If you’re looking to scale design to have a bigger impact at your organisation, you can’t do it alone.

Andy Thornton
Andy Thornton
14th May 2018

But if you haven’t got obvious allies or buy-in from up on high to help you spread the gospel of design, there are some proactive steps you can take to build momentum behind your cause.

Kill the silos

Design doesn’t work in isolation. Successful design demands collaboration. To help ensure your design team, and their impact across the wider business, not only grows but thrives, you need to bring colleagues, peers and leaders from elsewhere in the organisation on a journey with you. Seek ways to actively collaborate on design solutions across departments and business units wherever possible, even if you need to force an unnatural fit sometimes, or incentivise others to join in. Blunt means or brute force, like a lunchtime workshop with free food or end of day presentations over drinks, can be effective ways to draw the attention you need.

Identify your evangelists

Who has most to lose from a continuation of the status quo? Who seems frustrated by the current ways of working? Who is frustrated by barriers to progress within the organisation? Those who would benefit most (and soonest) from a more advanced design practice are ideal early adopters and advocates to your cause. If you’ve demonstrated some design success on previous initiatives or projects, then who better to join you than these colleagues you’ve already engaged with? They’ll be advocates for doing more of the same, more often and even better.

Understand your audience

It’s all too easy to make assumptions about the maturity of understanding around user-centered design across your organisation, or in some instances even within your design team. Assessing the understanding and appetite for user-centered design should be a top priority before embarking on any transformation to a more mature design practice.

A Design Maturity assessment can be a useful indicator of the existing status of design within the organisation. Knowing where you are starting from will have a significant influence on recognising what you need to do next to achieve your ambition and reach your ideal destination.

Has the majority of the organisation rallied around the belief that user-centered design helps you deliver better products and services? If so, your task is hopefully more straightforward. If not, you’ll need to educate others on the benefits of putting users and customers at the heart of how you design, or ideally even demonstrate its value more tangibly. UX training, company mini conferences, or running a pilot project can be useful ways of helping others see these benefits.

Tell an engaging story

It’s an intrinsic part of our civilisation and culture as humans to transfer knowledge and pass on invaluable insights through storytelling. How do you articulate what you’re trying to achieve in a compelling way that others want to hear? How is it going to transform the organisation, and the people within, into something better? A story can be infinitely more powerful than a slide deck of dry business jargon and targets. But you need to understand your colleagues’ departmental aims, objectives and individual ambitions so you can incorporate them into the narrative of how design will help them achieve their goals.

Get outside help to advocate for you

Sometimes an external voice from outside the organisation can help highlight sensitive subjects or existing bad practices that, despite being already tacitly recognised as potential issues, are culturally taboo to fix, or even discuss.

“This is how we do things here” or “that’s the way it’s always been” are often used as shortcuts or verbal crutches to shut down debate and avoid the complexity, pain or risk of longer-term positive change. When an independent third-party reiterates the things you’ve already been saying yourself repeatedly to your peers and superiors, it can have greater impact and gravitas simply due to the perspective it comes from.

Don’t underestimate the power of using consultants to achieve a breakthrough simply by voicing things from an outsider’s point of view. Devoid of the political and cultural baggage of your industry and organisation, it can break deadlocks on progress.

Know your limits

It’s worth confronting some hard truths: The impact of design is only ever as effective as your organisation allows. Put simply, if design is tasked with solving insignificant problems, the impact of design will be insignificant. Understanding and being realistic about the scale of the change being attempted will help you accurately calibrate what success looks like within the boundaries of what is possible. For instance, without significant design or customer experience representation at the very top level of the organisation, you shouldn’t expect to affect radical change.

Models such as the Competing Values Framework help you understand which approaches are effective within the prevalent culture of the organisation. How do you ensure you satisfy the need to execute your plans in a controlled manner within a Hierarchy? Or demonstrate innovation and the ability to improvise in an Adhocracy? Identify which leadership skills are going to be useful to help you succeed so that you are able to make good on the execution of your plan to progress and change for the better.

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