Posts About ZURB
Posts About ZURB
The origin of the English word 'team' comes from a word that referred to a group of draft animals all working together to pull something forward. Back in ye olden days, the best 'teams' were animals that were the same species, the same size and moving in the same direction. But that doesn't really work when it comes to humans. Teams are made up of different people with different skills, weaknesses, goals, values, etc. How do all these individuals work together to do something more complicated than pull a plough, something like say, designing and building a successful product?
Companies, especially in the competitive world of tech, have been trying to figure out the answer to that question for a while now. It seems like the best solution they've come up with is issuing matching hoodies with company logos on them. While these 'Zuck-xedos' are cool and all, faithfully wearing matching sweatshirts doesn't mean you're a team.
Real teamwork requires investment and consistent effort from every individual involved. Contrary to popular belief, there is an 'i' in team, you and everyone else. Each team member should ask themselves 'What can I contribute to the team?' and expect the same from others.
Here at ZURB we have a set of values that we look for and cultivate in our team members. They keep us focused on our common goals, but also inspire us to think about what we can contribute as individuals for the greater good. This results in a strong team that can do mighty things. We just went through the process of refining our values. Here are a few of the simple ideas that inspired them and can help you become a valuable member of any team you join:
1. Pull Your Weight
Every member in the team needs to be contributing value. This doesn't mean we always need to do everything perfectly or have all the answers, nobody can rightly expect that. But everyone on the team should be seeing us put forth effort. This is closely related to the ZURBian value 'Make It Happen.' Sometimes in order to make things happen we need to go above and beyond. A few late nights might be necessary to wrap up a project and earn that win!
But what if we're trying but struggling? Take initiative and reach out to the team, don't just ignore or avoid the problem. Asking a lot of questions and reaching out for help early and often shows others that we're serious about solving the issue and are willing to put in the work to learn new things.
2. Stick Together
It's easy to stay close to each other when a product is doing well or a project wraps up to rave reviews. It's when things don't go right, when the team fails, that everyone has an opportunity to show they are real team members, a.k.a. ride or dies. Losing, whether as a team or as an individual, is never easy, but it's always an opportunity to learn. When faced with a fail, we try to step up and point out the silver lining in the loss. Doing this can help the team pull a win from the experience. When the team does achieve a win, it's embraced as a team. ZURBians use the mighty 'we' when celebrating our victories and look for ways to highlight the efforts of everyone involved. This is closely related to our value of 'Find Wins Together.' Focusing only on raising your own profile usually backfires and breaks up team solidarity.
3. Lend A Hand
Every ZURBian is encouraged to 'Be a Coach,' not just the partners or leads. If someone has the skills or know-how that can benefit others, we share it and elevate the team without hesitation. While everyone would probably like to think they are 100% awesome by our own design, the truth is we've all had mentors throughout our careers that helped us along the way. Remember that and pay it forward.
When others ask for help, it can be tempting to reply back with "Sorry, I've got stuff to do." But guess what? We all have stuff to do, but we try to make time to be there for your teammates. We also try not to hesitate to reach out if we're having trouble. It can be difficult to admit when you're struggling, but get over yourself. No one is perfect and no one should expect you to be, just tell your team how you're struggling. And when help is offered, let go of the ego and allow people help you do things better.
4. Improve Yourself, Improve the Team
Sometimes new learning doesn't happen during the 9 to 5. We may need to put forth extra effort to build up some skills or learn some new things. We also need to continually improve our communication because it's the glue that holds teams together. Learn to work with people, not just alongside them. Real teamwork isn't just about getting work done it's working to accomplish a goal together. You'll need to communicate. A lot.
Look for ways to add more value, and help your teammates do the same. This is related to our value 'Build on Opportunity.' Be advised, the side effects of teamwork may result in extreme frustration, anger, euphoric happiness, hi-fiving, cheering, and possible group chants. If you experience one or more of these symptoms do not discontinue, you're doing it right.
Being a real team requires hard work from everyone involved. You're only as strong as your weakest link. So invest in yourself and each other, and keep asking about the 'i' in your team. What can I do to help others? What can I do to improve my skills? What can I do to help my teammates? Get these things right and those matching hoodies will actually start to mean something.
