[This article was originally posted on ZS Associates’ CX Factor blog.]
I lost my phone at the airport on Friday night. In a classic story arc, I had a brief adrenaline rush followed by a wave of despair, and then a whole lot of frustration before things were set right. Once I was done being completely stressed and exasperated, I realized that it was a moment to reflect on how we deliver experiences both large and small.
The Opening Scene
I was at the Enterprise User Experience conference last week, and when I landed at O’Hare on Friday night, I was still feeling that warm, happy buzz that you get when you spend time with your tribe. For the three days of the event, I had woken up early and stayed up late. I had been engaged in complex, energizing and thought-provoking conversations, and I was writing and blogging like mad about all of the exciting things that I learned, so it’s probably no surprise that by the time my plane landed back home, I was definitely running on fumes.
Once I landed, I stopped at the ladies room and then headed straight to the baggage claim, where I immediately realized that I must have left my phone behind. Yes, the phone is expensive, yes, it’s covered by insurance and yes, it has a ton of data on it, but there was also the feeling of shame and stress about explaining the situation to my IT group and my insurance company. And how was I going to call my ride home from the airport?
The Crisis and the Climax
With that first spike of adrenaline, I ran all over the airport looking for help. There was no one at the customer service or information desk when I arrived (of course), and it felt a little over the top to ask the Chicago Police, so I asked my airline. After two unsuccessful attempts to get help in the luggage area, I found a service representative who traveled back through the secured part of the airport to check the ladies room for me. Twenty minutes later, I found her back at the service desk—with no phone, of course. I’m not even sure if she checked the right place, but at this point, I was realizing that I had to let it go.
I did manage to use the airport wi-fi to log into iCloud, use the “Find My Phone” feature, and confirm that my phone was off. It wasn’t off when I left it, so I knew the chances of recovery were already pretty slim. Now I became acutely aware of the loss of valuable data, including copies of my taxes, my mortgage paperwork and the not-yet-synced photos from the conference I had just attended.
The (Long) Denouement
While I was panicking about that, I used my computer to text my partner, who called my ride and got me home (an hour later, but otherwise as planned). When I got home, I looked up the lost and found services at O’Hare, but it wasn’t clear whether I should have contacted the airline or the police. It was pretty clear, though, that even the adorable dog from KLM Airlines wasn’t going to save me now. And given that my phone had been turned off, it seemed extremely unlikely (even with a few days of phone calls) that I was going to get the help that I needed.
So I gave up. My best bet, at this point, was to erase the phone completely to protect the data. Now I needed to get a new phone, figure out if I was liable for it (and if so, how I was going to pay for it), and reinstall and reconfigure all of my applications. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well on Friday night.
I muddled my way through the weekend—phoneless—and on Monday, I headed to AT&T. Given the trajectory of the story so far, you can imagine that things didn’t go exactly as planned. Yes, the AT&T staff was helpful. Yes, they had my phone in stock. And yes, they charged me a fortune to replace the phone outside of my contract period. But no, they couldn’t replace my phone with (what I knew to be) my current model because their records still showed my earlier phone. After some wrangling with IT, the store representative and AT&T customer service, I walked out with a replacement phone, and our IT guy blocked the old phone hardware to prevent re-use by the person who had it. He then activated my new phone and reinstalled all of the work software. Let the ringing begin!
Traveling while tired is pretty much unavoidable, and making mistakes when overtired is tough to avoid, too. No, this isn’t a call to mindfulness or for better work/life balance (though those are great goals, too). The lessons learned, for me, are really about the challenges of designing an experience.
Through the process of getting “re-phoned,” I realized that my frustration had mostly to do with the wide variety of organizations involved. I came to appreciate, in a whole new way, how extraordinarily hard it is to design an experience with so many organizations and actors involved. The airline did, in fact, provide some help, the AT&T staff was friendly and helpful, and our IT team was great, but while each individual they did what they could, no one organization or individual was able to fully address my problem. In the end, I realized that most of the breakdown in delivering a positive experience occurs at the interstitial space between organizations and actors. Delivering an improved experience requires that we consider and address the experience from end to end, or for one group to voluntarily work across those boundaries in the best interest of the customer. Both are expensive propositions, though with the former, at least the burden is distributed across a broader group of stakeholders.
Working on these types of customer experience issues is challenging—but extremely rewarding—if you have the right team in place. And if you want to chat about what that might look like, call me anytime. My phone is on, and by my side.
The closing keynote was entitled Making Sense of Enterprise UX, presented by John Maeda
John Maeda is a modern renaissance man. He is merging technology, business, and design – as well as art. In addition to his dual degree from MIT in engineering and computer science, he has a PhD in Design from Tsukuba University in Japan, as well as an MBA. As part of his work at the MIT Media Lab, he founded the Aesthetics and Computation Group at MIT. Later, he was named the President of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). In addition, he has won the National Design Award, and he is the author of numerous books. He currently works for a venture capital firm, and as part of his work there, he is the author of an annual report called DesignInTech. He has evangelized our space in a way that has opened up executive-level conversations for many of us.
John Maeda decided to run an experiment during his keynote, because, apparently, he likes to try new things. He wondered, how much better could his presentation be if he could answer questions in real time? So he installed an app and gave us his cell phone number. And then he watched for questions on his phone and answered them during his presentation. It was disruptive and funny and somehow he managed to make it all work. It truly felt like he was just having a conversation with us, in spite of the fact the audience numbered around 450 people.
Maeda admitted that he knew nothing about Enterprise UX until he arrived at the venture capital firm (where he works now) three years ago. He was in his first meeting, and people were talking about Consumer versus Enterprise. He didn’t get it – he was thinking about the Starship Enterprise. What is it, really? So, he has been on a search to understand what enterprise computing means now, in part beause he came from an era when there was only enterprise computing.
Someone from the audience asked him about his work at eBay. Maeda explained that he took two jobs after RISD, not realizing how far apart they were in Bay Area terms. Besides the VC work, he worked with the CEO of eBay companies. His work was around aligning roughly 350 designers. As part of that work, there was a moment in San Jose when he was meeting the design leads. He had to tell them that he was working with them because the CEO cared about design – but he wasn’t yet walking the talk. A year later there was a big design and product event, and people were leaning forward while the CEO. Following that presentation, he was mobbed by designers, because they were struck by how much he cared. But leaders like that can’t help but lead someone who seek someone to lead them. It was amazing. Followers believe they don’t have power, but in actuality they have power with a leader who wants to lead.
