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Author's profile photo Esther Blankenship

How to Boost the Design Factor in Your Company (Part 1)

Whether you are in a scrappy little design team or a big user experience (UX) organization, working in design usually also means that at some point you also need to sell the investment in good design. The struggle for budget, a seat at the decision-making table, or early involvement in product development is one with which most in UX are familiar. Even though most everyone nowadays professes to deeply and profoundly understand the business benefits of great design, changing a corporate culture that never before put a big emphasis on soft factors such as ergonomics, usability, and aesthetics, can still be tough – and tougher still when teams and management are asked to dedicate resources in a meaningful and effective way.

SAP has gone through a journey of transformation over the last decade by focusing on the value of design and user experience (UX). I say journey because transformation is rarely a big bang and this also certainly wasn’t the case at SAP. In this two-part interview series, I talk to Ulrike Weissenberger, VP of Global Design Enablement, and Hanswerner Dreissigacker, VP of Global Design Frontrunner Apps who were respectively early proponents of user-centered design and design thinking at SAP.

Ulrike, from 2005 to 2007 you were instrumental in bringing user-centered design to SAP’s product lifecycle innovation (PIL) process. Why was that important?

User-centered design is a process. The question in a large enterprise like ours was how to bring that “foreign” process into the larger development process. It’s important to make the design activities transparent and visible to those affected while emphasizing the importance of what you want to achieve in the development context. AND, at the end of the day, you have to scale the whole thing in an organization where developers greatly outnumber designers. Basically we are talking about integrating design activities into the DNA of the development culture. The next step, which is where SAP is now, is design-driven development.

What advice would you give to UX managers and teams to get non-designers to buy into design-driven development?

Let people experience design first-hand. Invite stakeholders to as many design activities as possible. Usability testing, site visits, wall-walks, synthesis sessions, and the like are excellent opportunities for stakeholders to take part in, or at least observe, essential parts of the design process.

You can also set up a special session just for educational purposes. In my team at SAP, we initiated a program called “The Executive Lab Tour.” We started with SAP’s board members and worked our way down the corporate ladder. Two executives were invited to each session. During the session in the on-site usability lab, one executive sat behind the one-way glass in the observation room, the other completed a short task with our software. The session was moderated by a professional user researcher from my team. Then the participants switched roles. Together the two testing sessions took about 20 minutes; the rest of the time was open to talk about the experience in particular and usability in general. Executives loved the first-hand experience of testing our software. For us, it was a great opportunity to show part of what we do and engage in a dialog about the rest of the design process.

Speaking of getting management support, what other tips to you have?

The importance of getting support for UX from the highest levels in your company is obvious, but how to do that is often not. Business leaders want to hear about how you are going to save or make the company money. There are many resources on the internet to help you calculate how much money can be saved by reducing usability issues upfront through iterative design (e.g. upfront user research, usability testing, etc.). One great resource is the Value Calculator from SAP.

Today there is no shortage of great examples out there of companies that have won over consumer’s hearts − and wallets − primarily because of a superior UX (e.g. Amazon, Airbnb, Apple, Google, Waze, etc.) It’s not only the business models of these companies that have made them so successful; their stellar user experience is most certainly a differentiating factor. The “fuzzy” usability factor can clearly translate into “hard” monetary wins.

Ok, working from the top down is one way to boost the design factor, but what about from the bottom up? What tips do you have?

User experience professionals are creative folks full of enthusiasm for the topic of design. Leverage that creative energy by brainstorming on fun activities that help to get your message across. At SAP, designers regularly roll out a makeshiftmobile cocktail bar to spark internal dialog about design, have created a game for in-house designers to exchange and collect cards about UX methods, and put together a stop-motion video with Lego figures to explain design thinking, to name just a few activities. These guerilla efforts compliment traditional classroom and e-learning courses covering a wide variety of design and user experience topics. You really have to work very hard to open up a dialog and that is the beginning of the learning process. But it can be a creative exercise and fun as well!

Any last tips?

Yes. Show thought leadership by leveraging social media channels. It’s a fact of business life today. Designers and design leaders in organizations nowadays have to get the word out about what they are doing and how they are doing it. And they have to show why they are better at it than everyone else.

Beating the social media drum, with articles like this one, is essential to draw internal and external interest to your work. Creating a buzz that is heard at many levels is a long, hard journey so it’s best to find people in your design organization who love to blog and get them on board for your cause, but also be prepared to dedicate some serious resources to the communication effort. Whether you are leveraging existing channels, creating a new channel or a combination of the two, don’t forget this essential step. You must be relentless in promoting your team, your work and your mission to improve your company’s products and services through great design.

And by the way, and if you are interested in design and want to find out more about what SAP is doing to improve the user experience of our software, check out the SAP User Experience Community.

Thanks for the tips and for the interview, Ulrike.

Thank you!

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