EUX16 – The Politics of Innovation

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:

  1. There is an imbalance of power in product teams … and typically it’s the designer that is feeling marginalized
  2. Teams had fragmented access to customers
  3. There was an obsession over quantity of features over the quality
  4. 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.

EUX16 – Designing Design Systems

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:

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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:

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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:

  1. For designers, the medium is code – if it’s not in code, it’s still a figment of your imagination
  2. The solution they built was a full-stack widget
  3. 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”.

In closing

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!

EUX16 – Growing talent & teams

The focus of the afternoon sessions was Growing UX Talent and Teams, facilitated by  Susan Worthman

Susan is a business design strategist from California College of the Arts (CCA).  She teaches in the DMBA (in Design Strategy and Strategic Foresight) program, and also works with the Leading by Design fellows program. She has been working at the intersection of human, technology, and leadership for many years.

Susan asked us to think about the number three. We have three amazing speakers, who will tell you great stories about how to grow UX talent and teams. They share common elements including (1) scale (2) permission and (3) mission. All of these elements influence how you attract, develop, and retain talent. Her hope is that these panels will help us think about how to continue to invest and people and processes in a measurable way that in turn creates justification for further investment.

People + Place + Practices = Outcomes

Adam Cutler is a design practice director at IBM. He just received the Distinguished Designer award at IBM, where he is now one of three there.  He can be called on as a close advisor to Ginny – design has reached that level of importance in IBM.  Prior to IBM, he worked closely with Michael Jordan while at an agency, and he beat Jim Bezos to get cosmonauts to do first transactions from space. Adam’s super power is that he is a super-synthesizer; in real-time, he is able to take in an amazing amount of information to make critical business design decisions.

Adam described that everything they’re doing stems from the culture, which (it sounds like) they are actively working to shape.  The term culture gets thrown around a lot, without understanding what it really entails.  So Adam spent some time describing things that they are doing which contribute to the way IBM Design feels over time.

——–  =  Culture

Part of how they achieve a sense of design community and culture is through shared values, experimenting with rituals (a radio station for tunes and design calls), celebrating heroes (past and present), developing symbols, and engaging in practices (more on that later, the practical application of the rest).

The challenge that Adam and other leaders face at IBM Design is that the company is 380K people.  How to drive change in such a large organization?  How to make sure that the culture is established in a way that it lives on beyond a few key leaders?  Adam suggests that there are three elements to create a sustainable culture of design:

IBM is investing in people.  They are creating a cohort that they hope will be ‘unmatched in history’.  Less than 1% of candidates make it through their recruiting process, but they are nonetheless trying to establish a team of ‘egoless designers’.  They want people who will respect the role, which is to rejuvenate design at IBM.

New hires go through three months of onboarding with a cohort of 6-80 other designers.  That time allows them to get to know each other, IBM, and practices before they are distributed into the business units they will support.

There is a career ladder.  Everyone hired as a designer, bur there are disciplines (Research, UXD, Visual Design, FEDs).  For each discipline, they can describe the abilities required for the role.  I had some questions about how research fits into this model.  Adam explained that everyone has a designer title, though they may have different specialities.  In the case of research, everyone has a role.  You’re either a guide, or you’re an explorer – bringing your subject matter expertise to the research effort.

IBM has also made a commitment to creating the right places for designers to work through the IBM Studio network.   The space is designed to connect people to IBM’s design legacy and to the future, while providing designers with the freedom and flexibility to work in the way they need.  For example, everything in the Studio is on wheels, and movable by 2 people weighing 90 pounds.  However, they are committed to making the space something that works for the whole team, just just the ‘design team’.  In fact, these fluid workspaces are being requested all over the company, not just by the designers.

Finally, Adam talked about the practices that IBM is putting into place, something that is a core part of his responsibilities.  He is answering the question How we want people to think about and practice design?   As part of their work they have established a set of Principles to guide how they work together.  With over three thousand products, a shared Design Language was also needed, with the goal of driving unity but not uniformity.  Each team makes it’s own design guide (he showed examples from analytics, security) and it’s clear that they they start to look cohesive.  Accessibility is baked in.

In all that, the scale of what they are doing is of course phenomenal.  But I thought that one of the most interesting pieces of work was the definition of six universal experiences:


The goal is to ensure the team gets past ‘everyday use’ as the main scenario.

