Embedding A Human Centred Design Culture

Knowledge / Inspiration

Embedding A Human Centred Design Culture

Continuous Design
UXDX USA 2022

From scaling agile, to building an aligned leadership direction, knowing where to start when establishing design practices is one of the most daunting tasks.
This panel will give insight from key executives on their successes and obstacles hit along the way like;

  • Why it’s easier in some environments to succeed than in others
  • Design as a culture and not just a role: Creating user-centric thinking throughout the organisation
  • How to put design practices in place: From continuous user testing, user journeys and measuring user behaviour
  • Improving the consistency of interfaces in a complex application landscape
  • Key ways to increase design maturity as an organization.

Jim Longo
Hey, how's everybody doing?

Linsdsay Norman
Come on. Make some noise.

Jim Longo
I hate being that guy saying, "Come on". You could do better than that. I'm not going to say that. But you know, this is about humans, all right. So I want to see the humans. Let's turn up these lights. It's the last panel of the day. How's everybody doing? There we go. There we go. All right. All right. We want to make this fun. All right, because we've been here for two days, and my social battery's draining, so I got to recharge, and you're going to help me, and these people here on stage are going to do the same. So I want to make this as interactive as possible. My background is being a focus group moderator. This is the biggest focus group right here. That's what we're going to do. So I am going to encourage you guys to, we're not going to wait till the end to ask questions, okay? If you have this burning question, raise your hand, we'll get a mic over to you, and you ask the panel. So again, let's have fun, interact a little bit, and let's talk about human-centered design. What the hell is that? So let's talk about that. So what does that mean? Bailey, Lindsey. Tom,

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
You said my name first, so I'll go. So it has had several definitions, depending on where I work. So I don't have the answer to what is human-centered. But I think what we've tried to create where I am now is how do we have a cycle to look at? What matters for the users of our service, both streamers and viewers, at Twitch? And how do we delight them?

Jim Longo
Do you delight? It's all about the lighting, right? The lights...

Linsdsay Norman
Yeah I mean, I'll admit that I looked it up a couple weeks ago, because I actually have not really heard of this phrase around the company, and even in my design career, I don't know, there's probably just a lot of terms, trying to say the same thing. I think in the design community, a lot of buzzwords thrown around, but I know from, in my experience at "Hinge", when I joined, the problem I had initially was that I joined a team of designers who were sort of hybrid marketing designers, as well as product designers. So I spent that first year actually helping the product team understand that they should no longer be doing the marketing work, and we need to hire proper marketing designers and really get the product designers thinking about the research and the data.
We also didn't have a research team, so pretty much spent a whole year training the team on what product design is, so there was a lot of learning there. And I think a big unlock was just when I taught the product design team that whenever they showed the designs to really start with a framework of what problems they're solving? What do we know from the user insights? What have we learned about the data in the previous tests? And I think that really just set us up to earn the respect of the rest of the company and the leaders on the team.

Jim Longo
Tom, anything to add to that?

Tom Alterman
Well, the Oxford English Dictionary describes it as... I can have two answers to that. One is like the true answer, which is not as useful, is that for me, it's about leading with empathy to the user that every all your decisions are driven by that. That's a bit wishy-washy, so for me, what I think about it practically is like how do you know that you're doing it effectively? And that's really... for me the signal is, are the engineers or even better the engineering manager of the sales leader in the company asking questions about the user needs, are like celebrating the user's needs a calling out when we as a team are messing up, not through sales numbers or other metrics by how well is this going to actually solve those customers problems and how much they're going to love it?

Jim Longo
Alright, so there's been a lot of sessions here. And really, the theme of this is around culture, right? And how do you embed empathy within your culture? You alluded to that Tom, a little bit. So can you go a little bit deeper into that? Are people on your team actually talking to their customers? How does that information to relate back to your team?

