train the others. There are a lot of different communication channels available these days. Do you find them useful for communicating the team's work? Definitely. We're designing for people who embrace technology and are the first to adopt new tools and services. That means as designers, we've got to do the same. We've got to be where our audience is, whether that's Twitter or writing blogs or using social bookmarking sites. On the UE team at Vodafone, we've created a team wiki where all the team members can blog about their projects and the whole company can view it and comment. We've also developed physical sets of concept cards to hand out and we've just finished a mini magazine about one of our projects. As designers, we should always be looking for new ways to tell our story and inspire the people who need to hear that story. Inspiration – that's got to be an important component of a design-led transformation, hasn't it? Yes, absolutely. But I believe that if you want to inspire other people, you've got to inspire yourself. You've got to tap into the emotions that drive you and your designs and use them to engage the people around you, whether that's other team members or the head of finance. Generating this inspiration is all part of your job as a design manager, and I think you've got to be prepared to look beyond the standard sources. I'm thinking Picasso rather than Steve Jobs.   4
  5. 5. But no matter where you take this inspiration from, you've got to use it to ensure that it's your team generating the IP and pushing for transformational design, not just relying on external agencies to do it for you. That might seem an effective strategy in the short-term, but really, over the long term, no one wins. You talked about the various tech tools that design managers and their teams have at their disposal to communicate their work. What other shifts have taken place that make communicating design easier? I think one of the shifts has happened in the boardroom – attitudes there have evolved beyond pie charts and spreadsheets. Now, they're much more open to alternative ways of visualising information. Again, as a design manager, I think part of your role is knowing when it's time to push the envelope. You've got to set the trends at every level, including the ways you communicate, and secure your team's reputation as innovators. You say you have to know when it's time to push the envelope. It seems to me that several of the points you’ve touched on require a sense of timing, of knowing when to push certain things forward. Yes, in terms of building your team and moving it forward, you've got to get the timing right. And again, I think this is something that comes out of experience, rather than following some sort of formula. You've got to go through a few rounds of change to learn how to time certain things exactly right. Take hiring your team. It's all very well to advocate that you hire people with unique or rare talents, but if you hire those types of people too soon, your team will be disjointed and lack focus – you may find you have some great conceptual thinkers but no one who knows how to articulate ideas into a workable prototype. Or, if you wait and hire them too late, your team may never have the impact it needs to really achieve a transformation in the way your company thinks about design. Anyway, I'm going to come back to this notion of timing shortly when we discuss the other strand, positioning and process…   5
  6. 6. OK, well, before we move onto that, are there any other elements of the people strand that you feel are worth considering? For me, there's an important part of building the team that I call detoxing. It's a technique I like to use to shake things up a bit, take people out of their comfort zones, and remove constraints that might be blocking their creativity. It's what William Bridges called 'ending' or 'unloading your baggage' – he was talking specifically about individuals, but I've applied to this to entire teams. I think it's necessary if you're going to push a transformational agenda. For a lot of companies, this simply means a re-org – but let's face it, that's a bit 1990s. I prefer to find different ways to stimulate the people on a team, to challenge them to work on projects that might be outside their area of expertise or put different personalities together to create some sparks that will hopefully lead to creativity. What you’re saying sounds pretty sensible. Does it work? No, not always. Like so many aspects of this type of transformation, as a design manager you've got a fine line to walk. As we all know, people generally resist change – you sometimes lose people from the team who find they just can't accept the change in direction… or maybe they need more structure than you – or even the organisation as a whole – can give them at a particular time. We're back to timing again. Yes, it's timing and experience. If you've been with an organization for a period of time, you'll have seen the design pendulum swing from incremental innovation to transformational innovation several times. With that kind of perspective, you'll be in a position to anticipate what's coming next. Then, you can act as the trigger for moving the team forward. Younger team members or new ones might not have this perspective, which is where you could find yourself leading a team of disgruntled people. They may be conceptual thinkers who aren't prepared to maintain the status quo during a phase of incremental innovation or development.   6