Another person asked what he has learned by working in venture capital. He said the influence of design is increasing. After his most recent Design in Tech report (linked above), one of the partners said “You know this design stuff, it’s important.” The partner had just been pitched by three engineers, and he told them to find a designer and co-founder. But another team of two engineers delivered strong UX. So we have to see the designer definition very openly. That is important.
The main topic of his talk is about how to make the transition from individual contributor to a leadership role.
Maeda launched in to the main part of his talk by saying “A lot of you have wrinklies like me.” Everything we could imagine twenty years ago is coming to pass here. There is a well known paper by a Carnegie Mellon professor that describes the history of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). It is an incredible history of people that have imagined things … many of which have since come to pass. However, that paper misses a lot of women researchers. How do we record the history of computing? Of people in design and tech field? He told us about a few key people, like his mentor Muriel from the Visual Language workshop. She wanted to put Helvetica on the screen. And Red Burns was a radical who believed that technology doesn’t matter so much as how we craft in technology. And Gillian Crampton-Smith – almost every innovation in IOT came from her group. And Joy Mountford, ex-Apple, who was influential in design education. That was his revision of history for today, but there are surely many others.
His started by summarizing his key points:
- In Enterprise UX, we have high job security. The stuff we do is hard, and it’s material to technology. We are not making another photo-sharing site; we go deep into complex problems, and we are playing an important role in the way things behave at scale.
- Design as a discipline is meaning too many things. He suggests that we should use the three definitions of design. This was covered in his most recent DesigninTech report, but it brought out the haters (he didn’t discuss it in detail).
- Finally, money is a medium of expression, and shouldn’t be feared by creatives. He said that when he was the President of RISD, some alums were reticent to come back to campus because they were making money, and not doing their art any more. It’s ok!
He is making a book. He had a hard time, but right now it’s cards in a ziplock bag. The key idea behind it is to share how we think about design in the business world. What is computation in relationship to design in industry? It is working at a scale and speed that is unimaginable. Everyone doesn’t know that yet. It’s not about UX or a specific type of design.
On December 6th at 4:30 am, he was jogging down El Camino Real, which he had been doing for two years. It had been totally safe and ok. But the sidewalk was uneven, and he tripped, and got crunched. He was lying there, and it was bad, he was bleeding, and he passed out at some point. He got up, when he thought he was going pass out he would lie down. And he finally got home to his AirBnB (he stays in a AirBnB to “experience the millennial life”). He called an Uber for a ride to the hospital; fortunately it was dark so the driver couldn’t see what a mess he was! The desk needed him to fill out a clipboard. An hour later he got to see a doctor. He said “you look bad”, and told him he was lucky he could move his neck. “Man, I am lucky”. And a nurse said “and lucky you weren’t hit by a car”. As a result of all that, he has been in rehab, and he can see the world much more clearly. He knows what his body will feel like in 10 years from now. :) When he got the job as the President of RISD, he was in his forties. His mentor called him, and said “you are only in your second quarter”, meaning that his life would be broken up into 0-25, 25-50, 50-75, 75-100. Maeda pictured four lightbulbs. And he realizes that most people don’t make it to the fourth quarter; even if you do, your mind and body have deteriorated so that you can’t do as much as you would like any more.
So, as a result of his awakening, he is trying to build a start-up called design.co. It is like a Second Life era building, and it was something he had intended to do by 2010. He is searching for this design meaning. In Italian, it means to designate, to name. But in English, something is lost. In Japanese there are two words for design. One means planning, it’s more of an engineering view of the world. And then there is the other word, which is much more about the heart, not focused on engineering. Sort of like the difference between Spock and Kirk. EUXy <—> Consumery. There is no school where you learn this stuff. In engineering school or design school. So we are all technically mutants. He was summoning unicorns and ninjas to MIT in the 1990s. We’re the Island of Misfit Toys. It hurts, but it’s great. As mutants, our job is important. We embody the ability to go across. Whether in design school or engineering school for those who are more design-minded. These things don’t change.
At this point Maeda fielded another question from the audience. The question was, “When the C-suite says design, what do they mean?” He is trying to get them to say Experience more, but it’s going to take time. In his first week at the VC firm, a junior associate asked him to design a certificate to welcome people. He tried to be calm, but later he did speak to the associate and said “How would you feel if someone asked you to create a spreadsheet?” We have to make change one person at a time.
He got a physical letter, in pencil. It was from an art teacher on the Cape, about a young woman in her class who is good at computer science and art. Her father won’t let her study design. He called the student and talked with her. She got into RIT, where she could do UX. She didn’t know what it was, but when he described it, he could hear a big sigh of relief. She had just learned that she could do both what she wants and what her parents want. There are young mutants out there who need to hear about us, and learn that our work exists.
During his design training, he had professors who would put him in his place. It’s good to have people tell you that you might suck at something! His teachers told him that he would not know if he was good or not, until he taught people who could destroy him. A very Japanese way of looking at the mentor / mentee relationship.
One project at MIT research group was called Processing. He told his students to stop doing this, but sure enough he was wrong, because it ended up being important. He had earned tenure at MIT, so he couldn’t be fired. But he got bored fairly quickly. He read the Audacity of Hope, and it inspired him to do something different, even if he didn’t look like other Americans. He wanted to do something important for America.
He hasn’t been a department head or a dean. But he heard “yes we can!” in his head. So when he was offered the job at RISD, he took it. All the books written about the first 90 days of a new job recommended the same thing. As a new leader, you shouldn’t have a vision, because the vision needs to come from the people. But the first question people want to know is “what is your vision’”?! In his first week he was presented with an ideal opportunity. He addressed the fierce, t-shirt wearing students of the summer program. He shared ideas, and they applauded the ones they like. Building a justifiable case for creativity in the world scored off the charts. An hour later he was in the alumni shop, and spoke with a student who had been part of that meeting. She was moved because “you would fight for us”. He was an active president, he hung out in cafeteria, helped kids carry boxes into dorms.
