“Design For All” — A Transformation from Group Thinking to Design Thinking

Launching the latest technology-enabled solutions is a low hanging fruit for an organisation in pursuit of digital transformation. A sustainable change will depend on the extent to which teams and leaders who don’t do design believe in the value of thinking for design. The tangible benefits of user-centric methodologies and innovation centers will remain elusive until every hand on the deck makes a conscious choice in aligning towards the work principles of design thinking. This is applicable for an engineer redesigning the website on the latest framework, for an architect charting the roadmap for a suite of mobile apps, for a program manager running the cloud infrastructure, or for an executive assessing funding needs for the adoption of machine learning.

Design For All

Over 2 days and 12 workshops, a group of 25 designers from work facilitated an experience, “Design For All”, for over 100 participants on the occasion of the World Design Days 2019. It all started with a simple notion.

You don’t have to be a designer to adopt design thinking.

In these sessions, we unpacked up some of our practices, tools, methods, and most importantly, the mindsets needed to make design a way of life, at and outside work, for folks who don’t do design for a living.

This is a narrative of why, as Tim Brown would put it, design is now too important to be left only to designers, when you embark on a digital transformation journey as an organisation.

1. Renovating a Space Shuttle in Space is Harder Than Building a New One on the Ground

In the 2016 film “Passengers”, Chris Pratt’s character successfully pulls off a death-defying stunt by rebooting a nuclear reactor aboard an interstellar spaceship saving lives of thousands of fellow passengers in transit. Antics aside, most businesses built on a foundation of legacy technologies and adopting digital solutions face a similar challenge. They do not have the luxury to land on the ground and take their operations offline to adopt efficiencies offered by digital experiences and infrastructure.

Organisations need creative and human-centered approaches in disciplines beyond an interactive user experience.

In fact, more often than not, the root cause of a disjointed and below par user experience lies outside of the wireframes and visual designs. It could be anywhere between a policy decision informed by limited insight on user behaviour all the way to a technical service with a high degree of debt leading to performance issues in a mobile app.

2. Any Roadmap Longer Than 9 Months for An Enterprise Solution is Obsolete the Day it is Created

This doesn’t imply that you must not create multi-year roadmaps. However, the longer your roadmap, the critical it is to have intermittent milestones to introspect on the journey, institutionalise the learnings, and change course as needed. At bare minimum, this implies that the process your teams use to ideate on concepts and implement the engineering needs to be iterative. However, there are larger implications for governance of such programs.

Traditional program management offices that drive comfort in allocating and managing fixed budget based on day zero estimations will forever remain in conflict under these circumstances.

Some iterations will deliver better results than other. Similarly, no two iterations may need similar levels of financial investments and it would be incredibly hard for any product manager to predict this at the outset. Adopting agile or similar iterative methodologies will require changes in execution processes but also have implications on how programs are funded and evaluated.

3. Culture Eats Strategy, Design, Implementation, Quality Assurance and Deployment for Breakfast

A typical team on the ground in an end-to-end digital transformation program will look no different than a jigsaw puzzle. From designers who bring together the disciplines of psychology, behavioural science and interface design to the engineers who build best-of-the-breed applications, it is a gathering of individuals with their own shapes, sizes, colours, and most importantly, aspirations. What DNA in your organisation culture will bind these diverse practitioners together?

A shared appreciation for a good design, irrespective of whether it is in code or colour, to do what’s right for the user by creating high-quality experiences should be a true north across teams.

When everyone is busy in their day-to-day priorities, decisions taken by individuals, teams, and leaders is constantly influencing your culture at work. When there is an underlying implicit agreement in principle across teams to do what’s right for the user, you win half the battle in resolving conflicts, addressing dependencies, and pushing for progress.

As we wrapped up the design workshops at the “Design For All” event, there was a palpable joy on the faces of the participants. One of the feedback note summed it all up, “The facilitators have so much energy and so full of life that it kind of rubs off on you”. There is something innately human in the underlying principles of design thinking. It empowers you to be able to empathise with your users, to dissolve your own ego to let go of your ideas when data proves so, and to be acceptable of failures and apply learnings on the next cycle in pursuit for the right answer.

So, do you agree that design is now too important to be left only to designers?

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