As designers, we are often taught early on in our careers that we are directors to the solutions and the principal problem solvers for those we design for. In the real world, the trend is shifting where it isn’t about being the principal problem solvers but solving problems with other people. The rise of UX and UX cultures brought with it new ideas such as “collaborative design”, a word we like to wave around and proudly say is how we do things but, how collaborative are we? Are we collaborative at all? For some people the change from being the one with the answers to the one that helps find the answers is harder than it seems, a pitfall that I will admit I sometimes fall into as well.
The forgotten designer
There was this one recent instance where I was caught slightly off guard when I chanced upon a development request freshly created on our internal system. It was to add a button to our error screens and the product officer already had a suggested “study” crudely done in Photoshop or Paint. It was directed solely to the mobile app developers and This meant they essentially, skipped me, the designer, in the process of adding and or changing something in the interface and to the whole experience. Tagged was our UX Copywriter, asking for suggestions and to iron out the microcopy but who wasn’t tagged was me, the designer, and it was set for the dev team to just create.
It wouldn’t take a nuclear physicist to understand how I felt. I was pissed, I felt like I was being made redundant and I was ready to start flipping tables. It didn’t help that it happened before and I was still tending to the previously held scars about being left behind in the process. I took a deep breath, composed myself, and replied: “Heya! I think it would be best if you make a design request for this first”.
I spoke to the product officer on our office chat leaving the same message. She replied, “yep, I saw, transferring the ticket now ☺ didn’t think we’d need to have it designed since we we’re only adding a button”.
Again, my eyebrows went up. “Didn’t think you needed to have it designed”? They we’re touching the interface, something I was generally in charge of and they thought they didn’t need to ask the interface designer for it? Not to mention they already decided on the nitty gritty of the experience without my input. What we’re they thinking right?
The UX of teams
Samantha Soma from GE spoke at this year’s UX Hong Kong about leading and running design teams. Its common for us to talk about UX and only refer to our end users but we often forget OUR own users, our teammates. We love our users so much and do so much for them but we often treat our teammates differently. Why?
Your teammates are your users, maybe you are the broken interface, maybe you are the missing affordance — Samantha Soma
As designers and leaders we tend to be so focused on getting to the root of the problem and solving user problems. When things go wrong, it’s easy for us to just drop everything and fix what went wrong, but its rare for us to actually look back and think about ourselves and how we contribute to the problem. Sometimes we don’t see it but what’s lacking is the “US” in User Experience.
Why so serious?
Before I started flipping tables, I took five more seconds to ask myself why I was upset. They actually had thought of this interface solution without me and didn’t give me the problem to actually solve. Sure the product officer should have involved me in the discussion but I was the one that was angry… So why was I angry? Was it because the solution was wrong and would utterly fail or was it because I wasn’t the one who thought of the solution, that I wasn’t part of the discussion and that I wasn’t in that solution. Was it because it wasn’t going to work or because I was just being greedy?
We often get too caught up with wanting to make stuff and being the one to make stuff that we forget our bigger goals and how other people help in crafting the stuff we make. I personally admit I’m a fame monster, and there’s nothing wrong with that but our personal need to be recognized can be a hindrance to actually solving problems that we should be solving.
Turning Anger into Humor
I spoke with the UX copywriter and told her that we could start putting our heads together for the new error screens. We’ve been thinking of ways to make our apps feel friendlier geekier and more local for some time but it wasn’t something we thought would be in the back burner for a while
She opened up a pinterest board and we just started throwing ideas at each other, we ended up sharing it on facebook so other people could see what we we’re thinking off as well. What we came up with in the end was using a couple of famous lines from filipino movies. We took a few days to come up with a couple more lines and I placed them together into mockups on sketch.
It turns out there was this gap in our experience when a search comes out with zero results specially when you’ve changed filters. We needed to give users an action and reinforce them to continue searching or browsing. That was the problem product was trying to solve.
After releasing it on our android platform we automatically got feedback through the Google Playstore. People actually noticed our small change and witty writing, and found it funny and delightful.
We wouldn’t have gotten there if I started flipping tables right away in anger about being left out. The problem wasn’t the solution that was proposed, infact I didn’t change the solution much but by coming in and asking we collaborate on this, we weren’t just able to solve the problem but actually added some more delight to the process, sure its superficial but that small little humour actually made the experience better for everyone.
As our industry moves into innovation and we innovate the way we work as well, its easy for teams to think we don’t need a designer and for the designer to feel left out, unneeded or redundant. We usually fail or resist the idea of collaborative design because we fear for our roles in the design process. We fear losing that control and we fear that our own design voice will get dilluted within the caucus of the team. We become angry because a lot of the times like in my case, we end up being on the losing end and just not being consulted because people tend to a have a narrow understanding of “design”.
What happens here, is the process is siloed off away from us and we can’t really be surprised as this is only because we’ve selfishly siloed off design for so long as well. How do you fight silos however? Unfortunately fighting greed with more greed won’t get you anywhere. Its a vicious cycle and a bad user experience for teams in general.
Can The Circle be Unbroken
As we fight to stay relevant and be an integral part of the team… well that’s just it we have to ask to be part of the team. It’s common for designer’s to feel irrelevant and uneeded but it’s up to the designer to make himself relevant within the context of the team.
So when you find yourself feeling angry and irrelevant, make yourself relevant, be the one to bring people in, be the one to analyze and test the ideas be the one to ask for other people’s ideas. You’ll likely find yourself becoming less a green skinned ogre most of the time and you’ll likely see your colleagues becoming the super hero team you wanted them to be.