They had wanted Maeda in part because they knew they needed to integrate the digital into their curriculum. But a few years later they wanted to kill him! He made some mistakes, in particular around change management. Among his many favorite mistakes, he called the top 100 acceptees to RISD. As he was finishing the calls, he realized that 90% couldn’t come to RISD because there was no financial aid. One potential student got on the line. She had wanted to go to RISD since she was 12, but another school gave her a full ride. So he focused on scholarships. A few years in, he recieved a ‘vote of no confidence’ by the faculty. He one of only very few to survive and thrive after that. In retrospect, he realized that he had treated the students as his customer, and parents as the investors. But many other college and university presidents look at the faculty as the customer, and the Board as investors. The faculty union heads wanted to show him that he could fail; instead he needed to adapt. In the end the faculty and the institution were all with him, and they were able to make bigger change together.
One of his other concerns was that art classes were disappearing, in part to fund STEM programs (for things like chemistry labs). He was very involved in how do we turn STEM into STEAM. Part of the reason that was possible is because Rhode Island is a tiny state, but it has two senators, so he was able to get to know them and get involved. President Obama signed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) last year.
Another realization he has had is that design is attached to ego, because designers are risking failure with every decision they make. So they have to have some confidence, and believe that they have something important to say. But that not necessarily what is needed to be a leader:
How to supplement design education? He got an MBA so he could understand what people were saying to him. It is extra work, but recommended. Alternatively, hang out with more business, product people. It’s a new set of terminology, you can learn the symbols.
Why is he in the money world today? The graphic design profession wouldn’t exist except for the law that requires publicly held companies to product annual reports. The paper industry wouldn’t have grown, nor would have the field of graphic design. He is interested now in where we can plant these ideas. We are true, powerful, mutant leaders. Things will change in part because of the insights we plant in the ecosystem.
I thought attendee Dan Romlein did a nice job capturing the main ideas from the presentation in his sketchnote:
Maeda’s presentation is one of those where you know there are layers of meaning, and it will take time to absorb them all … but I valued his broad and deep perspective on the role of design, and what he is doing to build “a justifiable case for creativity in the world” which will improve executive understanding of what we do, and pave the way for the generation to come.
In spite of the humor, the SMS experiment, and the wide variety of topics he covered, this closing keynote presentation was an inspiring and humbling view of our space from John Maeda. It was a wonderful end to a beautiful curated conference!
I’m so glad that the Enterprise User Experience Conference blog posts that I’ve written so far have gotten some good visibility. It was a great event!
But for those that actually attended, they may be wondering why I haven’t blogged the keynote addresses. I will confess that I had intended to sketchnote them! I did, indeed, sit in the very front row (UX nerd alert!) and take good notes while Greg Petroff was presenting the opening keynote. But there were too many ideas and not enough paper, and very quickly the whole thing became frantic, disorganized chicken-scratch … and not anything I’d post here.
But that gives me the opportunity to commend the amazing official sketchnoter, MJ Broadbent. Once I figured out that there were tables (and, thankfully, charging stations) in the back of the meeting space, I moved out of the front row. I had the chance to sit near her and see her set up:
Here is her summary of Greg Petroff’s opening keynote, entitled Everything is about to Change: Software as Material:
Hopefully this will provide a nice reference as I summarize what I heard, below.
Greg Petroff was initially trained as an architect, and from there found his way to UX. He helped to found the IXDA, and he currently serves as the Chief Experience Officer at GE. He was at SAP for a number of years prior to that.
Petroff told us that it’s an exciting time to be in Enterprise UX – there is an ascendant community, and it something to celebrate! However, we are embedded in a fast-moving environment, where technology and business conversations will change the way we work. If we want to contribute to our full potential, we need to be attuned to those changes.
He started by providing a backdrop on some of the big changes emerging in the technology that will affect us and our work in the years to come:
- Machine learning. There was a tipping point in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) space not that long ago, where the Google AI beat a Go (strategy board game) master. What’s fascinating about Go is that there is no way to win by brute computational force. On a more humble scale, the Amazon Echo is learning extremely fast from it’s community of users. It’s critical to not lose sight of the fact that things may be complex, but they can still be automated.
- Internet of Things (IOT). Cisco predicts that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices with IP addresses talking to one another. Given the growing sophistication of those devices, they will be able to describe potential futures based on scenario analysis.
- Security. The reality is that, under these conditions, the chances of something really bad happening grows. Not necessarily “nefarious behavior, just dumb behavior”. This context will require appropriate interfaces and experiences so people can feel comfortable. And, of course, our lives will also become more transparent.
- Edge computing. In lay terms edge computing means that “applications, data and computing power (services) [move] away from centralized points to the logical extremes of a network”. Today, the Edison Intel chip has the computing capability of a personal computer – in something the size of an SD card. What happens when we can interact with machines that are so much more capable?
- Block Chain. Services such as BitCoin leverage block chain, which is “is a distributed database that maintains a continuously-growing list of data records hardened against tampering and revision”. It allows for secure, peer-to-peer transactions (which includes devices). This is a further accelerator along the trajectories outlined above.
There are also some trends that we need to be mindful of – and much of this is already here:
- Disruptive platforms. These allow increased speed to market.
- The new tech stack. It is increasingly componentized, and each contributing member of a team (e.g. product management, engineering, UX) is affected by these changes:
This has implications for how everyone works. The work that many of us are doing on design systems fits well into this way of working.
- Dev Ops culture. The Dev Ops culture moves engineering further away from requirements documents; it encourages small, incremental changes and hypothesis-driven design.
- Systems inversion. We have moved from the idea of Systems of Record (e.g. on premise HR and Finance systems) to Systems of Engagement (e.g. means for connecting people such as CRM or Facebook), to Systems of Assets which are made possible by AI, IOT, and other conditions described earlier. These assets are also relationship-based, but they are time and location (e.g. context) aware as well. This asset-based approach is a recent one, as not all the necessary building blocks were even available five years ago …
All of these changes have implication for our work in UX; we must understand context first before we can begin work:
- Algorithms will have a significant role in shaping experience
- Future solutions will integrate disparate systems and data
- We should leverage location and temporal services in our work
- We must have a clear behavioral model of the users we’re designing for
The reality today is that no-one understands these new ingredients yet – not even he and his team at GE. There is ambiguity and uncertainty, and our typical prediction frameworks don’t work any more.
