Design & Accountability – UX Planet
I’ve been reading a book by Peter Biskind, focused on Orson Welles, and his conversations with Henry Jaglom. It’s a fascinating book, one that covers a really interesting personality, a larger than life artist such as Orson Welles. At some point in the book, Mr. Welles exclaims: “Because you had a president who had made a hundred mistakes and never pretended he didn’t, and who was ready to try anything.” His insights into art, politics, acting, and the general 20th century history makes this a really compelling read, but it also made me think about Design Thinking Processes and the culture of Accountability.
1. Design and Accountability
There’s a few design principles that align with the topic of this article, but I’d like to focus specifically on two: Honesty and Long Lasting solutions. I’ve come to realize that within a Design Thinking process, at its core, it’s about building a narrative of a product or a feature, around the needs of potential consumers/users. Those needs, are obviously assessed, investigated, dissected and then properly accounted for within a business roadmap, that contemplates where an organization needs to be, and what products or features need to be created in order to sustain those factors: client retention, business development, organizational sustainability.
The Design discipline is now thankfully, part of this decision making process, due to the benefits measured of conducting a healthy Design Thinking Process. This process, isn’t solely about the steps that have been heavily discussed and referred on Medium and other design blogs, and that I have written about in the articles Ambiguity and the Design Process and Considerations on Design Thinking and Design Processes. The Design Thinking Process is also about the concept of co-ownership, team integration and accountability. The purpose and goal in going through the edification of a narrative, for a product or a feature, lies not only in solving problems and answering questions, but also in tying the efforts of different teams together, from senior stakeholders, product owners, business analysts, inventory managers, information architects, development teams, q&a professionals, automation teams, customer support professionals, the list goes on and on. If anything, this process binds all these professionals together under the umbrella of creating something that is simultaneously innovative for the organization’s users/consumers, but also creating something where everyone has a stake in its outcome, be it successful or not. This obviously requires something very important from Designers, and from the Process itself.
Clarify what the goals are, what the steps are going to be, what is expected from everyone as the narrative gets built. After reading more about Orson Welles long and illustrious career and his multiple projects that were left undone and unfinished, it’s easy to transpose some of those lessons to the Design and Product Design World. When embarking on a process that is time and cost consuming, Designers and their Teams, should outline what the path is, what the expected deliverables are, and who the required participants will be. As Agile thinking we all want to be, there has to be an accountability factor involved in every single process — Agile/Flexibility and Accountability are not mutually exclusive. The challenge lies, particularly for Designers, to showcase what the process is, educate the teams and the participants, and of course, elucidate what deliverables are expected from every one as the journey progresses and the story(product) gets written(built).
2. Honesty and Long Lasting Principles
In every project there’s always a point where team members look at each other, at the results of the narrative being written, with all the features, research, studies, feedback, surveys, and have to make decisions. Decisions on what to include, on what to deliver, on what is more relevant for users/consumers, what will bring more value for all the parties involved. These decisions are driven by usability factors, technology feasibility, development scalability, cost effectiveness and the list goes on. There are at times compromises that need to be done, in order for that project to see an initial light of day, but there are principles that should never be abandoned at any point.
Design Principles such as Honesty, Long Lasting Philosophy and I’d like to add at this point, Credibility, are essential to ensure that a project/product is minimally viable, and returns dividends that are both qualitatively and quantitatively rewarding for the teams and the business. I’ve already written about Honesty in Design, but the concept of Longevity has not been as broached. We live in a time where everything changes rapidly and constantly — those are adjectives and realities we have come to expect, particularly when it comes to technology. However, as Dieter Rams impeccably enunciated, well designed products will have a shelf life that is more than a single season. If we pay close attention to pieces such as Tesla’s electric cars and even Apple’s “iPod”, though quite different formally and materially, both products have withstood the test of time (even if the first is more recent than the latter). They are the representation of something that has been conceived by well structured teams, who have had time to reach their audiences, that have been innovative in their approach.
Those products have been built with the intention of being functional, useful, long lasting and closely tied with other design factors, such as ecological factors for instance. Releasing a product, isn’t the end of a narrative and journey — it’s a first chapter, in what is hopefully a really interesting and long lasting one, where the relationship with users/consumers evolves, as the product does so. Hopefully that helps create further perspective to teams, their diverse composition and contributions, as that pressure to deliver hovers everyone.
Design Process and Accountability are terms that should be deeply ingrained with Designers and teams that embark on these journeys. Accountability isn’t about assigning blame or shifting focus — it’s about clarity/transparency. Only by knowing what is expected, what the steps are, and what the possible outcomes are, can everyone venture into that journey with confidence in themselves, but also on the teams they’re collaborating and ingrained in. Much like putting a film together, making a product successful is a merger of efforts, of multiple talents, all converging to a finish line, which turns out to be one of many. But in order to start, we all have to reach that first one. (The book I reference is titled “My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles”, by Peter Bisking, first published in 2013, by Macmilan).