Episode 3: Playing the long game to get design a seat at the table

Profile picture of Bryan Garvey

On this episode of UX Leadership by Design, host Mark Baldino interviews Bryan Garvey, the Associate Director of User Experience and Insights at Radio Systems Corporation. Discover Bryan’s multi-year journey in bringing UX design to the company, the crucial role of stakeholder management, and the power of fostering a growth mindset among his team. Hear about the challenges of balancing multiple focuses from E-commerce to marketing to physical product design. Learn why it’s important to not get too caught up in titles and instead focus on growing the UX department within the organization. Bryan emphasizes the importance of empathizing with stakeholders and understanding the business. Enhance your UX leadership skills today.

About Our Guest

Bryan first started obsessing over experience details by putting on Star Wars plays in neighborhood backyards. Today he pushes to make things better through research, UX, and industrial design in the world of pet products. In his spare time, he creates different kinds of experiences on live music stages and in the outdoors.

Topics Covered

  1. How to get initial buy-in from stakeholders
  2. Identifying the right people to back your plans
  3. Collaborative approach between design and development
  4. UX design for marketing, websites, apps, to physical product
  5. How to expand the role and function of your UX tea
  6. Encouraging a “push mindset” in your team
  7. Importance of small details to solving design challenges
  8. The value of evangelizing
  9. Empathizing with Stakeholders

Resources & Links

Book Recommendation: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High

Connect with Bryan on LinkedIn

Connect with Mark on LinkedIn

Fuzzy Math


Mark Baldino  0:00  
Hi, folks, and welcome to UX leadership by design, the podcast buy in for UX design leaders. I'm your host, Mark Baldino. This podcast is and always will be brought to you by fuzzy math, the user experience design consultancy that brings consumer grade UX to the enterprise. fuzzy math delivers award winning digital product strategy, UI design, and UX design operations services. I'm also founder, so I'm biased. Today we're talking to Bryan Garvey, the Associate Director of user experience insights at Radio Systems Corporation. These are the fine folks that bring you pet products, you know, like pet safe and invisible fence. Bryan takes us through his multi year journey to get designed a seat at the table will cover some incremental steps in what is really a long game, again, multi year journey driving organizational change. And we'll make some stops along the way, things like the artist stakeholder management, empathizing with stakeholders and other members of your team. And really how he enables a push mindset for his team. I feel it's a great must listen for our fellow design leaders. So super excited about it. Let's go.

Mark Baldino  1:07  
Welcome, Bryan, how are you? Doing? Well, how are you doing?

Bryan Garvey  1:10  
I am doing very well. 

Mark Baldino  1:12  
Thank you for joining us on the podcast today.

Bryan Garvey  1:14  
My pleasure.

Mark Baldino  1:16  
So I have down here that you're the associate director of user experience and insights at Radio Systems Corporation, give us a little bit of background. What's that all about? How did you land in in that position. And as we talk about sort of UX journeys, I'm always interested in hearing how people went from, you know, a practitioner of UX to shifting into kind of a lead or a management role. So I think the audience would love to hear about sort of your journey. 

Bryan Garvey  1:40  
Yeah, I think it's a great idea for series because everyone comes into it differently. And I'm always interested in those those past. So I came to radio systems in 2015. So then, well over seven half years, first brought on because they didn't have any UX at the company. And first wanted it focused on the website to elevate the experience of their website, or E-COM, and branded sites, because the company actually owns multiple brands in the in the pet product, and Sporting Dog area. Radio systems is kind of a funny term, these days, because it refers to sort of a core technology that was built 30 years ago, at least. And we've kind of grown and made lots of other things, but never bothered update the parent brand. I really focused on the other brands like invisible fence and PetSafe. 

Bryan Garvey  2:42  
But as I was seeing how the teams were working, I put together several presentations, the website teams, on the better way to work between design and development. Because at the time, it was still more of a let's lob some designs over the wall to development, see what we get. And, you know, I pitched the, you know, more modern collaborative way and kind of give a UX one on one and why you want to pay attention to those things. And the value it creates. And the head of the group at the time asked if that can be applied to our physical products as well. 

Mark Baldino  3:23  
And they drew the connection between like marketing ecomm to physical products?