Ah summer. BBQ's, sunny weather, watermelon, sparklers, the beach and vacations are just a few of the things that make this a magical season. But we're also incredibly excited about all of the big projects we're working on these summer months that are sure to take ZURB to the next level. To help us tackle these challenges and achieve our goals, we're happy to announce two new designers to the team. Without further ado, we'd like for you to help us welcome...
Kevin Chu: Designer
Kevin is a California native, growing up in both the San Francisco and Sacramento areas. From early on, Kevin's been an artist, doodling anything from Disney and Anime characters to family members and friends. As he got older Kevin expanded his skills with digital painting in high school and then studied graphic design in college, graduating with a BA in Visual Communications from UC Davis.
Kevin learned about ZURB from using our Foundation framework to design and build responsive sites and soon floored our entire office with an immaculately designed microsite that he designed, illustrated and built. We're excited to welcome Kevin to our Design team where he'll be crafting eye catching designs for a clients and internal projects!
Jon Nemeth: Design Lead
Jon grew up in the garlic capital of the world, Gilroy, California. Bouncing around just about ever city in Silicon Valley, Jon picked up web chops early, learning HTML at the ripe age of 11 years old. Coding up tables, frames and throwing in the occasional flame gif, Jon developed a passion for web design which perfectly fits his natural problem solving (and some time causing) nature.
In time Jon founded his own boutique web design agency in Monterey County. Working out of various Starbucks coffee shops and visiting the beach in between client calls, Jon refined not only his technical skills but also his interactions with clients. He later joined a larger web development agency, serving as their Technical Solutions Manager, interfacing with clients, international teams and assisting in nearly all aspects of the company.
Jon first stumbled on ZURB through our Foundation framework, and was inspired by our work, team and mission. We're excited to welcome Jon aboard as a Design Lead where he'll be putting his years of experience to good use, coaching our designers and leading projects big and small!
We're working on some of the most ambitious projects we've ever attempted this summer, and it's going to take teamwork to accomplish our goals. We're excited about the skills Kevin and Jon bring to the table and are confident we are going to achieve great things together!
Six years ago we embarked on our first defined mission with a general sense of direction and cautious optimism. It was ambitious and pushed us to where we are today- an amazing design company that turned the idea of a consultancy upside down. We had the foresight to understand that solving digital design problems required more than just delivering some assets. Nothing about the mission was easy, but we did it. As a leader I was committed to making it happen for ZURB.
Today we're publishing our new mission. It's equally ambitious, but backed by the knowhow of seventeen years of design experience and the momentum of millions of designers around the world. We're excited to share our vision and hope that you can support us as we aim to provide the world with new and effective ways of solving design problems. The process of aligning everyone on the team around a set of statements that define our business wasn't an easy task. Quite frankly, it took numerous restarts to get things to stick.
Change the Way People Design Connected Products and Services
Our business purpose started with the idea of helping people design for people. It was easy to remember, but lacked the clarity our team wanted. This really was the spark that helped us get things moving to define the next phase of our business. It took about a year with commitment from our leaders and a desire to put a stake in the ground. As a team we dug deep and challenged our assumptions, and through a process of continuous iteration, we were able to define our mission and purpose statements! I'm so proud of our company.
We're a fun and intense group at ZURB, so our ambitions to change the way people design connected products and services shouldn't surprise many of our customers. We're dedicated to pushing the web forward, through frameworks like Foundation, training and design lessons, our design collaboration platform Notable and through our one-on-one Studios interactions with clients. When we pulled back to view our offerings, it was clear that everything we do is about inspiring people and teams to approach design problems in a different way.
This year we introduced a few of the ideas that capture this new design worldview- helping designers lead by design, finding ways to make design thinking practical for teams, and returning us to a place where we trust our design intuition. We call this Progressive Design and we're excited to share this with the world. It's captured in our mission:
Teach fifty million people how to effectively use progressive design to create better products & services through our consulting, training and software.
