Thomas Lockwood will run his workshop “Building Great Design Organizations” for DMI, the non-profit Design Management Institute, on November 1-2 in New York City. Registration and more info here via DMI.org
Fast Company recently asked me – What makes a great UX design leader? Here is my response –
Seven key traits the best UX design leaders share.
The job market for user experience designers is booming, and academic programs at companies like Google have sprung up to meet demand. Missing from most discussions about the UX design education gap is the need for great UX design leaders. These are senior-level managers who not only understand the nuts and bolts of UX work—making things usable—but do everything in their power to help organizations, and the talent they nurture, embody a UX ethos. Here are seven key qualities the best UX design leaders share:
1. They are masters of process
UX is about making new experiences, services, and products. This requires process discipline (coupled with creativity). UX leaders can adapt to any kind of process—Agile, Sprint, Waterfall, Stage-Gate, Scrum, ISO, company-based, you name it. The best UX leaders make things happen regardless of what process they’re using.
2. They are great leaders of people
User experience involves many people, and UX leaders know how to assemble cross-functional teams, guide and inspire them, and create synergy. Great UX leaders are great people leaders—they ask more then they tell, laugh more than they criticize, have tons of empathy, and yet are straightforward in their critique and remain focused on the task at hand.
3. Front stage and backstage
Great UX leaders coordinate both front- and back-end platforms—the user-facing experience and the tech beneath it. If you don’t understand the tech, you can’t help create the best user experience.
4. They draw connections others may not see
UX leaders are connectors. They connect technology to new services and products; different functions within a company; and the company to its customers and followers. A great UX leader helps connect the company to all its stakeholders, internal and external. After all, every company touch point is an experience, and the best UX design leaders help orchestrate the best experiences.
5. They create relevance
UX leaders bring meaning to experiences and, in doing so, to the brand itself. They ask: How do the apps work? How does the customer journey progress? How does the mobile experience integrate? How well do the services perform? How does the user respond? UX is about creating relevance.
6. They are cheerleaders of usability
Great UX design leaders advocate tirelessly for usability. It might sound obvious, but it goes beyond simply making the case for a streamlined app. It’s about embedding good user experiences into every aspect of the business, from consumer-facing products to the hiring process itself.
7. They’re relentlessly focused on tomorrow
UX leaders create the future. They help take a company, and its customers, to new places, whether through apps, services, or something else entirely. Great UX design leaders help lead a company to its preferred future state.
For tips on recruiting great UX leaders, go here.
Design leadership, Design recruiting, Design-led innovation, Innovation culture, User experience, UX, UX leadership, UX recruiting
Lockwood Resource is retained to fill several Senior Industrial Designer positions for a leading consumer hard goods manufacturer in the US.
Thomas Lockwood writes about “The Anatomy of a Great UX Design Leader” for Fast Company Design.
Lockwood Resource provides design organization strategy consulting for an innovative technology start up.
Lockwood Resource completes a comprehensive design organization assessment of positions, job descriptions and career paths for a Fortune 500 corporation in the US.
Of course design leaders lead design. But there can be sooooooo much more. A good leader provides inspiration, influence, direction, guidance, control and management, a good design leader even more. Given the right context and cultural environment, design leaders can do amazing things for any company; here is a snapshot of what the best design leaders lead:
Simply put, design is a team sport, and the best design leaders know how to assemble great design teams, guide and inspire people, and create the magic of synergy in cross-functional teams. Great design leaders are great people leaders. They ask more then they tell, laugh more than they disapprove, and yet are straightforward in critique and focus on the content. One of the core values at Pixar is to “always critique the work”. That means don’t slam the creator, instead critique the work, so the creators can do even better work.
Design leaders are adaptable process leaders, any kind they face; Agile, Sprint, Waterfall, Stage gate, Scrum, ISO, departmental and company based. Design is about making new products, services and experiences, and this requires process discipline and methods know how, coupled with creativity. Good design leaders can make good things happen regardless of process constraints.
Design leaders are connectors – connecting technology and new products and services. Connecting products and services to user experience. Connecting different functions in the company, and connecting the company to it’s customers and followers; in fact, connecting the company to all it’s stakeholders, internal and external. After all, every single company touch point is designed, and design leaders help connect the dots.