Bryan Garvey  3:28  
Yep, yep. Because I guess because I was talking about it conceptually. Yeah, interesting. Well done. We were kind of restarting our Internet of Things program because of an attempt that didn't go so well in the marketplace. And that's where I first started working to have a crossover, you know, software and the and the physical product. And, yeah, everyone really liked how that went and asked, if there were more people out there that did what I did. It really freeing me up wanting to free me up to be able to work on more things, is kind of how we started making a case for more resources and, and an actual department

Mark Baldino  4:12  
Did you have to continue to support the marketing as you're movin? As the E-commerce side is you're moving  to other stuff like did you have to say, I'm gonna keep doing this while we kind of grow the team and scale how we're serving? 

Bryan Garvey  4:23  
Yes, yes, still do. In fact, the title, my actual title isn't Associate Director of user experience and insights. I say that because it makes a little bit more sense to people is what I do. But the reality is big because of of how this has progressed. Like they didn't even my title wasn't even UX when I started because they didn't have it at the company. And so my titles have always lagged. And I think that's interesting. Try not to get hung up on it too much. Because if you are pushing and growing, something like get this in an organization, that's just going to happen if they don't have that sort of framework already laid out. I mean, think right now my title says something about digital products. And I worked Oh, really, okay, quite a bit on the physical hardware. And so, perhaps with the next, the next title change, it'll, it'll, it'll catch up a little bit. But I feel like ideally, if I'm doing a job and pushing forward, in a company, I'll be involved with more things than the title can, can say so. And in fact, I kind of take that title thing and applied it to the UX group and the research group that everyone has either research and insights, analyst or they have UX UI designer, even though one of my UX people may be really focused on research. And one of them may be really focused on app UI. Instead of creating dedicated roles, we just have one, one title that allows us to sort of find the specific skill sets we need at the time, and it's so far worked out pretty well. 

Mark Baldino  6:06  
What's that component? Like? Insights? I don't know, if you? Like I seriously, like consumer insights like that feels, sometimes more marketing, although I think as practitioners of user and human centered design like we are drawing insights like is that your personal bent is that kind of I don't want to say this, like PR in terms of okay, this is what my team does, or is it something internal that like, there's an insights role sounds like the roles are like role titles a little more technical, like where that insights label come from, and seems like it's stuck around. 

Bryan Garvey  6:38  
So at the, at the time, I was building up the UX group there, there was a research group that was growing, and the person leading that I had a background and more the consumer research side of things. And really focused a lot on quant, things like that. And the owner of that group was trying to, you know, influence hiring and more people who would be more user centric, and have sort of a mixed methods approach. Eventually, I took over that team and kind of took what they were doing, and made it more bringing more UX research, I guess. Because at a time, we weren't doing a lot with with market research. Anyway, as a company, we were really focused on updating our product development. And having that sort of mixed methods approach gave much more actionable information to the categories and the product teams to be able to make decisions. And so we we changed, you know, sending out a product and then asking a survey into, you know, iterative prototype testing, using a platform that allows us to see diaries and have live interviews, there was a big push at the time not to have an inside out sort of approach to product ideation. And everything needs to be based on an insight. And so that's also part of where the name insights came from. Interestingly enough, now, we're going through some growth and change. And there is a huge new focus on on marketing and brand positioning. And so we are actually having a lot more need for that consumer research side of things. And that level of insights that we're navigating to figure out how to expand the teams.

Mark Baldino  8:30  
And you team will expand to fill that gap on the kind of consumer research market, or?

Bryan Garvey  8:36  
Initially, at least we'll see if it ends up that we need a product, practical focus group, and then a, you know, market trend type group. But for now, that's where we are. And so backing up right now I have the UX group, which does our app, or our native apps, or websites or brand new websites, and in our product, physical product, UIs. And then I also have the research group, which which does, you know, persona, segmentation, that level of stuff all the way down to coordinating product testing with customers, and then the Industrial Design Group. So really, a lot of the pieces of the product experience working with engineers and categories and everyone else that takes to bring these to the market.

Mark Baldino  9:29  
Really end to end.