  7. 7. Similarly, people who have been brought in during a development cycle won't be ready for the transformational process when it's time to push it forward again. That's why this notion of detoxing the team is so important. As always, the key is to communicate – and don't be afraid to tell people things they may not want to hear. You'll find that the people who can tolerate some ambiguity in their work lives will be the ones still with you in 6 months or a year. And don't be afraid to change yourself – in fact, you'll probably have to, since the team you'll be managing will be changing, too. Of course, detoxing or disrupting your team for the sake of creating chaos is no way to encourage creativity or transformational design. If you can see a transformational wave coming, you need to shake your team up before it hits the beach. Trying to prepare the team once the business is actually ready to undergo a transformation will be too late. You may still be able to create value but you'll find the business might already have moved on. Are there any other insights you've gained into timing? One key thing I've learned, and I wish someone had told me this earlier in my career, is that you've got to know when to get in, but it's just as important to know when to get out. And I mean that on a team level and a personal level. If you spend too much energy fighting for things at the wrong time, you'll achieve nothing. Once you've made an impact, you need to move on and be confident that impact will be sustainable. Any change you've set in motion will still continue but you've got to make sure you're expending your effort wisely. You'll save a lot of energy, believe me, if you can learn to do this. Don't stay in it just to prove a point. All of this is related to the concept of a 'corporate heartbeat', which I'll come to in the next topic, positioning and process. Before we move on, then, how would you summarise the people strand? Well, you've got to have the basics of diversity. Then you've got to look at the talent – at the skills of the people you hire. And don't be afraid of creating a virtuoso team – they're challenging but they may be exactly what you need to embed that design DNA. I think then you've got to encourage independence and of course communication – only when you can convincingly communicate your work will you get buy-in from the sponsors who can help you during the transformational process. Plus, I think you've got to be honest with yourself about your management style and learn how to apply it to reach that 'embedded design' goal. And finally, don't be afraid to shake things up a bit. Does anyone have any questions? Going back this detoxing concept for a minute. What have you found to be the benefits of doing something like this with your team?   7
  8. 8. One of the major benefits has to be creating a better output. We'll get into this more when we discuss design equity, but personally, I've seen a tremendous uplift in the team's creativity once they've been shaken up a bit. As I said, they may resist at first but once they start to see some benefits – and realise they have more autonomy to push a more creative approach – they really embrace it. So let's talk now about the positioning and process strand. How do the two relate? To my mind, the two are completely linked in the value chain dynamic. How you position yourself and the team will trigger the transformational process, and your positioning will continuously impact how that process plays out. As some of you listening may know, Vodafone recently launched Vodafone 360, tell me about the role your team has played in this launch and how its related to the design DNA concept. Basically, my team has been working on the conceptual designs that formed the basis for this service for the past three years. When we first started, one of the first things we did was to ask ourselves the question "What's next in 3-to-5 years' time?" We followed this up with another question: "For whom?" Because with a service like 360, we knew that to achieve a transformational design experience, we'd need to position our thinking within a context that allowed people to shape culture, not merely consume it. By positioning ourselves as designers for this more progressive audience – what Eric von Hippel calls 'lead users' – we were able to optimise the process as we went along. But surely these progressive types of users don't represent the majority? That's the whole point! When you've got a large customer base, I’d argue it's futile to try and design for such a broad range of people. Instead, try making your design thinking more selective. To do this, you can focus your attention on people whose attitudes are being shaped by a unique set of cultural forces, as well as by the rapidly evolving technology they have at their disposal. These people go beyond the “early adopter” construct – they're much bolder and more decisive and they're always looking for ways to control their experiences. So how do you balance this notion of progressive design with the more basic requirements of an established company, one that needs to produce – not only products and services but financial results, as well?   8
  9. 9. Again, the double-helix metaphor works here. One the one side, you've got a progressive design agenda and on the other, the production needs of the business. As a designer, you have to be mindful of both. Focus too much on one and the other will suffer. And you have to be aware that the pendulum will shift between the two. If you're at a stage where the business is undergoing transformational innovation, you know it's only a matter of time before things will swing back to an incremental process. And vice versa. Sometimes, this switch can happen quite quickly. At one point, your team might be relevant and hold the keys to the company – having an overview of all aspects of the business in a way that maybe even the CEO doesn't. And the next minute, your team could be seen as a threat, one that maybe wields too much power. Seems like we're back to timing. Yes, it's what I referred to earlier. As a design manager, you need to gauge how fast this switch will happen and prepare your team, which means you need to be attuned to your company's unique 'corporate heartbeat', as it's sometimes called. And you've got to have confidence that the switch will happen and be ready when it does. As I said earlier, if your team isn't in place when the switch happens, you'll be caught short and it may be too late to hire the types of people you need to push the change through. It sounds to me like you're setting the bar quite high – is that really necessary? Well, technically no. If you want to hit that "good enough" segment of your market, the one that is happy with a core set of products or services that meet their basic needs, then of course you can set the bar a bit lower. But if you want to aim for a premium level, one where you exceed your customers' expectations and deliver something that is truly innovative, then you do need to aim beyond your target. Don't you run the risk of overshooting that target? No, not really and I'll explain why. Discounting is something that happens in any company – and often it's a factor of time. Over time, your ideas, your design agenda will lose value – it's a given. Getting a pure design idea through the production pipeline is extremely rare because, let's face it, there's usually a lot of bends and blockages in that pipeline that will slow your idea down or change it altogether.   9
