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Interview #8 - Tom Greever on Design Value Conversations
Tom Greever on Communicating Value
Today on The X-Mentor, we are so happy to have with us Tom Greever. Tom has a career as a designer and design leader that spans 20 years, including stints at some very cool companies. He is best known as the author of the popular O’REILLY book, Articulating Design Decisions – Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience.
Tom, it is a pleasure to have you here on The X-Mentor. Practically everyone in UX is a fan of your book, Articulating Design Decision. So, it's a pleasure to have you with us today to talk about this topic.
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Tom: Thanks! Happy to be here, Greg.
The X-Mentor: We've been talking about some of the things that you've done in your career. And many of our readers are interested in learning more about how people got to where they are in their Design careers. Tell us, what has your design career journey been like?
Tom: Sure. I started out in marketing. One of my first jobs out of college was leading a small team of graphic designers and web designers at a financial payment services company, at a time when things were just starting to explode on the web. People were just beginning to realize the value of moving products to the web. It wasn’t something I really pursued; It was just something that happened to me in that first role. In the marketing department, we didn't have UX or product design or anything like that. The IT department managed our website. At some point, someone in the business had the great idea that we should move this old-school terminal-based application that our clients use to move money around, that we should put that on the web. Wouldn't that be an easier way for these people to do business?
So, because we didn't have a product design team, my team and I were the closest thing the company had to being able to do something like that. The web designer on my team and I spent some time designing this application, almost literally field for field. We weren't making any real decisions. We were just moving these form fields over to a web interface.
And in fact, one of the funniest parts about it for me was that as graphic designers we had these big monitors. In our minds, other people must certainly have large screens too if they're into technology and doing this sort of thing, right? And we even agreed on what we thought would be a reasonable fixed-width resolution for the app. Well, I'll never forget when we first launched, one of the first pieces of feedback we got from a customer was, “Oh, wow, this is great! But... it's kind of a pain to have to scroll sideways to access all the fields.”
It was a little bit of a facepalm moment, “Oh gosh! Maybe we should have talked to customers first or gone out and seen what kind of computers they were even using,” right?
But that was my first exposure to product design and UX and that kind of thinking. It was instrumental in really shaping the rest of my career. I basically have spent the last 20 plus years, in one version or another, participating in the creation of products and software largely on the web. And of course, going through that native mobile transition as well to get to where we are now. I've spent my career looking at and thinking about these problems and never really knowing at the beginning of my career that's where I would end up. And actually, I think there's a lot of people that are in that position. A lot of us came from different disciplines and different perspectives and made our way into UX and we were kind of making it up as we went because a lot was changing.
The X-Mentor: Absolutely. A lot of us came into interactive design from diverse backgrounds. Publishing became increasingly interactive and the usability piece of designing web experiences followed. Ease of Use became critical for adoption of everything from new computer purchases to using websites.
Let’s fast forward to your book, Articulating Design Decisions. When you first started to think about writing this book, what were some of the ideas in the consideration set? Why this book?
Articulating Design Decisions
Tom: The book came from a regional UX conference talk I gave near where I lived many years ago. Basically, what happened was that I was working with conference organizers and trying to think about some topics that would be of value to the participants at this conference. I went through this exercise of reflecting on my career and trying to understand where the value was and what it is that I do as a designer and design leader and what could I contribute back to the community. I kept centering on this pattern that I had noticed throughout my career that the difference between a good designer and a great designer was in their ability to move things forward, to get things done, to ship products, to get support and approval of their work. And that often that main difference between someone who could get that kind of support and someone who couldn’t was this ability to articulate their work in such a way that it made sense to the other people in the business.
“I kept centering on this pattern that I had noticed throughout my career that the difference between a good designer and a great designer was in their ability to move things forward.”
