Empowering anyone to be a designer

Reflection on a year of designing with “non-designers”

An impactful talk I went to as a young wanna-be designer was a little bit shocking. I don’t recall exactly who it was or what the title of the talk was, but the soundbite that stood out to me went something like:

You know, in theory our jobs shouldn’t exist. It should be everyone’s job to think about people and validate that what they’re making works for the people we’re making it for. Why isn’t this obvious?

It was mind-blowing to me even though yes, it should be obvious.

Fast forward a few years

As of 2019, I’ve been at InterVarsity a little over 2 years. Over these 2 years I’ve called myself “The UX Team of One”. In my head, the future looked like this: Create a culture and hunger for user-centered activities, the design process, and user research, then get money from somewhere to hire some people with backgrounds like me to start doing it.

But I had forgotten what the real dream was — my job disappearing. That those who are making the things, who have the subject matter experience, are running these design activities on their own, doing their own user research.

Now, I wasn’t reminded of this dream on my own — I was confronted by it, when I started consulting with an internal group that was charged with designing a major product that was part of our strategic plan, who by their own admissions were not really designers.

A Year of Designing with Non-Designers

This group came to be because they had an idea and ran with it — putting together a presentation and even a high-fidelity prototype. (Which, yes, I got very nervous over. Designers know: high-fidelity prototypes seem too real, can inhibit creativity, set in concrete, colors are distracting, yada, yada).

But even with its pitfalls, they got some things right. I sent an email over saying, “Hey, this is my wheelhouse. How can I help?”

Empowering them

Slowly, as we moved through the project, I’ve been introducing new concepts, helpful diagrams, and pieces of the design process when we entered it.

We started with user research interviews where I helped them write a script, had them take notes while I facilitated, and then swapped. We amended the archetypes that I had previously created with new information.

Then I facilitated an ideation session and ran through a loose interpretation of the Sprint methodology where we came up with some ideas we wanted to prototype and test. They did some of the wireframing and I hooked it all together

We wrote a new script for usability/viability testing and we swapped facilitating/note-taking roles.

All that to say is, we’re doing it, and it’s even going really well, and more teams than just this one are running with their own research and design.

Conclusion

Diagramming, User Research principles, and Design…much like every other discipline, it can be taught. They may not be coming up with their own frameworks and diagrams, but I can show them mine and they are more than capable of running with it.

And why shouldn’t they be able to? I’m not a designer because I was born knowing these things. Sure, I think I have some innate talents that help, but I’m a designer because I took classes in the discipline, read lots of books, learned from workshops, and continually talk to other designers. This may not be their life passion like mine, but I have seen them grow tons in how they are approaching problems and solving them, and at the end of the day that’s what we’re hoping for, right?

Looks like it’s time to stop calling myself the UX Team of One.


Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with furkiddos, crocheting/knitting, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.