Bryan Garvey  9:32  
Yeah, yeah, really, really touch points throughout the entire billing process.

Mark Baldino  9:36  
So that's where you are now, when you started, you started over here, you're now like, really far. You sound your your approach, which is make a presentation, sort of explain what you do, but sounds like a lot of I'm gonna go try stuff and show show results. But a lot of I mean, is it a lot of two steps forward one step back, like, how long did the journey take where you're now saying, Oh, we're gonna double back to marketing. But in the meantime, we're doing basically all digital customer experience. We're doing physical, you know, product design, like, that's an amazing range for your team like, that sounds, I don't wanna say ideal, but it sounds like an amazing space to work and amazing place to sort of space to lead. But what did that journey take? How long did it take? Am I describing it as correctly, two steps forward one step back? Like it sounds incremental, which is impressive.

Bryan Garvey  10:28  
Yeah. It sounds, it sounds like you know how this stuff goes. I've been very fortunate that the company is, is it's a midsize company that, you know, has sort of a startup mentality. So it started was that way at some point. And it's always been a sort of, if you have an idea, and you want to push it, you can do that, you know, because there's, there's just always opportunities right now, as we're maturing, we're looking at codifying processes and things, but it's still got that sort of, if you want to step forward and do the work and make your case, you'll be heard. So like, you know, in a lot of places, I would find the people who recognize the value in this and how it can contribute and kind of focused on on them versus the people who are used to doing things. The way they've always done it. 

Mark Baldino  11:23  
You just pause there -- that is I think, is really interesting insight, because I think design leaders struggle, right? They face some people who supported not supportive sometimes they don't know who to go to. So they stay in the same cycle and deliver great design, but like, how did you find those right? People? Like what was the quality criteria, this person is going to listen, they're going to take this seriously, they're going to give me a little bit of room, I don't know, maybe a little bit of budget to like, trial. So how did you identify them? And then what did you have to come back with to just sort of prove value ROI, that sort of stuff?

Bryan Garvey  11:54  
Great, great questions. I think that for overall, and I tell him, you know, the people that work in my group, the same thing, as if you find yourself arguing about the value of what you do, you're kind of lost already. Right? If you're, you know, having these abstract, you know, sort of philosophical level, you know, this is why I should be here. This is why this is why you should listen to me, that's that's not the conversation need to be in. Because the right people aren't wanting to talk about that, right? People want to talk about what can they do next? The way I've sort of followed it. And my path to the current company is that, you know, first I have that, you know, executive that said, can you apply this to other things. And then a lot of it was, well, here's the software manager over here, who says I'm dying for some UX help over here, we're just getting these requirements, and we're just, we're just making whatever, but we want it to be better. Or there is a category person who says, you know, I want to try building this this different way, I saw this video where someone did a design studio, yeah, I can help you with that, or an executive that came back from doing a crash course at the Stanford d school. Because as anybody, you know, interested in this stuff wants to help me talk about this. You know, always just like, looking for those types of conversations and, and really just talking to people around the company about, you know, what they're working on and what their pain points are. And there are plenty of people who are like, you know, no, we're good, we're fine. Or does it you do? And that's fine. You don't crusade run everyone about this, what research is, this is what UX is, this is what industrial design should be doing. Find the people who know that and say, What do you have coming up? And how can I help you? It's a real basic way of doing that. And and it's, it's beneficial, because in the beginning, you know, I kept hearing it said, you know, don't, don't be like peanut butter spread too thin, across the org, because then you won't really you'll just be diluted. And it actually works to your benefit to only focus on a couple areas and let everything else go. To show that yeah, this is this is valuable here.

Mark Baldino  14:10  
Fantastic. And I know I kind of cut you off in your journey, because I wanted to focus in on that. Like, who are the right folks, I need to be talking to within my organization, how to identify them make progress, you're talking about kind of the longer journey to go from E commerce to really, you know, a pretty broad set of services and apologize for cutting you off there. But I wanted to dive in a little bit. So find the right people make incremental progress. What else about that, about that journey to get you to where your team is now?

