Design Leadership for Introverts

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How introverted designers and design leaders can operate successfully in a world where the extrovert ideal is desired.

Introduction

In Susan Cain’s 2012 Ted Talk, “The Power of Introverts,” she said that we live in a world where the extrovert ideal is desired. As a leader in design, this certainly feels true for me.

When people paint a picture of what a leader looks like, it often looks like this: A leader commands the center of attention. A leader is outgoing, talkative, and dominant. A leader is able to deliver charismatic speeches, rallying large audiences at a drop of a hat. A leader is the ultimate salesman; people hang onto their every word, waiting for their next one with bated breath.

A leader is, in essence, an extrovert. I’m not saying this is a BAD way to lead. I’m saying this is not the ONLY way to lead, and certainly not all the time.

Which begs the question: If we can accept that the world desires extroverts, how can we as introverted designers and design leaders operate successfully within it?

For years, I’ve grappled with my introversion and my desire to lead and thought the solution was an obvious one: Be more extroverted. Yet, every time I tried, it always felt unnatural; I was forcing myself to be someone I was not.

Little did I realize that all this time, the little workarounds, my ways of working I’ve used to achieve the desired outcome my way, were techniques that harnessed my introverted gifts. I was using my introverted ways as a superpower. Continue reading Design Leadership for Introverts

Somewhere Between Vulnerability and Design Thinking

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My story of discovering, first-hand, how important psychological safety is to teams pinning their innovation hopes on frameworks like design thinking.

I sat up from the exercise mat I was lying on and pushed myself off the gym floor. I hustled over to the window sill where my jacket, water bottle, and phone sat. I anxiously fumbled to unlock my phone and to tap the rewind button on the audio book, Dare to Lead, I was listening to so I could hear the last part once more.

The author, Brené Brown, was reciting a thought she always imparts to the leadership teams she coaches at the very start of their engagements.

“What, if anything, about the way that people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with, what seems like, intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation?

“While the question is complex, there was one answer that repeated…

“We need braver leaders and more courageous cultures.” Continue reading Somewhere Between Vulnerability and Design Thinking

Trusting the Process

Three Ways We Get Clients Comfortable Working with Unknowns by:   |  Posted on

I am a firm believer that success starts with the statement of work (SOW). An appropriate and attainable SOW determines whether my team of UX designers and researchers get the time and activities we require to fully understand a client’s needs and fashion a suitable solution.

Regrettably, we often work within overly prescriptive SOWs that dictate a solution before we have a chance to understand the problem. One reason projects are poorly scoped is our clients’ discomfort with ambiguity. Clients understandably want to know what they are getting for their investment: Who will be on the team? What will they deliver? How will they deliver it? How long will it take?

But prematurely-fixed outputs confine the value of design strategy. Designers need flexibility to define the solution once they have complete information.

In design school, when a classmate was uncertain about an ambiguous direction, we urged them to trust the process. This platitude served us well as students, but it is not as persuasive in the boardroom. Our clients need more.

In this article, I’ll discuss three methods we use to reassure our clients when trust the process isn’t enough. Continue reading Trusting the Process

Biased by Design

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Back in the mid-90s, as the personal computer was booming, I was just your fairly average tween with a Skip-It™. I spent my summers in the California sunshine counting: 100, 208, 300, 986, always aching to get to 1,000. While my parents worked long past sunset, I played on the sidewalk of my parents’ company, Design Matters. Before it was a podcast, Design Matters—one of the first agencies in the San Francisco Bay area—was my personal experience with design. My parents were early web designers who rode the dot-com boom back when the area was still ripe with possibility.

This sounds idyllic, but I’m here to tell you from a child’s perspective: It was many long nights for my parents, and there were waves of regular tension. Although their success did come, it was far from certain, and it certainly wasn’t easy. I overheard many unpleasant conversations as my parents grappled with all the messy stuff that comes with building a ragtag team in a field that was neither well understood nor yet defined.

A complementary duo, they built their team, secured the accounts, and improved the experiences of sites from 3Com to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—together.

I didn’t know what a glass ceiling was at the time, but, if I had, I’m sure I would have thought it had been shattered. What I saw in their personal and working relationship led me to believe that my contributions would be heard and considered equal anywhere I went. I was raised to believe that I could, and would, change the world. Continue reading Biased by Design

It’s a Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s a User Champion

Thoughts On A Hybrid Role by:   |  Posted on

Like a superhero created when the contents of two beakers accidentally combine, a powerful hybrid has emerged in the software development world: the user champion.

In this origin story, the beakers would be labeled “agile” and “user experience (UX)” because the user champion borrows some of the best ideas from both disciplines. From agile, it takes the idea of the product owner (or in this case, product champion). From UX, it takes a conviction in the value of user feedback.

This role of user champion may be the distinctive product of a distinctive design process—our shop focuses on highly knowledgeable, highly engaged business users—but it seems to have broader application.

As you might expect, the hybrid reflects its components. Continue reading It’s a Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s a User Champion