In her conference given as part of the Tech.Rocks Summit 2021 event, Amélie Boucher, consultant and UX design coach at Ergolab, focused on the subject of the integration of design in tech companies. While competence is increasingly internalized within organizations today, the speaker deciphers 4 key concepts and shares her best practices.
The design culture
A company’s design culture is fundamental. Amélie Boucher affirms that design leaders consider it to be a founding element in the successful integration of a design team. However, companies still too often associate design with decoration or perceive it as a superficial element. It is to this extent that it is essential to establish a culture of design.
To let this culture interfere in a tech company, the consultant identifies two ways to proceed. This can go through evangelization, which designates acculturation through discourse. But for Amélie Boucher, this strategy is not enough. It’s more about banking on acculturation through the project, and showing by example: how design is practiced and the results that can be achieved. To illustrate this diagram, Julien Hillion, senior lead product design at qonto, explains that this is “take a project to make it a working standard”.
The organization of design in the company
The major problem for tech companies lies in the organization of teams to carry out their projects.
A functioning in ratio
On the one hand, as a consultant, Amélie Boucher explains that she is often faced with the same questions from tech companies, namely: how many designers do you need? His advice: work with a ratio. It is thus possible to plan the workforce according to the number of product managers and developers. According to a study conducted by Nielsen Norman Group, in November 2020, the typical ratio is akin to 1 designer for 10 developers. However, some companies rely on a greater number of designers, this is the case of IBM (1 designer for 8 developers), Intercom (1 designer for 5 developers) or Oda (1 designer for 3 developers) . For Amélie Boucher, this choice shows “what the company thinks about design”.
The speaker stresses, however, that it is impossible to mobilize designers as so many look-alikes. Thus, expertise and seniority matter. Moreover, thinking in terms of ratio is a good basis, but not a guarantee. Amélie Boucher invites companies to measure the impact of design by focusing on observing what the design team delivers, how it impacts metrics, or what changes have been made to design quality and usability.
Several organizational models
On the other hand, the other issue facing tech companies is how to structure their teams. For this, the consultant identifies 3 models:
- centralized: this model corresponds to that of a design studio or an agency, and results in a pool of designers at the service of product teams who come to express needs, which the design team must meet. The major advantage of this model here is that the design team can share their skills. Its shortcomings are in particular that it requires traffic management, but also that it can lead to relations resembling the schema of a customer-supplier relationship. Amélie Boucher thus notes a lack of efficiency and fluidity in this organization and a difficulty in forming a team.
- decentralized: this is an integrated model that involves 1 designer per product teams. The UX design consultant notes that despite the squadsthe tribes and the initiatives of chapters, which make it possible to act in a transverse manner, this organization generates work in silos. This often results in an unbalanced balance of power because the designer often becomes the executor of the product manager. Moreover, this model does not enable the multidisciplinarity of design to be activated, an essential condition for the quality of its practice.
- hybrid: this model results in 1 product designer per product team, but also the presence of a pool of experts. This organization offers the possibility of welcoming experts specialized in a particular discipline. This hybrid model is observed in companies as they grow, registering as a “maturity indicator” according to Amélie Boucher.
Companies must pay particular attention to collaboration, and in particular allow the designer and the developer to understand each other. For the consultant, this understanding, but also sharing and acculturation are key notions. To optimize this collaboration, there are two pitfalls to avoid: reserving the design to the designers and thinking that collaborating is a waste of time.
Collaborating means teaming up and involves both working together, but also getting to know each other, supporting each other and advising together when a project is underway. For the consultant, collaboration also makes it faster and it is imperative to favor this bias at the right times, especially at the start and end of the project, which are particularly important.
Whatever the design culture of the company, the organization put in place, and the collaborative practices, Amélie Boucher today notes a certain “phagocytosis of the design activity to transform it into something of the order of the factory”. A quote from Marie Dehaves, design advisor at Sésame, testifies to this, stating that a “product design today is a soldier”. Thus, successfully integrating design into tech companies also means welcoming and promoting creativity. For Amélie Boucher, it is about the condition sine qua non to appreciate the practice of design and the assurance, for companies, of keeping their designers, but also of differentiating themselves in a highly standardized industry. In particular, the consultant urges organizations to bet on the diversity of profiles and specializations, in order to allow teams to be more creative.