Bryan Garvey  14:38  
Yeah, so the people you want to find are either people who like you know, the software developer manager who will not move forward, you know, without, you know, a good inputs or the people who actually are making the decisions. The biggest strides we've made is, you know, the person in charge of For our apps on the development side getting direct requests, and then saying no, you have to go through the UX group. Once that starts happening, then you start really making some progress. So going back to your two steps forward, one step back as well. What we what you'll find is that you have the success with this one group. Other people will say, Okay, I want the success or leader will say, Okay, you all everyone has to use, you know, research, everyone has to use UX. But they don't know how or why. So you start working with this next group doing your process. And it feels like you're starting all over again, because suddenly they're like, Where's where's your timeline? Where's your list of deliverables? And it's like, well, that's not how this part works. And they're like, I don't I don't get it. You know, I need I need to see this. Okay, well, alright, let's step back. Right. And that's been sort of a frustrating thing to say, Okay. You've had the success, you expect that that work of evangelizing is over, but it kind of never is, you always have either new groups or you have new leaders cycling in. So some aspect of that will always be there.

Mark Baldino  16:07  
What's that? What's an additional challenge there with folks, if you found what I would call a call, like friendlies, people open to it, maybe have seen the process before their process is broken. So they're, you know, we really need some help here. When you're doing that more pure evangelization? Like how does what are some of the challenges there? And how do you get around them? It's, it's still the, let me do this process I'm gonna show as opposed to tell don't talk about value to think is an interesting one, because a lot of designers will. I don't know how many slides I put together about the value of UX. So what's that these new when these new evangelization evangelizing opportunities? How are they different? What are some of the challenges there?

Bryan Garvey  16:45  
Well, all the challenges always knowing which which part of the funnel you want to focus on, right? For what the person is dealing with, and what problem they're trying to solve. Because at the end of the day, you're still always going to face the fact that they could just go and launch something without taking the time to understand the problem without taking the time to iron out these details. Because a lot of times, they do seem like small details. And there's success that happens by launching, and of course correcting. And so that will always be there. And in some cases, that's actually not not a bad route. And so it's dialing into what problems that they need solving they are struggling with at the time, it's not always that you have to have this perfectly seamless experience, sometimes it is I need to understand actually where the issues are. Or I'm having trouble communicating these requirements to the technical team. wherever that is, and so sometimes the presentation is like, here's the problem you're having, if you let us do this work, you don't even have to worry about that that problem goes away. So it's, you know, sort of diving into that if you're talking to more than executive level, it's like, this is the money you're losing. Right, by doing it this way. Here's this, you know, what, what we've been able to do that save money there, which is also very difficult sometimes. Because when everything's designed really well, it just works. Right? Right. And if something is easy to use, if something just works, well, that feels like that's how it's supposed to be, it feels like that was easy to do when, you know, historically, and it's the inverse, right? I in terms of the work that goes into it. So that's always, you know, kind of a challenge. But that's why evangelizing looks more like this is some things that we're doing and this is the value. It adds to you. This is the pain point or moves for you. Yeah. That type of thing.

Mark Baldino  18:45  
And it sounds like I mean, I think designers in general, they want to focus on the end user, customer, and really good at empathizing with those folks. I think sometimes designers and myself as well, it's like, you have to empathize with the people. You're working alongside of my world, it's clients, but sometimes designers, internal designers, and for your team, it's fellow, you know, it's key stakeholders. It could be executives, like, that's a whole nother skill set of empathizing with those around you. It's very easy to kind of, you know, take evangelists evangelization to, like the bully pulpit, right? Like, this is the only way to get it done. You have to do these 10 steps. No, I'm not even engaging this group, if they don't want to do primary user research, like we can get really high on our horse and say, this is the one and only way but your approach, which is let's step back and look at what are what are the acute pain points that this group or this person is facing? How can we leverage design to solve for that? So am I first of all describing that correctly? Is that level of like stakeholder conversations, stakeholder research, stakeholder, consulting a big part of your team's role?