As I already mentioned, I come from a business or marketing background. I didn't go to art school. I didn't have a design background in the beginning. So, I felt like I had a good perspective on how to talk to business leaders. And I was frequently the interface between my design team and those business leaders. It was also common to have someone on my team who was more skilled at communicating about design, right? So it was a lot easier to put them in front of our business leaders or clients. Whereas there was also this category of designer where we’d be like, “Okay, that person's not quite as skilled at this”, because they didn't have the skills of articulation needed to have a successful business conversation.
And so, having spent a majority of my career wrestling with those kinds of issues, I thought to myself, what are the patterns here? What are the processes that I use personally or that I've seen used successfully by other people? How could I create some sort of reproducible system for myself, for my own team, so that we can continue to improve in this skill, but also so other people in the community could get value from this approach?
From there, I went into developing that first talk for the conference. Then, I was invited to give the same talk at a different conference where O'Reilly was a sponsor. And afterwards, they asked me to consider putting it into a book. And the response at both conferences was overwhelming, to be frank. This was my first time speaking at a conference. I almost couldn't leave the room or the stage because so many people were coming up to me and asking me questions and saying things like, “Oh my gosh, we weren't taught this.” “This has been a problem for me.” “As a leader, I've seen this too.” There was so much positive sentiment in the room. It was palatable. And so, I really felt like I had struck a nerve with the community. This was a problem worth exploring more. And that has led me on this journey now for nearly ten years of talking about these skills and how to improve them. Of course, I have the book. I also do workshops for teams. And I have worked with all kinds of teams to uncover and figure out how we can all improve in this area.
The X-Mentor: Communication is a key skill for any discipline, especially for professional growth and to be able to move into positions of leadership.
I want touch on one of your points in your book related to UX strategy. You talked about “Appeal to A Nobler Motive.” What's behind that statement?
Tom: That specific phrase, appealing to a nobler motive, is one of the steps of communication from Dale Carnegie's 1936 classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you've not read it, I highly recommend it. It's just as valuable today as it was when it was written in the 1930s.
The premise is that we should always be looking to appeal to the thing that we know we both want, right? So, if you imagine an individual designer working with a peer or stakeholder on a problem, you should always be capable of framing your work in a way that is going to make sense to that person and to appeal to their needs and expectations, not exclusively in the way that the designer thinks about it themselves. In business, the easiest, nobler motive is always some version of a business goal that we have. Ideally, our partners in the business helped us define those goals. And so together we understand that the design that we're proposing is intended to have this impact.
And so anytime that we can point to a specific design decision that we made and demonstrate how we expect it to influence that particular goal, then we make a really good case for our designs. And it's more likely that our stakeholders will understand the thinking behind why we did what we did.
The X-Mentor: Thinking about delivering the strategy and how it gets the whole team to a point where they have a shared understanding of the problem. One of the mantras of Design Thinking involves answering the question: What problem are we solving together?
Tom: Yes, and in fact, most design conversations get off track simply because we're not thinking about the same problem. It may simply be that we aren't aligned on it, and we need to get aligned. We need to have the same shared understanding of that problem. What's more common is that people simply aren't being mindful of the problem in the context of talking about our design work. It's just not a habit that they've developed. Maybe some are having a knee jerk reaction to something that they're seeing because design usually has visual artifacts to go along with it, and so people are having an emotional response. And sometimes all it takes is just simply reminding them. “Hey, here's the problem that we're trying to solve.” This is why we did what we did. And that may be enough to help someone go, “oh, right.” They were just expressing their opinion about what they were seeing and that that's okay too. It's natural for people to do that, but we always need to be sure we're pointing back at that problem and making sure that the decisions we're making are in the context of that problem.
The X-Mentor: In your book, Chapter 7- Choose a Message. You outline four categories for describing design decisions.
The X-Mentor: The first category is Business, and you provide common responses for appealing to the needs of the business. What should designers think about when having a conversation with business stakeholders?