Tom Alterman
Yeah, well, I feel very lucky, working where I do right now, because I've worked in the range of companies that from absolute messes to larger organizations that really want to do this and never really did to... At Asana, where it's really just been drilled down from the founders down that this is how we work, this is in our values, it's just how we operate. Which is very weird for me because I went in just ready to like change the culture and do these things. I was like, "Oh, you do it already?" But what that is, is really having, making sure that we have enough time and space to truly understand the needs that there is a touch point in the process of anything that we build, where we call out, what are we trying to solve for? What evidence do we have to show that this hypothesis is going to be driven by solving those problems, and making sure that we can defend that to others, and that we have the evidence to back that up. And it doesn't mean that like a researcher has to do this, or designer has to do this, but the idea is that as a team, they're accountable for bringing, for doing that work, and bringing that insight to the rest of the world.

Linsdsay Norman
So we have a separate research team that's really responsible for talking to people, getting the insights, really deeply understanding the problems that our users have. And I think that oftentimes, after that initial debrief, where they share the insights, it can get lost along the design process, and so one thing I've really tried to just train my team to do is, as the weeks go on, and designers continue exploring in a space, with every crit, every meeting, where they're showing their design work to bring it back to, by the way, imagine you're Sarah, and this is your problem, this is your struggle, and you have these behaviors, or maybe it's even, you're this kind of person looking for this kind of partner. So just having designers really root everyone in what we've learned, and it can feel a bit repetitive. But I feel like that makes such a big difference in creating that culture of, "Oh, yeah, this design is actually for a person, and this is what they're struggling with". So just repeating that throughout the entire design process, I think, really gets people just focused on why we're actually here, and what we're trying to solve.

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
We've used process. So design ops, so a lot of it is process, but establishing what the process is for everybody too, so they know what's in it for me, and why we should keep reflecting on those frameworks or whatever comes out of research, whatever it might be, whether it's insights, or the value prop for something in the end, tying all the work back to i, but also making sure that everybody on the team is aware of why you're doing it this way, comes from like that foundation of process. So like revisiting everything from the ground up every time. This is why we work this way, and these are the people who consume our product, and this is why it's important every time.

Jim Longo
Okay, I'm going to just put this out here. And because what we're talking about is perfect world, let's talk the real world for a second, all right, let's be honest with each other. So how often does this happen where you've gained the insight, or the framework, it was passed to the product team, then to the designers, and then on to the engineers, but it doesn't link back to what the actual customer wants? Does that ever happen?

Tom Alterman
Never.

Jim Longo
Never?

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
Every time.

Jim Longo
Every time? Most of the time?

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
Well yes. So in poorer examples, it's usually because it's gone. We didn't go back to that process that's laid out the foundation, and it's instead interpreted. So someone, maybe someone in product is pushing the research in a certain way, or taking whatever insights they think helps with their incentives and might push that. So yes, in a perfect world, that wouldn't happen at all, but process helps save from that, which is, well, we don't really go just buy what product wants us to research or just buy what the designer or business, quite frankly, it's everybody in the research team, which is also separate from the team that I work with, gets to go full force with that and not have to worry about like hitting all the marks that the product is looking for.

Tom Alterman
Not just for dramatic effects, but I'm going to disagree with you there. Usually I found the process... I've never managed to fix anything with process. I've managed to fix it with people and culture. And my general theory with this is that people trump's culture, trump's process and usually when these problems like this is a problem or most problems I've seen with making teams successful, have been around... You try and solve it with process when actually it might be a cultural problem or actually fundamentally you don't have the right people with the right attitude or skills, and that that's what you need to change in order to make these other things happen.
So when it comes to these insights, again, often if you have the right people and you have the right culture and they're looking for the same things, this will work out. If you don't and a product person or design person or a salesman doesn't have a particular pony, and they'll just take whatever insights and just chop off all the bits that don't fit their narrative and apply and then double down on the bits that do, and there's no process that can fix that as much as I've tried in so many different ways.