What Petroff said is that a time is coming when how to build is solved. At that point, what to build and why will become much more important. Although we’ve been moving away from technology for technology’s sake since the dot-com crash, I would still like to hope that he is right. He believes that of our abductive thinking skills, we are skilled at asking the “what if” questions, and that a result User Experience, will become increasingly core to strategy.
Greg closed with a series of three slides which depicted how he believes the role of User Experience professionals will evolve in this new context:
In reflecting on the curation of the Enterprise UX event as a whole, I thought the opening keynote presentation was a superb backdrop for the presentations that followed. In particular, the progression from a session on Design Systems to one on Innovation beautifully reflected the trajectory Petroff articulated for us.
Additionally, for me, it was interesting to think about this framework as a maturity model both for the field, and for the teams I currently manage. In fact – even though the technology backdrop Petroff describes is still emergent for us – over the past few years we have made some conscious decisions about where we’re spending our time in order to move to the right.
While we value our role as craftsmen within the organization, we have had some concerns about people focusing on wireframes and mock-ups as our primary value proposition to project teams and clients. That is, in part, what prompted my earlier post entitled UX as Art & Science. With our more mature clients (or in areas of the business where we’re better established), we are seen as a business partner. And that is possible, in part, because we’ve committed the time and effort to establish UX patterns that accelerate our drawing work, leaving us bandwidth for dialogue with our clients, stakeholders, and project teams. Finally, as we gain a deeper understanding both of the industry we work in, and of the users enabled by our solutions, we are able to contribute to a stream of innovation by providing ideas and inspiration that were not possible when we were mired in the day-to-day design work.
For me the most compelling part of Petroff’s presentation were the ideas that in the future, (1) our ability to consider and contribute to thinking about complex contexts will be critical, and (2) as the path to build in a component-based way becomes more clear, what to build and why will be of foremost concern. And UX, fortunately, is well placed to support answering those questions. In principle, that will enable us to play an increasingly strategic role, and finally give us that seat at the table that we’ve been clamoring for.
Let’s hope he’s right!
The Thursday afternoon session was entitled The Politics of Innovation, facilitated by Richard Dalton.
These presentations were also a pleasure, but I appreciated them for a very different reason than I did the morning session. These presentations before the closing keynote represented the penultimate stage that Greg Petroff described in his opening keynote, which to me was a great testament to the thoughtful curation that went into this event. I really enjoyed hearing from UX professionals who are leading or guiding transformational change. They are serving as innovators and catalysts for change in large organizations. Their perspectives were all quite different, but inspiring!
Richard started out by saying hates the term innovation. It’s a little vague, and it’s not very actionable, and it’s best used in the past tense. It doesn’t work so well to say “you, go and innovate!”. But he realized that our stakeholders fall in love with this words, so the terminology can serve as a Trojan horse to introduce design techniques and habits to drive change. So, this set of presentations is really about the politics of cultural change, as much as innovation.
Steve is going to talk about how do people deal with change at a human level. How do we help people overcome fear of change? Maria will share some of the work she is doing at Autodesk to shift from entering to design mindset. And Harry will share the challenges and some ways to address prioritization and decision-making.
Breaking out of Ruts: Tips for Overcoming the Fear of Change
Steve Baty is the Principal at Meld Studios in Australia, and he is going to talk about Barriers to Innovation.
[Note: Steve had slides but intentionally didn’t use them! So if there are good ones, I’ll add them here at relevant points, once they are released.]
Innovation used to mean insurrection, so people are a little fearful, hesitant to really embrace it. That notion is a radical departure from the established ways of working. How do people and individuals get into channels or ruts that are hard to break out of? How can we help with the methods and practices of design, to actively contribute them to think differently and get ideas out into the world?
Humas want to be good at things, have a sense of purpose. We want to be able to control our future (with autonomy). When we think about a radical change in what and how things get done, we are effectively calling into question those things. Innovation programs are often a directive, pushed down. So they foreshadow that people’s world is going to change, and they may be asked to do something completely new. That can be challenging, because the uncertainty will create hesitancy and fear. And in moments of change, we know we are not going to be any good at it, at first. We get into habits in routine that enable us to be more effective and efficient. We need those routines and techniques, and it’s uncomfortable and risky when they are disrupted.
Steve shared a project about a project to simplify government services. The idea was to bring transportation, court matters, and other organizations into a single organization. There were lots of differences in the two groups. In court, everyone is in service to the judge, so people skills aren’t necessarily valued in that context; the justice department favors process efficiency and not people skills. And the opposite was true for the transportation department.
These groups were part of a pilot, and at the end it would be determined who ended up with control of all the services, which meant that half of the group would have to re-apply for their jobs. The three month pilot has now been running for over two years, without clear resolution. During that time all the employees have been living with a significant amount of ambiguity. They are not trying to be a barrier to change, or to be difficult, but that uncertainty puts their financial future in jeopardy.
In the process of coming up with new ideas, we have our own way of looking at the world – for better or worse. That view also creates blind spots which informs how we frame the problem and the solution. To overcome that, we need to bring together interdisciplinary teams. You want disagreement, so you are not all seeing the problem the same way. To get to a new way of doing things, you need all kinds of evidence, and fresh perspectives.
There is a moment of vulnerability when we generate ideas. In his work, he has people generate multiple ideas. If participants only have one idea, they feel like they have to defend it, even if it’s not a great one. But that makes it uncomfortable when we need to critically assess, or evaluate how the idea could be pushed further. We also may not like another person, and we shoot their ideas down because of that. We conflate personality and idea, and the idea itself gets lost. We have to break the connection between ego and idea. That allows us to think more freely about the idea itself, so it is an important step.
We need to provide the space for innovation to take place. Maria will talk about organizational issues in depth. But if you have change fatigue, with a shifting landscape and insecurity, you need to find a source of energy to push through that. We do that by generating empathy for our customer – which is at the core of the design process. But it has an important secondary purpose – it helps people start to care. And it helps get things moving. Our ideas are worthless until they get out in the world – which is where change happens. When we start to care about them (not just intellectually), then we can take action.