Bryan Garvey  19:54  
It really is, and there's divided opinions on it and I've heard those opinions even within within the You're within other people who want to see the work that aren't even in the group, but want to see the work being pushed much further ahead. Because they're, they're ready for change, right. And of course, there's, you know, people in the group, it's, it's a, it's actually a significant challenge working at a hardware based company that is getting into software, and you're recruiting all these digitally minded people who are ready to ready to launch ready to learn. And you know, this is a three year product cycle, it can feel like a slog, sometimes, and so you really have to focus on the wins and the things that you are, you know, pushing forward. So it can a lot of times feel like, you know, we've been pushing to change this, and people are still behaving the same, you have to step back and say, Okay, well, a year ago, we weren't even invited to these meetings, right? Today, we're leading the meeting, right? Like, that's, that's significant. And a lot of, you know, places that doesn't need to happen. And so a big piece of that one of our three pillars of the group is understand the business. You know, I tell anyone, wherever you work, you should be able to articulate the value you bring to the business. I said early, you don't want to be in a fight about it, you should be able to articulate it. And I think that, with that mindset, understand the business is how you understand the problems, right? Why is this category manager, suddenly making this call and what the product should do when you feel like that's your role? Well, they have suddenly have a new date, they have to get, you know, to get this product for PetSmart, or Walmart, whoever to take it, right? That's really driving to them. Because if they don't hit that, then there's no product. So if you understand that, and you say, okay, we can understand we can do things perfectly. And by the book, according to even our own set of guidelines for usability, whatever, but here's the here's the best thing you can do in this situation. Doing that means the next time they have something roll around, like, hey, we want to get you all in earlier. I know you said before, you didn't have enough time to do things. I do want to get things earlier, because I saw what happened when we kind of push things at the last minute. It it's a long game, in a way and you have to be ready for that. And some people don't have the patience for it. But the flip side, then, you know, that is why we get to, you know, get listened to and get some of the seats at the table we have.

Mark Baldino  22:27  
Yeah, that's fantastic. I think the long game is important and really hard. It's hard to play. So you know, congrats to you, Bryan, for playing it for a number of years. One of the masochist. Yeah, yeah. But it's a it's got to be challenged to hire people that have that mindset, maybe teach that mindset, retain them and say, Hey, this is this is going to be a little bit of a struggle for a few months. But hey, I promise you next time around, we're going to we'll get started earlier, like, what what are some of the challenges with the team because you probably have a push and pull here, which is we are playing the long game. But we also need to like at times, go go go and we want to push change, like what's Is there a tension there? How are you managing that tension?

Bryan Garvey  23:10  
I'm interested in in the team's perspective on this? Because I hear quite a bit about it. Yeah, it is. It is tough to manage, I think that one of the benefits we have is that we get to do some of the research and some of the UX design and the testing that a lot of places talk about right, even at some of these larger places, you get in there and it's still like crank it out, crank it up, crank it out. And we do have the benefit of doing it part of you know, we don't have that many people given how many touch points we cover in the company. But because of the cycles on things, it gives them an opportunity to, you know, if we didn't get to exactly what I want to hear, okay, there's this other thing that's kind of waiting. Let's take those learnings and go over here, there's an opportunity to push more ownership, you know, you're gonna own this piece of it, you're gonna lead this session, you know, here's how we're gonna set you up for success and how we're gonna support you, as opposed to here's your task, here's your task, crank up the screens, and getting to learn some of those skills of, you know, we talk a lot about stakeholder management, we talk a lot about facilitating, we talked about a lot about how do you manage a difficult conversation in a meeting where you're going on for a little bit on your plan, and then suddenly, an engineer says, Well, that'll never work because of x. And then suddenly, everyone's like, Okay, well, the engineer says, it doesn't work, how that doesn't mean the end of it. How do you recover from that? So getting flustered and think that people appreciate, you know, learning those skills that they're gonna be able to take? wherever they go. I hope that that's part of the reason we're able to To have a pretty good retention, the fact that the people, couple people who have left to go in other places have given me feedback that what they learned working with this team, perfectly set them up for learning and working this larger company being in charge of a design system. You know, we work with the writers, and our, in our group, a bunch of them just left to become UX writers, they started off writing product pages or manuals.

Mark Baldino  25:28  
That's cool. That's great. The see the career development, it's no better compliment than somebody come back after they've left her team and said, I learned a, b, and c and I'm applying it, you know, in the best, that's fantastic. Is there? Do you try to develop like to summarize, like maybe the mindset you're looking for in your team that you're sort of trying to develop in your designers? 

