Build a UX Wall and make them pay (attention)

How to create rapport and get your whole cross-functional team contributing to the design process.

In the modern tech workplace, collaboration is king. With the widespread adoption of Agile workflows and cross-functional teams, it’s more important than ever to know how to work together to reach a goal. But the truth is, collaboration isn’t always easy. Different roles and expertise can mean different priorities and beliefs.

As a UX Designer at SEEK, one of the challenges I face daily is how to keep the rest of my product team engaged in the work I’m doing. Like most UX’ers on a product team, I find myself a lone wolf amongst a handful of developers, Business Analysts, and Product Managers. With limited time and commitments of their own, getting the team’s attention and interest requires deliberate effort.

In addition to the usual design workshops and sketch-ups, I’ve found the following simple practices can go a long way to building rapport and getting the whole cross-functional team contributing to the design process.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes the whole team to raise a good design.

Build a UX Wall

In my previous role as a UX Consultant, one of the first things I would do when joining a new project was create a UX Wall. This is quite literally a wall (or walls) you use to tell the story of your product’s UX journey to date. This is a great way to externalise the design process and get your team engaged and sharing feedback. It’s also a great way to immerse yourself in the problem space if you’re new to a project.

What should go on your UX Wall?

Here’s a few things I always include:

  • Product vision and strategy
  • Company style guide and pattern library
  • Research and testing insights
  • Design concepts of all fidelities (it’s more important they’re up to date than pretty)
  • Sources of inspiration (this can be anything you think is relevant)
  • Space for comments and feedback

A good guiding principle is for your wall to be comprehensive enough that it tells the full story on its own, without you there to explain.

Once you have your wall established, you’ll need to update it regularly. Any time you complete research or update your design concepts, you’ll need to update the wall. Think of it as a living, breathing space that evolves along with your product. I like to leave a post-it note pad with sharpies attached to the wall as well, to invite others to add comments and ideas.

If you don’t have space for a physical wall, you can set up a digital wall. I’ve used an InVision Board for this before, which worked well for remote working. I always advocate for a physical wall over digital however, as I find them more engaging, and better for communicating ‘the bigger picture.’ It’s also easier to move items around to unlock new ideas and insights.

UX Wall at SEEK

Hold a weekly showcase

This is a great way to get feedback and critique from your product team and let them know their input is welcome and valued. It’s also a great way to get unfinished concepts out in the open early, so you can identify any challenges or issues.

Find a time that works for everyone and lock in a recurring meeting. Invite your product team and any external stakeholders you think should be there. Hold the showcase at your UX Wall, and use the time to walk through your progress from the week: anything you learned, any updates to designs, any feedback from external sources you want to share back with the team. I like to keep these short, sweet, and informal. Currently I have a 15 min block locked in every Friday morning following our team standup. Ask your team members for thoughts and feedback about the sessions and adjust as necessary.

“Creativity arises from the synergy of many sources and not only from the mind of a single person.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Include your team in research

There’s no better argument for why a design is or isn’t working than watching your customers soar or struggle through your product. It’s easy to slip into a bubble when working on a product, and start believing all users are like you. That’s why we do research — to wash away all those pesky assumptions. Getting your product team involved in your research activities is a great way to bring them along that journey and get everyone aligned on design decisions.

Here’s a few activities I invite my team members to participate in:

Observing face-to-face research

At SEEK we’re lucky enough to have a research lab with a separate observation room. But even without a formal setup, you can still arrange for live observation by queuing up Skype or FaceTime across two meeting rooms. We’ve recently set up a dedicated #watch-research Slack channel with screen sharing, so anyone can drop in and observe from the comfort of their own desk.

Taking notes

Go one step further than live observation and get a team member in the room with you to take notes. Make sure you walk them through your facilitation script beforehand, so they know what’s coming. It’s also a good idea to give them a quick crash-course in note-taking to ensure you get good quality notes for analysis. You can also apply this to phone calls you make to customers.

Watching session video highlights

Once you’ve completed your research and started analysing the data, consider putting together a video highlights reel. This is something I’ve been encouraged to do at SEEK, and I’ve found it very compelling and time effective. Queue up a time with your team and play it back with everyone together, leaving time for discussion.

Sharing insights

As always, share insights from any research you complete (face-to-face, phone calls, surveys) and summarise it in a report. The report doesn’t have to be long or arduous to create. Just a simple description of the areas covered by the research and the main things you learned. Cue up a time to walk your team through the report together, leaving time for discussion.

UX Research Lab at SEEK

Empathise with your team members’ perspectives

I heard a great quote at UX Australia this year from lightning speaker Linda Burke: “Empathy is central to User Experience, however empathising with users is not enough. To get the best outcome empathy needs to extend to stakeholders and team members.”

A team that’s working together harmoniously will undoubtedly produce better outcomes than a team in disarray. Remember to take the time to see things from others’ perspectives, and talk to them about it. Foster a forum of open dialogue and discussion, where everyone is invited to share their input. At the end of the day we all want the same thing: to create an awesome product that customers love to use.

“Design is a continuum, not just a step in the process. You have to work with everyone in the process to produce great products.” — Aarron Walter