Remaking the Making Company: Moving from Product to Experience
Maria Guidice has been in this space for more than 20 years. She founded HotStudio in 1997, which was acquired by Facebook a few years ago. Her most recent book is the The Rise of the DEO. She is currently trying to change the culture of the product and engineering culture at Autodesk.
If I reflect on the many wonderful presentations I heard at EUX16, this one was definitely my favorite. There are a number of reasons for that. She did a great job telling story! It was aspirational, but she also offered a host of really practical suggestions about how to get things done. I also really appreciated her positive outlook – I appreciated the ways in which she described her challenges as opportunities. I just loved it.
Maria asked the audience “How many of you are change agents?” She described herself as someone that runs to risk, to change. She is not accepting of the system as face value. She wants to know what she can get away with next! And she is always up for challenges.
At Autodesk they are delivering amazing product. They have been in business 33 years, they have 9K employees, about 130K (!) products, and over 100 locations. They are making creative software for creative people. She celebrated her one year anniversary last week. Maria’s presentation was about how she has helped the company shift since her arrival.
Are you ready for the messiness, the hard choices, and the chaos that come with change? Traditional companies are starting to realize that they have to evolve or die, so the conditions are ripe for change. The industry that Autodesk serves is changing, as are customer needs. Instead of working at desktop for eight hours a day, they expect to be mobile. From a busienss model perspective, the customer also needs to build relationships through subscriptions. What is exciting for her is that the leadership team at Autodesk is ready (if your leadership team is not ready, you have an uphill battle). This kind of change cannot be done by any individual person – it is a team sport. They hired her to be that executive catalyst, so design was immediately put in the leadership role. For her the pathway is open – and she recognizes that it is a gift. They trusted her to start the process, but she knows that she will ultimately will be judged by the outcomes she is able to deliver. Given the magnitude of change in play, you have to have quick wins along the way.
One of the things she likes at Autodesk is the nominal politics – there is just no bullshit, and a commitment to what they call “mature directness”. She asked for three months to decide how to proceed, because she didn’t want to make the same mistakes she had made in the past. She believes that everything in life is a design problem, so she traveled and listened to hundreds of people – from interns to the CEO. She hung out with the team. She asked for stories, prompted by a few questions like – Why are you working here? What keeps you up at night? What are your hopes and dreams? How can I help you? Once she synthesized all that data into bite-sized chunks, she found that the problems were pretty typical:
- There is an imbalance of power in product teams … and typically it’s the designer that is feeling marginalized
- Teams had fragmented access to customers
- There was an obsession over quantity of features over the quality
- Organizational silos presented challenges
One of the designers drew her a picture of the organizational culture at Autodesk:
Needless to say, she had her work cut out for her! How do we adopt a mindset of inclusivity? Designers are on different teams all over the world. The goal was not for her to lord over 320 of them over all. How do you create and foster communication and connections? Out of her discovery process emerged three key themes:
Build community. As a starting point, you have to build a solid culture. What does design mean? This requires changing the prevalent mindset – design is NOT about making of artifacts. It is not a noun, it’s an active verb, a multidisciplinary effort shared by the team. Therefore, everyone is a designer. Adopting that mindset brings everyone into the fold in an unthreatening way. How do you teach people to design? The LUMA Institute training is so good for enterprise – it teaches people to fish. The teach things like affinity clustering, which help to democratize design. They are not our tools, they are the company’s tools. This approach encourages people to participate in the design process. You have to teach people how to be designers. She had money for a conference, and instead of calling it UX, she called it Experience Design, and she wanted it to be a Coming Out party. What could design be? The “X Summit” changed the temperature inside the company.
This was one moment in a short video about the event, which also included phenomenal praise from the CEO. Through the Summit she created community and drove commitment at the highest levels of the firm. I found that super inspiring!
Focusing on customers. She wants to make Autodesk the most customer centric company in the world. We all know that research is important but historically undervalued. She hates the term user. Only our industry and drug dealers use these terms! People are not users – design is about being in service to others. A user is a faceless, soul-less person without a body. We get into the habit of using that term, and it kills our ability to humanize our customers. We need change the mindset. Part of the way she is doing that is by identifying pockets of excellence that are happening. There are teams co-creating with customers – find those moments and recognize the greatness that is happening. Then amplify them and bring them to scale.
Connect experiences. What are those consistent touchpoints that exist through more than one product. How do you make them more streamlined, simplified, delightful, cohesive? Autodesk has been built on acquisitions – so there is no visual consistency. Rather than just assembling a team, she wanted to get people excited around the idea of building a shared design system, because otherwise there was the risk that it could be perceived as threatening. She wanted to capture great ideas, so she organized a visual design global hackathon. There were active locations all over the world, and it was great way to crowdsource ideas. They are also identifying those signature product moments – things that must be consistent like SSO – or things that stand out as their most valuable assets. They will then staff tiger teams to address those.
Ship quality. How do you get to the people who are working on and shipping products every day. How do they feel empowered, how do they know they are doing a good job? We know the idea of MVP sucks – it just doesn’t work! But what about moving the conversation to what is a Minimal Lovable Experience?
This resonated with many of us – it generated a ton of enthusiam from the live audience, as well as on Slack and Twitter. The challenge is bringing this to life – how do you give people the benchmark for what makes quality?
Yes, they are committed to making things Easy to Use and Valuable … but at Autodesk they struggle with Well Crafted. Designers want to be proud about our work – we want to make magic! But engineers have similar aspirations – they want to create beautiful code.
Maria closed by describing where they are on their change journey. The designers in the organization seem to share her vision and her confidence about where they are headed:
She asked the designer who had originally drawn the siloed organization (above) to draw what it felt like now. This is what he sent:
Pretty amazing, right?! There is nothing like that visual representation of change to bring it home …
Priority Zero: Some Things are More Equal than Others
Harry Max to be here at Rackspace, and he is currently a VP at AllClearID in Austin. He speaks regularly around the globe, and he always has an amazing book recommendation if you need one. He has also spoken at TEDX in San Antonio called The Problem is Not the Problem. This presentation build on those earlier ideas, but he didn’t have time to get into them with us.