We believe Progressive Design will change the way designers and teams use design to create value for their users and business. We've put over a year into our thinking and can't wait to invite people into the conversation.
Finding Our Way
It's great having solid business goals. It's even more important to shape the way our team thinks about their role in this journey. We're a learning company that's based on a pod system, which means we give a lot of ownership directly to employees to solve problems. These core tenets at ZURB form the foundation of our success. We believe in our employees, and we want their success.
We've learned that finding a common purpose requires helping employees create pathways that align with the business. We've put a significant amount of time into defining these pieces. Without them, moving forward can feel downright scary and overwhelming. We want all employees to know that they're supported in this effort to change the way people design. This is the stuff that gets you all warm and fuzzy to start a day. It also creates friction that can make your head literally smoke. This isn't easy for ZURB or the employee, but we wouldn't have it any other way!
Together, We'll Make This Happen
Most businesses align their employees to products- at ZURB we put a heavy emphasis on team development to cross pollinate our ideas and skills. That means each team has a set of tenets they live by to create value for their teammates and the business. These are commitments to make ZURB stronger.
Teams also provide pathways in which ZURB can support individual career paths. Over the last year we've embarked on a new and exciting way to lead employees on a personal mission. Teams play a huge role in this effort and we're smitten with excitement to see our employees shine in this new system. Teams are the backbone of ZURB and we're committed to shaping the learning our employees get through this powerful organizational structure.
To the Future and Beyond
The next five to seven years will undoubtedly provide challenges we can't even envision yet. But with a strong purpose and vision for changing the way we think about design, we're confident we'll prosper as a team through all the changes that will come. With a solid direction, core values that help us find our center and a team committed to our goals, I can't see anything other than success. It's inspiring!
As a leader I'm filled with joy knowing the team worked hard to find common ground. Our leads created these ideas and our extended team shaped them. We're happy to share our vision and hope that you can help us on our mission.
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998
There is a lot of excitement about the Internet of Things and electronics being smart. Actually the excitement right now is just around electronic devices being able to communicate with each other at all, never mind the smart part. If you can attach a Raspberry Pi to it, people will and probably already have. We recently saw a toaster oven that can send you a text when your toast is ready.
That's cool and all, but toast text messages are not nearly as interesting as a home of electronics that are designed to work together and solve people problems. Imagine your refrigerator communicating with your phone to let you know what ingredients you're out of when you're at the grocery store, or a washing machine that alerts your smartwatch that your clothes are done so you can move them into the dryer so they don't sit wet all day. That will be the difference between just an Internet of Things, and the magical world of tomorrow we're all waiting for.
This type of seamless connectivity, connectivity for a purpose that solves real problems, is what we set out to achieve with the new Notable, our product design platform.
Designing a Winning Product for Winning at Product Design
Over the last six years we've built a number of products, each designed to solve a problem or pain point that we hit when practicing product design. Notable was originally created to help us create product audits. Verify was built to quickly validate design decisions through gettting ideas in front of real people. Solidify was designed to create clickable prototypes with the goal of quick iterations, not wasting time building complex prototypes or spending hours attempting this in Keynote. Influence was made to help us quickly and professionally present our design work when we were manually posting everything as static HTML.
We love each of these products and as a complete product design solution use them significantly in our own process. Not only do they help us to solve acute problems, we've found that they actually make us better product designers.
But we always knew that what we were creating was more than just individual solutions. The real impact would come from all of the apps working as a whole. For example, getting the results from a concept test and being able to click straight to the prototype and see where people are getting stuck is an entirely different experience than hearing about the test going poorly in a meeting and trying to track down the designer to get a peek at the prototype.
Twelve months ago we began work in earnest to combine all of these distinct offerings into into a single platform. Now hundreds of sketches, thousands of commits, and millions of pixels later it's complete.
The New Notable: Helping You Win From Concept to Code
Notable was the first product we created. It was about leaving notes on screens, but it was also about doing 'notable' work. Some teams build products to make a lot of money, some build products to serve a company or community need, still others build products to create marketing value. But all creators or products want people to take note of what they have done, they want their work to have value and mean something. They want to do something Notable. That is the aim of our platform, and why we took the name from our first application (Notable) and made it the name of our entire platform.