Many people wrestle with this, but I think it takes one to know one. Design leadership requires grounding, context and empathy. A background in design, any design discipline, can give this grounding, context and empathy. Actually having done the designing process, experiencing the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory in your own design, this matters. Yes, many professionals can lead a design department, but I think that behind every great design leader is a designer at heart, and at school.
Design leaders are future creators, because design is about making what will be, not what is already. Design leaders lead the creation of new products and services; they help take the company, and customers, to new places, to new experiences. Design leaders lead us all to the future, in little steps, most commonly referred to as design-led innovation.
Beyond creating new products and services, design leaders lead user experiences. Users being the end consumer, the channels and the employees. Based on the principle of user-centered design, good design leaders can create better experiences both inside and outside the company. The best design leaders I know all have empathy for the people, and demonstrate this by walking the line, not talking the talk.
7. Brand meaning
Design leaders also help bring meaning to the brand, because a brand is not just what you say, it is what you do. Design leaders are about the do. How do the products work? How do the services perform? How does the user respond? How does the innovation solve the problem, and is this the right problem to solve? How does the brand become relevant to individuals? Design is making relevance, and design leaders make brands more meaningful to it’s stakeholders.
Design leadership is as much about simplifying things as it is making new things. The best design leaders seek to simplify, to streamline. We already have enough stuff, but we probably could use more thoughtful stuff, more sustainable, more simple.
I heard a great little story, not sure if it is true, but it goes like this: Steve Jobs was talking with the CEO of Nike, presumably Mark Parker. They were discussing collaboration while looking at some shoes on display and (Parker) was apologetic, saying something like “Oh, this pair of shoes is over designed”. Jobs responded by saying “It’s not over designed, it’s under designed. Your designer has not found the essence of the shoe yet”. Great design leaders help find the essence of the problems to be solved. Nice little book: “The Laws of Simplicity”, John Maeda
If the definition of design is solving problems, than the definition of strategic design is solving the right problems. That’s what great design leaders can do for your company. So here are ten characteristics of design leaders.
In my humble opinion, great design leaders can do more for an organization that just about any other functional discipline.Career planning, Creative assessment, Design leadership, Design organization, Design recruiting, Design-led innovation
By Jeanne Liedtka. Many of us who have studied (and lived in) organizations see design thinking as just another problem solving approach that can add value to any manager’s tool kit. It may sound mysterious and fuzzy, but it is not. Especially in times as ambiguous and hard to predict as those facing businesses today, what differentiates design thinking from our more traditional analytic approaches is really grounded in its acknowledgment of uncertainty. Rather than avoiding risk (an impossibility if you want innovation), design thinking gives us the tools to actively manage it. Rather than deluding ourselves that yet another excel spreadsheet calculation can reduce the risk of an innovation’s failure, design thinking sends us in search of the only really solid data available when you are trying to create a new future: the real live people you are trying to create value for.
But introducing design thinking into an organization – especially a large one – isn’t necessarily easy. Based on my work with hundreds of managers who have tried to do this, I have concluded that having a smart strategy is key. To aid in creating that, I have a few suggestions:
1. Don’t debate – ACT!
Indulging in extended theoretical debates about design thinking and how it stacks up against traditional methods is a game you won’t win. You have to experience the process to get a sense of its power. We have found that even a small short hands-on session like the Stanford D School’s wallet exercise is worth far more than the fattest power point deck extolling the virtues of this approach.
2. Pick your challenge (“to design think or not to design think”)
Design thinking is no more the optimal tool for all management challenges than our usual analytic approaches. Using it doesn’t render all other forms of problem solving obsolete. It is merely a different problem-solving approach, one that is optimized for certain classes of problems. To decide whether you have a good opportunity for design thinking, ask yourself whether the problem or challenge you are facing is one where you are fairly sure that data from the past is not a good predictor of the future. Look for one involving real human beings that have resisted other methods. And find one with some real urgency behind it. And then frame your goals in language and metrics (lowering costs, increasing revenues, improving customer satisfaction) that make sense to the people who really care about solving the problem.
