Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

pellican-1During an interview by Sean Blanda of Intuit’s Suzanne Pelican for 99U within the Bēhance network of websites, she explains why designers need to (sometimes) take a back seat to their developers. To check out the complete interview and other resources as eery as sign up for email alerts, please click here.

The explosion of “design thinking” mentions in corporate settings has completed the phrase’s journey from revolutionary concept to Harvard Business Review buzzword. But, as with most buzzword-worthy concepts, there’s a kernel of truth here.

Companies, especially large ones, have seen real change by embracing design wholesale. But making design intrinsic to all products quickly gets complicated if you’re, say the 7,700 Mountain View-based financial services company, Intuit.

To incorporate design thinking into Intuit, Suzanne Pellican, the company’s VP of Design for Quickbooks, led an overhaul of entire corporate processes and hit products like the accounting software QuickBooks and tax filing service TurboTax by conducting deep user research that involved everything from performing street interviews to shadowing small business owners. The result? Entirely new products (like a special Quickbooks version for Self-Employed people) and year over year user growth (15 percent for TurboTax alone in 2015).

Chances are, you work at (or with) a large organization that should instill more design thinking. So how did a 12-person team change the culture of Intuit and its $4 billion in revenue? We asked Pellican to share what works and what doesn’t.

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Why don’t big companies get as much attention as small nimble startups when we talk about design?

The history of design would show that it’s a discipline you bring in and not one that is inherent in a large corporation. If you go back and look at big companies for the last century, design was not a core competency. You had administration, engineers, marketers, but design was a function within the areas of agencies that companies hired. It wasn’t until the last 20 or 30 years that large companies began to embrace this discipline, but it’s been a slow process. Now, in the past four years, it’s exploded and now some of the best talent is in these big companies and not the agencies. That’s causing its own problems. But the pendulum has swung and we’re passing the center point — talent isn’t only on the outside of big companies anymore.

What’s the biggest hurdle designers run up against in a larger organization?

A phenomenon I see most recently: More often than not, design is too far ahead of the organization or execution team. Design can imagine things or outcomes pretty quickly and manifest it almost immediately in the form of comps or prototypes. Usually, that’s a very good thing.

But, if you do a disproportionate amount of that and you get too far ahead, you run risk of being irrelevant to the teams that are executing on the stuff you were thinking about months ago. Design as a discipline needs to continue to understand the pace which change and execution comes about, while honoring it. Don’t fight against it. Stand behind that engine and push gently. Don’t stand on the side, cross your arms and complain that they aren’t going fast enough.

Design as a discipline needs to continue to understand the pace which change and execution comes about, while honoring it.

Otherwise, it sets up a tension where no one wins. Which is why designers need to use their skill of empathy on the organization itself. They need to sit in the shoes or chair of a developer. How can they enable the developer in a way that is in service to the end goal? Maybe it will result in something even greater than the designer ever imagined because that developer feels so aligned with the problem that they are offering something too. Developers aren’t just your execution arm. They are your partners. Anytime they can sit together, go to lunch together… that stuff works really well to make sure everyone is on a team.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Sean is the Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U. Find him on Twitter: @SeanBlanda.

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