Like the Internet of Things, our goal was to do more than simply connect our products together. Our goal was to create a set of design tools that are cohesive and easy to use to connect you, your team and your work. The new Notable walks you through product design, from concept to code, helping you collaborate more easily and keeping your whole team in the flow of forward momentum.
120 Days to Public Release
We've been using the new Notable in production here at ZURB every day for the past 8 months. It's all of our tools and techniques in one powerful package, and has both sped up and improved our work. Battle tested day in and day out, we're continuing to iterate and evolve the platform up to our public launch and beyond.
The new Notable will be available to the public in 120 days. Until then, it's in private release and we're letting in a limited number of people to start using the applications now. If you're interested in getting your hands on these powerful design tools and seeing how your team can build something truly Notable, sign up for the Private Release today and let's get you started.
Our newest engineer started out as an intern, working his way through complex problems and putting the time in to build up skills while working on our Library revamp. We can't wait to see what other great things he'll contribute to the team! Without further ado, meet...
Zoran Pesic, Engineer
Born in Berane, Montenegro, Zoran moved to the United States at a young age, growing up in New Jersey before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Originally thinking he would do something in the art world, his curious nature began leading him towards computers and coding. His first contact with ZURB was through Foundation, our responsive front-end framework. Enamored with the possibilities it opened up for him, Zoran dove head first into the code and eventually wound up on the ZURB homepage.
After learning more about the company and our culture, Zoran applied for our engineering internship and was quickly put to work updating our Library pages. The task we set before him was a tough one: rebuild all seven of our Library applications into a single web app. With multiple code bases and all kinds of backend complexity, even seasoned engineers would have found it a challenge!
But without any hesitation, Zoran jumped in and wowed us with his dedication to the project, spending long nights and weekends hammering through complex problems. His stellar work ethic and passion for learning continues to impress all of us, and we're thrilled to have him on board as a full fledged member of the engineering team!
I have the kind of personality that thrives off of solving problems. I love the feeling of awesomeness that comes over you when you figure something out in a clever way!
We're confident that Zoran will be feeling all kinds of awesome as he continues to help us conquer new challenges. Help us welcome him to the team!
Over the last few months, we've talked a lot about the power designers have to influence change in organizations. But we're looking beyond impacting mere business outcomes. It's our sincere belief that design can cause real, positive change in the world. ZURB Wired is proof.
Each year we volunteer our time and resources to help one special nonprofit craft a complete marketing campaign in 24 coffee-fueled hours. ZURB HQ becomes a hive of activity as our entire team, along with volunteers, work all through the night to create a website, print material, engineering support, written content and even videos. To accomplish this, we use the same process and methods we use in our Studios business to help companies do incredible things in short amounts of time. The event itself is timeboxed to 24 hours, but the results of our work are felt long after.
Now in its eighth year, ZURB Wired is testament to the power of both design and community, accomplishing months worth of work in mere hours. We're extremely proud of what we've achieved so far, and we're setting the bar even higher this year!
A Look Back: Sacred Heart Community Services
Last year, Sacred Heart Community Services was our chosen nonprofit organization. Sacred Heart's mission is to build a community free from poverty by creating hope, opportunity, and action ' goals that resonated with our team. Sacred Heart provides food, clothing, and housing assistance to those in need, as well as offering services like employment assistance, family mentoring, along with adult and youth education programs.
Our team created a marketing campaign to help them procure the resources they needed, raise the necessary funds, increase the number of new donors and re-engage with past donors. The campaign included a redesigned website, print collateral, digital assets, a video and marketing content.
The fruits of our labor continued after the 24-hour Wired rush. Jay Pecot, Director of Development and Communications shared this with us:
Even with an improved economy, more people than ever before are seeking Sacred Heart's help. That is why Wired was such a tremendous experience for us. This year, because of ZURB's help, we are ready for our holiday fundraising campaign celebrating our 50th birthday with a comprehensive set of paper and electronic communications. During Wired, we watched carefully how ZURB's staff took us through the design process. We are going to do the same for our next big campaign. And most importantly, we will set aside time to build the campaign together, rather than fitting it in between other tasks. Thank you, ZURB.