Tom: Ultimately, in more mature organizations, we have defined business goals at the top level. This is about making more money, acquiring more customers, reducing costs, right? Those kinds of things. We need a way to be able to connect those goals all the way down to individual product levels, which hopefully our peers in product and business are helping us with. But then there's often the next level, where we understand incremental changes that we make to our products through design. Whether it's details of an interaction or something else, there's always a way for us to connect that decision to a wider product goal and ultimately up to a business goal.
And I think what happens is we often assume that people are thinking this way. The truth is, on a day-to-day basis, many people don't necessarily have their business goals in front of them. And so, anything that we can do to make that explicit, right, “We're making this choice because we expect it to have this impact on the product.” Having that impact on the product is going to influence our product metrics in this way. And influencing our product metrics in this way is going to influence the business in this other way. Making that connection explicit for people has a huge impact.
Deliberately connecting those dots for people is crucially important to helping them understand that what we do in design is not just pretty pictures and intuition and making something look and feel cool for the customers. There's actual business value in what we're doing.
Even in those moments when we think we're doing it for those reasons and we believe that our partners in the business understand, we still need to be sure that we're clear about making that connection for them so that there's no question about why we did what we did.
The X-Mentor: Your book talks about: “Emphasize that your design is intended to help the company achieve its goals.” But it is also the case that we don't always have the signals that we need to be able to talk about the business value side of goal achievement.
In your book, you say: “If we always knew with certainty what would definitely accomplish our goals, we wouldn't need to meet.” This is one of those cases where, if you had signals, if you had indicators that could connect to some of those things, you could have a more direct conversation with the business.
In fact, I've read one of these types of conversations in a thread on LinkedIn just last night. It was the classic scenario, when the business tells CX or UX “We know that’s a problem.”
If we had the signals and indicators needed to talk about business value then Design Researchers might respond with, “Did you know that [the problem you know about] is costing our business x dollars per day?” If we could connect those dots for the business, then perhaps we might accelerate taking action.
Tom: Absolutely. And we need to have those indicators to connect those things. I think it just ends up being fuzzy science for me. In my experience, it's not always the case that we can attach concrete numbers to our decisions.
“I think it just ends up being fuzzy science for me.”
The same way that you don't know for sure that if you launch this product that it's going to be successful, right? There are so many things that go into it, even factors that are outside of our control.
So, in most cases we're making our best educated guesses from our experience, from our knowledge of the market and our understanding of the business, leaning on subject matter experts that we have looking at common ways that people measure behavior from customers, or sentiment from customers, and using those to make intelligent decisions. I don't know if I've ever really landed on one particular metric or indicator that has always been a slam dunk. It has always ended up being a conversation with people in the business about what we're most comfortable leaning on as an indicator. And in my experience, every team, every company, every businessperson has a different level of comfort with different ways of measuring the user experience. And so, it's not an easy task for sure. It requires a lot of personalization for the business and the customer in the market.
The X-Mentor: Let’s talk about the Research and making connections between design and behavior. That seems to be an area that's getting some much-needed attention. In fact, we're starting to see Research look at how interactions translate into perceptions in the heads of users and customers, and then how those perceptions actually translate into what customers do, which in turn drives economic behavior. E.g., Customers buy, they stay, they buy more, or they recommend to others, who also buy. The purse grows.
Can you share your thinking about Research and making design decisions?
Tom: What I love about this topic is that it's interesting to me how, as an industry, businesses have so often acknowledged that design is a strategic, competitive differentiator in the marketplace. This is a theme all throughout design organizations that are trying to transform businesses. This is the reason why we have the CDO (Chief Design Officer) now because businesses see this value in using design as that Differentiator in the market. So, in theory we have this concept that customer perception absolutely affects things like behavior, retention, conversion, engagement. Yet we hesitate, in my experience, to lean into those things as a measurable and quantifiable metric for understanding the performance of our design teams.
Instead, we only tend to look at lagging metrics, for example, NPS scores, or actual conversion metrics. That tends to be what we're most comfortable with because they're objective numbers. Yet there absolutely is an opportunity here because if the business really believes that design can be a differentiator, then we need to get to a place where we are also comfortable with this concept that there is a certain measure of taste, of sentiment, and of feeling that comes along with how customers perceive us. Not just from a branding standpoint, but from the way that they interact with us and our product, that does keep customers coming back repeatedly. So, I think that is often lost in this conversation.
