Building a respectful design culture in your UX team

You’re leading a team of highly skilled (highly strung?) product designers. Each designer is embedded in a project team sitting side by side with skilled Engineers, inspiring Product Managers and numerous other team members all focused on delivering products that cleverly traverse the intersection of user needs, business goals, and technological opportunities. Every member of your design team is receiving rave reviews from their key stakeholders, they’re delivering amazing solutions, and nailing project objectives.
But something is amiss. As the team has rapidly grown, the opportunity for designers to organically share their work and ideas has proportionally shrunk. It is no longer enough to rely on the relationships inherent in a small design team to foster a culture of sharing. More and more often you see designers working on different projects trying to solve the same problem, and solving them in very different ways. You ask if Designer A has run their work past Designer B, and there’s a shuffling of papers and eyes. You wonder why one part of the product has implemented one (clever) solution to a problem, but another product has solved the same problem in another (equally clever), but inconsistent way. You head out for a team lunch and two of your designers introduce themselves… and they’re working on complimentary parts of the product set!
In the rush to ‘feed the engineers’, to hit launch dates, and with the global pressure to be the next design genius or unicorn, the design team has forgotten how to play as a team. Designs are revealed at the last minute, or not at all. Local goals are nailed, but at the expense of global goals, and your org structure is starting to show up in your product set. The later in the process that designs are shared, the more likely there will be ‘pointed’ and detailed feedback provided, and the less likely that feedback will be welcomed. The spiral effect here is, being so late in the process; feedback feels like it turns from critique towards criticism, making designers even less likely to seek feedback out, and if they do, making it happen even later in the process. Respect and trust are lost, and the path to regaining is long and winding.
In this presentation, I’ll discuss in detail how a less-than-respectful culture of design can unintentionally evolve. I’ll touch briefly on some of the established tools, techniques, and gurus you can call upon to set up your own respectful design culture. Finally I’ll discuss the hard yards you, as a Design Leader, need to put in to avoid or change this culture from crippling your company, and the continual steps you’ll need to take to ensure your respectful design culture remains intact for the long haul.

Presentation audio