This is the tenth in my series of interviews with SAP employees. In the previous interviews, I talked to developers, designers and other user experience professionals working as “individual contributors” to create great software products for our customers. In the next few interviews, I will talk to managers, chief designers and other “higher ups” to get insights into their jobs and perspectives on the topic of design and user experience.
Janis Shuttleworth manages the SAP Global Design Tools team. Originally from the UK, she now works at SAP’s office in Paris, France. Janis joined SAP in 2008 by way of SAP’s acquisition of Business Objects, where she managed the visual design team.
Please briefly explain what you do at SAP as a design manager?
My role is to make sure that designers have the environment and setup to do their most creative work, and to keep them inspired, on track, and focused. Project setup is crucial. In a large software company like SAP, designing user experiences is all about joining the dots. This requires a huge amount of communication and stakeholder management and much of my time is taken up by managing stakeholders, either internal or external, and ensuring that design projects start and run smoothly. I have to make sure that we are working on the right priorities and that we are aligned with our design and business strategies.
One of the most important aspects of the job is hiring the right people and getting the right balance of skills, experience, and personality within the team. Design at SAP is nothing like working in a design agency even if many of our design spaces resemble those you’d find in such an agency. Before designers can even start to offer up innovative design solutions, they have to understand the context we work in. We are not a one-app company and designing scalable software solutions for global companies is very challenging.
The high tech industry is evolving at high speed. This constant movement is one of the most exciting parts for me but it also means that I have to stay on the ball with all the changes to the technology and business models. I have to make sure the user experience design is evolving to meet the new demands of our users who have become accustomed to the experiences of consumer products and websites. Even if the fundamental principles of design are timeless, designers have to constantly re-evaluate how they can be applied to the new movements in high tech, software development, and consumer products.
What does the Global Design Tools team do?
We are a team of user experience designers and are part of a central design team at SAP.
SAP is extending the Fiori user experience to cover all aspects of a user’s interaction with our products from discovery of which Fiori apps are available and what they do, through planning the implementation of Fiori apps on the system landscape, and setup and onboarding of users.
My team is working on designing these user experiences and some of the tools and components that are part of them.
We are also working with other design teams outside of the central design team to move their new tools and professional applications to the new Fiori design language. I also have a small group of designers working on Fiori data visualization and analytics, including designing responsive business charts.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I work with very talented, smart, and creative people. I’ve always enjoyed roles where I can work cross team and cross domain, and design and user experience is often the one pulling all the pieces together. I like to understand the big picture and understand how it all fits together. I also like seeing multi-disciplinary teams working together and any way that I can facilitate that brings me great satisfaction because I know the outcome will be better. Diversity is key to creativity in my opinion. You need different points of view to get the creative spark going and keep it alight.
Seeing designers find their own voice is very rewarding. People can suddenly take off in their careers because they had the right challenge or right project.
I love seeing the value we bring to software engineering and the powerful combination of a top-notch software developer and designer working together. Seeing the finished product in the hands of our customers and users is my greatest satisfaction.
What are the most challenging aspects of your work?
Getting everyone aligned on the design can be a challenge. Sometimes doing the design is the easy part of being a designer. What takes time is working with the project team to make sure that we are actually working on the right design problem. Communicating the design and explaining why we are doing what we are doing and why this is the right way can be very time-consuming especially if you are working with globally distributed teams or with teams who are new to working with designers.
Global management is a challenge. Project teams are not always working in the same office and designers working on the same project are not always co-located so this means we have to find creative solutions to collaborate together remotely. I also have designers reporting to me in other European and North American countries and it takes much more time and investment to build up a relationship with someone you only see in person once or twice a year.
The sheer scale of what we are doing at SAP is a challenge but a fascinating one and what keeps the job so exciting.
What prepared you for a career in design management?
SAP is a big company and I work with people all over the world. I’ve lived and worked in different countries and this has made me sensitive to different cultures and different ways of working.
I think it’s important for a design manager to understand all the different aspects of a design, the research part, the information design aspect, the interaction design, and the visual design. You don’t have to be a specialist yourself in all of these areas but you need to understand how each part contributes to the overall success of a design solution.
You also need to have a good grasp of the technical and business side of software.
Throughout my career I’ve learned an awful lot that has helped me in my own work through my interactions with other teams. When I managed the visual design team I learned a lot about brand and marketing by working closely with our global marketing team for example. I also learned a great deal from working hand in hand with software developers. Sitting side by side with a developer and figuring out together how a design can come alive is the best way to learn. I’ve spent many hours in meetings going through bug reports, looking at technical architecture diagrams, checking UIs and all of this has been a good grounding in understanding what it takes to get a major software engineering project out of the door.
I like people and I like networking and I’ve built up a lot of knowledge about the business and technical side of the work that helps inform my design and my design decisions.
Do you have a motto as a design manager?
It’s all about the people.
Thank you for the interview, Janis.