Linsdsay Norman
Yeah, I noticed something at Hinge, which was designers were venting about, every time I go into an engineering handoff, they tell me half of it's impossible to build, or going to take three months, or we have to cut scope by 50%, and designers were just really just defeated every time that happened, because they had worked so hard to create these beautiful flows. We had obviously shown engineering early and tried to get their buy in, and I was like, "How do you fix this problem? Because it feels so helpless as a designer, when engineers tell you that they can't do something that you can't really argue, and I'm sure we've all been there. And what I ultimately started with is that I noticed that the designers were DM/messaging their PM all the time, their researcher, other designers, and they just had these really intimate one-on-one relationships with everyone they worked with, apart from engineering. And so thinking, I guess to plus one Tom's point about people, is I said, why don't we start with... why you're paying random engineers, as you're designing things, paying random engineers, shoot them your design and say, What do you think? You know, do you love it? Do you hate it start very casual, because ultimately, those relationships get tighter, and there's more that intimacy and collaboration. I think, ultimately, you create a situation where engineers don't want to do that, because they've been talking with the designer the entire time. So it seems a little bit of an odd place to start. But I really think it's, there's no shortcut, there's no process for that problem. It's you need a better relationship with their engineers, and then they won't do that, ultimately.

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
Yeah, communication is part of that foundation to be clear, like, if you have communication, if people know what's in it for them across the whole team that can help solve it, where maybe process falls short.

Jim Longo
So I think it was... Maya Angelou said, "In order to really empathize with somebody, you have to actually speak to them to get the feeling to feel them", right. And I know, it's very difficult to sit in on the research side of it. And many times it's presented in a PowerPoint deck, or of some sort or something like that. So are any of you ever participated in the research, either as an observer or looking at videos, and rather than just taking a report and looking at a deck and then presenting that to your team?

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
Yes, so live, watching it from the feed, and then having multiple note takers too from different teams as well. So that like the combined effort, there's maybe not no bias, but like a little less bias, depending on where it comes from.

Jim Longo
What I found is everyone's listening for something that's based on their role, right? And it's that debriefing that takes place after that research process to understand where everybody's coming from. And so let's talk a little bit about what happens when I'm just listening for my role, and I'm just trying to validate my hypothesis. Ever happen? Often?
Linsdsay Norman
I guess when you talk about research, one thing that comes to mind for me is, if we're trying to create a platform where anyone, regardless of gender, race, age, can find love. I mean, you better be fucking paying attention to research, or else you're going to exclude a lot of people, and we would be on the chopping block if we weren't paying really close attention to so many smaller, you know, groups that are often ignored. And the way we do that today is we have ERG's, these groups within the company. So the black ERG, the LGBTQ, plus the handicap, all these different groups that meet and they keep our company diverse, but they also look at the product, like in a pretty discerning way and ask the question, "How could we potentially be excluding people?" Just a small example is people with wheelchairs, people in wheelchairs will ask for height, and so they'll be excluded from all these people who are setting these height filters, but it's actually handicap that they might want to explicitly call out.
It wouldn't be fair to just lump them in with everyone else. So it's just so important that we have these groups raise these concerns to us. And sometimes it's really embarrassing when you hear the research or you talk to these groups where like, you've missed a lot in this product. But it's kept us really honest, and I think the last round of work we did was all about LGBTQ plus users and how we can make the app more inclusive for them so we rely really heavily on them at least to keep us honest.

Jim Longo
I'm going to Slack my marketing guy and say the new discuss byline is listen to the fucking research. Anyway...

Tom Alterman
Not to play devil's advocate on this, but I also feel like, you shouldn't always listen to the fucking research, that actually, it is important for great products to have a strong opinion. And that opinion may not be like, if you just look at like, what is at the research or the insights or subjectives or data to drive your decision making, you're not necessarily going to end up with the best product. But I think it's important to state those opinions to have them strongly, but call them out on what is opinion? What is the bet we're making? And how, at what point are you going to change course?
So what do you need to see that would make that bet change? And I think that's it just kind of calling it out and saying, like, here's a bias, here's an opinion, and I'm okay with this as long as until we see these other things. And I think that's a big problem that a lot of organizations do is that they're not actually honest enough about like, "Hey, we want to build this, we want to build this for this particular reason, and we're just going to make this bet? Otherwise, people might waste a lot of time, doing a lot of work, that won't get won't get attention, because the belief is so strong in that idea.

Linsdsay Norman
Add one more thing to that, which is that I realized early on, there's this tension with everything we want to design at Hinge is pushing people to be more vulnerable and expose more of who they are, and that's naturally what so many of us do not want to do. And so how do you, I guess, nudge people that way, when most people in research will tell you, "I don't want to have video, I don't want to have voice, I don't even want this many photos of me, I don't want to say what I'm looking for, I just want things to work". It is a lot of pressure to put on a product, right? So I kind of agree in that, if we just listened to research, we'd be like, "We can't do anything. We've done it all. It's done", you know, so you have to nudge I think more slowly.