In order to have a business impact, they are thinking from the beginning about outcomes.  The team has to design with an outcome in mind – something that ships, or that a user can get their hands on.  All of what we’re doing is to achieve an outcome, not for the sake of design.  They’ve been at it for three years now, and they’ve learned a lot about the benefits and challenges of scaling.

Developing Experience Teams and Talent in the Enterprise

Karen Pascoe is group head of Experience Design for Labs at MasterCard.  Her super power is that she is a super-connector; she goes out and rambles everywhere regardless of hierarchy and builds a base of relationships.  This gives her the broadest vantage point to have influence over big experience (not just design).  As the youngest of four she was not territorial, which made her comfortable on other people’s turf.  She also worked her way through school as a waitron, and it turns out that managing hungry people is great training for managing people in large matrixes organizations.  

Karen has been at MasterCard for the past 1-2 years.  During that time, her journey has been about starting to articulate digital transformation.  Design is a business imperative for them, but she has been conscious to grow slowly, so she can justify the talent.  She’ll have 17 people by year end.   So the reality is that she has spent a lot of time focusing on the tactical work of hiring and performance management.  She truly believes that retention affects the quality of the user experience you can deliver, because in the enterprise software space we are all dealing with legacy systems and significant complexity.

Their goal for the digital commerce landscape is that a consumer should be able to ubiquitously make a purchase.  Consumers (assuming they have the funds) are running on the assumption that the card will get them what they want.  The goal at MasterCard is to untethering consumers from the piece of plastic.

What does that really mean?  Today there are 6.1B smartphones globally.  But by 2020, there will be over 18B connected devices.  Consumers will be expecting the ability to make payments through their televisions and other connected devices.  That means a whole other level of complexity in their thinking about the problem space – they have to think about how to support device-based commerce, because they are expecting to see an explosion of devices that have payment capability embedded in.  So a key question for them is how they can continue to provide data protection and security to consumers under those conditions.


One data point that was super compelling to me is that many consumers initiate from phone, but 90% of people use multiple screens to complete a task.  That really seriously changes how we think about design!


Some readers will be familiar with the Design Management Institute (DMI) Design Value Index, which has shown that design-led companies outperform their peers by nearly 220% on the S&P500.  Similarly, Karen said that Forester CX Index companies are crushing those who are not committed to CX.  So, you have to be clear on your mission as an experience leader?  And, how aligned is your leadership to this?  That determines what kind of work do you need to do at different levels:

  • For leadership and sponsorship, it is important to cultivate relationships with cross-functional leaders (across organizational silos).  Karen reports to the Chief Innovation Officer, so she connects with his peers.  In order to develop an actionable agenda, we have to understand how our companies make money.  And when we propose plans, we have to ask for feedback and show results through regular communication and success stories.
  • With project partners & execution, we need to establish customer empathy cross-functionally, especially when you’re doing stuff that’s hard.  She brings lawyers and compliance offices to usability testing to help foster empathy for their customers.  Over time, you have to develop deep and trusted relationships.  You do that by sharing in problem and decisino-making, which is eventually how you get a seat at the table.
  • When you want to connect with teams & talent, don’t send your recruiters!  You have to maintain an authentic conversation with the community.  One way of doing that is to have something more substantive driving the conversation, for example, she had Carnegie Mellon graduate students working on a project for a year.  You need to make sure the skills are there, but alignment on values is really critical, too.  And it is worth the effort – it takes 90 days to find someone, and another 90 days to get them productive.  If the fit isn’t there and they don’t feel engaged they will leave.   We need to think about performance management as the employee experience (I love this framing!).  This means coaching and development conversations – both good and bad.

Designing and Driving UX Careers

Ian Swinson is the global head of design and UX at Anaplan. He has a background as an iconoclast filmmaker and musician (opened for SoundGarten). His superpower is reading people. Super intuitive, he reads people really well, and because of that he is able to build highly collaborative and productive teams. True to his roots, he does the right thing.

How do we use design practices on ourselves?  One of the most compelling points Ian made is that, as designers, our careers are the one project we own completely.  So, we should make it a good one.

