The Potential of Role-Inclusive Designers

When we were in elementary school, most of us were disengaged or restless when our teacher switched subjects to one that wasn’t enjoyable nor personally easy to learn. Then, in middle school, some of us really needed to take a long bathroom break during that one class with that one teacher who seemed mad, hard to follow, explained the subject a little above our heads, or was misunderstood—maybe our eyelids would get heavy too. High school usually is when there was divisions among our attention spans and interests. Some got really jazzed about going to a set of classes with either great teachers or subjects of interest but grew tired of the ones that really weren’t keeping our attention or care. Then, in college, we chose majors or disciplines specifically toward our career ideals, but our degree requirements included courses that seemed unrelated or even difficult to pass because they weren’t seemingly relevant or personally intriguing. Not everyone experiences these years like this nor is anyone’s path the exact same. But realizing that variety in subject matter, topics, and ways of thinking actually prepares us for a very important concept when starting a career wearing many hats in design: to push creativity as conscientious designers, it’s crucial we engage with other surrounding roles to flavor our solutions, push the taste further. I will continue to explain.

 

I have a B.S., therefore my degree focused on science, investigatory thinking, and behavioral studies as a lens for design in my academic career. This positioning exposed me to math, programming, and logic foundations, but I didn’t know how that exposure would affect my preferences and inclinations until I started to work as an interaction designer (and began to learn how to maximize my growth). There is measurable change that comes with conquering the learning curve in a new job. I still don’t feel like a conqueror of this curve two years in, exactly, but I have recently learned how critical connecting the variety, diversity, and expansion mentality from school to my work is. In academia, there is a strong emphasis on traditional approaches—tried and true—and research. Whereas in our lean and agile environment at work, these methods may take too long or not help us fail fast and learn quickly under certain constraints and factors with our clients and process. I began to brainstorm how I could stay connected with the client/business goals while simultaneously stay inspired and creative when working under deadlines. The impactful moment for me was thinking about how good divergent design ideas come from many sources and perspectives. This was combined with thinking how breakthrough ideas and conclusions in school came from the conglomeration of subject matter, topics, and ways of thinking that were unrelated and independent.

 

I realized that since an approach to a solution has many angles and stakeholder needs, it needs to be widely informed. “Cast a broad net, a broader net than I have before,” I thought. This led me to talking to many different people with different roles in my company. I started to ask more non-UI/UX questions to learn about process, client engagement, development decisions and the “why”, strategies, infrastructure, and tactics my teams and other makers were using from day-to-day. Some concepts were over my head. I often gave a confused scratching-the-head face, but this started conversations. These conversations sometimes led to my understanding, sometimes did not. But they almost always built more trust and personal connection, or team-building moments. It started out to be a test to see if I could understand things unrelated to my role, but it turned into a way to get others to talk about what they wanted to share.

 

Along the way, my design inspiration blossomed. I really started to use technical decision-making to consider more factors about a user’s options, affordances, and system recollection. Most developers had design-related concerns and considerations that I used, saved for later, or helped inform the big picture. When I was in the diverge phase to gather ideas and thoughts before converging on a design, the options I weighed were flavored with implementation considerations. For example, I made a change toward consistent interaction for adding providers, payers, and campaigns with the way the user adds compatibility for devices and operating systems (unrelated data) for a single application based on when a developer explained to me how the database was constructed. This was helpful for everyone, including the API team who supported the front-end teams with the correct data. I iterated on the design often when I got information about a new feature need. I got comfortable with picking others’ brains creating a greater pool of meaning.

 

The other important takeaway from integrating with cross-functional teams and surrounding roles is how trust and partnership is built. It’s easier to have appreciation and respect for project managers, architects, software producers, developers, and product folks who I really got to know well. Partly, this is due to understanding their passions and expertise in places I am lacking, but also due to their becoming my friends, both casually and personally. Most of this revelation is common advice for plugging into an organization, but I really stress that getting to know others’ roles can make us think about our artifacts and outcomes in a remarkably new way. Opening my eyes to this interdisciplinary opportunity in my job as a design facilitator and maker has made work even better. When we start to think of our jobs as team-based and checking our titles at the door, there is plenty to explore and more possibilities for greater outcomes and the right products for our clients and their users.