3. Think small
Resist the urge to supersize your early efforts. Yes – eventually you will need to ensure that the innovation opportunities you identify are sufficiently scalable to interest your organization. But the time to do that is later, after you’ve had one or two (or maybe even more) spins through the process and have eliminated as much uncertainty as possible. Build your design thinking muscles by tackling some small challenges first: fixing the employee orientation process, for example, or introducing a weekly customer report.
4. Select and manage your team carefully
The merits of multidisciplinary teams have been drilled into managers for a long time, yet we still confuse “diverse” with “politically inclusive.” For design thinking projects, it is a true diversity of experience you’re after. Think of your team’s design potential as bounded by the experience base of everybody on it. This is your collective wisdom. If you all look alike, you don’t have much to work with.
5. Manage your momentum
Momentum is an underappreciated resource on an innovation project. As long as a project is clicking along and people feel productive, there is a positive buzz. The number one momentum-creator is speed. But speed doesn’t happen by itself, any more than forming a committee creates action. Momentum is fueled by the energy produced when groups of people work together to identify, create, and test great new value-enhancing ideas – and then see the fruits of their labor.
There is an interesting tension between fast and slow in the design thinking process. Designers take the time to study a problem up front: their solutions tend to fall naturally out of this immersion in current reality. As managers, we are often reluctant to take that kind of time at the outset for thoughtful reflection: we are in a hurry to get to solutions. But in our haste to find quick answers, we find inadequate ones that never identify the real value creation opportunity at all – and that’s not really very efficient, is it?Change management, Design methods, Design thinking
Have you ever wondered which problem is the most important to solve? Do you focus on the smaller problem at hand, or the bigger problem that lies beneath? The answer is yes, to both.
That’s what design thinkers do. They solve the issues before them, while taking a bite out of the bigger issues too, with an eye towards the end game of solving whatever obstacles prevent the desired outcome.
Design thinking is a problem-solving methodology engaging deep empathy of the user, problem framing, user collaboration and co-creation, rapid rough prototyping, objective analysis, and visual, scenario or storytelling synthesis in order to make decisions. Here’s what design thinkers think about:
- They think about problem solving
First and foremost, design thinkers strive to solve problems. Say you are tasked with creating an app for online shopping, because your company wants more sales and thinks the answer is a new mobile app. But in doing contextual inquiry, you discover that your product installation process is way confusing, so your products get bad reviews. You may not really need that new app yet, rather you may need to fix the installation process first, then make the app more applicable.
Design thinking is a more strategic approach to problem solving. If the definition of design is solving a problem, then the definition of strategic design is solving the right problem. Design thinkers do both.
- They think about others
The essence of design thinking is not the designer, product manager, engineer or marketer – it’s the end user. Design thinkers treat users as partners and co-creators, and seek to understand, not to persuade. In Wired to Care, Dev Patnik, CEO of Jump Associates, states “Companies prosper when they tap into a power that every one of us already has – the ability to reach outside of ourselves and connect with other people”.
- They think about context
If you’re focused on understanding others, than contextual inquiry will be your best tool. Get out, walk a mile in your customers shoes, and experience what they experience first hand. In doing so you will discover unmet needs and surface the pain points – first, seek to understand.
Contextual inquiry will also open the door to identifying problems across the entire customer journey. Particularly for services, design thinkers explore the whole customer experience, or journey, and create service design blueprints and expose what users feel to be their high points and low points of their experience. Then, fix the low points.
- They think about front stage and back stage
Since the holistic customer experience is the accumulation of touch points, design thinkers are border crossers. They seek to understand problems at the “front stage” – the top level touch points, and at the “back stage” – the processes and systems that lie beneath. Since these problems cross company departments and functions, engaging a cross-functional team on user inquiry can help diffuse company silos and resistance to change. But be careful, design thinkers can get caught in department cross-fires!
- They think about the future
Not content with status quo, design thinkers are creators, future makers – not the know-it-all type, but humble explorers. They keep asking, “What could be”, regardless of constraints or context. According to Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer, 3M, “We have a role much beyond making things. We think about the future and imagine what that could encompass. The job of design is to stretch, to be a stretch agent.”
Design thinkers not only seek to create better situations for people, they believe it’s possible to succeed. The personality profile of design thinkers includes traits like optimism, experimentation, collaboration, synergy and creativity. Design thinkers thrive on imagining new concepts, having conversations, communicating with visuals, scenarios and story telling, and creating a better future.