Tom Alterman
We had a... I had a really fantastic Head of Research at a previous startup I worked at who... He was fantastic, because people would just come up and say, "Oh, we need to do some research on this topic". And he'd be like, "Why?” Why are you asking this? You're the head of research, I'm sure you'd want to do this. And his pet peeve was like people want research, but really, they should be asking like, "What's the question that you have, like, is talking to us is actually going to answer this question? Do you actually care about the results of this question? If not, let's not waste time doing this stuff". And I think that's the kind of calling the outs is really important.

Jim Longo
It reminds me the Henry Ford quote, right. "If you go ask them who would have built a faster horse", right? So don't always listen to research. But it's also what they don't say in the research. And I think that's important. But you know, the cautionary tale that I always advise clients on is that it's about understanding the consumer and their lifestyle. It's not asking them to direct questions, but you get more of just understanding what's it like in the day of their life? And how does your product or service fit into that lifestyle? So that's more important. So instead of saying, do you like this? Should the button be here?

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
Right, versus validating hypothesis.

Linsdsay Norman
Yeah, and a good research team should push back and be able to say, we love to ask our researchers ask them if we'll try it, ask them if they'll buy it, like shut up, that's not how you do it. They know how to read between the lines, and so oftentimes, the insights are just way more rich than that, and it's about designers taking the world of what someone's going through and the problems. And then being able to say, well, they want to know more about someone, and so here are maybe the ways we could imagine doing that.
Jim Long
So let's go back and pick on the engineers a little bit more. Okay? So let's talk a little bit about that, and I say that in just for any engineers in the audience, but so how do you deal with prioritizing the product development? How do you negotiate with the engineering team, especially in a mature model?

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
We have two pipelines we have, like roadmap related that goes through your standard prioritization and based on feedback from users, but then we also have a customer delight, which is anything that's been put on hold. We know it's really important, but it's not on the roadmap, so we can pull that in as we have time. So some of it's been prioritizing. Yes, what resources are available and if we have a lot of mobile resources available immediately, we'll prioritize that work, we'll do like a hack week where we just get right into it, super weak, whatever they're calling it now. But we also bring engineers in earlier, and everywhere I've worked that's something that pushed really hard for us. At the right time, because we don't want to waste time of anybody, but so that one, they know what's in it for me, and they can share the feasibility really early on, will help with any prioritization in the beginning and then down the line too. But everywhere I've worked has been like a wagile, like, nothing is like rapid kind of release, so just a caveat.

Linsdsay Norman
I'll just add that, I noticed that big features always get on the roadmap, things that the pms are really excited about the big bets. But I started noticing when we were growing a lot and doing a lot of these bigger bet features that the quality of the app was like slipping a bit, the polish was slipping, notice like that empty states. And just, you could tell that as a design team, you just weren't being as thorough and all the places of the app that we used to, because now we're focused on the big ideas. And so one thing that worked for us is rather than sort of nitpick at every visual bug or interactive bug, we decided to try and clump them together and do these experience sprints once a quarter. So rather than it's tough to fight those little battles of just like this one pixel or two, but when you group them together, and you say, hey, like there's 20 small things that we need engineers to focus on, I think you can get them a lot more bought into the process.

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
That was another kind of... so there's the one side, that's the delight side of it to purchase. But then to your point, let's say, we would do something similar for accessibility, like, "Okay, how are we going to get them to redo this entire page so that the blue line work like any of the annotations go in, it's like a hole". All right, so we have to basically look at what are the engineers working on right now? And how quickly can get those specs to them right away? So it's also like, being human and working with the human that are there and people, right? People? Yeah.

Jim Longo
Right. All right. We're going to take a pause here and let you ask some questions. So what would you like to ask the panel? Come on, don't let me pick somebody. No, you're getting all the answers right here? Hard to believe.

Tom Alterman
You didn't put a plant in the audience?

Jim Longo
No. Did not. In the back there. Thank you.