But back to your question about research, we see this more because we are valuing research more, right? We're not only looking at quantitative metrics. We're seeing a lot more qualitative research. If we can find better ways to capture that sentiment, and maybe to wrap it in a container that feels a bit more quantifiable for a business partner, then I think we'll get somewhere. But fundamentally, we also must be comfortable with the fact that it's never going to be fully quantifiable.
The same way that no one sets out to make a bad movie. But there are lots of bad movies out there. There are lots of good movies too because directors and writers and actors and all the people that come together to make the movie know that there is this sense of storytelling and of sentiment in the market, in terms of what people are wanting. If we can tap into that, then that's ultimately going to make that movie a success. And I think a lot of those same themes that we see in entertainment or fashion or art apply to us too. It's just applied to a business environment that I think often is less comfortable with that measure of ambiguity.
Articulating Design Value
The X-Mentor: Let’s expand our conversation from Articulating Design Decisions to a term that would be more comfortable for the business.
That term – Value!
To articulate the economic impact of something, you must talk about the value of it. And some people have given it more thought than you might expect. For example, I mentioned Maxie Schmidt’s X-Interview | CX Value for Customers. Maxie breaks down the way customers perceive value into 4 dimensions.
Economic value – Whether someone perceives that they're paying a fair price for something.
Functional value – Can we achieve something useful? Does the product satisfy a need?
Experiential value – Great interactions at all levels of contact with a product or service.
Symbolic value – What it means to do business with, or to be associated with, a company.
What’s your reaction to Maxie’s approach to perceiving Value?
Tom: So, the way that I see that in my head is those first two, Economic value and Functional value, they are easier to quantify. It's relatively understood how we can measure the Economic value in terms of the price and how many people are going to pay it. And the Functional value in terms of how people are using it, we can literally measure that behavior. When you get into the Experiential and the Symbolic, they become more difficult to measure. But what I find is that we don't always acknowledge that those contribute to the Economic and Functional value.
So, for instance, both Experiential and Symbolic value contribute to long term Economic value of a customer because those customers that have a great experience or are using our products for some symbolic reason are more likely to pay more, and to pay more over time. So, there's a very tangible dollar amount associated with making that experience and that symbolism better for the customers.
You could say the same thing about Functional value. I can create an experience for my customers to overcome a missing part of functionality that I don't have for whatever reason. A simple example that comes to mind for me is loading indicators and spinners. I need to keep my users engaged while the system is loading and that has a bearing on their perception. That's a very simple way of providing an experience that overcomes what's missing from the function.
I think we often miss an opportunity to apply that kind of thinking. How can we create those experiences, that symbolism, and acknowledge that we can’t draw a direct straight line to the economic functional value? It exists and I think we all inherently know that. But then when it comes down to reporting these metrics in a business, people hesitate to draw those solid lines and admit that the kinds of experiences that we create have a fundamental impact on those outcomes.
For whatever reason... maybe it's just the season we're in right now with my family, but something that comes to mind for me is escape rooms. I have 5 kids, so we're a family of seven, and 4 of them are teenagers now. And it’s gotten a lot more difficult to find things we can do together that we all enjoy. But one thing we've landed on is going to escape rooms together. It's tons of fun, of course, but an escape room is 100% about the experience and that symbolism.
Now, there's real Economic value for me as a customer. I'm paying for this experience. And I'm hoping to get some value for it. And they're not cheap with 7 people. They're relatively expensive compared to other things we could do as a family. But it's not just functional, right? I'm not paying for me and my kids to go into a room and play a game together or solve a puzzle. We can do that anywhere. It’s all about the symbolism of having worked together to solve this puzzle, the theme of the room, the elements, and moments of delight that happen throughout. If you removed that experience and that symbolism from an escape room, it would be nearly pointless. People would not pay that price. Because people will pay more for those symbolic moments. And I know we intrinsically understand this kind of thinking in our businesses, but I'm not sure we're always doing a good enough job of demonstrating that there's real value there.
