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My Design Organization Design Talk, Slides Plus Audio

At IA Summit 2015, I spoke about “Shaping Organizations To Deliver Great User Experiences.” Here are the slides:

Now, here is the audio of my talk:

Press play on the audio file, and then guess when it’s time to advance the slides. That way, you can RELIVE THE MAGIC.

If you go to The IA Summit page for my talk you can download the audio, read a complete transcription (!), all captured thanks to Jared Spool and UIE.

  1. Thanks for sharing. I have gone through exactly the same experience as you did – although in my case I had to start from zero, creating the design team and growing it from 3 to 21. The organization was heavily waterfall. My proposal to create a pilot transversal (agile) team took 3 years to take hold, but finally, the organization changed to a dev-PO-design triad approach to development. I proposed to have the centralized partnership model but a) did not have enough designers and b) management insisted that the “book” said “1 designer, 1 PO, and devs”, but even though I couldn’t win that one before I left, I still think it’s a great approach.

    Anyway, there are a couple of things I’d like to comment on / ask (and sorry about the longish comment)

    1. You mention that design had leverage, the power to show off work done. We had that for a while, and that is what allowed me to continue to grow the team (apart from “showing the money”, delivering good results). However, in the new world, the organization I worked for moved to a “Product” lead organization, rather than design-led. This meant that it is product owners who show off the design done. They have a VP of Product, but not of Design. It is Product Owners who are invited to the “table”. Although design participates in some of the show-and-tell meetings and designers do influence the direction of products through facilitating research and design sessions, it is ultimately POs who hold the power, not designers. They are responsible for the success of design. It is a situation that could very well push designers to “deliver” mode, rather than growing confident at strategic level.

    It seems you did not face this problem. But if you did, how did you overcome it?

    2. I proposed to the CEO that the entire organization be redesigned according to the lifecycle, including marketing, customer service, etc, and not just the “design/deliver” teams. This would have allowed for a focus on the experience at all levels. The proposal was rejected. The new pods of “design + dev + PO” are organized at product level. This effectively means that the experience is still broken, for on- and offline are not aligned, even if the digital experience is sort of consistent (at least, within one product).

    You did not mention this. Did it not affect you / your team?

    Again, thanks for sharing! Great stuff, as always.


  2. Gaby–

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Much of what you’re asking I’m hoping to address in the book I’m writing about this stuff!

    To your first question — we definitely faced that problem. Groupon, and in my experience most tech companies, are product-led. Design as a function has leverage inherently, but the question is whether they can take advantage of that leverage. I found that by having strong senior designers with real leadership skills, design could lead, or at least strongly strongly influence, product direction. Ultimately, product tends to ‘own’ the decision because the product manager is the one held accountable, and, honestly, that’s how it should be. To address this, either design would need to assume some accountability, OR, what we’re seeing more and more of, are strong senior UX-style designers becoming product managers.

    To your second question — what you’re saying is pretty typical. I think in an ideal world, a whole organization would be organized as you (and I) would suggest. In our actual world, it’s just not that way, and might not be that way for a while. The opportunity that heads of design teams have is that they can organize their team as they see fit… And I tried to do so by customer journey. So that while the rest of the company was organized around product groupings, my team was organized by customer journey, but would deliver at the level of product. This is still not ideal, which is what I address at the very end of the talk. “Product teams’ are organized to optimize for engineering effectiveness not design effectiveness. The question I pose is, “what if we organized in such a way that made designers more effective?”

    I hope you find this useful.

  3. Thanks Peter,

    Great presentation. I also observe the trend that Internal Services organisational UX model is more attributed to the organisations of the lower levels of UX maturity.

    Thanks for formalising the Central Partnership model. At my previous UX team we evolved to a somehow similar approach.

    Regarding your previous post about “There is no such thing as UX Design”.

    There are not 15+ but at least 2 different things called UX Design. “User Experience Experts” from the article you referenced are almost equally split between 2 concepts:
    1) uX Design – designing for Experience (aka Experience Design)
    2) Ux Design – design based on understanding of the User (aka User-Centered Design)

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