We have to make decisions all the time, and the better we do it, the better we win. In order to get there, you have to have some way of choosing – because priorities drive everything. They don’t need to be in some kind of list. Even if they are unspoken, they drive the work that is getting done.
When you think about it, strategy is deciding what you’re going to do in order to win. Part of his work (as an executive coach and in his work) has been helping people make those choices. With a way to select what is more or less important, we can have interesting conversations about what we’re actually going to do. There are different levels we can solve for – personal priorities, team projects and programs, and organizational problem spaces. He is going to focus on this last one today.
Harry introduced the Eisenhower Matrix, which a way of thinking about time management that I had never heard of:
This framework helps us to consider What is Important begging to be done, needing your attention? What is Important but not Urgent? You don’t typically have to do them right now. What are the long term things that require investment? Urgent and Important is the burning platform – you don’t do it and you’ll die. These things always compete with the Important ones.
Harry spoke about the journey he is on at AllClearID. They are the leader in breech response. When Home Depot got hacked, they were afraid they were going to lose customers. Their lawyers tell them to call AllClearID. So, by the very nature of their work, they are an urgent response business. They have been very successful, but unfortunately haven’t addressed those things that were defined as Important from the outset.
The S curve … when do you get to the point of diminishing returns. Apple is brilliant about starting a new S sure before the earlier one runs out of gas. Like this:
The ideal state is to manage this as a portfolio of investments over time. You are constantly innovating, creating new forms of value, and connecting that value to people who want it. But priorities and investments are very different as you move through these stages of Mature Business > Rapidly Growing Business > Emerging Business.
In his current role, he co-created a white board with stickies by engaging with the organization about process, technology debt, defects, features:
He mapped the inputs to stages of evolution – getting their house in order, reinforce the foundation, and finally, create the future. Through that dialogue he was able to get everyone aligned on organizational priorities, and then they did a force ranking of each area. That has now made it’s way into a spreadsheet, so he could elicit and document decision criteria. They got to about five criteria (not included here), and they prioritized based on resources, too. How do they reduce heroics, delivering on contracts well? The stresses on people were extraordinary, so the team had to know what we were going to do to address those challenges.
None of that focus on the NOW (the Urgent and Important) allows us to focus on the business / market opportunities they first identified twelve years ago. So then he focused on the What rather than the How. What things will make the biggest difference when we get there? There are a set of long poles. Which things are required for Horizon 1? Those are the weighted most heavily. And then Horizon 2. That enabled him to put together a roadmap to explain what it was going to take. He could clearly show the current state and where they are trying to go. And because of that, the Board wrote a big check to enable them to achieve that vision. So they are now actively removing barriers that would have prevented them from launching their next product.
This value of this approach is that it allows you to get people to agree and move forward, because they have been included in the process. He recommends being blunt but optimistic at all stages. Show them the future, and inspire them!
Facilitated by Richard Dalton.
Maria said that you can measure lovability or goodwill through things like reduction in customer complaints, improved satisfaction scores and sharing. Just be sure to benchmark where you are – and what it looks like where you want to be.
She also described the importance of creating a movement not a mandate. For that, communication and inclusion are so important. There must be multiple ways for people to provide feedback; that kind of environment allows for a healthy exchange, and minimizes the detractors. You have to enable people to have influence without authority.
Someone in the audience asked a question similar to one I wanted to pose. He said that each of them had told wonderful and inspiring stories, but for many of us, that’s not the reality. He asked “What do you do when your best plans fall to shit?” Steve said that he organizes the two camps into a workshop. They have to prepare a business case for the idea, and the team has to defend the idea. But the trick is that you make them critique their own idea. In that way, they are forced to look for the positives in the ideas they were denigrating earlier. When at an impasse, that often helps them find a third way.
This is similar to something that Disney does, called Disney Creative Strategy. (With a shout-out to the conference attendees on Slack who had that URL posted and pinned within moments of the discussion!) In that model, you have someone present a vision. And then you break out into two separate rooms. In one, you critique the vision. And in the other, you figure out how to make it real. That technique enables people to surface the issues and actually work through them.
Someone in the audience asked about brainstorming, and how it fits together here? Harry has done more creative constraint bound work. Maria feels like her whole life is a brainstorm – divergent and then convergent. Steve recommends that you enable people to work independently first (to allow people to be quiet with their own thoughts, and to avoid group think) and then align. Most important is to make sure all those voices are heard, because that’s how you achieve alignment.
On the second day of Enterprise UX 2016, the session was about Designing Design Systems, facilitated by Jack Moffett.
Jack is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon, and works for a Boeing subsidiary now. He is also the author of a recent book about the collaboration between engineering and design. The topic of design systems has emerged in conversations throughout the conference, so he is looking forward to unveiling for us today.
Design Systems: From Project Done to Product Sustained
Nathan Curtis is the founder of eightshapes in DC. He is a foremost authority on design systems – speaking at conferences, running workshops, and of course advising customers. He wrote a book on it in 2009.
I had the opporutnity to meet Nathan in the shuttle on the first day of EUX16. We got to talking about his presentation, and when I said we were building a design system in my current team, he leaned in and started peppering me with all kinds of really good questions. Here is a guy that is absolutely passionate about what he does, and super articulate. Even though this is work we are doing already, in retrospect I think his enthusiasm and compelling delivery made this one of my favorite presentations at the conference.
Nathan has been consulting with big companies like Cisco, Yahoo, etc., and through that work he learned about tooling a design system and how to approach it. He shared one of his own customer stories, and then launched into some specific feedback about Google Material Design, to help explain what a challenge it is to do this work. Nathan said that Google does a good job making their solutions visually cohesive, and there are good practices about information architecture and iconography. But you can see the divergences if you put those applications – including Chrome – next to each other. So that said, what does this teach us about how you communicate standards? What is the primary red among the choices of red? When you ‘tune the dials of those design choices’ you’re making, what happens to the cohesion you’re seeking?