  10. 10. So, if you aim beyond your target – or the target set by the company, then you may find that by the time your idea or ideas hit the market, you'll actually be at the point you wanted to be. Can design affect this corporate heartbeat? Yes, but it's one of the biggest challenges we face. And that's why as a design manager, you've got to be prepared to put in the hard work of embedding the design DNA. This is something that won't happen overnight – it can take several years. It's one thing, early in your career, to hop from place to place, role to role. But if you find yourself in a position to effect real change in an organisation, then you've got to stick around long enough and go through a few lifecycles to get the pulse of that company's particular heartbeat. Then, you'll be in a position to prepare your team, to make sure you're ready for the next wave. If you can see a transformational wave coming, you know you need to hire more conceptual people. And if you see a more incremental wave approaching, you can detox your team and ensure you've got people in place who can handle a more production-oriented culture. These days, being a design manager means being a lifecycle manager – you've got to be mindful of the corporate context – the heartbeat – all the time. You might not be able to change it but you need to know where you are on the helix at any given time. You've used the term context quite a bit. Obviously, you and I are both looking at this from the context of a very large, very established business. A lot of people will say that companies like ours view design as an add-on, something that's nice to have when times are good but first under the microscope when the economic tide turns. Yes, without a doubt. Companies that have design DNA at their core are very different types of companies – places like IDEO and Experientia. But many design managers don't work at those types of companies – they're working in companies where design is just one component. To push a design agenda in those types of companies, you’ve got to play the value game. What do you mean? It's related to value chain dynamic thinking. Look, I know it's tempting to keep your design team locked in an ivory tower to protect them from corporate demands or to take an 'us' versus 'them' approach – with the designers on one side and the MBAs on the other.   10
  11. 11. Peter Merholz recently wrote an article in Harvard Business Review that addressed this. As he pointed out, design thinking alone isn't enough – you can't be afraid to mix it with solid business thinking if you want to achieve results. If you bring design out of the ivory tower and are proactive in trying to integrate it with other areas of the business, you'll find that the IP you're creating will really have a direct economic impact. In your experience, what's the best way to do this? Well, it boils down to a hybrid thinking approach. You've got to strive for cross-pollination between functions. This means ideating from a human- centred perspective. It also means being provocative. Personally, I've found creativity doesn't happen unless you’re able to disrupt people's trains of thought. You need to ask unexpected questions or put a design story in front of people that they might not have been expecting. In a lot of companies, the 'powers that be' often expect design to be all about making things look nice. As a design manager, you've got to engage in a certain amount of proposition building - you've got to expose people elsewhere in the organisation to the hybrid thinking that goes into a true design process. That way, they'll gain a better understanding of what designers really bring to the table – and they won't wait until it's too late to give design a seat at the decision-making table. In your opinion, is design as a practice full represented in the decision-making process of most companies? No, not at all. You'll always be able to find people who "get it", people who will act as your sponsors elsewhere in the organisation. And you have to be on the lookout for these kind of people, because otherwise it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to really succeed with a transformational design agenda. But at the moment, I think there is definitely a 'glass ceiling' when it comes to user experience or design thinking being represented at board level. Jesse James Garrett, in his closing plenary at this years' IA Summit, said that the overall value of IA and UX will only reach critical mass when someone from that background becomes the CEO of a company that champions the user and then goes on to beat its competition. So what can design managers do to break through this glass ceiling, assuming they want to, of course? Yes, you do have to want that, because as I said before, as a design manager, you can still be hands-on, you can still generate collateral yourself. When you move out of that and into upper levels of management, you may cease to be a practitioner. So you need to think carefully and decide where you can create the most value. Is it influencing from the bottom up or the top down? Either way, you've got to be a hybrid thinker and see where opportunities lie for design to play a role in the business. Generating design equity – putting your design thinking into practice – is what's going to give you the leverage you need in the transformational process.   11
