A new breed of designers

Jo Simmons

3 minute read

Do you remember the old way we used to make digital stuff?

It was waterfall; artefacts were passed from person to person with little responsibility for the whole ‘thing’ once your ‘bit’ was done. It involved heavy documentation and departmental turf.

Despite talking about lean and agile methodologies and collaborative working, it turns out that’s the way many people still think. And one thing that triggers the biggest debate, and sometimes the fiercest conflict, is the rigidity of territories.

Who owns the user experience?

At Friday, we believe that the customer experience is paramount. It is owned by the whole agency: everything we make does a job for users, and touches every department. But having a team called UX created ambiguity about ownership of the customer experience and we had to ask ourselves ‘how can we best share ownership?’

We needed to realign UX and creative. Everyone involved had to change. We wanted to be more flexible, evolve our ways of working and thinking, and push ourselves to create brilliant work.

In February 2015 we merged UX and creative departments, because both are designers tackling the same problems but from different perspectives. Our work is better for considering the entire experience, not just the surface, but the function too: why we’re making it, the business objectives, the customer needs it meets and how it works.

We no longer make posters of an experience, but prototype as quickly as possible. Departmental turf was getting in the way.

Changing our approach to design

By unifying the design team we remove restrictions and dissolve silos; allowing greater creativity and room for experimentation; supporting personal ambition and defining new, efficient ways to do great work.

Specialist skills are still highly valued, but the best designers are cross-discipline. We believe the greatest opportunity lies with people who combine a deep specialist background with a generalist attitude; who understand the whole process; who are able to turn their hand to most things; who possess a can-do attitude and curiosity.

Using a hybrid approach, we draw on personal interests and natural abilities and build individual roles that benefit our people, our teams and our clients.

Making change happen

The road is bumpy and twisting, but we know we’re travelling in the right direction, building our hybrid approach to design.

It requires the right people. Designers with broad skill sets and shared language; people who ask the right questions and engage in vigorous debate, but who unify behind collaborative decisions. We build teams that believe in the glorious intersection between strategy, full-spectrum design and front-end engineering.

It requires vision. This isn’t theory; it’s an actionable plan, agreed by a team who shares responsibility to deliver.

It requires effort. We need to stretch and learn, to break down commonly held beliefs about who does what, and go beyond what is comfortable and tested. We practise on the job. We spot every opportunity to do things differently and to promote deeper collaboration.

And it requires vulnerability. This is about collaborating in public, not about specialists working in isolation until the thing is ‘right’. It means working together closely to build each other’s skills. This can be pretty bloody uncomfortable because, from the most senior to the most junior, there is nowhere to hide. But we support each other and learn from our mistakes.

The prototype principle

We don’t separate thinkers and doers at Friday, so there are inevitable overlaps. Blended teams of hybrid people have amazing potential. It can also be confusing because people have to adjust to a new way of working, so clear communication is key.

But we have a great opportunity to define better ways of doing things, do great work and get the best out of each other.

We are not afraid to prototype ourselves, our structure and our processes. We might cock it up here and there. But we keep at it, and talk and iterate and evolve.

This isn’t about who owns what bit of turf, but about making the whole garden better.

Jo Simmons

Chief Design Officer
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