As a starting point, he showed us a simple example in which we looked at Typography, Color, and Iconography. There are so many other considerations too, like (white) Space. And even Style (yes, content style). A card – or a series of adjacent cards – enables you to show all the elements together. But even using the same design system, you can create things that do not look the same:
This is fine three weeks in, but not where you want to be eighteen months in! As part of his methodology, he has an inventory of parts that he reviews with his project team. He has teams cut up the elements, regroup, and prioritize them. Once the group knows what elements are needed, they can create concepts or sample designs. The goal here is not to micromanage the design work – you don’t want to design everyone else’s product – but you want to invoke the system so you can talk about ‘how to get from here to there’.
In addition to creating the system itself, the governance piece also needs to be planned. How are we going to get this system to run, to operate, to be self-sustaining? Hopefully you read the design spec or a code library . And when the style guide launches there is lots of love … but after that it’s hard. What is the mission? Real success is when what you’re doing positively affects the customer experience. It’s not just about products, but about the people that are impacted. So a project like this can have a variety of goals:
When it comes to implementation, the challenge is to choose the flagship products that will commit to you, too. How do you choose the right 3-5 products, the ones that will launch with the system that you will create? Avoid the submarines! How are you going to have those conversations, and establish a realistic launch date? At Cisco, the engagement he lead focused on Support, because it was clear that was where customers spend their time. An interesting insight is that he doesn’t typically go after the Home page because its often highly political and unstable. But he does want to build a navigational shell that embraces the home page, so people begin to consume the new CSS – that is a great starting point. During his engagement with Marriott, the booking path is where the organizational power is, so he focused on those aspects of their site.
In 2006, Sun Microsystems had a component library – they were perhaps ahead of their time! But it was built by an overlord (with some help with Frog Design), and it required that people wait for him to be available to build what they needed. That solitary model doesn’t usually work. There is also the option of a centralized team, which has it’s pros and cons.
Leah Buley talks about design systems as being a commitment, so you have to make it a job that pays. Ensure that the people that are serving that system have the right skills, e.g. voice and tone. How can you federate influence so that the broader organization can be engaged? Nathan’s recommendation (which was echoed mulitple times in the morning discussion) is that you should have a central team which treats the standards as a product, with a backlog. That answers the inevitable questions about “when will it be done?”. It also requires connectors, and a way to arrive at decisions with that community who is invested in the outcome.
Nathan shared a great blog post which was referenced in a few talks, called The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck:
What I liked about this (and I’d like to see implemented in my own team) is that when the work is so expansive – and yet so detailed – you have to pick your battles. Having a common language for doing that is just terrific. Plus, a little potty mouth helps keep humor in the situation and allows everyone to let off some steam. :)
Another key consideration is to make sure you have the right leaders engaged to influence and have their perspectives heard. As with any product, you also have to have the right balance of doers and delegators. You may actually have someone with the job of product owner of the design system. The alignment work is hard, but it is a critical part of the job. A Style Guide is an artifact of a design system, but the system itself is “a living, funded PRODUCT with a roadmap and backlog, serving an ecosystem”. I found this way of reframing the work to be incredibly useful, and I’m looking forward to bringing it back to my team.
Full Stack User Experiences: A Marriage of Design and Technology
Dawn Ressel works at Intuit, she has some great ways of thinking about the measurable impact of design systems.
Dawn launched right into an interesting talk about her work at Intuit. She is part of a central organization that builds reusable components. Given the opening keynote presentation from Greg Petroff about the move towards a component-based architecture, I was curious to hear how a company like Intuit is tackling that challenge. Her case study was about a Single Sign-on (SSO) capability, and the external fraud pressures that resulted in their solution eventually being implemented universally in all the Intuit solutions. There were three really important takeaways (at very different levels of detail!) for me:
- For designers, the medium is code – if it’s not in code, it’s still a figment of your imagination
- The solution they built was a full-stack widget
- The widget had it’s own built-in analytics which enabled them to learn and adjust quickly
Dawn described the evolution of UX thinking on this topic, and how they started by thinking about pattern libraries, which is basically documentation that needs to be somehow enforced. But at Intuit, there are 4K engineers would be required to read the documentation, interpret, and they would end up building it differently. And then, we started to think about component libraries (which they describe as styling code but no business logic). In this case it’s progress, because you are not relying people to enforce it, and it has re-usable elements. But their aspiration is what she called widget libraries, which are objects that are functional on their own, and re-used in many places. By building them they have been able to propagate best practices in terms of both technology and interaction design.
Their main guiding principal was that there needs to be a single source of truth – in code.
And of course, it needs to scale in order to have impact. The reality is that the only way to achieve cohesion and scale is to have that single source of truth. For example, the Google Maps widget works on the Weather Channel, Yep, Redfin, and more.
So she and the team she is working in are thinking about widgets as the next evolution in the design journey. The company’s mission has stayed the same, but how they have accomplished that has changed. They have lots of products with different histories, code bases, and even cultures. The shift from CDs to the cloud put competitive pressure on Intuit, and that created new opportunities that they couldn’t take advantage of before. Now, instead of a set of disparate products, they could create infrastructure that enabled them to share the data across products, and connect them in a new way – thus, they had something start-ups didn’t have.
So this project called One Intuit Identity was started in a central technology group, where they solve cross-product problems. Their first scenario was to connect users of Mint, QuickBooks, and TurboTax. They needed to unify with best practices, thereby also creating efficiencies. Their priorities were based on key scenarios, such as pulling data from QuickBooks into TurboTax. Here is how it played out for them:
They started by developing an Account Recovery widget, which enabled users to recover or reset their password without having to call Customer Support. The team analytics in to the widget, so the data they collected enabled them to experiment and eventually improve the recovery process by 10%.
However, their QuickBooks team had different design patterns, and they were worried about confusing users with the new feature. Negotiating around design rationale didn’t get enable them to progress the conversation, so Dawn’s team ran an A/B test. Overnight the Quickbooks team had a 13% increase in customers’ ability to self-serve, and once in production, they experienced a 52% reduction in related support calls. This was eventually quantified as a $560K savings in customer support. And of course they improved the customer experience with the new self-service capability.