The X-Mentor: What you're describing there with the escape room reminds me of standing in line at Disney World. It’s built around designing the time that's spent and making the perception of time go faster. And so that translates into your point, Economic value and Experiential value, those things that really help you anticipate what's to come. At Disney, just getting to the ride is an immersive experience that has value.
Let’s talk about how that Experiential value translates into value coming back to the business.
What happens? What is the sequence of things?
How do you imagine that might work?
Tom: Right. Well, I think one of the ways that it works is in how we manage other areas of the business, like sales and operations and customer service. There are a few ways to build and ship a product. One way is to build a product that solves a problem that is largely functional and has that economic value that we were talking about. If you've got a good sales and marketing engine or some sort of established way of getting into businesses and customers’ lives, it's possible that you can create a successful business without necessarily creating an experiential business. Sometimes people sign up for something simply because it was there, it was the location. It was the right price. They got an advertisement. There are plenty of examples of good-enough products that did well because of great marketing. So those are real factors and that is how a lot of businesses are run.
What’s interesting is that those experiential outcomes ultimately affect and likely reduce a lot of those operational metrics that we care about too. It reduces the amount of time and effort and energy that we must put into things like sales and marketing and operations and customer service. Companies spend millions on advertising. The cost of maintaining a staffed marketing or sales team is not trivial. And yet, when you compare that to the cost of a great design team, who are creating the right kinds of experiences that will sell themselves – then you have a great case for why those experiential and symbolic metrics can add real value to the company, even if it can be a little fuzzy at times.
We see a lot of modern examples like this now. Tesla is one, right? They don't need to put a lot of time and money into marketing or distribution because they are creating an experience and a symbol for customers to latch on to. Most people will think of Apple, too. Apple is known for understanding that those experiential and symbolic values are critical. They're comfortable with the concept that there’s a certain amount of discernment and taste when it comes to those experiences. So there are some real examples we can point to that demonstrate this. Ultimately business leaders must be comfortable with that kind of thinking to create those outcomes.
A Seat at the Table
The X-Mentor: In your book, you talk about Design having “a seat at the table.” Let's talk about what it really means to have a seat in the C-Suite. Business Leaders are looking to return value to the business. To them, there’s just a few metrics that matter: Revenue, Cost, Risks, Retention, Margin, Profitability for example.
Design speaks a different, and often confusing, language.
How do we translate today’s Design-Speak into something that helps designers have successful Design Value Conversations with Business Leaders?
Tom: Yes, the answer is really just as you described it there.
Having an understanding of what's important to that person on the other side of the table is key to getting through to them and helping them understand why we do what we do, why it's important, and how it's going to impact the business.
And I don't even mean to imply that an IC level designer, who's creating an interaction for one small part of a product, must know the language of the business and they need to go get their MBA and figure that out. That’s not what we're saying. But what we are saying is that at a minimum, there needs to be an acknowledgement that is how businesses ultimately are operating and running, whether we like it or agree with it or not.
Maybe your goal isn't making more money for shareholders. I would say that that's the case for most of us, right? Most of us aren't joining a company because we want to make more money for our shareholders. But that's absolutely the end goal motivation for most companies. And so, while we don't have to believe in those metrics, or to care about them quite as much, we do need to stay focused on what keeps us motivated toward the mission and the vision of the organization. To what contributes to our development in our careers, yes, we absolutely need to maintain a handle on those things because that's important to us. But when we frame our work to other people, we need to understand enough about those metrics and what the influences are, either in the market or in the business, to be able to intelligently demonstrate that we know how that works.
