When founding a start-up and creating a totally new product from scratch, it is quite easy to apply the Design Thinking approach: Everybody in the team is committed, innovation happens on the shop floor, and stakeholders invest a lot of time and money in order to make new ideas happen. Sounds like a User Experience (UX) designer’s paradise! In reality however, the lot of a UX designer working in a large company can be rather different. Day-to-day work can sometimes be full of obstacles, unrealistic expectations, and other difficulties. To share experiences, learnings, and best practices, 14 UX designers from 7 European companies accepted an invitation from the Design & Co-Innovation Center at SAP and joined the first Design@Business event at the AppHaus in Heidelberg.
SAP has been providing an exchange platform for UX designers since 2010. Starting with quarterly virtual sessions on November 28 2014, we had our first opportunity to meet face-to-face in the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg. In the unique atmosphere of a former tobacco factory, an unconventional, participant-driven ‘unconference’ took place: The event did not have a fixed agenda. Instead, three Design Thinking coaches from the Design and Co-Innovation Center (DCC) from SAP provided a rough timeframe and helped the participants to find out the main topics we wanted to talk about. One example was the question “How to embed customer centricity and spread knowledge throughout our organization?”
A brief introduction was held, in which the participants provided details about their educational and professional background, the previous and current situation in their companies, and the challenges they face as UX designers. They were then split into four teams, and were guided by the coaches through a day full of brainstorming, group work, and presentations.
You don’t have to be Great to Start, but you have to Start to be Great
“When we started implementing UX design and Design Thinking methods in our company a number of years ago, we felt like we were living in the dark ages” was a statement that applies for many of the participants. At the time, design was often understood as something to be applied once a product was finished, to make it look nice and pretty. Fortunately, after ongoing, extensive communication driven by a large number of highly-motivated UX ambassadors, our companies acquired a basic understanding of design as a holistic user experience, covering the whole end-to end-process. As a result, Design Thinking is now also a familiar term for employees in industries that previously did not usually deal with design.
“Nowadays, my company is aware that good UX Design is highly important for our business. But managers don’t know how to apply user experience successfully” was another finding that most of us shared. Stories were told about endless training courses and consulting sessions to enable colleagues in Design Thinking. Despite the time and effort invested in these measures, they did not yield the intended result: “It’s not sufficient to be an in-house consultant and trainer. You can’t simply workshop the problems away!” To create a turnaround, many of us found that UX designers should be integrated into product teams instead, and participate actively in projects.
One of the challenges for us as UX designers is to integrate user research, prototyping and iterative testing into a well-established product development process. A further difficulty is that large enterprises often consist of many small companies spread across different locations. Some of us have colleagues in various departments dealing with a variety of UX tasks, designing the brand experience for a specific product website for example. In times of high market pressure to develop new products, how can we bring all of them on board?
Motivate, don’t Control!
Matthias Harbusch from the Design & Co-Innovation Center’s team at SAP and focusing on customer engagement pointed out: “We can use Design Thinking methods both for product development and for change management.” A success story shared by another participant impressed us: “When managers at C-Level are trained in Design Thinking and also act as multipliers and train at least five of their direct reports themselves, the knowledge is not forgotten after the training. Instead, the trainees practice Design Thinking in their daily lives, and persuade others to do the same.”
Another question asked was “How to keep high design standards and quality in our deliverables without becoming a policeman?” Controlling rules from a style guide should not be a UX designer’s job! In most cases, designers are not really in much of a position to intervene. Using the analogy of the typically unarmed British policeman, Tobias Haug, Head of the DCC in Germany, added: “He can do little more than say Stop! And if nobody stops, he can do no more than shout Stop! again.” Therefore, motivating people and focusing on those who want real change seems to be more successful than monitoring and blaming others. “Ensure that they have a positive Design Thinking experience, and they will soon be on your side!” was a good piece of advice we received.
There is Light at the End of the Tunnel
In the lively plenum discussion at the end of the workshop, we agreed to share our experiences in an upcoming session. Many participants expressed the wish to bring examples and to work on case studies. To establish a circle of trust, we decided to meet twice a year, and to be open to UX designers from every level of major companies. Finally, Tobias Haug summarized our goal: “We are not here to create competition between us. We are all working towards the same goal.”
Thanks to all the presenters and participants for the exciting and informative day. If you have any further ideas and experiences with regard to establishing UX design in your company, please share them with us in the comments section!