- They think about design
Creating a concept is the first step, but everything, yes everything, eventually has to be designed, albeit a product, service, process or experience. Design thinkers are about how to design all this. While many design thinkers are trained as visual, UX or product designers, many others are trained as anthropologists, researchers, engineers or marketers, or any background for that matter. Regardless of background, one thing is in common; they like to create the ideas, scenarios and solution concepts. There is no set degree or credential required to be a design thinker, thank goodness!
- They think about open innovation
Likewise, design thinkers don’t limit ideas to a single department, but rather engage very broadly. Methods such as open innovation and design-led innovation are paramount to design thinking. The best innovation methods involve many people, and design thinkers leverage the creativity of all people, inside and outside the company. Embracing your creative intelligence is at the core, as Bruce Nussbaum argues, to use creative intelligence to “harness their power to create, connect and inspire”.
- They think about the company, the organization
Design thinking is applicable in any organization – for profit or non-profit; public or private; government, education, healthcare or hospitality; for products, services, processes or experiences; small or large. That’s the beauty of design thinking.
What’s more, design thinking is a way to build cultures of innovation, from the bottom up. In True Alignment, Leadership expert Edgar Papke suggests that it is possible to manage and change corporate culture; I’d like to suggest that design thinkers can be the change agents.
In my opinion, design thinking is the most effective methodology for problem solving out there. It crosses the barrier from company to user, from constraints to solutions, from quantitative to qualitative. Unfortunately, design thinking is only being taught at a handful of educational institutions globally. But fortunately, there are thousands of creative, smart, open-minded, forward thinking individuals out there that are embracing design thinking like a fire storm!
Note: I published an excerpt of this on Fast Company Design, Six key ways design thinkers approach problems.Change management, Corporate culture, design culture, Design leadership, Design thinking, Human-centered design, Innovation culture, Open innovation, User experience
After interviewing hundreds of design leaders in my recruiting business for the last three and a half years, sitting thru about 350 speeches by design leaders whilst running DMI for six years, reading about 350 articles by design leaders as the publisher of the DMI Review and the DMI Journal, and co-editing/writing four anthology books about design leadership, I’ve seen some patterns emerge.
It’s a fascinating job function, and one thing that continues to impress me is the unique combination of qualities and skills of great design and innovation leaders. Here are the ten characteristics I see, and look for, in great design leaders.
Empathy. Design leaders tend to be people who care about people. After all, just about everything is designed for people, and so it seems the best design leaders put the user first and foremost.
Curiosity. Great design leaders never stop asking why. Why? Because they want to get to the root cause of the challenge to be solved, and know it is often different than the problem initially stated. Curiosity seems to be a natural attribute.
Humility. Coupled with curiosity, I’ve noticed that great design leaders listen more than they talk. Not to be presumptuous, the best are always in discovery mode. Because it’s not who ultimately designs the solution that counts, it’s how well the solution solves the problem that matters.
Creativity. I don’t think I’ve ever met a design leader who said they can’t solve a design problem; creativity just comes naturally. You’ll often find design leaders designing things outside of work as much as at work, creativity is core, it’s just a part of their DNA.
Design savvy. This may go without saying, but with more and more people claiming to be design leaders, I must state that the best design leaders I know all have a background in design; typically in product, UX, visual or communication design. And it’s quite handy, because it often takes one to know one.
T-shape. In addition to deep roots in design, most have additional interests and competencies in related disciplines, such as business, engineering, technology or anthropology/sociology. The idea of T-shaped people, first developed by Marco Iansiti at Harvard Business School, helps explain why great design leaders are often capable of tackling and solving a wide range of problems, not just design problems.
Research savvy. Having breadth of interests and capabilities yields itself well to research, and most design leaders I know thrive on discovery. The reason being, they know that you can’t solve a problem without knowing the causes and the constraints, and that research is a way to discover boundaries and understanding. By research I mean qualitative. Unfortunately, mention quantitate research and their eyes begin to glass over.
Social savvy. Coupled with research, design leaders tend to be incredibly socially aware. Trends, art, fashion, artifacts, culture, whats next and whats different is all far too interesting to be left unattended by design leaders, which probably stems from their natural creativity, curiosity and social adeptness.
