Designing the product is all for naught if you don’t first take the time to design the organization.
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) April 20, 2012
I’ve been a user experience designer for the entirety of my career. And in the decade I’ve spent doing this work, I have discovered that there is only one universal truth about how to design an extraordinary user experience: you must design an extraordinary company first.
A group of individuals with a shared goal (in other words, a business) who do not equally and universally value one another simply cannot equally and universally value their customers, and therefore are in no position to create and support a product that will have a deep impact on people’s lives.
A great product experience can only be crafted in an environment that encourages collaboration, iteration, and risk. Working in unison, having patience and long-term vision, and being willing to fail are key factors to success.
What ultimately allows for these positive attitudes to exist and thrive in any organization is a culture of empathy. Empathy is defined as the ability to identify with another person’s experiences, even if you have never directly experienced them yourself. Imagining the world from another’s perspective, recognizing how it differs from your perspective, and demonstrating that you understand and value those differences is what it means to be empathic. This is not simply the ability to feel compassion for another person’s state of being (sympathy), but rather to muster a vicarious feeling of that state. To feel what another feels.
As experience designers, we focus much of our efforts on developing organizational empathy for our users, but we neglect to facilitate the same prosocial behavior on our own home turf. We must remember that creating effective user experiences requires not just an understanding of human-computer interaction, but more importantly of human-human interaction. And without great human-human interaction present within the organization, how can we possibly foster great human-human interaction between our colleagues and our customers?
Designing products is no longer enough for me. I want to design companies. I’m tired of silos and turf wars and egocentricity. It’s helping no one, and it needs to stop.
They say you can’t truly love another before you learn to love yourself. Organizations are no different. If we don’t love and respect and admire the people we work with every day, we can’t collectively give our customers the love they deserve. Love is a verb.
I want to use the same skills that I’ve honed crafting digital interactions and put them to use in crafting interpersonal ones. In fact, I’ve become obsessed with the thought. Figuring out how to do this work consumes my every waking moment and many of my sleeping ones, too.
Whatever I discover along the way, I will be sharing it with you here. And if you choose to join me in putting this philosophy into practice in your own organizations, I’d love to hear what you find.
Now let’s go change the face of business forever.
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- The Empathy Belly at Ford Motor Company August 17, 2012 | 4 comments
- How “When I…” Reasoning Poisons a Team August 16, 2012 | 11 comments
- On Empathy and Apathy: Two Case Studies August 21, 2012 | 53 comments
- More Empathy, Better Design February 20, 2013 | 0 comments