Anonymous interview 4


What frustrates you most about your job?

People building silos around themselves, their own business units or their expertise. Focusing on ‘what we get from this’ instead of customer value.

This includes designers, just wanting to create pretty things, not caring if the design actually works in the real world.

Is that a “big business” problem?

It’s a big business problem, but not in the short term. In the longer term any business not focusing on real customer value and impact is in danger.

Culturally it frustrates designers, who don’t see the impact of their designs, and don’t get to learn. Because ‘design’ is often seen as a glue-on part of the process where you make things pretty and easy to use. Not as a part of understanding the problems and finding creative solutions.

Because of this business managers and product owners tend to make the biggest, most impactful design decisions. With partial information that is biased towards costs and short-term gains for our company.

And designers don’t get to learn, since the “understanding what’s valuable” and “did this solution work and create the intended value” is not part of their process, or even organization.

Dribbblization of design is already epidemic in the industry.

In case anyone’s not familiar, what do you mean by “dribbblization”?

Judging design by how good things look in showcase pieces, case study presentations and social media bits.

Or publicly breaking apart designs by other designers, without knowing the problems they are trying to solve, or the restrictions that were affecting the design.

Belittling design into “making things pretty” instead of creating things and services that are worth creating.

Every designer should read “Ruined by Design” by Mike Monteiro.

How could you solve the problem you see at work?

By empowering designers. They don’t need to ask for permission to enlarge their scope of work; to participate into business decisions, or measure the value of the designed features and services.

It just needs… growing up as a professionals. Not insisting on calling everything ‘design’ and doing everything with pictures, or design processes originating from design agencies.

Learning the basics of business and development, learning their language and communicating and collaborating effectively. Learning and talking about customer value, accessibility, web standards, inclusion, and business value, because that’s the language that is more familiar to marketing, developers and business owners.

Our company has a great values, people are trusted and not micromanaged. Everyone is allowed to shape their work to the direction they want.

For bigger industry… I’m not even trying, got to choose your battles. But maybe I can improve our ways of working.

If you started a software company, how would you avoid these problems?

By setting up processes, ways of working and analytics to support tracking value, and running hypothesis testing. I’d ask developers to participate in value discovery and user research, so that they understand the problems to be solved (and need less specs and can offer solutions).

I’d ask designers to work with developers to do A/B testing and canary bird deployments, on-site surveys and behavioral analytics to make sure features are used and provide value. Grow ‘em from software engineers and UX designers to product teams.

(This depends on the business model. It’s harder in software consultancy).

Team scopes by John Cutler is great mental model for this.

What frustrates you most about the design community?

The discussion seems to be a lot about either visual and form aspects, or our tools and processes—people seem to be inventing a gazillion ways of making and updating design systems to be even more elaborate toolchains.

There’s a lot less about impact and how we interface with business, developers, and marketing. We should not own the design, but help everyone design.

And sometimes attitudes towards accessibility—I hear a lot of comments to the tune of “accessibility makes everything boring and ugly”.

Not enough designers talk about interfacing with developers: a good designer knows the medium he is working in. If you are designing wooden furniture, you’ve got to know ergonomics, wood and manufacturing techniques. I’d like to see more designers being enthusiastic about learning the ins and outs of the web and iOS and Android platforms.

Why do you think the community leans towards those topics?

How I see it: it’s getting out of one’s comfort zone. And for many designers, learning business or software development is too far outside their comfort zone.

Do you have any practical but cynical techniques or beliefs that have helped you over the years?

Well, the trusted ‘crappy first draft’ is a great one—to slice through overthinking and assumptions, just book a few hours of time with the people you need and build the first crappy version.

Works great, even in estimating. “How long do you think it will take”—I’ll get back to you in a few hours. Instead of overthinking, do the first version in 2 hours, then give an estimate of what’s needed to make it good.

And designers know this! You need to build artefacts to communicate effectively and get people to say what they mean, or to see what their suggestions would lead to.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

A message to designers out there: Don’t be afraid to learn new things. Not just things related to design, but complementary skills. Marketing, business management, statistics, software development and so on. Teams need generalists and people with overlapping skills to work well together.