Dawn believes that this work was only possible because her team had deep subject matter expertise on identity, and fraudulent activity – they had been thinking about those problems and already had developed some code. But they had decided not to launch the new capabilities due to the proximity to tax season. However, due to governmental pressure, they did implement it, and they saw a massive reduction in fraud in just one week. Now 150 Intuit products are using those capabilities, and some of the code has been made available through open source to combat fraud on a larger scale.
Based on her experiences, Dawn had a number of great insights to share:
- Their principles for a widget (1) needs to be reusable (2) demand- roughly 1.5 times more investment to build something re-usable, so we want at least 3 adoptions (3) ROI – we have a more reliable way to connect to our banking partners, and the upgrades come with nominal effort (4) specificity – document upload and document import widget are actually separate. These are more than just an interface – they have back-end code, and build-in analytics. The widget has multiple flows, but it was designed and built once, but it can be used many time over.
- These are not a replacement for component libraries. At Intuit the flagship products have different style guides, so the widgets consume those styles. The combination allows you scale the intent of visual and interaction design. This requires close collaboration with technologists and with business leaders.
- For working with engineers (1) paint the picture, get them excited about the vision (2) don’t start with the how – start with user needs (3) get them to understand what the customers are experiencing – that is magical, it unleashes innovation (4) give them a tough challenge (5) listen and have empathy for what motivates them (6) build credibility by being specific and accurate.
- When building your team, consider that creating full stack UI widgets requires different skills from a traditional product designer. It really requires a true systems thinker – across product and user boundaries. It requires a deep curiosity on the domain – like security. And that designer needs to be able to communicate their rationale across the organization in an influential way.
In closing, Dawn said that widgets (going full stack) is the evolution of the design system, but it requires thinking both broadly and deeply. As designers, our medium is code. Until your great design is in production code, it is a figment of your imagination! So you should ask your self how you get designs into the hand of your users, as efficiently as possible, while still preserving design intent.
An Organizational Story: Salesforce Lightning Design System
Nalini Kotamraju is the Director of User Research at Salesforce.
I enjoyed this presentation because we use the Salesforce platform for opportunity management, outbound marketing, and for technical support. I built the business case for and was the business owner for the technical support implementation early on. It was relatively quick to implement, and that enabled us to start realizing busienss value quickly. We especially appreciated the ability to connect to our customer master data sitting in SFDC, and we liked the ability to integrate it with other systems (like SAP Finance) over time. After many years of working on SAP on premise implementations, it was clear to me how different this project was! However, while it was pretty quick to implement, as our organization matured we did (and still do) have our share of challenges in making the solution truly usable for our employees. I know that it really only works because the users are super technical – I don’t think we would have been successful at all with business users. But based on my own work on multiple product suites that were built over year, I could appreciate that they were facing a huge design challenge. I was curious to see how they tackled it.
Nalini has spent a lot of time studying how people use technology in corporations. As a sociologist – like Sam Ladner – she is interested in who benefits, what is the motivation? That is what this talk is about – when a research encounters a design system, in this case the Salesforce Lightning Design System (SLDS). Her presentation is based on empirical research; she conducted research with designers, engineers, and with executives. Three themes emerged which she is going to talk about today.
As many of us already know, Salesforce is building platform. It was originally targeted at salespeople, and the original claim to fame was being cloud-based. And then the message was that you could know more about your customer – not just CRM, but service and marketing as well. And then dashboard / analytics. It is now expanding into Internet of Things, and communities for internal employees. So it is now is a large ‘customer success platform’. There is a core group of people working on these topics, but through acquisition the team has become more far-flung.
The Salesforce Lightning Design System (SLDS) was born in the core product team. The company had had the same UI for 17 years, and the introduction of a design system coincided with the development of a new user interface. It has been a good year for the design system, especially as it regards the people and relationships.
Unlike Google Material Design, the creation of this system was a top down driven event. Designers were trying to solve the right problems, and there was a fair amount of grass roots hustle before buy-in was achieved. That bottoms-up style tends to be the Salesforce way.
What do people need?
Tata was exploring how they could make cheaper cars for emerging middle-class Indian families. But they focused on solving people’s problem and needs – specifically the family moped. What would be the substitute? Based on their user-centered focus, they introduced the Nano. Similarly, at Salesforce, they asked what people within the SFDC community needed. An early mobile app (S1) came into this early version of the system. Dreamforce is a large celebration of customers, and it’s an opportunity to hear from customers and partners (third-party implementers). From that they learned (through the activity around the S1 app) that they wanted to make it look more like Salesforce. How do we make it easier for our customers and partners to do that?
Salesforce has grown and acquired companies and their code. How could they best provide consistency across the offerings? And to address the needs of Salesforce employees? The gap between the design and build was the biggest challenge. The developers didn’t want to deal with the CSS, and all the problems generated all kinds of ‘fit and finish’ bugs. So the solution needed to close the gap here, allowing the fidelity of the designs to remain intact.
How do we establish trust in the design principles?
- How do we achieve the best possible outcomes for our end-users?
- How do we establish trust within the Design Systems Team?
The answer was simple – they had to show people where they were headed – not just tell them. That helped to create shared understanding, and momentum.
Sharing with people, lots of people
- Share often and document
- Trailhead is a consumer-friendly way to learn about Salesforce; the team plugged into that to reach both internal and external audiences
- They made their work open source, which ‘made all the difference’, likely because of the large ecosystem of partners they enabled
- They incorporated and iterated on internal and external feedback
As their work in this area progresses, they have established a core team, and a network of evangelists who continue to help move things forward. In terms of lessons learned, it can be hard to keep up with documentation when things move so fast. They are also now starting to think about doing user research on SDLS, and how it affects the experience of the platform. But the reality is “no one has it all figured out yet”.
I thought this was another really strong set of sessions. I liked that it was aspirational but also really practical. Some of the highlights for me were:
- The insight that a design system needs to be treated as a product, with an owner and a backlog
- The Intuit team’s commitment to build analytics into the widgets – a huge win! – and the fact that their solution is full-stack
- In order to be successful, all of these efforts are inherently about building support, momentum, coalitions, an ecosystem of supporters … this is not something that can be done effectively by a team working in isolation.
As I said, these were all really well done, practical examples and insights that will help us continue to progress our work on the design standards for ZS solutions. I’m looking forward to sharing more about that in a future post!