Architecting a Sustainable Experience Design Team for Long-term Growth

The design team for a large experience design agency has been growing at an alarming rate over the last year and has reached a point of critical mass. The balance between utilisation, quality, and thinking time has been lost. Roles and responsibilities do not respond to the need to distribute and delegate the design work across the team. In short, the team is at breaking point and it’s starting to show. Experience designers working on long-term projects are lost to the studios in the corner. New starters aren’t getting the support they need. Seniors are being dragged across multiple projects while still being resourced on delivery. Heads of design practice are losing sight of everything. They’re even losing their sight.

This is a story about recognising the pain points in an evolving design team before they have serious impact on the team, the client relationships and the company as a whole. We will talk about the challenge faced when beginning to think about the restructuring the team to support a long-term, extensible practice, dealing with promotion, recruitment, work/life balance, and close collaboration with the rest of the agency.

It’s a success story. But with the bad bits left in.

Attendees can learn about the simple steps we went through to re-engineer our design team to focus on quality and sustainability, rather than delivery. We’ll talk about how we introduced a team hierarchy to enable cascading ownership and accountability to alleviate single points of stress. We’ll also cover specific role definitions and responsibilities and how the team integrates with the rest of the agency and the joys of resourcing and team management.

Information Cartilage: Context, Intelligent Systems, and IA

This presentation is an attempt to understand expanding information spaces from a phenomenological perspective. As technology continues to challenge the online/offline distinction, phenomenology provides a useful framework for thinking about context, the role of situated being, and the need for order.

Artificial intelligence and context-aware computing are used as examples of information environments that specifically call out the benefits of understanding information as a bodily entity—as in a ‘body of information’ or ‘body of knowledge.’

Concentrating on a Heideggerian approach to technology, which in part characterizes technology as a call for order and structure, the essay will examine the idea of ‘structured flexibility’ needed for systems that not only process information but also predict needs, shape information contexts, and actively engage in the user-system interaction. Finally, it will provide new ways for information architects to think about the expanding space of information.

Stories of Discovery: A Responsive Journey

Transforming a government website with 200 content authors, tens of thousands of pages, and close to 100 different content templates into a responsive design system is tricky business. In 2013, we led a project to update and future-proof one of Canada’s fastest-growing municipalities’ main communication channel:

The responsive redesign achieved unanimous support from city staff, business stakeholders, council, and the mayor. Mobile traffic has increased by 300% since launch. The improved governance and content workflow processes have facilitated new collaborations between silo’d City departments. The Surrey Web Team described this as one of the most positive changes in recent history for the City’s external and internal communication. Most importantly, it created a sense of cohesion through a wholehearted responsive design process.

This project required a new approach. We needed the ability to connect deeply with everyone on our project team: client, vendor, and audience. We needed to get comfortable with imperfection, and fight through difficult moments as a team. We let go of our usual need to protect ourselves and maintain control, and worked together to solve our responsive design and adaptive content problems. Our collaborative creativity was a catalyst for changing the way the City communicates.

What you’ll take away from this talk:

  • Understand how a responsive design process impacts team dynamics and workflow
  • Learn how to encourage collaboration across departments and conquer organizational silos
  • Hear how a responsive discovery can change a project (and why that’s okay)
  • Get cozy with your customers, stakeholders, and content authors – we’re all allies in the fight to make the web a better place

These stories and concrete tips will help you anticipate issues, be better prepared, move faster and launch an experience where your Guests can expect magic at every tap.

Things I’ve Learned and Am Still Learning from Leading UX Designers

I’ve worked for a lot of idiot managers in my career. And then, one day, after I had become a manager, it dawned on me: Now I’m the idiot! You see, most of my career has been an exercise in “trial by fire.” This process worked well when I was a designer and was trying to master the art of the task flow, site map, wireframe, prototype, persona, and so on. In leadership positions, the option to go back to the drawing board or to iterate hasn’t always been readily available—nor as painless to my pride and potentially my pocketbook.

Many of these lessons haven’t been easy for me to learn. It’s been tough to simultaneously remove obstacles without becoming one, or learning how to say “no” (and the flavors of yes and no!) when I’ve also wanted people to be satisfied with me and the work I’m doing. However, these lessons have all helped me become better at managing to some degree, while instilling a strong sense of empathy for those people who either report to me, or bless their souls, manage me in one way or another.