Become This Year's Nonprofit
Do you have an inspiring cause and a passionate team? If so, you may be the nonprofit we're looking for! We are now accepting applications for this year's Wired. The deadline is July 17, 2015. We have two requirements:
- Your nonprofit must be a registered and IRS compliant 501(c)(3)
- Your nonprofit must focus on providing services to the Bay Area community
In addition these requirements, we'll need you to submit a proposal. Here's what your proposal needs to include:
- Inspire us with your organization's mission.
- Name three teamwork tactics that will make your organization a perfect fit for ZURB Wired.
- Describe a clear goal that your entire organization wants to accomplish.
- Say which team members will commit to participating all day and night.
- Name one or two people from the team who are capable of making executive decisions on the organization's behalf ' there's no time to consult with the board at two in the morning!
We'll review submissions over the next couple of weeks to pick one nonprofit. We can't wait to put our experience and resources to work for positive cause. Apply today!
Our newest Business Designer is ready to make a difference in the world through design thinking! With his business savvy and incredible teaching skills, we're confident he will! Without further ado, meet …
Dave Zinsman, Business Designer
Dave is a California native, growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. In true Silicon Valley fashion, he was bit by the entrepreneurial bug at the tender age of seven, establishing a 'Garbage Pail Kids' trading card exchange. Throughout his teens and young adulthood he continued to develop his business savvy, eventually starting a few businesses centered around marketing, design and training.
In addition to his killer business chops, Dave is a passionate teacher. After high school, Dave joined the Marines where he served as a training instructor at Camp Pendleton. Serving in the Marines gave him a chance to see the world and interact with a wide variety of people. During his time in the Marines, Dave called Kenya, Japan and even the high seas his home! After his tour of duty, Dave went on to receive his MBA with a goal of helping companies make stronger and more relevant connections with people. He describes it this way:
The world is ready for the next renaissance. The world is ready for something better. We're ready to produce and consume smarter. Organizations that help companies make stronger and more relevant connections with people are crucial to bringing about the next renaissance.
That passion for people is what struck us most about him, and it can be seen in everything he does. For Dave, the future is full of possibilities and opportunities are everywhere. We're excited to bring Dave on as a Business Designer. In this role he'll help ZURB accomplish our mission of world domination by forging connections with new partners and helping our team work with companies to design for people.
At the center of helping companies make stronger connections with people is product design leadership. I came here because ZURB has consistently demonstrated world-class product design leadership.
In our industry of constantly pushing code and ever-changing websites and applications, "redesign" is a relatively common notion. There's always a way to improve the design somehow. So as we consider design and redesign opportunities, it's sometimes hard to resist the lure of a clean slate. And many designers don't. They fall into the vanity of putting their mark on the design.
That's where we often jump in for our Studios projects — and frankly, where we had found ourselves a couple years back. We start every project with an honest audit of the existing work. As we don our objective glasses, we look at the grand scheme of the user experience and the small details that make it up. It's a safe bet that we'll come across work clearly done by different hands while completing the product audit. Buttons are somehow the epitome of this problem. It's so common that "button consistency" has almost become a design joke.
Why is Button Consistency That Important?
The button in itself is means to an action. Its precise specs may not be that important to the success of the product, which presents designers with literally unlimited design possibilities. That's something designers, unfortunately, embrace.
Button consistency, or more accurately the lack of it, is really a symptom of a bigger organizational problem. It's usually an outcome of designers working on isolated projects, making isolated design decisions without truly considering how their choices affect the whole user experience, and most importantly not being held accountable for these siloed choices. It exposes overall lack of design leadership, influence and communication, which drive a team toward a common goal — great, reliable, and branded products.
Isolated design decisions create a fragmented experience for the customer. Trying something new may be a fun experiment for the designer — and it very well might be a very nice design choice in the situation. But, little by little, these small inconsistencies chip away at the customers' experience with your product or brand. If customers can't trust to find consistency in something as small as a button across your product, how can they trust its underlying technology or service?
