Tying it All Together
One of the most interesting challenges facing enterprise organizations today is trying to maintain consistency. Consistency across products, consistency in branding, consistency in departmental vision - across the board, enterprises face difficulty “tying it all together.”
The potential pitfalls of failing to meet this challenge are well known. Organizations that fail to maintain consistency fall into disarray. Departments become warring factions. Individual products threaten to go rogue or take over. A “maverick” mentality develops, where individual employees feel that the only way to accomplish change is to strike out on their own, “break the rules”, and circumvent process. None of this results in any lasting success in organization, and it’s a frequent precursor to downfall.
Experience designers working within or engaged by large enterprise organizations often fail to take this into consideration as well. We’re so interested in solving the problem in front of us, we often fail to see the larger issues facing an organization, or fail to see how our decisions might further cause division. We want to solve the software or design problem in front of us using the best technology and cutting edge design metaphors. Sadly, a single great app often doesn’t translate into big value for a large enterprise organization.
Reflect organization values. Values are one of the most prevalent ways an organization expresses they experience they want their customers to have. The brand might say it values honesty - they mean that they want customers to feel like they can trust the brand. The brand might say it values innovation - they mean that they want customers to feel like the brand empowers them with cutting edge technology. By considering the things the organization values, experience designers can make better decisions about where to focus their efforts.
Consider the human channel. Experience designers are usually working on a single customer communication channel, whether it’s the web or a mobile application or an in-store kiosk. Instead of focusing on the technology, consider first the human-to-human interaction that this application replaces. How were these processes done before technology replaced a person? Employees do a great job keeping the organization’s goals in sight; without a lot of attention on the part of a designer, computers never will. By considering the human channel, designers can ensure that their non-human solutions don’t contribute to incoherence in an organization.
Spend more time in the field. It’s an oft-beaten horse, but many designers still don’t spend enough time in the field. On average most designers I’ve observed spend less than 10% of their timeline out observing users. I can’t imagine designing on anything less than 33% of my time spent in front of real end customers. 50% is my goal. Solving the right problem for your organization in a way that helps promote consistency and coherence takes time and a lot of context and is ultimately far more valuable than whatever new interaction or visual element we’d prefer to geek out on (though those are useful too.)
Shop it around. Get out of your office and do whatever it takes to spend time in the rest of the organization, and let them know what you’re working on. In my experience, you’ll benefit greatly from leveraging the perspective or recommendations of people outside of your department, and they’ll find new ways to leverage your work for their projects as well. This kind of intentional communication is exactly the sort of thing that keeps an organization “tied together” and prevents it from “fraying” further - you’re keeping the organization structure tied together by forming relationships with other groups and keeping them informed about your work.
These four things might sound easy, but they’re difficult to maintain in the midst of day to day work activities. Without careful attention to how they’re spending their time, even the most dedicated employee can quickly find themselves sliding into myopia. It’s important to regularly revisit principals like this to keep them in the front of your mind and help your company stay closely united.