Design Takes a Village

As head of UX, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: No one likes being controlled; they want to be inspired. When I started as Director of UX, I ran off on my own and wrote clear, measurable team goals that tied to our Tech team strategies. They were amazing! They were going make our team into exactly what I wanted. I was going to take our group of isolated designers that weren’t inclined to work together and mold them into a collaboration machine that loved talking to our customers. I preached to everyone about what we were going to do and how to do it. I then released the team into the world to make it happen.

Go Forth and Make Awesomeness

Oddly, not much did happen. Even though they had nodded and agreed(!) during my presentation, there was no noticeable progress toward those goals. A month or two in, I began to have a sneaking suspicion something had gone wrong. And clearly the problem wasn’t with my approach. I was careful to avoid all the common pitfalls:

  • I didn’t ask the designers what they needed and were struggling with,
  • I didn’t talk to the designers’ project teams to identify the pain points we could address, and
  • I only got feedback from people that weren’t going to use the goals.

I wisely skipped all the steps I think are essential to a good design process and created wonderful goals for (myself) the team. #nailedit

The result was something nobody cared about. They weren’t particularly motivated to follow through and weren’t showing strong signs of working together. After a few months of little progress, I decided we had to try again.

Rewind, Get It on Track

I started by acknowledging my failure and tearing up my goals in front of them.

This time I focused on asking questions, listening, and trusting the team. We collaborated to define where we wanted to be in the long run and what that meant we should do in the short term. We also spoke at length about why we weren’t already there. The chance to be open and feel heard helped kick off a transformation from a group of individual designers into the collaborating team I’d imagined.

We defined our long-term vision as: The Motley Fool is broadly recognized for user-centered innovation. To begin working in that direction, we decided to start with four short-term goals:

  1. Conduct usability testing of at least two products (bonus points for product team observation)
  2. Iterate at least once based on user feedback about a new product feature or concept
  3. Chat with at least five users about their investing challenges and share insights throughout the company
  4. Host a design meetup

Look Back to Move Forward

After a couple of months, we reviewed our progress and whether the plan still made sense. We had conducted more usability tests and user chats than we expected. We also iterated on multiple new features. We decided that we should continue to focus on internal wins before building our greater design community presence. The team came in expecting bad news, and found it encouraging to see they’d made more progress than they realized and that we could adjust as we learned more.

Turned out the same methods that made me a better designer were a much more effective means of aligning and motivating the team while giving them a clear sense of my expectations.

Shout out to my amazing and talented friend, Sara Hov, who continues to give me honest feedback and pushes me to be a better writer.