As our Chief Instigator recently discussed, the button in itself holds little value — it's an artifact that can be easily changed. The real value is in the thinking that goes into a design decision and how an organization is able to uphold that decision.
Does It Actually Need a Redesign?
Consistency and interface patterns give users certainty and allow them to focus on task completion instead of hunting for the call-to-action. Imagine the sales dip Amazon could be risking by moving their "Add to Cart" button from its usual position on the right. This button's utility combined with customers' familiarity trump it's appearance. Sure, it's not the most innovative-looking button on the web, but redesigning it could really hurt the business.
Yet, designers are quick to jump on redesign opportunities — after all, it's exciting to start anew. In reality, however, a redesign isn't always the right solution to the problem. The roadblock for users may lie in the pricing of your product, which could be discovered through customer development. Or your messaging isn't compelling and could be saved by some clever copywriting. Or maybe customers feel compelled to convert, but the checkout process is too long and needs to be streamlined. Any number of changes could generate dramatic value for the business, and though they likely involve some design decisions, they rarely require a clean slate.
Brand new product designs take a long time to develop. It's a costly proposition, one that has to eventually recover its investment. So instead of jumping on the redesign train, we must first consider the smallest efforts that could produce the biggest payoff. For example, if conversion is suffering, consider the dozen small tweaks before getting into sweeping changes:
- Maybe it's just not prominent enough. What if you make the button bigger?
- Maybe contrast is the problem. We know that contrast in a call-to-action is more important than its color, so changing the button's color could do the trick.
- Maybe you're trying to be too clever in the button language, sacrificing clarity. Sometimes having a clear, simple message is more beneficial than showing personality.
- Maybe your layout is too cluttered and the button gets lost. Removing extraneous content or adding an arrow pointing to the CTA could be the answer!
There's an endless matrix of decisions that go into a successful design. And when trying to gain design influence within an organization, each decision has to be sober and measured. Starting fresh and making many changes in one sweep doesn't highlight what the problem actually was in retrospect. So the next time someone on the team questions these previous decisions and wants to take their own crack at it, there's not a single definitive point to stop them.
So the button inconsistency lives on.
What If the Redesign is Warranted?
We're not anti-redesign. We advocate for understanding if the redesign is the right approach. And sometimes it is. But we can't just jump into a redesign project without fully understanding where it's been, how it became what it is, and how our changes may affect other teams or facets of the business.
A great place to start — in almost anything that we do, actually — is asking a lot of questions. Having a solid grasp on how the previous decision was made gives you power and ammunition to fight for the design you'll propose in the future. Even small design decisions can leave a long trail of hurt feelings, resentment and resistance. It can be quite simply prevented by getting team's input and openly discussing solutions, creating a sense of collaboration and goodwill along the way.
When it's time to pull the trigger, having a plan helps. What or whom does the change affect? Who needs to know about it? How will you rally the troops to get it done?
Once the decision is made, tell the world! Being your team, of course. Announce your decision to the group, talk to people individually (again), write an email about the decision and how it gets rolled out, document it in a style guide. Make it known and explain how it creates value for the organization. Finally, every decision has an owner, or it should. Without an owner, someone to fight for it and protect it, there's nothing stopping another team member from unraveling it.
Our recent redesign on the ZURB Library — a redesign in its truest sense — had us surveying seven independent properties for interface and workflow patterns. Over several years, we've curated a great amount of content that holds a ton of value for practicing and aspiring product designers, but maintaining them had become a giant pain. Each one was developed at a different time by a different team, long before we had a vision for a unified Library. So they all had a unique look, feel and, worst of all, a separate admin tool for us to manage.
It took us many-a-spreadsheet and many months to design and develop an interface that lets us maintain and support unique content for these properties in a unified way. During this process, we also took stock of our own button consistency problem and made the decision to commit to one button style "to rule them all." We've since been rolling it out across all ZURB products. Now, it's every designer's responsibility to uphold and respect the guideline.
