It's no secret that more and more companies have realized that great design can make or break their products. They know that getting it right can mean the difference between getting customers or losing them. And that's why companies are striving to fill their ranks with designers.
However, the toughest challenge that a designer can face may be changing the culture of a company — especially one that hasn't quite yet made design a critical aspect of how they do business. Author Kim Goodwin specifically pointed this out in a recent talk at User Interface 17.
(Thanks to our friend Luke Wroblewski for taking good notes.)
Moving a Mountain
Kim likens changing a culture to moving mountains. The metaphor is apt considering that companies all have their unique cultures that have been in place for years or more. Change comes slowly and there's usually resistance.
To combat this, Kim says that designers should figure out how best they can work within a given culture. She breaks down for of the common cultures as:
- Adhocracy — no rigid processes and a little more loosey goosey in approach.
- Clan — a focus on relationships with everyone involved in the decision making.
- Hierarchy — old school practices, including a reliance on specialized titles and lockjaw processes.
- Market — laser focus on the outside world, research and getting things done quickly.
Break Up the Mountain
To move mountains, Kim suggests that what's needed is to understand the components of each of those culture types. She recommends breaking the mountain down into: executives (who can adapt behaviors), middle managers (help executives communicate message) and individual contributors. Then find evangelists who can champion design, which can be done by building key influencers showcasing their wins. Here's a quick breakdown of this process and those key influencers:
- Evangelists: sell ideas
- Autocrats: dictate practices
- Architects: establish systems to implement ideas
- Educators: shape stories about wins
Start with a small change and be sure to provide clarity, according to Kim.
Great Product Needs Everyone
Now here's where we deviate from Kim's argument a bit. She frames this problem within the context of a UX designer filling a hole in these types of companies. But UX designer covers a swath of disciplines: graphic design, psychology, communication design, user research just to name a few.
A product's success is the responsibility of the entire team, not any one individual. And it's something Kim sort of touches upon, even if she doesn't come out and say it.
To affect change, to move those mountains, she's calling for designers to involve layers of a company. Which is exactly what must be done. We can no longer think of those layers as siloed efforts that need a magic bullet person. We have to rely on each others skill sets and be T-shaped ourselves.
Great product design doesn't happen because of one person. It's a team effort with everyone touching the product in some way. That makes us all product designers, from marketing to engineering to interaction designers. And together we can move mountains.