Ian was the first UX person at Salesforce, and at the beginning there were only researchers and designers.  It was easy, but over time, there were more roles, and it got more complex and more diverse. When a new executive joined, Ian was one of three leaders who was asked to evaluate 90+ designers, researchers, and prototypers, and document who the top and bottom performers were.  But those three Directors evaluated the team in radically different ways.  They had a horrible meeting, and after two hours Ian called it.  He spent the weekend thinking through an approach to get them to common ground.

Those challenges were compounded by his own challenges as a leader.  At the time, he was managing 35 people, including 15 direct reports.  He was not able to provide consistent support, and he wanted a way to normalize 1:1s so he could provide equal value to all people that worked for him.

IMG_3083Using the framework that he developed, in his meetings with them he had a way to talk about their concerns, anxieties, as well as how they could progress.  One of the things he was surprised to learn is how much people care about titles – oh my gosh!  He met someone once whose business card said Distinguished Star Belly Sneech (from the Dr. Suess book, pictured at right).  He wondered “What is the right path?  Do you need a path?”  Through that discovery, they went from talking about a ladder (which was an HR construct) to talk ing about a career framework – because careers are not linear.

So he developed two things.  One was something he called an abilities framework (at my company we call it a competency model), and the other was a workshop to help people think through where they are and where they are trying to go.

Ian injected some good humor into his framework, including the template for an eight-sided die with the abilities on it:


What I liked about how Ian articulated his approach is that it acknowledges that management roles require different of knowledge and skills, but there is room for individual contributors to still grow and advance professionally.  One important insight for his teams was that leadership is not the same as management.  And another that really resonated for me is the idea that part of building a team culture is being optimistic – framing problems in a constructive, positive way that allows the team to think productively about how to solve them.  That really resonated with me, because I really struggle when I have an Eeyore personality in my team …

The discussion led by Susan covered a variety of topics, while my laptop battery died an untimely death.  So, I have no detailed notes to share!  But my impression was that there were many questions for Ian, and I suspect it was because of the super practical approach, combined with a great sense of humor.  When I first started at ZS nearly five years ago, we created a Competency Model for User Experience research and design roles.  I have found it an invaluable tool for discussions on performance and career progression, though it does need evolve now as we introduce consulting roles (which do require some different skills than are required in our engineering group).  And I know that the Design Management Institute (DMI) recently ran a webinar about competency models, so this might be an interesting opportunity for further collaboration across our community.  Though given what we learned about O’Reilly’s research on titles (183 unique ones emerged from their survey!), it may well be that a competency model / map is too work-culture specific to be able to create one.  Still, I think ongoing knowledge sharing on this topic would be valuable, especially as more and more of us end up in senior roles interacting with business leaders.


EUX16 – Storytelling

I truly enjoyed and learned from all the sessions at the Enterprise UX conference today.  But as Maya Angelou says:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

For me, these storytelling sessions had the most emotional impact and resonance of the day.  I truly enjoyed them all, but some will truly require watching the video to get the full effect.
Rachel Hallock & Ramya Mahalingham described the challenges of coming out of school and into their first jobs.  Driven by idealism or ego, they made mistakes which caused them to reflect on their approach, and even their career choices.  It was funny, and it resonated with me because we see many of the same challenges and opportunities for our inexperienced hires.  Someone noted on Slack that Ramya was the first speaker of color on stage … something that we hope to see change over time.Following that, Emileigh Barnes talked about her work at the FEC.  She described the ‘jungle tactics’ necessary to survive on a project where there have been twenty (!) years of content without a unified content strategy.  Her recommendations included:

  1. Take stock of where you are – perhaps wth a content inventory.  In the case of the FEC, there were 40K URLs and (no surprise) lots of duplication.
  2. A single step forward – find something small with low risk and high reward, and launch it as search as possible.  That helps to build project support and momentum, especially because the first set of content approvals are always the hardest.
  3. Arm yourself with data – record your usability tests, for example.  She also described running the FEC content through a readability index.  The first version (baseline) was 16K words, and read like the Harvard Law Review.  😃  In the end, they launched a page that was 1600 words, and read at the high school level.  A strong step in the right direction.
  4. Notice the difference between a hard and a soft constraint.  What you have to work around and what you can hack?  For example, the FEC website is cited in Supreme Court language, so some language has to be technically precise.  In those cases, they used an open source glossary tool. But, in contrast, if your content gets totally redlined during the content review, you have to treat it as you would usability testing – don’t just do what you’re asked, probe for the underlying need.

