Changing design process

A couple of month’s ago I had a wake up call about design process. I applied for a role I really wanted, but got rejected largely because of design process. It highlighted that much of our work is mediocre and focused too much on aesthetics.

Part of the reason I applied was to work somewhere with a better approach. Somewhere that valued user needs and problem solving. Somewhere that got it.

For a while I had been frustrated with our process and our unwillingness to change. I blamed my boss for lack of leadership; colleagues for lack of ambition; freelancers for apathy. I told myself, why aren’t they as bothered about this as I am?

I begun to realise that if I wanted to work in another way, I really needed to start doing those things.

So this week I decided to do something and lead a workshop about our design process.

I wasn’t sure how well a workshop would go. It’s not something we have done before. But it had bothered me for some time that we simply did not talk about design. Sure we have had a few meetings. But one person’s opinion tended to dominate these conversations. Usually the meetings ended up with delegating projects, not discussion.

In the workshop I started by stating what we were going to discuss and some ground rules. I lead by mapping out our current design process. Then I identified where I felt we experienced problems. I then opened it out to everyone else to contribute.

While it took a little time to get going, my colleagues were receptive and began to engage in a more open way. That said the conversation wasn’t entirely smooth. It was at times messy, off-topic or repetitive. My boss in particular has a tendency to offer instant solutions. Although to his credit he started to check himself.

But the important thing is that we were talking.

Once we had exhausted all the problems we could think of, we took a photo of our map to document it.

Workshop current process

This is an important step as it provides a reference for future conversations. Documenting is such a useful tool precisely because it is so easy to forget what you have done.

In the next part of the workshop I wanted to discuss a possible solution to the problems we had identified.

I have been interested in agile development for a while, so I lead the this. Now that may not be the best approach, but I wanted to discuss something specific and tangible.

Again the conversation was messy and off-topic. But that’s ok when you’re discussing something that requires a substantial change. Transformation is not easy and there was a lot of new information for everyone to digest.

I too by no means had everything covered. In fact I was conscious not to. I wanted to involve my colleagues and for us to come up with ideas together, not to air my grand plan.

We spent a good hour coming up with the start of a new design process.

Workshop new process redacted

Going through this process together means we a clearer and shared understanding.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about my earlier frustrations. My colleagues and boss have an appetite to improve our design process. But what we lacked was a way to go about it.

I hope that we now have something we can collectively build on.

— Alexander Blackman