Enterprise UX: Designing Organizational Culture Wrap-up

Welcome to Fuzzy Math’s recap of the Enterprise UX 2015 conference. We’re organizing our blog posts around both the keynotes and the four conference themes: Insight at Scale, Craft amid Complexity, Enterprise Experimentation, and Designing Organizational Culture. Today we recap the final theme of the conference, Designing Organizational Culture and Dave Gray’s closing keynote.

Designing Organizational Culture

The final theme was all about how to design a UX organization and a organizational culture that supports, empowers, and fosters experience design. Phil Gilbert, general manager at IBM Design; Julie Baher, senior director of UX at Illumina; and Nathan Shedroff, program chair of the MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts, did a fantastic job of closing out the conference themes.

By bringing everyone into the process, sometimes through the use of food-based encouragement to participate, she was able to get input from people throughout the organization about how they actually work.

Julie shared key lessons learned over her five years leading the SaaS team at Citrix. Her first lesson was to “make a splash,” which is especially true when many of your co-workers don’t even know that you or your team exist, (this was the unfortunate reality when she started). She used conference booths to serve a second purpose of letting others at Citrix know she and her team existed, and also to learn more about her co-workers through fun, informal research. Food also helped, which was a part of her second lesson of “design matters.” By bringing everyone into the process, sometimes through the use of food-based encouragement to participate, she was able to get input from throughout the organization about how they actually work. Her final lesson was that you should “count to 100,” using metrics to track, test, and learn about decisions you’re making. Tracking metrics was one of the most common themes throughout the conference.

Nathan gave a great presentation that approached the theme from more of a business point of view. Given his role of chairing an MBA program, this makes a lot of sense. Outside of what I’ve learned over the last eight years working with Mark and running Fuzzy Math, I don’t have any formal business training, and found Nathan’s talk to be fascinating. He covered how business and design are different, “bean counters vs. creatives,” “optimization vs. imagination,” and so on, but highlighted how you cannot have a relationship with a customer without an experience, and the experience heavily depends on the design side.

The book value of Instagram was $86 million the day before it was sold to Facebook for $1.1 billion. So where did that extra $1.01 billion come from?

The whole presentation was great — it even included Archer characters! — but one example stands out. He talked about how the book value of Instagram was $86 million the day before it was sold to Facebook for $1.1 billion. So where did that extra $1.01 billion come from? The qualitative “design” part of the equation, which includes how customers felt about Instagram and how they perceived it as a premium value, was worth that much to Facebook. He’s another one of the speakers that I’m looking forward to following in the future.

“I love you all.”

Phil closed out the theme with his presentation about the enormous design shift currently underway at IBM. I previously saw Todd Wilken speak at UX STRAT in Boulder last year about the IBM Design team, so I was pretty excited to hear what Phil had to say. He did not disappoint. The challenge he has taken on was to “create a culture of design within an organization of 380k people,” and shockingly, at least to me, it sounds like he’s succeeding. In the true sense of the word, it’s awesome. From the decision not to acquire outside firms, since they “worry about our culture” (and they couldn’t possibly acquire enough firms to fill the 1,500 positions), to Phil telling the IBM Design team, “I love you all,” they’re doing something cool over there.

There was a lot in his talk that I was excited about, but a couple items that stand out are:

  • His belief that you can understand a culture through how long beliefs and artifacts are held; meaning, you fall back to the things you’re used to, and what you’re used to is your culture.
  • IBM has real career opportunities for designers (while I believe this is true at places other speakers come from, this is the only person who mentioned it). It’s nice to see big companies, even really, really big ones like IBM, are treating design as core piece of their business.
  • “We won’t know if we’re on the right path until 2018 or 2020” (we don’t get *quite* that timeline as consultants, but I do believe he is right).
  • They use the term “design language” instead of “design guidelines” and make it public.

I am truly fascinated by what IBM is doing and will be following their progress.

Here is our pre-conference post on this theme for your reading enjoyment.

The Closing Keynote

Dave Gray, author of The Connected Company and founder of XPLANE, gave the closing keynote. I’d never seen Dave speak before, but heard rumors that he was going to “draw” his talk — these rumors turned out to be true. He had a setup where he was talking to us and live “sketching” his presentation that we could follow on the screens by the stage. Outside of the presentation style, which was both nifty and impressive, the content of his talk was fantastic. I can’t do it justice here, mostly because I was so engrossed in the content that I didn’t take all that many notes.

From the few notes I do have, here are some summarized thoughts (which also included a pretty poor sketch of an elephant — see below):

  • Dave related a quick version of the story of the blind men and the elephant (hence the elephant sketch), which highlights that what we experience as the truth (what we know, what we can see, touch, study, etc.) is only part of the larger truth. I was pretty intrigued at where this talk was going to go from here.
  • We can process 11 million bits per second, but can pay attention to only 40-50 bits per second.
  • If you hear information as a story, you remember it. When you hear just stats, you infer the story.
  • The only time you can make change is in the moment. The past has passed, and the future hasn’t happened yet. I think this is where I noted that this talk was the most visual and largest therapy session I’d ever attended.
  • Dave mentioned that everyone should watch the documentary, The Fog of War, and I can’t agree more.

After getting back from the conference, I did some Googling and found the below video, which is similar to the talk Dave gave at Enterprise UX. I highly recommend finding 20 minutes to give it a watch.

Dave’s closing keynote was a wonderful ending to a really nice conference put on by the teams at Rosenfeld Media and Rackspace. I think both of the organizers deserve extra credit for it being their very first conference, and it went off without a hitch — at least none that I saw. Fuzzy Math will very likely have a continued presence at the conference in the years to come.

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