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I am writing this on a 15 hour flight back from Melbourne where I just completed a talk for UX Australia’s Managing Design Conference. This is the perfect time to reflect on my conversations and experiences from this design community. While my initial goal was to gain experience from stepping across the divide from participant to speaker, I still gained a lot from the other practitioners in the room. I had my own insights to share from guiding and mentoring new designers at IBM. Many of the conference participants also shared their journeys from designers to design leaders. Here are the highlights from the conference.

Learning from Failure at Managing Design

Lessons from failing stakeholders

Mike Efron, Head of Customer Experience at Kmart Australia, stressed that your Directors and VP’s (Vice Presidents) were people too. They had needs and pain points. From his experience, he found that he could not pitch a redesign for the sake of good design. His leaders did not want to hear another pitch around the value of design. They needed to understand how the work was going to improve the company in terms of revenue and costs. In enterprise, Mike noted that we rarely spend the time to frame the problem from this perspective.

From Mike’s experience of releasing a multimillion-dollar e-commerce site redesign, he learned that the site still had UX and technical performance deficiencies. However, he could not pitch another expensive overall immediately. Instead, he learned to outline the work in the following steps.

  1. Pay-as-you-go
  2. Trojan horse
  3. True Pretense

After the release, he spent the time to find the bugs, prioritized them, and fixed them. He also used this time to find the real goal and mapped out a road map.

Trojan horse

As he got closer to understanding the end goal, he could test it out with a less expensive but highly impactful target. He only focused on redesigning the tablet site. This redesign was the vision for the eventual redesign, but his team used the tablet to test their ideas.

True pretense

Mike made it clear that he was transparent with his intentions. His goal was a redesign, but he pitched the work at the appropriate levels for the company’s appetite for risk. After he fixed bugs, released the roadmap, and tested their concepts with the tablet site, his team was ready to push a full redesign forward.

Communicating expectations

Laurence Crew and Jenny Dunlop from The Customer Experience Company shared their experience from growing a team. They illustrated the need to find balance with culture, skills, and business needs. Their story also outlined where they missed on properly managing expectations. One impactful example discussed how one senior level business analysis joined the company with the goal to transition into service design. While the company worked to support this person during this transition, the pace as to which he needed to grow was not fast enough. He expected to quickly rise up to a senior level in his new role, but underestimated the amount of required knowledge transfer. He left the company three months after starting.

Finding Balance

Creating the best work environment

Patima Tantiprasut, Director at Bam Creative, shared her company’s efforts to make an environment that was the most conducive for creative work. She prompted us think about things like standing work stations that help us produce without promoting back pain. Her company also purposefully created spaces away from the desk to encourage collaboration and downtime. She stressed that our minds view different spaces for different purposes. So, she devoted spaces for teamwork and deep work.

Respecting time

Liisa Vurma and Clare Mitchell Crow from Thick focused their talk on better managing flexible schedules. For them family schedules did not fit nicely into the traditional 9 to 5. In their diverse workforce, not all talent needed or wanted a full time position. The leadership found common times for the team to collaborate, and it also helped protect the times that were non-negotiable away from work.

Fostering creativity

I began and ended my talk on doing an activity I have been practicing on and off for nearly ten years, tea stain drawings. To be transparent I lifted this exercise from Austin Kleon who swiped it from Dave Gray. This activity showed that finding ways to nurture creative minds in enterprise product requires thinking differently about our environment. Corporate culture hired us for our creativity, but we had to constantly fight to find ways to feed it. In my case, we found ways as simple as drawing on tea stained index cards.

Here are the audio file and presentation deck from my talk.

Read more about the story behind the presentation.

Read more about my past conference talks here.

Find out how I can help you with your next conference or other speaking needs here.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.