How cross-functional design collaboration is shaping our future

4 min read
Nathan Kinch
  •  Oct 30, 2017
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I recently facilitated a workshop at Telefónica in Barcelona. The topic was designing for trust and the workshop was part of a series my company >X is running in Europe.

We had a diverse group of attendees that included a chief strategy officer, a chief privacy officer, product leaders, and deep analytics practitioners.

Attendees walked away equipped with new tools and approaches to close the data trust gap and make trust a competitive advantage. But what was really interesting was one of the focal points of the session: unlikely pairings.

“Diversity helps produce better customer and business outcomes.”

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Many of us know that the personal data market is rapidly evolving. Behavior, technologies, data breaches, and regulations are responsible for this change. The regulation capturing most attendees focus is the General Data Protection Regulation, or the GDPR for short. This regulation comes into effect in May 2018 and it’s pretty significant in terms of scope, potential impact, and the consequences associated with non-compliance.

People chose to attend the workshop for a variety of reasons. Some wanted to innovate. Some knew the trust gap (opens PDF) all too well and wanted to find ways to close it. Others were well aware of the GDPR and wanted assistance with how they might evolve their strategic design practice to deal with it effectively.

Early in the workshop, someone asked, “What’s the key change you think the GDPR will bring?”

Way to put me on the spot…

There were a number of ways I could have answered this. I could have proposed massive fines and scare tactics. I could have talked about the innovation opportunity people having control of their data represents. I could have talked about GDPR’s role in balancing the power dynamic. But I chose to focus on something tangible that I’ve observed as a niche, albeit growing trend over the past 12–18 months.

So, I answered with, “Lawyers and designers are going to need to collaborate a lot, then some more.”

This may not have been what the room was expecting, yet as the day went on it seemed to make more sense to everyone.

This article is about why the answer I gave makes sense. It’s an argument for why lawyers and designers need to work together. This article will also propose a simple framework for how they can do that immediately.

These lessons can be applied across a variety of business contexts. Why? Because diversity helps produce better customer and business outcomes. When different people come together, develop shared context, and work towards clear objectives, awesome stuff can happen.

Here’s how.

Start with principles

In design, principles often act as heuristics. They give us a guiding framework. They help us navigate complexity and they help us work with relevant constraints to solve the problems or create the value we’re motivated by.

As an example, under the GDPR Privacy by Design (PbD) is a requirement. The 7 principles of PbD act as heuristics for giving people the power of privacy. They help diverse teams embed privacy and security into every stage of a project or system design process.

To tackle regulations like the GDPR and make the rapid pace of change we’re all experiencing your ally, you need to start with some principles of collaboration.

In some ways you could probably just read the Agile Manifesto and be done with it. But let me try be a little more helpful than that.

If you’re a seasoned practitioner, you’re likely familiar with Extreme Programming (XP). One of the most valuable principles of Extreme Programming is Paired Programming.

Paired Programming is just as the name suggests. Two engineers* sit at the same computer, solve problems, write code, and eventually create value—together.

Pairing is the first principle of unlikely partnerships.Twitter Logo Pairing a designer with a lawyer is one of the simplest and most effective ways to help convert the GDPR, the data trust gap, and many of the changes I’ve referenced into a competitive advantage quickly.

Pair Design and how to do it will be the focus of the remainder of this article.

*Insert any “skill category” when thinking about Pair Design in the context of this article.

How to pair effectively

Step 1: Establish shared context

I’m not proposing designers and lawyers sit together all day without clarity and directional focus. That may not produce the best outcomes. What I’m proposing is that lawyers and designers work together to solve specific problems and create new customer value systematically.

Establishing shared context is a fancy way of saying, “get on the same page before you commit further time and resource.”

What this means is that you and your partner get close to your customers in whatever way is most appropriate. It means becoming really familiar with your organizational objectives, the stance your organization has taken on a specific subject, the constraints you’re designing with and also getting to know each other a little.

Once you’ve gotten through this and progressed past small talk, it’s time to move to step 2.

Step 2: Map the existing experience

Using the Data Transparency Experience MapTM, or something similar, it’s now time to become familiar with your existing experience.

This process will help you and your partner understand your customers better. It’ll help you establish a better view of how your product or service fits into the life of the people you serve, and it’ll help you start identifying risks, weaknesses, and opportunities.

Note: If you’re designing from what is effectively zero and want to get to one, that’s okay. This process is customer focused and therefore agnostic to how the customer is currently getting their job done.

You can learn more about the specifics of this process here, but remember this has broad application. Data transparency and designing for trust is just one area of focus.

Step 3: Challenge the experience

Now that you’re familiar with the existing experience and its role in people’s lives, this is an opportunity to design better.

If you’re sitting next to your partner, pencil and paper is an appropriate starting point. If you’re remote, a digital junkie, or you just value version control like I do, start with Freehand and keep things low-fidelity for now.

This part of the process is divergent. It’s about building upon ideas and opportunities. It’s about re-framing the problem, tackling it from a variety of angles, and using the pair’s collective intelligence to eventually converge on potentially desirable, viable and feasible design outputs.

This is perhaps one of the more compelling reasons to Pair Design—you produce design output that meets critical desirability, viability, and feasibility criteria faster. But you’ll only “know” you’ve nailed the criteria when you get out of the building.

Step 4: Put it to the test

How many lawyers do you know out there conducting user research? After this exercise, increase that tally by one. You and your partner are in this together. You’re going to take what you’ve designed and put it to the test with real human beings.

“Putting your designs to the test will help you learn.”

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This may take its form as an informal usability session. It might be more closely geared to contextual inquiry or something else entirely.

Here’s a quick guide to help you make that choice.

Tip: Base your research approach on the questions you’re trying to answer.Twitter Logo

Putting your designs to the test, whether via a small scale qualitative research effort or more formal experiment process, will help you learn. You’ll get out the building, evolve your understanding of the problem-solution fit, and get closer to producing something desirable, viable, and feasible.

But it doesn’t stop here.

Step 5: Refine and repeat

The “test and learn” mantra isn’t news to any of us. But it may not necessarily be how your partner is used to working. Be conscious of that and support them in the process.

Remember that feedback can be confronting. As designers, we’re probably more accustomed to receiving it than most. So again, be conscious and support your partner in the learning process.

Step 5 is your opportunity to take what you’ve learned from customers and the business, conduct a few time-bound Pair Design sessions, and produce new output.

By repeating this process over and over, it’s likely you’ll produce design output that not only meets regulatory requirements, but also creates new and unique value for your customers.

Coming back to the GDPR specifically, this is one of the most effective ways to leverage the collective intelligence already contained within your organization. Although, this approach isn’t limited to designers and lawyers. Privacy engineering, product management, systems architecture, customer success, and many other business functions have the ability to participate and contribute value.

By providing a framework that supports learning velocity, equipping yourself with the right tools and constantly encouraging cross-functional collaboration, design practitioners can help convert regulations like the GDPR into competitive advantage (opens PDF).

The only question remaining: what other problems will you solve together?

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