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Developing a Thirst for UX

by Josh Tyson
4 min read
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Results of the Promoting Empathy for Users category of the Design for Experience awards show how organizations can keep customers at their core.

For plenty of experience design practitioners, looking for ways to make products and services more usable and rewarding is infectious. We’ve got utterly engaging business at hand, and it’s hard to understand why those on the outside don’t see that.

To that end, the increasing prominence and popularity of user-centered design practices is our good fortune. But magical tho it be, UX doesn’t always sell itself to newbies, so it’s often up to design teams, and the organizations they work within, to make sure everyone understand its nature and importance.

One of the most effective ways to get folks on-board is to make them part of the process. For Atlassian, winner of the Design for Experience award for Promoting Empathy for Users, it comes down to “eating your own dogfood” and being an “open company, no bullshit.”

For @Atlassian it comes down to “eating your own dogfood” and being an “open company, no bullshit”

The company creates a host of products for collaboration and product development (including JIRA, Confluence, Bitbucket, Stash, and HipChat) and they go to great lengths to ensure that everyone understands the importance of respecting the customer. This starts with the openly professed value: “Don’t #@!% the Customer,” but it shows up at a strategic level as well.

Customer personas are updated quarterly based on new research, and copies are distributed throughout the office and attached to every piece of work. They also appear on posters adorning the walls of all Atlassian locations, including those in Sydney, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Vietnam, and Austin.

Another crucial step for a software company is to make sure that designers and developers share and understanding of ultimate product goals. According to Project Lead Alastair Simpson, Atlassian does this by putting a premium on getting developers familiar with users and their needs.

“We’re seeing engineers really value and stand up for the customer experience at our design walls and in backlog grooming sessions,” Simpson says. “Product improvements don’t ship if we believe the customer experience will be negatively impacted—something enforced by engineers and product managers, not just designers.”

The success of this approach is easy to see and presents itself often. Simpson points to a recent quarterly presentation by an engineer that focused on the need to create more empathy for customers in their products.

Here’s a quote taken directly from his presentation: “We’re here to unleash the potential in every team, yet if you’ve ever worked in—or even had to ask for help from—a distributed team, the user experience in HipChat can be disempowering. You enter their HipChat room and ask yourself: who are all these people and where do they even work?”

“He proposed a really elegant way of showing how we could fix this problem by showing timezones across regions in HipChat,” Simpson says. “What was so fascinating was that he didn’t once speak about the technical solution. His story was crafted around showing empathy for distributed teams and how our software should fix this.”

Teams at Atlassian are also comfortable using a technique born out of formal Art Critique, in which artists and art students analyze, describe, and interpret works of art, as part of their sparring sessions.

While designers originally used sparring, Atlassian opened the doors to everyone, and have noticed things are moving faster when everyone is involved in an organized way, sharing opinions early in the design process. The approach came with growing pains, however, something discussed in a Medium article about updating their process to generate value for everyone involved.

“Knowing how to give constructive feedback is something we learn and that doesn’t necessarily come so naturally to everyone,” Simpson says. “The ongoing nature of our sparring sessions has meant we have been able to coach everyone on how to give great, constructive design critique, focusing mainly on how the UI will be used by our customers.”

What all of this seems to point to is that effectively promoting empathy within an organization happens at several levels. When it’s done right, it becomes a part of everyone’s daily process and the positive results of that can inject products and services with that magic so familliar to those of us already on the inside.

Finalists in the Promoting Empathy for Users category revealed more techniques for putting users at the center of an organization. Azul 7 makes sure that every new project begins with an unpacking session, for sharing research findings and setting a foundation of empathy and understanding. In order to ensure that the needs of the patient come first, The Mayo Clinic created in-depth personas exploring the needs of their own employees.

post authorJosh Tyson

Josh Tyson, Josh Tyson is the co-author of the first bestselling book about conversational AI, Age of Invisible Machines. He is also the Director of Creative Content at OneReach.ai and co-host of both the Invisible Machines and N9K podcasts. His writing has appeared in numerous publications over the years, including Chicago Reader, Fast Company, FLAUNT, The New York Times, Observer, SLAP, Stop Smiling, Thrasher, and Westword. 


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