In part one of this article, I covered how design culture affects your product strategy, production and development processes. In this part, I’ll cover how design culture affects your working environment and hiring process.

Andy Thornton
Andy Thornton
21st May 2018

To recap… Doing more and better design means change, and not just for those within the design team. A more mature design capability will be disruptive by default, even if you don’t intend it to, or actively work to prevent it. Being aware and suitably prepared for the changes to your existing processes, operations, environment and culture will make you better able to respond and adapt to the inevitable turbulence ahead.

This article is part of a series. Read about how design culture affects your product strategy, production and development processes in part one.

Environment

Do you have enough usable wall space?

No seriously, are you sure? Never underestimate the ability of design to cover the walls of your office. Design is collaborative and transparent, meaning at every opportunity to share work, work should be shared. And this doesn’t just mean user interface mockups. It means workshop outputs, personas, experience maps, sketches, site maps, diagrams, boxes, arrows, and more boxes. If designers can stick a sticky note on it, they will. And should.

Discouraging designers from making your environment appear “busy” or “messy” is the worst reaction possible. Refocus that censoring instinct into actively encouraging this overt saturation of ideas, insights and possibilities. It is in the interests of the entire organisation to achieve more awareness of what design is up to, and capable of, so better to encourage any latent desire within curious individuals to ‘lean-in’ to any public sharing that begins to emerge - it will need encouragement and reinforcement.

And just to be certain: Are you absolutely sure you have enough wall space?

Do you have a workspace suitable for collaboration?

Design is collaborative. It’s impossible to repeat that mantra, yet it’s surprising just how many businesses and teams are unable to grasp exactly what’s required of a contemporary digital working practice, even from those currently self-identifying as exactly that. You don’t need to adopt the extreme gimmickry of Google campuses: hammocks, slides, and fußball tables. Seek inspiration from a (good) design agency near you, or pop down to Clearleft if you’re near Brighton. Hopefully you can spot a pattern emerging; of breakout spaces and dedicated, but temporary, project war rooms; of balancing private and public space rather than the uniform bank of desks and near-continuous interruption which homogenised open plan offices have succumbed to.

Hiring

Are your hiring processes rapid enough to not lose talent?

Design talent is in short supply, and demand for good designers is growing daily. Many HR processes, particularly at larger organisations, are slow and cumbersome. Job titles can exist in straight-jackets. Hierarchical salary bands can exclude the natural language of the design world given their potential for mistranslation in the wider business context (see the Director in Creative Director). HR seems a world ripe for radical digital disruption but for now it may be a case of identifying and applying the subtlest hacks to minimise the pain of the recruitment process.

If it’s a long drawn-out affair, there are approaches to help prevent the conversation going cold. Get candidates in as regularly as feels appropriate to demonstrate your mutual interest in each other. Encourage transparency of your ways of working and environment by breaking out of the stale cliche of the interview room and observe the reality of where, and how, the work really happens. Invite them to team meetings or company socials so they get a realistic feel for the culture and how they would fit into the team dynamic. If either party is ‘faking it’ it will soon make itself obvious, to the benefit of everyone involved in the long run.

Is the quality of your design on public display?

Digital designers already have an obvious window on your design capabilities staring them in the face: your public facing website and/or mobile apps.

Contemporary design practice is one of ever-increasing transparency. The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) is a great example of working in the open for all to see. There are also numerous examples of styleguides, pattern libraries and design systems from the likes of Google and IBM being shared in the full glare of public consumption. Even if you have a relatively immature design practice, it is good to start getting into the habit of thinking how you will share the fruits of your labour with the wider public. This is your window to the world and can be the differentiating factor between yourselves and your rivals when it comes to grabbing the attention of potential employees and demonstrating how seriously you take design.

Habits are hard to change

It’s easy to forget that any significant change needs commitment to ensure it sticks. Human behaviour is not as pliable as it may first seem, particularly with regards to the behaviour of the herd within a well established company culture.

You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behavior.

Jason Fried, Co-founder, Basecamp

If we accept that culture is the natural by-product of consistent behaviour, you’ll need to find methods to reinforce what the ‘new normal’ looks like, through training or rigourous reinforcement of processes and methodology at periodic intervals. It will not be quick and it will not be easy, but “this is how it’s always been done around here” should no longer be an adequate excuse to prevent change for the better.

This article is part of a series. Read about how design culture affects your product strategy, production and development processes in part one.

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