So, Is That New Button Really Worth It?
There is no perfect button. Let's start there. So what's a new one worth to you? How many conversations and how much time would it take to replicate that given design choice across the entire product? Does it create tangible value for the business when all said and done?
Sometimes working within fixed design constraints is a blessing. If the button decision was already made for you — great, run with it. Always assume that decisions made before you had a reason behind them, and challenging them may not be worth the effort. Solving new design problems is way more fulfilling than tweaking existing designs. At the end of the day, it's more rewarding to change the course of a product than to change a button.
More than 20 years ago we were introduced to a pair of FBI agents unraveling the unexplained in a groundbreaking science-fiction drama. Now after a prolonged absence, the show that starts with a letter of alphabet returns.
No it's not that other show with the letter. It's one of the two letters after that — "The Z-Files." We've managed to get the original cast to reprise their roles for the first time and the last time. To commemorate this occasion, ZVC — the off-cable network that brought you "LOL and Order" — will air the original "Z-Files" episodes starting from the first episode.
Relive all the episodes of "The Z-Files" and catch up before the new season begins, exclusively on ZVC, "We're a'right at drama."
It's an amazing time of change for design organizations, whether you work in a design agency or in-house team. Design is hot. But design organizations are not without their problems. In my previous post on agencies, we addressed the challenges and the upside design service firms face. Companies are repeating the same bad habits that they've learned from their design agency counterparts.
As an industry we're leaving a lot on the table as our collective stock rises in organizations. Companies' knee-jerk reaction to become design centric have left many design organizations scrambling to figure out how to put the pieces together. Designers are still mopping up implementation problems — still shaking the label of window dressers. Quite frankly, we've gotten really good at these problems and service firms have perfected the art of making money on this effort. We're designing for deliverables, not necessarily better business or customer results.
The current approach is short sighted, especially in a connected world where design work is so temporary. Companies need to re-think how they approach design when most of the work quickly becomes obsolete. If we're only left with design artifacts, most of the design thinking becomes lost. Pixels or artifacts don't effectively influence future decisions for users or organizations. Design organizations must stop designing for artifacts, as this produces only temporary results. We must instead shape the entire organization's collective understanding of the design problem to improve the next result for the people we serve.
We need to rethink the role and purpose of the design organization. We must move from creating artifacts to designing for influence.
The Design Organization Re-Envisioned
Design has changed greatly over the last decade, and in that time, companies have started to set high expectations for designers. Since our beginnings in 1998, we haven't had the collective influence another industry might provide — we've had to continuously work hard to earn respect. The direct benefit of this struggle is that we've learned, through trial and error, how to create more impact with our design work. At ZURB, we use progressive design in our design work to shape organizations and the way they think about design.
In our learning, we've come to the conclusion that companies have over-productionalized the entire design process. A lot of what is valuable in design is discovery of the problem, which allows designers to move through solutions. Along a design process, there are inflection points that shift the path or force another approach to be taken. It isn't clear until working through a design solution that something that seemed viable may not work well enough.
As designers and knowledge workers, we need to embrace a hybrid approach that creates consistent results, but enables us to think through design problems. Our design work should produce results that are consistent and repeatable, and not limited by a design-production process driven entirely by the constraints of an organization. Financial planning, office politics or organizational structures shouldn't drive the design process. We must design for continuous influence, as pixels no longer carry as much value. The pixels are only tools for influencing future outcomes as they will be replaced very quickly — the real value gets carried in the collective thinking of the organization.
To overcome these organizational hurdles, as an industry we've inserted concepts like UX to focus on users, but these efforts aren't usually in harmony with dealing with technological feasibilities and business goals, or least how most businesses try to integrate this thinking into their organization. Only when we have balanced these, can there be a sustainable focus on the people who use our products and services. We should focus on the people who use our products and services as a guiding light. As we've written before, design-centric companies outperform the market.
Facilitators of Change Through Education and Repetition
At ZURB, we design to influence users, our teams and companies. Collectively this influence drives new ideas forward. Big reveals no longer provide the influence necessary to carry stories through an organization. The artifacts of our design work don't produce lessons or help us synthesize new directions and possibilities. People do. We must recognize that people help us drive our work forward through design collaboration.