  12. 12. Before we discuss design equity, does anyone have questions about positioning and process? All right, let's discuss the output of this transformational process – the design equity. For me, generating design equity is all about building bridges between the two strands we've just been discussing – the people and the positioning and process – to make sure you have verifiable outputs that you can point to. Otherwise, design will never become a lasting part of your company's DNA. Those two strands or dimensions ultimately lead to three main outputs: They are value, a portfolio and execution. The first component of this is ensuring you create value – you've got to position your design in such a way that is has a noticeable impact on your company's product roadmaps. Ultimately, you want to get buy-in from product managers because they'll be the ones who will take your design equity and see it though to market. Everything you've described sounds incredibly challenging, especially for a company that isn't used to operating like this. Wouldn't it just be easier to outsource this to external agencies? Of course it would. But doing that means you run the risk of losing control of the IP. IP is a currency, it's something a design team can leverage and use to make sure you're part of bigger discussions that might be going on internally. Vodafone as a company knew several years ago that in order to stay relevant in a global communications market, we'd have to become more than just a carrier. We'd need to make sure we were in a position to compete in the same category as Nokia or Blackberry or Apple. And that meant taking control of the user experience and creating differentiation based on our interface. The press response to our decisions has proven we were right. We're now seen as a credible player when it comes to designing the interface for our services. In fact, we'd be seen as underperforming if we'd remained as just a commodity. I think there's no question that if you can leverage the value of design into your company's strategic thinking, you'll be ale to help your company compete in a different market space if that's what it wants. So does the company have to know it wants to be in that area?   12
  13. 13. It certainly helps. I think as a design manager, part of your role is to convince the company that an internal team can pull this off. As I mentioned earlier, it's often tempting for companies to outsource tasks such as concept development. The company is just looking to generate equity, but it's your job to convince them that equity can – and should – come from inside, not outside, the company. What does that entail? A lot of it rests on your portfolio. For a start, you can't focus on a single product – you've got to have a wide range of projects and initiatives ready to move forward at any time. This diversification process will create funnelling, where ideas start out as rather broad concepts and then filter down into more focused, more practical approaches that product managers can get their heads around. And if you're determined to embed design DNA in your company, then you'll need to make sure you keep on diversifying and driving this innovation funnel. But what happens if the company brings pressure to bear to hit that "good enough" target, if they simply want to reduce what you're doing to the lowest common denominator? Then you need to hedge – you need to shield your team and its outputs against the discounting effects that can often take place within large corporations. I think of it as incubating, keep things away from the glare of the corporate spotlight until the time is right and your ideas can withstand the scrutiny of questions such as "Who will pay for something like that?" And don't get me wrong – continually investing in your team's design equity is a hard road – you've got to stay true to a long-term vision. In some ways, that's the hardest sell of all. Earlier you had said the team needs to communicate what it's doing to the larger business. Surely hedging creates that 'ivory tower' effect you mentioned. Ah, yes, that's true. But I was speaking about design in the larger sense. Here, I'm talking about a specific phase of a project lifecycle – give it enough time to germinate and then absolutely, get it out there into the larger business to help generate buy-in and drive the next phase of development forward. As with a lot of what I've said today, there's a fine line to walk. As a design manager, you need to keep an ear on that corporate heartbeat and know when it's time to stop hedging and start communicating.   13
  14. 14. You spoke earlier about the importance of communicating, both within the team and out to the larger business. What have you found to be an effective way of getting that 'buy-in' you just mentioned? One of the ways we've done this is through design statements. We've found them to be incredibly effective at showing the business, in a very real way, how and where we can make a difference. This is something we decided to do while we were waiting for a brief – we thought, well, let's just get on with it ourselves and add value on top of whatever the business is expecting. If you can identify opportunities to do something similar, I think you'll find that you'll wind up having more influence. In terms of other kinds of output, what would you say has been the most influential? Experience prototypes, without a doubt. And it's a trend I'm seeing everywhere at the moment. In fact some agencies even specialise in it. In my experience, any time you can give people an understanding of that process or create a positive impression that your design will work, the better. And I believe that it's our outputs that are really makes us look designers – let's face it, we know we're designers but sometimes, it's not as obvious to the rest of the company (which underscores that requirement to communicate!). So are you planning on creating an in-house prototyping capability? It's something we're evaluating. Obviously, you need the right facilities to do things properly. It may be that we reach out more to the developers, and build some bridges there to find more collaborative ways of working. At the moment, the process is more linear than I would like – develop concept, hand off to development… I'd like to see that process be more seamless. Which brings us back to the double-helix metaphor again. Absolutely – it offers a great way to understand a lot of the complicated dynamics at work, not only in a design team, but between that team and the rest of the business.   14
  15. 15. I firmly believe that if existing companies are to weather the current economic storm and new companies are going to stand a chance at success, then they must embed design DNA into everything they do. Questions & answers   15