If you’re interested in learning from some of the hard lessons I’ve learned, or in just laughing at my folly, there will be plenty of material to provide you with either opportunity.

2014 IA Summit Closing Plenary

In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that…the medium is the message…that the personal and social consequences of any medium…result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.
Marshall McLuhan (1964)

Information Architecture and the Materialities of the Digital (Saturday evening keynote)

The very term “information architecture” signals the relationship between the practices of digital design as those of physical fabrication in the built environment. However, this relationship highlights a conundrum. The foundational tenet of information science and information theory is that information is a mathematical property independent of physical realization, and yet we only every encounter information in material form — as arrangements of waves in air and wire, as patterns of magnetic flux on metal, as objects that we carry and coddle, cool and coo over. These material forms, however, are rarely subjected to much scrutiny as elements that constitute and constrain information-based design.

My current project focuses on the materialities of information. This builds upon recent interests in materiality arising in a number of different domains, including philosophy, anthropology, and science studies, but attempts to do so in ways that take the technologies of the digital seriously. In this talk, I will give an overview of this project and explore a couple of cases that show how attending to the materialities of information can help us understand how the digital and the material are entwined in everyday interaction.

It’s Not the Size of Your Data, It’s How You Use It

UX teams have small–and really meaningful–data about how people use and think about technology. But how can we make an impact when everyone is focused on Big Data?

After leading usability sessions and ethnographic interviews on hundreds of sites, and hearing plenty of client conjecture about “how tech use relates to age” or “this is a best practice for that feature,” I thought, “Well, I actually have a lot of data about that.” Then, I decided to start aggregating and categorizing the data from all our studies to get a better sense of trends. Because I run a company that combines qualitative and quantitative user experience data, I could rely on some sound advice from our in-house super-crunchers to bring it all together, too, which I’m happy to share.

This session will look at how to transform the insights from your hand-crafted, small-batch studies for maximum impact, using data from several real-life studies. Why bother? Because bigger data can let you identify trends, benchmark against competitors, and track your site over time.

You don’t need to be a data scientist to come away from this session with strategies for taking your user research – lab, remote, moderated, unmoderated, ethnographic, whatever – to the next level. You’ll learn how to start connecting the dots between data and design, currently a huge gap in even the biggest of datasets.

Public Data for the People

Designers, developers, and IAs who understand how to work with APIs and visualization tools are already doing extraordinary things with large data sets. But what about everyone else?

At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we want to provide multiple ways for users to analyze and interpret data on their own. As part of the Public Data design & development team, I’ve helped create new methods for positive interactions with Federal public data. We identified three audiences with widely divergent needs: expert technologists, researchers and advocates, and the general public.We’ve created an integrated experience with clear user paths for all three audiences. Our first site provides public data on mortgage applications and loans–data that was previously hard to access (even for specialists) and provides important insight into local and national housing markets. The platform is designed to be reusable for multiple data sets, multiple scenarios and, since it’s open source, maybe even by you.

The Ghosts of Information Architecture (Friday evening keynote)

It’s about how being an information architect haunts our daily existence.
About how our work is shaped by the ghosts of the analog forms that have gone before.
About how we are haunted by the fear that IA isn’t as important to the rest of the world as it is to us.

But mostly about how we can’t make great solutions unless we can banish our fear of failure.

The New Black: Running the Small Agency

As the demand for user experience and IA grows, more and more practitioners are forming new agencies and consultancies. But once they are formed, how do you run them?

You are design practitioners of different stripes, utilizing your mastery and creativity to do your work. But, as Peter Drucker said, “entrepreneurship is not ‘natural’; it is not ‘creative.’ It is work.” Personal mastery in your practice does not necessarily translate into a successful agency or consultancy.

For many, this is the first time that you have done more than freelance. Transitioning to functioning as a business adds additional layers of complexity from both an operational and a management perspective.

In this interactive panel, three experienced agency or consultancy executives will share their experiences, highlight their hard-earned lessons, and answer your questions.