SUPPORTING TEAM COLLABORATION
Experience design applies as much to organizations as it does to software. Everybody in an organization has great ideas, and experience designers know how to create frameworks and structures that bring them out.
For Rhiza's 2014 Company Retreat, managers and directors were asked to create a presentation for the group. I organized a design charrette where Marketing, Sales, Development, Product, QA and Administration intermixed to work together on a five-year future vision for our platform. We set up four temporary whiteboards around four different product dimensions, from "Beautiful Visualizations" to "Interoperability". Each small team worked for five minutes to sketch out a system, service, or interface around their product dimension. When we called time, each team briefed its idea to the whole group for about a minute, then everybody moved one whiteboard to the right, where they elaborated on or edited the previous team's work in a different product dimension. Lather, rinse, re-brief.
Exercises like this get everybody buzzing and energized, and they reinforce something I've seen time and again in my professional practice: people like to have skin in the game. Management presentations to a team are all well and good, and sometimes necessary, but nothing turns a group of coworkers into a team like creating an environment where everybody can play.
WRANGLING CHAOS INTO ACTIONABLE CONTENT
It can be difficult to get access to any user community, especially expert users whose time is in high demand. Every collaborative user design session is a kind of improvisational performance that should be backed up, before and after, with hours of planning, research, rehearsal, and artifact-curation. A UPMC Enterprises’ design engagement with clinicians and medical directors takes months to arrange and prepare for, and access to those user-communities is never a given. Every user event should invite further engagement through actionable artifacts that preserve and extend the knowledge created in the room.
DESIGN IN THE WILD
All happy design-consultancies are alike: their websites all have the same soft-focus photographs of well-dressed people in beautiful ivory-tower design citadels, gesturing at perfectly-aligned Post-Its on enormous, pristine whiteboards. My design reality doesn't often look like that. It's messy. We're meeting our users on their turf. We've traveled far and eaten weird. We're tired, uncomfortable, anxious, out of our element, and soon we'll have to perform a kind of improv in front of a group of potentially hostile strangers. In my experience, the pretty design stuff is bullshit. Real design is a mess. The place where you meet your users is often out of your control. You're wrangling competing streams of chaos into a story that's only as coherent as you are. Your only recourse is to trust your process, your preparation, your training and your team.
BRINGING IT BACK HOME
Designers have a charmed life: we go to user exercises and UX conferences and sketch and draw and imagine while developers toil in the saltmines and sub-basements of implementation. I never take it for granted. I grew up with people who were not engineers, and every minute I've been allowed to spend in the company of engineers has deepened my respect and admiration for the work they do. Part of my job is to share everything I learn with engineers so they can think about how to build the things users want. Part of my design-team's practice is to brief the engineers and other stakeholders on every user engagement and UX conference we attend.
DESCRIBING & IMPROVING INTERNAL PROCESSES
I’m a UX generalist, but I’ll always have a soft spot for enterprise product design, the unloved ugly duckling of the UX community. It’s tough to find experienced designers who want to do this work, which almost always involves inheriting a backlog crammed with the aspirations of long-gone generations of previous designers and product teams. The house of enterprise design is always a mess, which means design skills can be deployed beyond the product itself, from team onboarding to release planning. Big distributed teams don’t always have the benefit of high-bandwidth in-person communications; design can help make up for that loss with more considered communication artifacts — and better team communication ultimately benefits users. There’s always plenty for a pragmatist to do.