Now this is hard because people don't easily accept change, but we must aspire to shape design solutions for people. The job of designers is to shepherd a better and different future by making change palatable. The way people adapt to that future happens through our influence. We must acknowledge that people are part of this process, even though they may not fully embrace the idea of change. We must be compassionate and help guide people through our progressive design process.
If people are the core, then education is what pulls them into a design process. At ZURB, we use progressive design to create momentum and educate teams as we work through a design process. It requires that the entire team play a role in driving design decisions, as design is no longer the domain of just designers. Everyone is a designer. We must embrace and invite people into our process, whether it's our team, customers or organization. We must lead them by design.
Companies need designers to think more holistically about how their ideas affect the organizations they work in and invite teams into the process. Providing know-how helps get everyone on the same page — it's the reason we've focused on creating a learning organization at ZURB. When we inspire teams and create consistent results, we're fostering system thinking in the organization. This is a good thing and helps people in the organization use design patterns to solve problems.
Influence Outcomes Through Design Leadership
In order to continually push companies to be more design centric, we need design leaders. There's a gap though. Companies need designers to lead by design, which will help support design organizations. If we are to do that, we must understand how to manage design. To influence people in a design process, we must tell people what we are going to do, show them how it benefits people and organizations, and reiterate those benefits so that we can create momentum.
It may be obvious without stating, but sitting in front of a computer tweaking objects in photoshop makes it extremely difficult to shape outcomes through design. Goal-oriented design requires that you put people and outcomes first — it's an approach that requires giving guidance to people while iterating on design work. By continually delivering iterations that drive the organization toward a goal, designers remove uncertainty and build trust.
As designers, it is our responsibility to understand the effect of the work we put into the world. We must strive to help create a better result for the people we serve. We must capture and learn from this design thinking and understand that it is up to us to follow through on our goals. In this regard, designers are leading through influence and don't have to be limited by a position in a company.
Our influence is felt through the consistency of good work and the compassion we have for the people who interact with our work. If we embrace our organizational goals and commit ourselves to a thorough understanding of technology, we stand to help shape and lead people to amazing results.
Top-Down, Bottom-Up Strategies Create More Impact
Influencing outcomes from a design perspective doesn't necessarily mean that a top-down approach is needed. Yes, pushing a strategic agenda probably requires a management role, but the tactics used to get people on board with design decisions doesn't change. Designers still need to influence people to get ideas to stick.
Designers need to embrace a hybrid approach that utilizes the benefits of top-down and bottom-up strategies to deliver their work. Designers need more cross-functional skills to facilitate the movement of ideas across an organization — even if that means abandoning the focus on one layer of the problem, like the interface of a product. That interface will never shine without a bottom-up approach that balances a solid understanding of implementation principles with persuasion to move the product design decisions forward through an organization.
UX departments have tried to insert their design influence in organizations. But after a decade of experimentation, these groups typically fail to capture all the value for a user and the organization. That's because they're tactically positioned. This value needs to be captured at the organizational level. This is where most design agencies fall down as the work they produce might be finished at a high level, but they're not going to influence the final outcomes without shifting the thinking within an organization.
Designers Must Step Up
The role of a design organization will continue to shift over the next decade. It's going to happen out of necessity because companies have to solve ever more complex problems. Focusing only on button consistency and the output of a design process will surely stunt the growth of any design organization. And, more importantly, prevent the power of design from truly helping the entire organization. Designers must influence organizations through sound decision making and accept not only the successes, but the failures that come along with driving an organization.
Designers must step up and place these burdens on themselves to transform organizations for the benefit of people they serve. They must lead by design and take on more ownership of the business outcomes. At ZURB we've used progressive design as an opportunity for designers to drive this change — something we'll continue to share with the design community to harness all the trapped value we could produce in an organization. Designers need to influence through design and let go of our obsession with pixels.
(Thanks to Thomas Vander Wal for his insights on the post.)
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998