Building design culture in tech: Takeaways from our design thinking panel

July 26, 2016 Civis Analytics

We love learning new things at Civis so we find ways–almost weekly–to teach our colleagues about things that we specialize in. From lightning talks to brown bags and many things in between, we thrive on learning from each other. With that learning culture in mind, I decided to host a brown bag during lunch a couple of weeks ago.

As Lead Designer at Civis, I’m focused not only on building easy-to-use data science products but also on building a design culture that keeps users at its core and leverages iterative implementation to adapt to their needs. There’s a lot that goes into that internally, but it’s really important to get outside of our own walls and get other opinions and expertise.

So I invited some design leaders I admire from the Chicago tech community to join us for lunch and discuss the evolving role of design in a technical company:

Big takeaways from the discussion:

Design is not a role; it is a way of approaching problems.

The way we think about design is changing. Once viewed as merely a glossy finish on a product, design is now understood as a mindset that pilots how we create technology. Design is not a person or a singular role within an organization, but instead a process to approach problems and create solutions. We call this problem-solving process “design thinking.” Matt broke down the process into four elementary steps:

  • Understand problems by interacting and observing people
  • Reduce problems to foundational first principles
  • Aim prototypes of all the ideas – from low to high level of refinement – against the first principles
  • Finally, call weak ideas and choose strong ones through user testing

At General Assembly, Shilpa and Jason are training the next generation of design thinkers, teaching them the process above tools or discrete skills that change so frequently.

Design must be democratized in the organization so that it’s accessible to everyone.

For a tech company (or any company for that matter) to be successful, it must embrace design thinking. At Spothero, design is “a core pillar to business and a conversation at every level and throughout everything we do,” says Anthony Broad-Crawford. After all, products that aren’t designed well–that aren’t easy-to-use–will fail. Both Spothero and Context Media use design sprints to iterate quickly and engage stakeholders across the company to transform an idea into a testable prototype in just five days or less. Sprints welcome non-designers to become active participants in the design process while constraining time, tools, and decision-making to get quick answers. General Assembly recognizes the importance of design sprints and uses them as their curriculum structure–some one-week projects, most two-weeks. (We use sprints at Civis, too–I’ll talk about those in a future post.)

Design must be powered by data.

Our work at Civis revolves around the power of data. Data makes decisions less subjective, which helps with democratization. A really important thing to note when talking about data-driven design is that data isn’t just numbers. Designers must balance quantitative with qualitative data–both must be incorporated and neither overemphasized. There are multiple ways of knowing and understanding human behavior and, ultimately, that is how we make great products.

This was our first internal panel and it was a great way for our team to understand how design plays into the entire product development cycle–and not just the finishing touches. I look forward to hosting more in the future.

This post was co-authored by Alissa Ampezzan and our summer design intern Julianne Walkiewicz.

The post Building design culture in tech: Takeaways from our design thinking panel appeared first on Civis Analytics.

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