Bryan Garvey  25:51  
Yeah particularly. Anything that's related to design, if there's a role, there a presentation is a must for the interviewer. That's one of our requirements. And what that is, is presenting a project you worked on in the past, we don't make anyone do any spec work or giving sample projects I firmly against that. Because if you present something you worked on, you're we're naturally going to see how you articulate your decisions are naturally going to see and have an opportunity to ask about the things you have overcome to get certain things through. Because those are the key things that you know, we're doing day to day. Yep. Right. Every one of us has to be able to articulate decision and the why on any given day, right. And someone who has that growth mindset, who you know, this is, I took this on because I wanted to learn this, or this was a challenge, but I liked it because of this. And you know, one of our screener questions is always, you know, trying to figure out, are you are you moving away from something? Are you moving towards something, what, what is the value you think you can get here, to make sure that we're able to grow you, one of our mantras is, you know, mine is, as a manager, a director is, my role is to prepare you for your next role. Hopefully, that's here, and our company, but it won't always be. And I think that that gets across the idea that we're here to develop you, and people who are eager to do that. You can spot those. That's that growth mindset, that was the people who are gonna be willing to push because they see what it unlocks and what's allows them to do versus people who, you know, just want to come in and do their work and leave. That's totally fine. It just doesn't work in our environment. Awesome.

Mark Baldino  27:42  
Well, that's fantastic. Thank you for bringing the listeners along on your your journey that I think you know, a summarized summarization is it is a long journey, and you got to play the long game, if you really want to shift the internal culture and processes specifically when, as you mentioned, you know, briefly you're talking about hardware design with really long sort of, you know, delivery schedules as a way to wrap I'd like to include sort of resources, articles, books that have helped, you know, design leaders develop any you would recommend our, you know, fellow design leaders to give a read or listen to

Bryan Garvey  28:21  
Yeah, my number one book is always Crucial Conversations. So, actually, the UX team is doing a little book club on it right now. I think that that's really the heart of have so much of what we're doing, it goes over a framework, really. And it's, it's interesting, because it's it's really stuff we know is as designers and researchers in terms of, you know, something happens. There's a reaction to it, right? But actually, there's something happens, we tell ourselves a story about it, right? And then we react to the story of what that means. And it has a lot of good examples of how that plays out in the workplace. You know, you're trying to get approval for this new homepage design, and you're on a tight timeline. And suddenly the stakeholder starts asking why the buttons have square corners instead of rounded. And you just use lose your mind right? And you react if you react poorly in that moment, you've lost so much of what you've worked towards. And so little ways, you know, things that like handling that those types of conversations, things where people are in disagreement or the thing you're pushing is advocating for isn't it is a difficult conversation to have or feels that way because, you know, you you're the designer coming in to suggest maybe we extend the timeline or things like that. It takes the personal aspect out of it and the feelings out of it. Focus on facts so that just one alone I think is it is really important, most particularly as you get into leadership, because as you get into leadership, it becomes so much more about your work, it happens to people relationships, even when most of its focused on your team. The biggest struggle I see people have moving from individual contributor and said leadership. Well, I'll say management because I think everyone can be a leader. But it is letting go of, you know, your value was and this, this craft, now your value is and this relationship still tied to the craft? Yeah. And suddenly, those conversations were like, Oh, this was really easy. I don't understand why this person is taken this long. Suddenly, it becomes, you know, a difficult conversation to have with someone, but if you approach with the right framework, you get the results that you want, you know, with the team that you're leading.

Mark Baldino  30:50  
Fantastic. All right Bryan I think it's a perfect way to wrap it up. Thanks for sharing the resource and some some final words of wisdom. I've learned a ton. Even in the last few moments, I think I need to pick up that book. People who know me, I can be a little bit passionate at times. And I think separating myself sometimes from you know, taking things personally is like something I'm always working on. So appreciated your time today. I'll include a link to those resources when we get this posted, but just want to say thank you again for your time and for sharing your journey with with our listeners.

Bryan Garvey  31:23  
Thanks for asking. Thank you.
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