How 2 UX Designers Helped Build Design-driven Workplace Cultures

Chicago is one of the most design-forward cities in the country. Two local companies have worked to make sure that spirit doesn’t fade when their designers come into work.

Written by Lucas Dean
Published on Oct. 28, 2022
How 2 UX Designers Helped Build Design-driven Workplace Cultures
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The role of UX designers within a company can be described as a collection of intersections — those where data meets design, granular details meet the bigger picture and customer feedback meets company goals. 

Navigating these intersections gives UX designers a unique and valuable perspective, yet their knowledge often is underutilized and insufficiently resourced across organizations. There are, however, companies that have unlocked designers’ full potential and reaped the rewards. 

There are numerous wide-ranging benefits of a well-integrated design team. A 2022 McKinsey survey showed that businesses with design-driven cultures saw increased shareholder returns, higher talent attraction and retention rates and better overall business performance. 

“We capitalized on moments when we could expand people’s understanding of design beyond picking button colors,” said Rachael Forster, senior UX designer at Strata Decision Technology, while explaining how Strata’s sustained investment in its design team has paid off. “It’s now commonplace for our teammates to do research, question their own assumptions and seek out user feedback.”

For Bos Alvertos, vice president of user experience and design at Double Good, finding opportunities for cross-functional collaboration have helped boost a design-driven culture that allows the company to deliver great experiences for customers. 

“We want the experiences we create to bring joy to our customers. We do that by understanding our customers and uncovering what they really want,” explained Alvertos. 

Built In Chicago spoke to these UX leaders about what it means to work in a design-driven culture and how their companies support it. 

 

Rachael Forster
Senior UX Designer • Strata Decision Technology

More than 400 health systems and 2,000 leading hospitals use Strata’s software platform to analyze, plan and strategize their finances to lower costs without compromising patient care. 

 

What does having a design-driven culture mean to Strata, and what are the pillars that support it?

At Strata, having a design-driven culture means we seek to understand our customers’ problems before we solve them. And it means that we aren’t afraid to experiment until we’ve found the right solution. Luckily, design receives support by leadership all the way up to our CEO. 

Additionally, our companywide values are very much aligned with supporting a design-driven culture. These include ‘Serve’, ‘Rock’ and ‘Grow’. We serve our customers by being their trusted advisor. We serve our teammates by building strong relationships, collaborating and winning as a team. We rock impact, meaning our tools and services make a difference in the financial health of healthcare systems across the country. We continuously learn and improve. We’re curious, seek feedback and value progress over perfection.

These values pair with what we hold near and dear to our hearts as designers. We serve by advocating for the best user experience, rock by delivering solutions that users love and grow by always looking for ways to improve our craft.

 

What role do individuals on the design team play in promoting and evolving that culture?

Our design team is the cornerstone of Strata’s design-driven culture. The team often leads internal courses about design thinking and conducting user research with interaction design. Anyone in the company can attend these classes. Additionally, the team hosts weekly design office hours for product managers and engineers. Strata team members can bring questions about UI decisions, conducting user research and ideating on new features. 

Designers are embedded on our product teams, making each designer an equal partner to engineers and product managers. We drive collaboration amongst our product teams by facilitating working sessions and consulting with others in the organization who want to conduct user research. We help them craft objectives and write interview and survey questions, and then we synthesize results.  

In addition to what we’re doing today, we continue to look for new ways to bring more people into the design-thinking process, such as finding better ways to share research insights so other teams can use them too. We are also bringing engineers closer to the research process so they can better understand our users.

We’re no longer seen as the team to consult with on button colors, but the team to partner with to understand and help solve our customers’ problems.”

 

What are some challenges associated with building a design-driven culture? How has your team worked through them?

In the last five years, Strata has invested heavily in building design capabilities within our company. The design team spent a great deal of time demonstrating the immense value of design as part of our product development process. We capitalized on moments when we could expand people’s understanding of design beyond picking button colors. We found opportunities to advocate for user needs and communicate the risks of not doing research. We challenged assumptions and called out when we jumped to solutions too quickly. We shifted expectations on what good research and a well-designed interface looks like for users.  

It’s now commonplace for our teammates to do research, question their own assumptions and seek out user feedback. They understand how design adds to the value of our products. We’re no longer seen as the team to consult with on button colors, but the team to partner with to understand and help solve our customers’ problems.

 

 

Bos Alvertos
Vice President User Experience and Design • Double Good

Double Good is more than just a premium popcorn company, it’s a company with a demonstrated commitment to social impact. Individuals and organizations can rely on Double Good’s tasty popcorn and easy-to-use software to boost fundraising initiatives, keeping 50 percent of proceeds. 

 

What does having a design-driven culture mean to Double Good, and what are the pillars that support it? 

Whether it’s the technology we build or the popcorn we make, we want the experiences we create to bring joy to our customers. We do that by understanding our customers and uncovering what they really want. We put them at the very center of it all. 

Our product development cycle is driven by user feedback. Building prototypes, testing, talking to customers, not being afraid to hear something sucks, looking at data, learning from failures and successes, getting more feedback and iterating. We spend a lot of time learning from our customers, moving fast and delivering.

We also do companywide ‘dogfooding’ or live-in events to help build empathy across the organization. We use our virtual fundraising platform to raise money for the Double Good Kids Foundation, which provides equipment, experiences and education to kids of all abilities. Our CEO, Tim Heitman, is the organizer, and every employee opens their virtual Pop-Up Store and sells Double Good popcorn to their networks for four days. It’s a way for us to understand better what our customers experience. 

 

What role do individuals on the design team play in promoting and evolving that culture?

We move very quickly. Our development sprints are bi-weekly, and our design sprints happen weekly. That means there is a lot of design and development always happening. That also means there is a lot of data or feedback that we’re gathering. For us to operate successfully in a design-driven culture, that data must be accessible to everyone. 

When we create a story for a development sprint, we include UX research findings to provide context for our engineers. Reviewing designs with our engineers, we share verbatims to help define why we made certain design decisions. After each design sprint, we share feedback with the rest of the company so they can understand what features we’re working on and how our customers respond. We host a quarterly cross-functional product impact presentation to highlight some of the features we’ve worked on and do a deep dive to see how they’re performing. 

These touchpoints and moments for collaboration help promote our design-driven culture.

A solid strategic alignment across the organization is critical in driving a design-driven culture and has saved us from chasing shiny objects.”

 

What are some challenges associated with building a design-driven culture? How has your team worked through them?

There’s a lot of excitement that comes with moving as quickly as we do and growing as fast as we are, but you must constantly remind yourself of what you’re building, who you’re building for and why you’re building it. A solid strategic alignment across the organization is critical in driving a design-driven culture and has saved us from chasing shiny objects.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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