Matt Desio had a wonderful presentation about his work on contractor status, a complex context involving OSHA, insurance, and critical certifications.  That status was distilled into three flags – green for go, yellow because there is some note on the record, and red for stop – don’t let the contractor onsite.  As far as he could tell, the only instantly firable offense was to screw with the flags.  Which he did.  In spite of engagement with stakeholders and the VP of technology, the COO was unhappy.  He thought he would be asked to leave.  But then they got some customer feedback (which hadn’t happened in the past), and more feedback, and even more after that.  Their audience loved the solution.

Their users were mostly male, and as most of us know, 1:12 men have some form of color blindness.  There was one emotional call to the call center, where one customer confessed that the solution had helped him deal with his secret shame of being colorblind.

Matt reminded us that our design solutions should not make people ashamed of something they have no control.  Those things ended up saving his job.  You might not need them to save yours, but if you take a lesson from Matt, you might be able to help somebody else do theirs.

Elisa Miller talked about the challenges of introducing new titles, levels, and salary bands for the UX team where she works.  It was a very challenging two year process, and she is hopeful now that it will be rolled out in July this year.

I think Jess Zolna’s presentation is one that you just have to watch.  I thought it was terrific – it was almost a spoken word performance, and not a story.  He talks about ‘those damn know-it-alls’.  In spite of his background in psychology, and the expertise in the UX team, he finds again and again that our research is lauded and cited when it suits the interests of his stakeholders.  And then every aspect of what we do – methodology, protocol, findings, synthesis – are challenged when they threaten the agenda of those we were hired to help.  Watch it if you can.

Teena Singh describes herself as the unsung hero of Enterprise UX.  Yes, the user is the star.  Yes, the researcher gets the limelight when findings are synthesized and shared.  She described herself as the Brooklyn Bridge, spanning from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  Through in her work, she brings design to life through research, by supporting research recruiting and execution for her teams.

For me the highlight of the storytelling sessions was the one by Lada Gorlenko.  It was truly a performance, and a must watch when the videos are made available.  She describes how everyone in her family goes into medicine, and that she had the Hippocratic Oath memorized before she started school.  But – in spite of those family traditions – she opted for a black turtleneck instead of a lab coat.  Lada describes her work at Microsoft on Skype, more than ten years ago now. She said that loved our product and hated it at the same time, but that there was so much excitement around the new technology that we did not do enough to talk about the unintended consequences.  Her plea to us was do ‘do no harm’ – stay true to that Hippocratic Oath.

EUX16 – When everyone is your user

I just finished the first day of the Enterprise UX conference, and I’m just bursting to share all the ideas and insights and inspiration from my time here!

#EUX16 is being held in the lovely city of San Antonio, and the conference hotel is right on the River Walk, shown here by day and by night:


For the first two days, the conference is at Rackspace headquarters.  It is a suburban mall converted into a super cool workspace!  Here are some of the 500 attendees at breakfast this morning:


It has been quite a start already, with a reception last night, and registration beginning at 7:30 am this morning …

That said, today was – as these events often are! – energizing and exhausting all at once.  I have summarized the morning presentation sessions below, but I have yet to do the afternoon session.  And I have some work to do to provide a real synthesis of the keynote by GE CXO, Greg Petroff.  I have had a chance to see MJ Broadbent‘s sketchnote of his talk, and it’s terrific.  I am confident that I cannot do justice here to the phenomenal storytelling sessions at the end of the day.  I may have to just link to them both once they are publicly available!

I feel like I’ve been living under a rock after having two kids and building a couple of new teams from the ground up.  So it is great to be here and get perspective on how the Enterprise UX space is changing.  On one hand, I feel really good that the teams I’m building are focused on the right things.  But also made me realize how far we have yet to go both in the organization where I work, and as a discipline.  It also made me realize that I am ready to get more involved, but it’s not obvious to me where I want to begin!  Perhaps I’ll have more clarity on that as the conference progresses.  In the meantime, here is a summary.

The theme of the morning session was How to Succeed When Everyone is Your User, facilitated by Ted Booth

Data Exhaust and Personal Data: Learning from Consumer Products to Enhance Enterprise UX 

Presented by Sam Ladner, who is the author of Practical Ethnography.  She just recently left her position at Microsoft to join Amazon.

