October 23, 2012

Ew! Gross!

Ok. I figured I could get away with this picture because it’s almost Halloween.

Can’t you picture a designer, needle filled with steroids in hand, jamming it straight into a company’s heart.

The company wakes up with a jolt — wondering what the heck just happened.

And the designer says: “Here are your designs! Good luck! Don’t screw it up! See ya!”

And then the designer can’t understand why a) they are confused, b) they are angry, and c) they ignore our work.

“They just don’t get it.”

Design is disruptive to organizations

Or maybe we don’t get it.

Design = change. Designers are change agents. Even if we are working on a “redesign” or “feature improvement,” the process of design impacts more than just the product and the user.

In the UX community, we tend to focus on the impact change has on users. We can measure that change. Fewer clicks, different clicks, more registrants, higher conversion, calls to the call center. And, as they say, you focus on what you measure. It’s fine. That’s (part of) our job.

We don’t understand the impact our designs have on what I call the Start-users. (Get it? End-users? Start-users?) Start-users often aren’t prepared for the impact either. Start-users have to live with the aftermath of the design process. Our measurements are more crude — nobody got angry, they hired us again, it launched on time, etc — so it’s easier to minimize or ignore our impact.

A brief introduction to change theory

Understanding how change works helps designers better prepare for it, identify its impacts, and work with the organization rather than against it.

Simply put, change is the process of moving from one state to another. In design we often call the two states “current state” and “future state.”

Between these two states is an edge.

The edge is where things get interesting.

Change forces people to confront edges. Edges are scary (or at least concerning) places. Peering over the edge, people may see something they don’t like. Or they might see something they do like but getting there means they might have to give something else up.

When people are confronted with edges, all kinds of interesting things happen. They express concern with “edge behaviors.” They start asking lots of questions. They grow agitated or aggressive. They start checking their phones. They have to go to the bathroom or take an important call. They change the subject. They throw out tons of new ideas. They question the process. They outright block it.

Edge behaviors themselves aren’t bad. They are signs that tell us to pay attention, and tread lightly.

Designers have an Edge (no, not that kind)

Another of our (too many) jobs as designers is to guide our clients through change.

Designers are quite good at crossing edges. We thrive on them. We have design methods that help us systematically navigate change. Those methods helps us identify the current state (discovery meetings, stakeholder interviews, user research), visualize the future state (modeling, sketching) and cross that edge (prototyping, iterative testing).

Trouble is, we don’t always let our clients in on that process. We’ve crossed the edge and now we’re standing on the other side, yanking them over. But, your clients are still in the old world, staring at a big edge, wondering what the heck they are looking at.

Navigating Change

Ok. What now? The bad news is that navigating change is not easy. The good news is you already know a lot of foundational techniques.

While there are many more facets to this, start by ensuring that the following ground conditions for change are in place. If you have these in place, change becomes a lot easier to manage. Notice I didn’t say easier… just easier to manage.

Everyone needs to have the same information.
When people don’t have all the information you have and haven’t had the same processing time you have, they are at a disadvantage. Don’t overwhelm them, but make sure they know where you are coming from, why you’ve made the decisions you’ve made, and how you arrived at your conclusions. And — this is critical — give them time to process and reach (or not reach) the same conclusions you’ve reached.

There must be a shared sense of purpose.
First,it must be clear why you are doing what you are doing. Then, you must persuade people must support it. I’m not talking about “buy-in” here (just presenting some ideas and expecting people to bless them). I’m talking about really getting people with you. Do more than a single powerpoint presentation — mount a campaign, talk to people, repeat the message.

People must understand how and when they can give input
Make sure people understand how they can contribute, give feedback, or otherwise participate in the process. Make it clear when and under what conditions you will be asking for feedback. Can they stop by and talk to you? Come to a review session? Mark up something online or on paper? Be specific about time, place, and method.

People must understand the impact that input will have.
Finally, be clear about what you are going to do with their feedback. Don’t just take it and do nothing with it. That will bite you in the butt. Tell people specifically how you will use the input they’ve taken the time to give you. Will you apply it directly to the designs? Take it into consideration? Look at it but probably not incorporate it? Be honest, be specific, be transparent.

Many thanks to the people at CRR Global for helping me understand and describe this phenomenon.

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