Leadership. It seems to me that that leadership just comes naturally to design leaders. They are the ones to grab a marker and white board meeting notes, they are the ones to ask the challenging albeit sometimes naive questions, and they are the ones to then push for their preferred solution and try to bring the room along. And why not? They figure if that solution doesn’t fly, they can just create another one.
Communication. Coupled with natural leadership skills are most often wonderful communication skills. Great design leaders can tell stories, draw sketches, act, and even write snappy copy. They are masters at multimedia communication. No wonder so many UX designers are emerging as leaders.
Competitive. The last point is that over and over I’ve seen that design leaders play to win. They strive for success. No problem is too great to solve, and in fact the challenge to succeed is the real carrot, not the individual design solution. And its the process, not just the result that matters.
I hope this little summary is helpful for anyone wanting to better understand what makes design leaders tick. This is not intended to be a checklist whatsoever, I’m simply tipping my hat to the beautiful attributes of some of the people I admire most.
And by the way, in case you noticed, this list has eleven points, not ten. Great design leaders are far too expressive to be contained by an arbitrary set of even numbers.Creative assessment, Design leadership, Design organization, Design recruiting, Innovation recruiting, Sourcing, UX recruiting
Given the right context and corporate culture, User Experience leaders can do amazing things for any company. Much like Design Leaders, here is a snapshot of what the best UX leaders lead, and it goes far beyond usability.
UX is about making new experiences, services and products, and this requires process discipline and methods know how, coupled with creativity. UX leaders are adaptable to any kind of process they face – Agile, Sprint, Waterfall, Stage gate, Scrum, ISO, departmental and company based. Great UX leaders can make great things happen regardless of process requirements.
User experience involves many people, and UX leaders know how to assemble great cross-functional teams, guide and inspire them, and create synergy. Great UX leaders are great people leaders – they ask more then they tell, laugh more than they criticize, have tons of empathy, and yet are straightforward in their critique and remain focused on content.
- Front stage and back stage
Beyond creating the desired user experiences, great UX leaders coordinate the front stage and the back stage platforms. Front stage being the user facing experiences, and back stage being the technical enablement’s underneath. Great UX leaders get both, and based on the principle of user-centered design, can create better experiences both inside and outside the company.
UX leaders are connectors – connecting technology, new services and products, connecting different platforms, connecting different functions in the company, and connecting the company to it’s customers and followers. In fact, UX leaders help connect the company to all it’s stakeholders, internal and external. After all, every company touch point is an experience, and the best UX design leaders help orchestrate the best experiences.
Keep in mind too, great experiences don’t just happen, they are designed. A background in design, any design discipline, can help give grounding, context and empathy. Yes, many professionals can lead a UX department, but I think that behind every great UX leader is a creator, designer or concept maker at heart. According to Bob Schwartz, General Manager, Global Design & User Experience, GE Healthcare, “Great design and user experience are inextricably linked and interdependent.”
UX leaders bring meaning to the experience, and also to the brand, because a brand is not just what you say, it is what you do – UX leaders are about the do. They ask, how do the apps work? How does the customer journey progress? How does the mobile experience integrate? How well do the services perform? How does the user respond? UX is about making relevance, and UX leaders make products, services and brands more relevant and meaningful to all stakeholders.
At the end of the day, UX leaders are the chief advocates of usability – even if it requires crossing boundaries, technologies or platforms. Again, they are the connectors, and the best user experiences stem from the best UX leadership, usability, human factors and human-centered design. According to ISO 9241-11, usability involves “The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” Yes, the UX Leader owns usability too.
UX leaders are future creators – UX leaders lead the creation of new apps, services, products and customer experiences. They help take the company, and its’ customers, to new places, to new experiences. UX strategy guides us all to the future, in little steps. Great UX design leaders help lead a company to it’s preferred future state. Finding and recruiting great UX leaders is an art and science unto itself, here are some tips about our Design-based recruiting (sm) methods.
Career planning, design culture, Design leadership, Design organization, Design thinking, Design-led innovation, Innovation culture, Innovation recruiting, User experience, UX leadership, UX recruiting