She reflected on some learnings from the field of sociology.  For example Shoshana Zuboff studied companies as they were digitizing everything, and saw how different those experiences could be.  On one hand, the automation of insurance work eliminated the need for social interaction, thereby making the work alienating and lonely – social bonds and informal knowledge exchange was lost.  The automation was saving the company money, but without an understanding of people.  In contrast, in another study, Zuboff noted that technology could ‘informate’, or enable workers to make more complex, more informed decisions more effectively.  In those cases, both employees and stakeholders are pleased with the outcome.

Workplace sociologists describe Theory X and Theory Y.  Theory X you believe that work is something that people hate and they will shirk their duties.  Therefor they need firm control or order to be effective and help the business achieve it’s goals.  Theory Y is that work is inherently fulfilling, and your role is to enhance, facilitate, and inspire.  You can see which one is winning; theory X is implicit in most managers’ minds.  So technology has a lot to do with distrust and unhappiness, and ultimately with a  disengaged workforce.

The reality is that workplaces are in trouble – most work places are not happy places:

employee engagement

If we’re not mindful, as UX professionals we’ll contribute to that.  “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” says Peter Drucker.  What role do we have to play in exacerbating or ameliorating technostress?

The challenge is that many of us are technical (we find ourselves at the top right in the productivity graph below), so we don’t fall off the adoption curve at the same rate as many of the people we study and design for:

user productivity

Part of the challenge we face as UX professionals is to remain aware of that gap.

Sam also talked about the concept of data exhaust.  It’s not a new term – it relates to waste products.  But natural gas used to be a waste product until it’s usefulness was discovered! Today, all the interactions you engage in leave a data trail, but they are not optimized to help you.  We didn’t realize in the past – but we are recognizing now – that such information could be used to inform users.  Unfortunately, what we’re often doing is designing from a customer perspective, not the user perspective.  Call centers are a great example of how data benefits the customer.  Analytics can show how long the reps were on a the call, average call length, how many calls, etc.  It does provide insight to the customer / buyer / stakeholder.  But what value is it to the user, the employee who is being tracked?  Big Data is being used for surveillance; this is Theory X in action.

Interestingly, research has shows that individual users can get huge value out of their own data.  Personal data can inform them, make them more productive, happier.  At Facebook, they were building for users, at first.  You had a chance to (re)connect with friends from all parts of your like.  But imagine if the Facebook starting page had said ‘give us information about how you interact with your favorite brands’.  We never would have joined!  We can do this in the enterprise space, too, if we start with users first.  Sam encouraged us to consider how data exhaust at the personal level can inform our work.

A First Time, Every Time: Making Enterprise Life Better Through Continuous Onboarding

Fredrik Matheson shared a number of interesting examples from his project work at Bexx Consulting in the Netherlands.  

In parallel to this post, I am working on a summary of the key themes I’ve heard.  Perhaps more than any other, Fredrik’s talk reminded me of the patience that this work requires.  We have to be willing to revisit problems – even though we framed them correctly at the outset.  We need to meet our customers where they are on their change journey, and help them make the best decisions possible.  And all of this requires a tremendous amount of client engagement, empathy, mutual respect, and loads of patience.

Tesler’s Law on the Conservation of Complexity “Every application has an inherent amount of irreducible complexity.  Who will have to deal with it? The users, the application developer, or the platform developer?”  The reality is that in Enterprise software, users bear most of the burden:

teslers law

Tesler’s Law, simplified – “Once cannot reduce the complexity of a task.  One can only shift the burden.”  As Enterprise UX professionals, part of our responsibility is to shift the burden.  Ideally you address the system as a whole.  The rest of Fredrik’s talk was a variety of case studies – all complex and interesting in different ways – that showed different ways of making that happen, always with the goal of shifting the burden away from the users.  But in order to do that, you need to understand them better.  Do you want it to be easy or powerful?  It will never be powerful without user involvement.

Two of my favorites from Fredrik’s talk:

  • In Norway your taxes are done automatically; the government has taken what they already know and used it to fill the forms out for you.  You may go in and adjust it if you wish or if there are anomalies that require you do do so.  This is a wonderful example of addressing the system as a whole.  It just solves massive problems in data collection and quality, user adoption, and more.
  • For one telecom project he worked on, they pulled the plug on their own project, and recommended instead to integrate with an emerging mobile solution, so people could find everything in one place.  But it took years to do it.  It was super tedious – the whole value chain was broken – but it was important work.  During the Q&A, one person said that the work sounded like “lots of plumbing and ditch-digging over time”.  There were lots of of non-design questions along the way (like what platform to use), which they stayed engaged in so UX could play a role in making the system and the user experience better.  The designs he shared with us were first sketched four years ago. This work takes patience!

