September 29, 2019

Thoughts on Process and Practicality

If you take a look at my LinkedIn profile, you'll see that I've been a little bit of everywhere. While the processes that are out in the wild are all great, my observation is that process is not an easy thing to implement, let alone enforce or adhere to, and no two places are the same with respect to process. There are many variables that affect said processes like timelines, resources, requirements and balance of power. Process will suffer at the deficit of one of these factors.

If you're in a place where you can enforce and adhere to process, that is freaking awesome. Congrats. The reality of the teams I've been in have had a constant struggle with process, and unless you have an entire team committed to bettering how you work together, you're going to have some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants level of action—which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

This post is more for you than those of us that have process buttoned-down.

The truth of the matter is that process should be grown organically. The latest and hottest article on Medium is not going to fix your process. That's up to you and your team to commit to.

Fun fact: I know this guy who wrote a book and charges companies for a class that he teaches on product design process, and has yet to be employed as part of a product design team. Jussayin'. Talking heads are a mutha (sometimes)

We all know the prescribed process, and I acknowledge the advantages of said process because they were conceived out of many years of great experience—I'm not about to disrespect the architects. But, if you're in a small startup, or you're in an organization that has a few stray ducks that aren't in a row, here's an idea.

Keep it simple.

The core/common pieces of the process are:

Definition - what is it that we're doing?
Ideation - I think this does the trick
Refinement - no, okay, this does the trick
Shepherding - the typeahead doesn't work right, do this instead

No matter where I've landed, this is the general process, but the differences lie in available personnel ("We don't have a research team? So I gotta do all the research myself?"), timelines and requirements ("Yeah, we said we're an agile shop, but head honcho said to make this exact thing happen by Friday"), and balance of power ("Dude, why you being so prescriptive?").

All that extra process stuff is gravy. As long as you've got your core process solid, you can plug these extra process steps as your team grows or team culture evolves, but plugging in these other steps have to happen where they make sense, and when it makes sense to add them. It's a much kinder approach than to force a heavily detailed PRD on a PM who is effective and works really well with their UX designer(s) and Engineer(s). Also much more humane than wrenching in a deep research requirements for a feature that already exists. Sometimes collecting usage data is just what your feature needs.

If we treated the extra steps (deep research, competitive analysis, PRD, etc.) as tools in our toolbox, we can summon these tools when and where we can benefit from their use the most, as it fits in your team's work style.

Just my 2 cents on the matter. This is not gospel.

May 3, 2019

Personas & Edge Cases

This shot I took in Santa Monica

We noticed this one guy just wandering on his own in his clothes into the water. It's become one of my favorite shots. I chose to use this shot because it was a good study on user types. Like most UX practitioners, I'm an avid people watcher. I observe behaviors and notice the patterns. The beach is a prime example of this—and peoplewatching is just fascinatingly fun.

You can break down the different types of beach visitor in this shot. The vast majority of these visitors range from beach loungers to the thigh-deep crowd. The next group ranges from belly-deep to chest-deep.

The folks at the beach can actually be analogous to the users we encounter in our own products. In this shot, one person sticks out—the fully-clothed guy wandering in a roped off area of the shore, which is a good reminder that while edge cases are super-rare, they do still happen.

The beach also is its own persona 

It's Santa Monica. It's always way more packed than, say, Laguna Beach. Santa Monica has its own characteristics like its proximity to all the tourist traps (and is itself a tourist trap). Whether we like it or not, the products we build have their own personas. We enforce these personas through the tone and voice we use, the way the products work, the interactions, and all of this is tied to the overall brand of the companies we work for/with, and the histories of these companies.

Where do I fall on this persona list? 

Well, if I'm on the beach, I'm the waist-deep kinda guy, but I'd be very cautious because I'm kinda sorta terrified of the sea and all that inhabit it. This time around, I just stayed on the pier—and I'm perfectly fine with that.

Besides, I ain't eeeem tryin' to get sand in my sneakers.

March 5, 2018

My Non-Answer to Maintaining Culture

I had the honor of being a panelist at Vista’s UX conference in January. I got to meet some great folks from other Vista-owned companies. We had a grand ol’ time. The panel I was on was about addressing common designer issues. Marco Suarez from Invision was moderating the session. As a first time speaker of sorts, I was a bit nervous as the only individual contributor amongst three design leaders, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The conversation-style session was going well — addressing issues such as retaining talent and resolving internal issues — and then Marco leads us into the next question.