Again, we don't have to know the numbers necessarily. But we need to demonstrate that we do get it. Sometimes even just showing that you can be useful in a conversation about making more money or spending less money, that's enough of a signal to business leaders that they will then say, “OK. Yeah. This this person gets it. This person understands it.”
“Where it goes off the rails is when we present Design exclusively in terms of why it's important to us.”
Where it goes off the rails is when we present Design exclusively in terms of why it's important to us. Or how it compares to some other design organization out there. And speaking in a language that doesn't even make sense to our partners in the business.
The X-Mentor: We're really talking about those people at mid-career stage, who aspire to move up in the organization and have more impact across the organization and especially for those people that, as you say in your book, are looking to get a seat at the table in the C-Suite.
How might Design earn that seat at the table in the 1st place?
Here’s some food for thought:
Perhaps the work that a Design Leader does leads to shaping business Demand instead of just delivering value for money.
Perhaps a Design Leader’s work is Essential. Meaning their outputs must be there, like the UI must be on the surface of a product.
A Design Leader’s work might be Advantageous, which means it provides a competitive advantage.
A Design Leader’s work is truly a competitive business Differentiator, which means it’s significantly advantageous, very unique, and difficult for others to replicate.
So, Tom, with this as fodder, I'd like to get your take on how design might construct value conversations.
Tom: Just from a practical standpoint, the way that I think about it is the same way that I would think about designing an experience for our customers. Except now, I'm trying to design the experience for our stakeholders in the Business. So, if I were going to go build a product for a new customer that I didn't know anything about, or knew very little about, what would I do? Well, I would go talk with them, right? I'd go find out what's important to them. I'd try to understand where the value is for them. We earn that seat by applying the same skills that many of us have developed to understand the needs of customers, but in how we approach the business and our stakeholders.
Maybe there's the opportunity, if I'm really going to create that value for the business and demonstrate that, as a Design Leader creating and shaping this design organization, I can have an impact on the strategy and the direction of the business. Then I've got to know that stuff. The same way I must know those kinds of things about customers if I'm building a product for them. And then, we must demonstrate that value first. We must show how we can apply what we’ve learned to creating that kind of value for the business.
We can’t wait for someone to invite us to the table. We must demonstrate that value first. And that creates the seat for us.
I think especially for people who grew up with a design background and have spent a lot of their career in design, that can feel like a scary thing. It is a language and a space that you may not be accustomed to, but quite frankly, that's the only path through. That's the only way to get that seat and to have that impact is to be able to speak that language and understand what makes both the people tick and the business work. And until you get to that point of learning and understanding and accepting that is absolutely part of your role, you're not going to earn that seat.
The X-Mentor: As I hear you, Tom, I'm thinking about design’s role and how it's currently perceived despite all the efforts that have been made to shift better conversations further upstream on product design.
E.g., What is the scope? What is the structure? Strategy, scope, and structure are conversations that designers haven't been as effective in with our business counterparts, I would argue.
What would you say?
Tom: I think our effectiveness there is directly tied to our ability to influence that initial vision and strategy, and what our general approach is to the market. I think you're right. If we haven't had an opportunity to be instrumental in the shaping of strategy, then by the time we get to scope and structure, it almost doesn't even matter.
You alluded to this earlier, there is a lot of handwringing around like, “Oh gosh, you didn't involve me early enough” or “we should have that seat at the table,” as if someone is going to just hand that to us. That's never been my experience. Every organization I've ever worked for, it is hard work to get in there and make an impact.
“No one is going to come to design and say, “hey, we want your help developing the vision and strategy for where we're headed.”
They're not going to wait for that. They may not even think to do that even if they claim to be a Design-led organization. That's our job! Our job is to be proactive in pursuing that. To get ahead of the curve so that when the strategy conversation is taking place, we already have the template prepared. Or a written strategy as a provocation for leading that conversation. We don't need permission to do that. We don't need to wait for someone to tell us that we can do it. We should have enough access to the business and an understanding of where we intend to head so that we can do it on our own.
