Design leadership

I’ve built teams, grown teams, directed design projects, led initiatives, and brought about organizational change. A few things I focus on as a user experience (UX) or design leader are as follows.

  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Accessibility is user experience
  • Shared knowledge and collaboration
  • Having a practical process
  • Speed with quality
  • Practical, actionable research
  • Dogmatism is the enemy of agility
  • Personal and professional growth
  • Life/life balance
  • Provide creative/design direction

Diversity and inclusion (D&I). If it’s a homogeneous one, even a team staffed by superstars can’t really meet users’ needs. Homogenous teams don’t reflect the makeup of a rapidly changing population, one which the census says will be wildly different in 2045. Diversity is inclusive of ability, belief, ethnicity, gender, race, and sex. UX is about empathizing with, relating to, and understanding real people. In reality, people are diverse.

Accessibility. Web accessibility – that is, ensuring that digital information and tools are equally available to all individuals who need them – fits squarely within the UX discipline. Wherever possible, accessibility experts should sit within an organization’s UX team. Part of these experts’ roles is educating all members of the team on how to become accessible designers. This is the first step toward accessibility becoming an organization-wide commitment and practice.

Shared knowledge and collaboration, in practice. Most UX teams serve multiple internal (or external) “clients.” There is a balance between giving each of these teams its own designer while ensuring that any team member can jump in and take over (e.g., when someone is on PTO), or contribute to, each other’s work. Regardless of how team members are assigned, it’s essential to have group design reviews and ad hoc sessions to ensure every UX deliverable benefits from the group’s expertise and reflects its unified approach.

A process that supports the philosophy. I foster a process with only one requirement, that it include these pillars: research, discovery, content design, UX/UI or service design, internal review, revision, client feedback, delivery, and QA. As individual tasks move across a “board,” the pitstops within each ensure every element of a solid design has been addressed. How the team organizes itself and acts around these pillars is unique to each team. Sometimes these individual pillars need to be addressed in guerilla fashion to keep the project moving, but they still need to be there.

Speed with quality. UX and service design are about making needed things. Designers should take the appropriate amount of time to do something right (which sometimes, can mean an iterative draft or a minimum viable product) without getting mired by perfectionism. You never want to work on something so long that by the time you’re done, it’s no longer relevant to the original problem. And, you want to help your peers and internal customers meet their deadlines.

Practical, applicable research. “Learn, do.” Gather knowledge that enables you to make things. Every piece of learning should tie directly to a design feature, a recommendation, or a practical outcome of some kind. We learn in order to do.

Dogmatism is the enemy of flexibility. I believe in agility, and part of being agile is making sure that rigid and literal adherence to a given manifesto doesn’t become a roadblack to the very principles an agile approach is trying to foster. Four hours of argument over what is or isn’t “agile” are four hours spent not learning and making things.

Personal and professional growth. A manager’s job is mentoring and opening up paths for their employees, while also helping them do their very best work in their current role. Team members should feel confident sharing their future goals and feel supported in reaching them.

Life/life balance. If employees are getting their work done with the highest quality, and being available and reachable when they should be, that’s all that matters. Life is more important than work, and taking care of your life makes your work better. When you feel healthy and fulfilled personally, you can personally believe in the value of your work.

Provide creative and strategic direction. I’m a working manager, whether than means providing strategic design direction or input, simply checking in to ensure the work lines up with team and business goals, or doing some hands-on design (in my case content design) work. A manager should have a practical understanding of what each member of the team “does” without needing to have those actual skills. In fact, if I can do everything each member of the team does, I probably don’t have a very well-rounded team, and I can’t possibly do all of those things as well.