“Dante…”

Oh, real quick — you ever been in a situation where you’re in a conversation and the best answer doesn’t come until afterwards? That’s exactly what happened to me.

So Marco says, “Dante, how do you maintain culture inside of your UX organization?”

Ah, frig.

“Well… culture… really is a balance of… what you allow… and don’t allow as an organization…mmmyeah, I don’t really have a good answer for this one”

I pass the mic to Mo Jennings, Director of UX at DealerSocket, and he takes it away with the cool outings he and his team have.

Ugh, cringe moment for me. But anyway, the rest of the talk went smoothly and that one question kept bothering me for the next few days. While yes, there is truth to the statement I made, I don’t think I did anyone any favors, so here we are.

Culture vs. Perks

Maintaining culture inside of your respective work groups. I’m old school, so the last time I led a group, culture wasn’t something actively chased after and developed. It was something that existed as a subculture organically, or was completely reflective of the culture at the C-level. The common string being that leadership is what can foster or devolve a culture.

The common thought at my panel was in the lane of maintaining culture through perks like good work from home policies, happy hours and ping pong tables. That’s great and all, but that’s just a byproduct of culture. I once worked at a design shop that had a merch fulfillment arm. There were all kinds of cool outings and perks, but it still didn’t stop someone from getting strangled on the job (who does that?!). That joint was on camera too. In short, the perks wont work unless the culture is good.

Maintaining Culture through Sense of Purpose, Inclusivity and Ownership

At Marketo, with new design leadership in place, our culture within the UX team has changed significantly for the better (big shout out to Manish Parekh). While we’re working on developing our design system, one thing we’re working on is establishing a good, solid statement of who we are. A credo, if you will, and it’s currently being drafted by myself, and the rest of the design team.

We’re taking a very inclusive approach to crafting this document, encouraging participation from everyone on the team. We’re creating the foundation of where we want our team to be. This will define how we operate, what we believe in as designers, and our design philosophy—how we roll as a group. What we stand for, and what we don’t stand for.

This document can then be passed down to new team members to maintain culture through this credo that we would live by. The level of enthusiasm we’re experiencing is very high, and it is palpable. This is a living document that can adjust with the times.

Hire Well and Validate through Strengths

With the recent changes in staff since the Vista acquisition (par for the course in any acquisition) we’ve rebuilt our team with truly bright and engaging folks that we hand-picked with intentionality; keeping in consideration how people could work together for our greater goal, and how they fit inside our team with our combinations of strengths and weaknesses. This (rightfully) gives each team member a sense of importance and makes them better suited to contribute their ideas. No one wants to work in a place that doesn’t recognize what they bring to the table.

Each team member brings something valuable. This is why you hired them. Acknowledge and encourage them. The more people share, the more we all learn. Constant elevation through education.

Maintaining Culture through Being Good Human Beings

True enough, any and many companies can be their own little cluster of madness. Some of that madness can be alleviated just from providing a good, honest and sincere and supportive environment that will allow people to feel free to dream and create. This requires a good degree of selflessness, and a genuine desire to see everyone flourish. This can be done through good leadership. Aneil Razvi, UX Department Manager of OmniTRACS touched on the idea of maintaining culture through gratitude. He first conducted a survey on what people appreciate. He had some team members working from home, and when they were exceptional, he’d have pizzas sent to their houses. Pretty dope. I feel like out of all of us, Aneil gave the closest to the best answer to Marco’s question because he dug deep enough to work with peoples motivations and rewarded them according to what motivated them.

Ok, so...

I’m not writing this to say that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to maintaining culture, but this is what we’ve done. I’m sure this will eventually need editing as we’re always looking to evolve our team and our own processes, and better ways to serve each other. Good leaders nurture positive behavior and thought, and discourage the opposite.

…maybe my answer to Marco’s question wasn’t so bad after all. The delta between what you allow and what you discourage will be the space that your culture lives in.

LDG

Toronto born, 'Sauga raised
Big up Nashville & The Bay
Thriving in Orange County

Toronto born, 'Sauga raised
Big up Nashville & The Bay
Thriving in Orange County

Toronto born, 'Sauga raised
Big up Nashville & The Bay
Thriving in Orange County

Toronto born, 'Sauga raised
Big up Nashville & The Bay
Thriving in Orange County

Toronto born, 'Sauga raised
Big up Nashville & The Bay
Thriving in Orange County

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