Even if you go do it in a room by yourself in a black box, then do that so that when you are in that conversation or when you catch wind of something, or when you end up in a hallway with an executive, you can lead that conversation in saying, “Hey, I put some thought into this. I'd like to share it with you.”
Here's the thing, most people in organizations, especially at an executive level, have a lot of crap going on, right?
From their perspective, taking the time to sit down and be really deliberate and collaborative with the entire team about what our strategy and vision is can feel like a luxury. Most leaders feel like they’re barely able to make time for creating and communicating their strategy among all the other fires. So, if you walk in the door with a framework for how to think about that or an example of something that you've done before or a recommendation for what you think that strategy and vision should be, most people are going to welcome that, even if it’s just a starting point. They're going to be so appreciative and thankful that you took the time to write it down and share your ideas.
Now, that doesn't mean that's your new vision and strategy and you just got your seat at the table. But just coming to that conversation with something prepared, to have a formed opinion, shows you have that understanding of the business. And often it is enough to get invited to that next conversation and then to be a participant in that next meeting. And you do that a little bit at a time incrementally and down the line you find yourself with that seat. Not because you were invited, but because you demonstrated that value. Make yourself available and start creating value before it is asked of you.
The X-Mentor: I absolutely love that, Tom! Thank you so much for that!
For our X-Interview readers, I’d like to take a moment here and say we've talked about this before. Almost 40 years ago, Karen Holtzblatt, the creator of Contextual Design, was differentiating product design from other types of design by asserting that the design question she was answering was How can we know what to make? Karen had to answer that question at Digital Equipment Corporation and that is what led to her creating the Contextual Inquiry research methodology used across the globe today.
Somewhere along the way, that part of a product designer’s practice has been greatly diminished. Business Leaders who are design-naive tend to think of Design as merely how the product looks. Today, Product Designers tend to focus more on Design Systems and tools to create them than focusing on strategy, scope, and structure.
Tom, I mean, it's right back on Design to be the creator, not the victim, if they want a seat in the C-Suite.
Tom: Yeah, I mean just to give a brief example from my own career. One of my product partners I’d been working with for a long time. We’d talk about strategy, we would create documents about it, and my design team would build stuff and we would try to make these connections. After a long time of working with a product person, you continue to deliver these messages about the value that design provides, to demonstrate the thinking that goes into your decisions. And over time, it does have an impact.
You know, it’s so common for product teams to slide into becoming a feature factory. We would hear something from a customer, and we would build it. Then, it turns out, that customer is still not happy. Now they say they need three more features, so we'll build those too, right?
You get into that cycle, and we've all been there, and we finally got to a point where I was in a meeting with the VP of Product, and you could just tell he felt a little bit frustrated by all this, and then he says to me…
“What would it take? If I give you and your team six months, could you tell me the right things to build? And I was like, Hell yeah, we can do that! That's exactly why we're here.”
So, you can get to that point where people start to realize and acknowledge the value of you and your team. They get into these patterns themselves and they start to realize, “Gosh, what I've been doing isn't really working. It's not optimized, it's not efficient. We're not actually achieving our goals. What's it going to take?”
Then this light bulb goes off where they're like, “You know what? I should ask Design!” And that was exactly the kind of moment that we needed to have. But we wouldn't have gotten there if it hadn't been for the partnership that we developed, the language that we developed, and the trust we had based on demonstrating that value. And I'm happy to report that we did kick off a project and learned a lot of great insights about our customers. And we were able to bring that back to our product organization and say, “Hey, here's what we should build.” It was instrumental in influencing our roadmap.
The X-Mentor: Textbook appeal to a nobler motive right there!
What a fantastic conversation, Tom. Thank you so much! We've covered a lot of ground, from Articulating Design Decisions, to exploring how we can better articulate the value of design.
I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg of this important topic.
Thank you so much for helping us think about it, Tom!
Tom: Of course! Thank you so much for having me, Greg. This was great!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Greg Parrott is The X-Mentor and publisher of The X-Interviews.
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