Speaker 5
Hi. This is a little funny, because I'm an engineer at Hinge.

Jim Longo
Oh, hi.

Speaker 5
Calling us out earlier, talking about how we like say, "Oh, yeah, we got to, like, we can't do that, because it'll take X amount of time.

Linsdsay Norman
Just kidding. Just kidding.

Audience
No, no, I completely agree with you. We don't like doing that. But it's kind of going back to an older point where you said, "You never fix any problems with process". But I always think, at least engineers, I always think like, what's happening in the process that this is getting so late in the game? This thing is completely designed, and now we have to break smarts and say, "Hey, that's actually really tough to do". So, I guess, how would do you guys go about with... Is that fixing a process? Or is that something culture-related?

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
I know this one.

Jim Longo
Go Bailey.

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
So that process cannot exist in a vacuum, you have to create it with the human beings that are going to use it. So engineers, they are human beings? They are, they are. I know this because that's a human being. They have feelings too, right? They care. So how does that work for them? I hate that idea of lobbing something over the fence to engineering, but also hate the idea of saying, hey engineer, full stack developer who's working on 15 projects right now, can you just come to this meeting to go through a kickoff of the project? Like that's the best use of time? Probably not. So, but process is working through that, like when is the best point?
So I've found a couple of different places I've been that like, an early preview meeting to bring not only engineers but like legal risk compliance or supervision or whatever teams that you work with that are controlled partners even marketing for go to market or pre-release like come in see this we're like 20-ish, 25% fidelity at this point, like, oh, there's value in that we can say, oh, this is kind of feasible, I don't really need to see any more of it or like hey this is the big blocker and it's going to cost this much money for us to do and we're not going to have enough time for it. So there's like a sweet spot in creating a process for us by us, by human but there's just you're not lobbing things over the fence personally, like I try to break that cycle.

Tom Alterman
And me on the counterpoint of like, culture around the process. I tend to find that the best products I've ever built and worked on, have happened outside of the process that were defined. And usually, again, I go back to this cultural thing, where if there's a culture of engineering being involved in the decision making process that everyone is accountable; engineering, research, tech leads, product, in what are we doing? Why are we doing it? How that should work? Then people will step up, will propose things, and will give feedback at whatever stage in the process, rather than act like given where the points where we said this would happen. And a lot of the best, the biggest needle moving features have ever have actually been often engineers or salesperson, people who are like going completely rogue in our like, the really nice process I designed for them, and just getting these things through. And that's the things that really made me the difference here.

Linsdsay Norman
And I just want to throw in that I think remote work has made some of these parts of the process so much harder, you guys probably all can probably experience this. But whereas like back in the day, with a handoff of design, they will have been sitting near engineers, asking people to just take a look at something throughout the process, and I think that remote really highlighted just the lack of that relationship and how it wasn't as strong as maybe our design team wanted, because now that design handoff was like this really formal thing of, we got on Zoom, now I'm going to take you through the design. It just became less collaborative and casual, because of the nature of working on Slack and working just mostly remote. So I think hopefully, when we get back to the office, at least for our team, there's just every time the design process gets formal, I get really nervous, because it puts a lot of pressure on design to have all the answers and it's not the right way to work. So just the more you can facilitate those combos throughout the whole thing, the better the result.

Jim Longo
Question?

**Audience **
So thank you for this insights, really cool stuff. My question is more towards obviously, that's very inspiring to all of us, just like experience sprint, this is a really cool idea, and then the versus right, the roadmap versus customer delight, those are really cool ideas. My question is more organizational. So we all know those are great. How do you clear space for that? The ROIs of design and UX are very, very hard to prove. We all know that. How do you make space for that? An organizational level, right. Prioritization level? Could you speak to what's helped you so far clear way for those, in case you're very monitored, let's say? And do you have any ideas there?

