Design Means Business

In this first Design Means Business installment, I intend to address the business community, primarily. Some UX and other design types will find it helpful, too, as this article series aims to improve communication and collaboration between design and business partners working on web-delivered software projects.

Context

“Problem, what problem?”

Web-based business software is, literally, the integration of a group of people’s business, design, and technology capabilities. Yet specialists in these disciplines bring quite disparate ways of thinking, seeing, acting, and re-acting, to a project. Combine such disparate approaches with deliverables from roles that define common aspects of the application, so that responsibilities overlap, then throw in some business objectives or strategy, and we’re sitting on a recipe for… challenging interactions. Depending on temperaments, it can get messy.

I often say I can tell much about an organization by its software. The ability to co-operate and collaborate becomes very visible, in the cohesion, simplicity, and contextual consistency of an application.

All this where only the three C’s; communication, cooperation, and collaboration, can create successful software. Unfortunately, all of our training and experience in our respective knowledge domains, the so-called “hard skills”, do little to help us with these arguably more important “soft skills,” which paradoxically are the hardest and most indispensable of all.

The differences between people in design, technology, and business professions come from a mixture of training, personal preference, beliefs, personality, social support (i.e. organizational structure, role definition, etc.) and more. That is, they are learned beliefs, traits, and practices, therefore they can change and evolve.

Bridging the differences between these professions can help control damage. But leveraging these differences is the key to significant success. When differences can be combined to create synergy they become effect multipliers.

For communications software, the purpose of teaming people of various skills is not to serve some old industrial age model of production, but to produce Gestalt effects, for the whole of thier combined knowledge to equal more than a sum of parts. Yet, too often we still operate under industrial age assumptions, and seem surprised by mediocre results.

Now, in 2010, well in to—perhaps well past—the so-called “information age,” there remains great room for improvement in our work, which is communication. And there is much we can do to prevent the common conflicts that drain way energy and focus, producing unhappy people in our teams and in the marketplace as a result.

Conflict Resolution: Lessons From The Front

The central conflict of our time is, arguably, an ideological one, culminating in the 9/11 attack and now escalating in Afghanistan. Counter insurgency experts have just reported the need for more cultural knowledge for intelligence officers working in Afghanistan. Intelligence officers, says the report, can not answer “…fundamental questions about the environment in which we operate and the people we are trying to protect and persuade.” Which is to say they’re asking such questions because they have a mission to persuade. That is, to change “hearts and minds”, not merely defeat and control people.

Has conquest has finally found its softer side? Pragmatically, in our case, yes. So, what lessons from the Afghanistan theater can we apply to power politics in our own offices?

As it turns out Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been consulting with Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. In an interview, Mortenson quotes Admiral Mullen as saying “the three most important things that our troops have to do is

  1. Listen more
  2. Have respect
  3. Build relationships

Though recognizing some irony in charging our military with cultural understanding, I have only one thing to add; “hoo-rah!”

Our missions and operational “theaters” are quite different than the U.S. military’s, yet in the interest of productive relationships with our own team members, in order to extend them to customers, we too must address “…fundamental questions about the environment in which we operate and the people we are trying to protect and persuade.”

Our environments vary, but there is commonality among companies of all kinds. Here, in following Design Means Business installments, we’ll look at assumptions design, business, and technology have about each other, plus power (org.) structures and processes, to see how they can affect user experience (UX) and, by extension, business results. Then, we’ll discover what is working best out “in the field”, and see how we can best measure “what works.”

Much as been made of creating personas to represent a given user base as an effective method of ensuring an application supports its user’s needs, desires, and objectives. Can such methods help us understand those in our own teams, as well? Let’s find out.

To follow in this Design Means Business series:

  1. Got design?
  2. Passion plays: How roles and their relationship can impact end-user experience.
  3. Business, Technology and Design: Separated by A Common Language.
    Or, Can’t We All Just Get Along?

About uxdesign.com 6 Articles
Michael Cummings has been planning, designing, and producing interactive systems since 1995.
Contact: Website

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