Our roles as Experience Designers span the gamut of problem solving, design, and practically implementing theory – though at the forefront we’re always acting as user advocates. As such, we’ve all adopted some variant of a user-based requirements process incorporating user profiles and contextual task analysis. As shown below, Deborah Mayhew has attempted to illustrate through her “Usability Engineering Lifecycle” diagram how these user-derived requirements inform the iterative design process from start to finish.
But here’s the thing – if we’re all so intellectually aware of this user-centered process, and we’ve even got maps like this one to follow, why so often are design meetings cluttered with egocentric “I” statements around design justification? I’m not talking about expert opinion or careful stepping in the users’ shoes. I’m talking about personal perspective statements such as “Well, if I were looking for white Velcro hi-tops I would want to sort all shoes by lacing method.” It’s amazing how quickly a statement like that from the right stakeholder can derail a group’s user-centered approach and send everyone down the road toward over-engineered chaos (this topic comes up for us a LOT – remember Phil’s “There’s No “I” In Design“?).
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting all “I” statements are without merit and unwelcomed in the design process. It’s only when they’re not supported by a verified user (or business) need attributed to the target audience. Professional experience, years of examining human behavior, expectations and interactions can certainly provide the fuel to make a sound observation on behalf of the user. In addition, designers often find themselves as part of the expressed target audience and constructively project their desires through shared personal drivers. These interjections can be extremely valuable to the design process. However, we should always be mindful to map all design elements to a user or business requirement.
Successful innovative design requires an intricate foxtrot of groundbreaking ideas coupled with user objectives and constant validation atop a dance floor built of sound principles. To that point, a well-rounded design team employs expertise in a variety of domains. Where the artist validates aesthetics on weight, balance and color theory, the cognitive scientist verifies based on the limits of human perception and attention, the ergonomist tackles physical components, and the sociologist examines the behavioral implications – all while leadership ensures the team is aligned to business objectives. A team of folks like that has an arsenal of resources at their disposal to evaluate the merit and potential influence of those pesky “I” statements in all of their various guises. Let the ideas fly, but always keep in mind who should be leading this dance – because if the end users don’t like your moves, they’re going to be eyeing-up other partners.
Do you work for a large organization with multiple locations and thousands of employees? GREAT! Let’s try an experiment: walk around your office, find ten people with different backgrounds/responsibilities/titles and ask each of them, “what do you use the company intranet for?” Go ahead… I’ll wait here.
Back already? I bet at least two of them said something about finding people. Based on Nielsen Norman‘s review of corporate intranets and our own experience working with our clients, finding people and learning what they do is one of the most popular uses of corporate intranets.
OK, now ask those same folks, “what are your five biggest gripes about the intranet?”
I bet at least two of them said they can’t find the company org charts anywhere. Why would this frustrate them? Because org charts are used to find out about the organization and the people: who does what, what departments live where, etc. If nobody complained about org charts, you win! Proceed to the “Kudos” section of this article.
However, if people did complain about org charts, this time you need to find an HR executive or one of your corporate attorneys and ask, “why don’t we publish our org charts?” Not brave enough? I’ll handle this one. The biggest excuses I hear directly from clients and have found on the internet are:
- If they get in the wrong hands, our competitors will use them to recruit people.
- We do publish them! Use our online directory to find people and you can see who they manage and who their managers are.
- It changes so often, it would be very difficult to maintain.
Dear Leaders of Medium-to-large Corporations,
It’s time to stop sounding like the kid who didn’t do his homework. Here’s why your excuses are lame:
“Headhunters Will Use It”
Do you honestly think hiding org charts is a barrier to headhunters if they want to find your best and brightest? Headhunters are the folks you go to when you want to poach someone from your competitors. How many times have they told you, “I wish I could help you find the best VP of Doohickey Optimization in the industry, but nobody publishes org charts.” A successful recruiter knows how to find the most talented people in the industry. It’s called networking, and they’re good at it with no org chart required.
At Think Brownstone, we are so unconcerned about headhunters that our best and brightest are featured prominently on our home page. If you are in a medium-to-large corporation and you compare the size of our company to the size of your company, we have a lot more to lose if someone gets poached.
“Just Use the Company Directory”
Hmmm… you’ve checked that box off your list, yet your users are still frustrated… deeply, deeply frustrated. If we rated your effort on a scale of 1-10 you’d land somewhere between 2 and π. Online directories do not give your employees an understanding of the complex structure of your organization. Do you know why they want to find people and know the organizational structure? TO GET WORK DONE. They want to know who does what and how they fit into the organization. The sooner they do that, the less they’ll be calling you to find out who to go to and the faster both of you can go home tonight and be prepared for another hard day of work tomorrow.
“It Changes Too Much”
Wow, imagine if one of your direct reports told you they weren’t going to do something because it was too hard. This excuse is nonsense… it drops your effort rating to 1. This information is encoded in multiple locations: HR databases, individual departmental documentation, ISO certification filings, SEC documentation, etc. Delegate the task to some smart folks who can work with your IT group or, better yet, crowdsource it. Don’t be scared of letting the crowd manage your org charts – THE CROWD IS ASKING FOR IT – they’ll make sure it is accurate.
Kudos To The Few
Finally, I’d like to applaud those organizations who provide comprehensive org charts and contact information to your internal employees. You don’t really need my reinforcement for it, though… your employees probably love you, they work effectively and independently, and they’re much more productive than your competition. They’re also more likely to say, “no thanks” when headhunters call them.