Linsdsay Norman
How to celebrate these things that are harder to measure on the design side? Yeah. For us, it's a big challenge. I don't know if I've solved that at all. But I think one thing that's helpful is, I call it emotional wins. So I don't talk about it in terms of delight. But truly, if we do something that makes people feel really good, I think I can get away with that at Hinge because dating is so shitty, and it feels bad in so many places. So trying to talk about how that is so much a part of creating a better experience. It's not just getting people to use it more, whatever. But people need to feel good while they're using it too, and what we try to do is whenever we have one of those moments, that's when you want to double down on sharing out the videos of people going through it and saying, oh my god, this made me feel so comforted or I was feeling so rejected before, and with this new animation interaction, whatever it is, I feel I felt better. So just really broadcasting and celebrating when you do do that, because those are just feel good moments, even if it's in front of the whole company, and then you're sort of establishing a culture that values that side of UX.

Tom Alterman
So if I understand your question correctly, please correct me if I'm wrong. It's around like, if the company isn't valuing, and giving the time and space to design and research, how do you change that? My somewhat spicy take is don't just like go find somewhere else that does. I've spent a lot of time fighting this battle in various different formats, and like my experience is you can go from like shit to like less shit. But that requires a lot of emotional energy because you're fight it, you're swimming against the stream, but it's just really hard to swim against and I go back to John. John had a great talk earlier about this and how you change culture? And the thing is, it's not intentional, he talked about human centered design, there's no CEO that's going to go up and say, "We don't care about human centered design". Everyone's going to be like, "We really want this, we really want great design". But when push comes to shove, there is something that is higher than the value stack. And you can look at that thing and see how can you turn insights and research and design and measure it by that thing that people measure and show success, and we can talk later about all the tactics I’ve used to go through that. But ultimately, there's not a fight, there are so many other places where you don't have to fight that fight, that I would just suggest you go work there.
Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
Just Quit!

Jim Longo
There's a question over here?

Audience
When we talk about embedding a human-centered design culture, there are companies that may proclaim that this their goal. But when you further examine the culture and how things are prioritized, it may reflect just the opposite. How would you approach helping a company like this? Self-reflect and transform into really becoming a human -centered design culture? This can feel like a moving mountain.

Baylie Brenner-Bruzgiz
You burn it down. Burn the company. It's basically.

Tom Alterman
I could give a slightly like, okay, if you're deciding, like, "Okay, I'm going to commit to this very noble cause". Again, figure out what are the things that... There's a strategic thing and a metric thing. One is like, look at what actually matters, like, what gets a recognition celebration? Is it ARR? Is it certain customers? And just talk in that language, make sure that whatever you're celebrating is in that way, and it shows that ROI. The second thing is just show, don't tell. So don't try and like pitch this, don't try and get people to academically agree with you on this. Go find a problem that is not like, is a problem that's big enough that if you solved it, that people would celebrate and take notice, but not such a big problem that it's in like the Eye of Sauron of all the executives are looking at it and will panic if you try and do things a different way, or call you out if it messes up. And deliver it with that, and then just get the ball rolling in that thing and try and virally create excitement because other people want to get on this train of success that you've created.

Linsdsay Norman
I think one small thing I did, when I first joined Hinge, because I realized that it sort of didn't feel like that the human-centered design part was big enough, is I paid attention to our all hands, which was every Friday to talk about what's happening in the company, what we're celebrating. And I noticed mostly what was shown was graphs. Pretty much every Friday, there was a lot of graphs, a lot of like things happening. And I realized that I previously worked at Pinterest, and they were sort of just the exact opposite. Everything that happened at Pinterest, and all hands was all around a person. There were user videos, they're just really amazing at that. And so I worked with the people who produce all hands, and I said, you know, we should just show faces, like, even if it's, let's show off some faces of actually users.
When we talk about features, let's show a quote from someone who's talking about it. Let's just bring in the picture of people using the product. And it's kind of amazing, like how it's subtle, but it sort of like, reminds people and I guess I've said this earlier, but just reminds people that we're designing for humans. These graphs are about humans using these things. And so paying attention to the way things are talked about and changing that storytelling, or packaging of what you're doing can actually, I think personally, have an impact. It's hard to measure, but it's just like that subtle nudge every week.

Jim Longo
Humans are not data points, right? All right. We're up on time. Thank you, everybody. There'll be around this afternoon. So if you have any questions, please intercept us at some point and or buy us a drink even, that's even better. Yeah, they're free. I know. All right. Thank you very much, everybody. Have a good afternoon.

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