His team is currently focused on digesting the literature that is emerging about UX and Product Management.  What > How > Who > Why (Measurable Goal).  We need to stay focused on that, and pace ourselves correctly.  For the Who, thinking about Business Model Canvas.  For the Why, think about Jira but be specific in what gets documented – for example ‘reduce learning time from 180 to 30 minutes’.  It doesn’t say how, but it provides a good way to measure impact / success in the long run.

Getting out from Under Everyone: How to Escape the Paralysis of Getting Started

Russ Unger currently works for the US government in a team called 18F.  The group started as Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIFs), where talented people from industry worked for 6-12 months to work on projects that would save lives, taxpayer dollars, etc.  That program lives on now through 18F.  They work for the government and with the government, by partnering with government agencies.  It has grown really, really fast – 200 people today, and Russ was designer #7.  They have done over 150 projects with more than 60 different stakeholders.

One of the ways that they have secured really good talent is by working in distributed teams.  Only 45% of the team is in SD, and the rest are elsewhere.  Russ works out of his basement in Chicago, so I hope I’ll have an opportunity to meet him at a local meet up at some point!

The main charter of the organization is to eliminate first mover risk by taking a user-centered design (UCD) approach.  The government is increasingly committed to a UCD, agile approach.  In order to get started, they needed to focus in on how they wanted to work.  They started by creating a playbook, which is now available for download on GitHub.  Here are the core principles:

 – Build in the open
 – With an empowered product owner
 – Focus on understanding the problem first
 – We work in an agile way
 – We are committed to research and a user centered approach
 – Major change of project goals may require revisiting
 – Transfer back to the agency
 – Best practices methods and technology

As part of their approach, they assess projects to determine whether design is needed, and what it would take to accomplish it.  Having a shared language of design enables them to work better with their customers.  They designed for themselves, first.  They worked on the side to agree on design methods, they also sent the methods cards to their customers, and then tested how they felt about design methods.  There were some modest improvements through developing this shared language.  The materials are available at Anyone can pull them down, modify, and /or print them.

When beginning work on their own standards, they looked at other who were doing this well, including GE.  There have been 120K visitors to their design standards page, which is a great beginning.  And they can see that government websites have begun to improve, but here are literally hundreds of government agencies and commissions.  And an infinite number of button styles:

federal buttons.JPG

That sounds familiar!  😃   I’ll talk more about that when I finish my blog post on the work we’re doing on design standards.  He says that the standards are still optional, and he realizes that they have a way to go to build that coalition of designers working in government.

Finally Russ shared a great case study about their work with the Department of the Interior.  At inception, the project was called ‘Federal Interagency Fourth Grade Park Pass’, which is so funny and tragic all at once.  In short, the project goal was to get more 4th graders into parks.  In the US there are 50M kids age from K-12, but only 307K people visited National Parks last year.  They decided to focus on 4th graders (4M of them!), because they are young enough to be excited about being outside, but still young enough to think their parents make cool suggestions.  And schools are easy to reach.  But the project started because they reached out to the writing lab and asked for help.   It was not work that could be done well in 4-6 hours.  Emileigh (presenting this week as well) is a content designer that was integral to the success of the project.  The project is now called Every Kid in a Park.  All the content is at their reading level, and 500K tickets have been downloaded so far.  For him this has reconfirmed the important of dedicated designers who can make the key content accessible.

Russ had four key learnings to share:

 – Set limits
 – Create shared language (both within the team and with customers)
 – Establish re-usable patterns
 – Equalize design and development roles

In closing

The morning presentation sessions today also caused me to reflect on an event I attended eight years ago now, a Summit on Enterprise UI / UX with Jive.  Many of the themes that were discussed then are still true today.  But I do feel like being engaged in dialogue with one another is allowing us to learn and advance our work much more quickly than we could a few years ago.  I’m excited to see how we continue to accelerate our maturation as a field through conferences such as this one!