Not all of my work has faced outward to users and clients. In fact, some of my most rewarding and enjoyable projects have been focused on designing things for my own team.
Especially in my most recent job, where I joined a department that grew from four people to more than 30, I’ve jumped at chances to shape culture, to architect processes, to experiment with practices. Here are two examples:
Design challenge for job candidates
During the summer of 2016, my team at UPMC Health Plan was struggling to evaluate job candidates. We didn’t feel interviews and portfolio reviews alone were yielding the insight necessary for hiring decisions, and so we tried adding a design challenge.
HR said OK, with a constraint — it was prohibited from having anything to do with our actual work in health insurance or health care. I took on the task of coming up with a proxy that was more than an exercise in UI. It had to illuminate how people would work through challenges they were likely to face at our organization.
What resulted was the MyBike story. In this challenge, we asked candidates to pretend they were consulting for an urban bike-share program, and that our customers were failing to complete rentals at our kiosks. Every single element of the challenge was intentional:
- The story revolved around transit because transportation was a relatable domain with the right balance of familiarity and unfamiliarity … just like health care.
- It involved multiple screens and channels because our team frequently had to deal with stitching together disjointed experiences.
- It started with clients telling a designer what the problem was. But was that the real problem?
- It included stakeholders disagreeing about the nature of a problem. Would the candidate accept one version of interpretation?Would they press to find out more about the players involved? What questions would they ask about the dispute?
- It kept on throwing roadblocks in the way: Access to users is limited. A key person isn’t available to participate. Legacy documentation is missing and so we don’t have clear understanding of why something is a certain way.
Ultimately, we wanted to hear a candidate question what we really knew about the people struggling to complete their fictional rentals and suggest ways we might learn more about them. The challenge was adaptable, and it was something that anyone on our team could execute. We used the MyBike design challenge for a year and a half, with its insights indeed proving valuable for guiding decisions and leading to some of our best hires.
While working on an overhaul of our flagship member app, we reached a critical point that required feedback from stakeholders and subject matter experts in a half-dozen different departments. On previous projects, I’d had enough of design reviews that spun in circles. In search of ways to elicit better feedback, I became captivated by the promise of critique.
Borrowing heavily from inspiration found in Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor’s “Discussing Design,” I decided the app re-architecture was an opportunity to experiment. My audience would not be designers, so it was important to introduce the language of critique and set expectations in a lightweight, approachable way. The answer was this one-sheet handout, which distilled the important concepts. It also framed the critique in a way to make people feel valued for being included and excited to participate.
At the start of each feedback session, I handed out and explained the one-sheet. And as we got into reviewing the designs, I modeled the language of critique. I made it clear that we hadn’t gathered merely to ask “So what do you think?” Rather, we had objectives to focus on, and we needed to know whether our design choices were supporting those objectives. When the conversation meandered, I gently brought it back and would occasionally reference the one-sheet.
Honestly, I had hoped for a “Eureka!” moment when stakeholders fully adopted this new way of talking about design. It was never that dramatic. But we did stay on track. And we avoided going in circles. And we facilitated valuable feedback that informed design decisions. Without being design experts, stakeholders and SMEs could help improve our ideas by focusing on what they knew best.
Since then, the one-sheet has occasionally been picked up and adapted by my teammates. As an experiment, it served its purpose. And its lessons continued to influence the way I collaborated with colleagues and facilitated with clients, such as with the redesign of Take a Healthy Step.