In summer 2019, Motorola Solutions’ user experience team hit an inflection point. Work was going well. They had pioneered design as a function in a 90-year-old business and proven its value. They brought human-centered design thinking to the public safety industry, and embedded UX designers in dozens of Motorola Solutions product teams. The new design system was rapidly gaining adoption across the organization.
That left Motorola Solutions senior director of user experience Lexie Spiro wondering, “Now what?”
Enter: InVision’s Design Maturity Assessment
He called on InVision to organize a Design Maturity Assessment (DMA)—a guided evolution of product design practice gaps and opportunities. The assessment benchmarks a team against data and the maturity model developed from The New Design Frontier and requires some rigorous self-reflection. The design teams at Motorola Solutions already benefited from a culture that prized learning and transparency. But Lexie wanted to make sure their DMA felt like a motivating force, not a deposition. Lexie communicated to the teams that the DMA was an opportunity to benchmark where they stand in detail and identify new ways to grow. And before launching it with the whole design group, he ran a small trial with a few team members for observation. They could make quick changes to get the questions right before rolling it out more broadly.
The DMA results would be shared with the design team at their annual summit in Chicago, where they’d reflect and identify their next milestone. With the Design Maturity Snapshots, Richard Banfield, InVision VP of design transformation joined the final day of the summit to present how Motorola Solutions’ practices compare to the rest of the industry.
Brainstorming in breakout groups at the 2019 UX Summit
Nothing in the assessment was news to the teams. They knew their strengths–stellar design system adoption across 20+ product teams and healthy cross-functional partnerships. And they knew they had some gaps around experimentation and learning to lead the product roadmap with user-centered research. That was exactly what the team had been mulling over for days.
“We’re establishing design practices in an industry where design has never been before, so getting that ‘you’re on the right track’ message gave me confidence to push harder and accelerate some of the plans we’d been considering,” Lexie says. “We used the DMA to identify gaps, too, [and then] put plans in place to sharpen our tools–very helpful to identify the next horizon.”
What was surprising, however, was the emotion it evoked. It spelled out their position in clear terms, alongside industry benchmarks. It also lent a layer of objectivity the teams needed to galvanize their next steps. Attendees rated it the best experience in the entire event.
“It was honestly therapeutic,” Lexie says. “It afforded us a rare opportunity to back away from the stresses of our jobs and think, ‘Where are we? Where do we want to go?’”
The design maturity conversation was a call to action—a lens to focus the energy of a team of teams. One of the opportunities the InVision DMA pinpointed for design to mature was in experimentation. More specifically, it spotlighted the need to engage in the type of user-focused, exploratory experimentation that could drive bold turns in the roadmap. Before the DMA, it was unclear whether anyone really owned that future-facing research function as a practice.
Phase two: Double down on research opportunities
“The PMs were engaged in heads-down tactical thinking, and the design team was focusing their research on features that were already being built,” says April Starr, senior manager of experience research. When Starr started, there wasn’t a solid process for embedding research within product teams.
Though the team had come a long way in the past several years, they felt caught in the middle. There were muddy lines between their work and the research design teams and product managers conducted. “We’ve done heavy lifting to prove the value of human-centered design, but there were still a lot of challenges, trying to distinguish our work from other teams, and also trying to work consistently when all the PMs work differently.”
But because of the DMA, Starr’s team spotted an opportunity to start setting the strategy. “This was the year to leapfrog,” she says.
Their first move towards leading the roadmap was a risky one. April and her team researched, created, and published a point of view on designing for trust. It was a framework they could apply not just to design, but also to the way Motorola Solutions thought about their sales process, marketing, and product development.
Trust is paramount for the users Motorola Solutions serves–city officials, public safety professionals, 911 dispatchers. These are people dealing with life-or-death situations daily. “Our customers hate the status quo. Their current systems are disjointed and full of friction. But they don’t want to try anything new, because the stakes are so high.”
April and her team also changed the way they explored new design directions with users. Because dispatchers rely so heavily on muscle memory to navigate software, they were sensitive to small changes they saw in experimental UI prototypes. Sometimes that sensitivity distracted them from the larger user flow the research team wanted to test.
So the team began to use grayscale, rough paper prototypes, and fake data that closely resembled the region and purview of the people they were interviewing.
The research team collecting feedback on a concept using paper prototypes
Roy Massie is director of product management for 911. He says he’s noticed big changes in the quality of research since he began to work with the experience team. These changes lead Motorola Solutions closer to the holistic, intuitive experience their clients need. “They don’t guide customers to correct answers. They’re not like a PM trying to pitch their own idea or a sales person trying to close a deal. They come home with objective data, information we can learn from.”
In fact, Roy says April and her team of researchers have become something of a selling point. “On sales calls we brag that we have a dedicated team of ‘human factor scientists’ who do nothing but tailor the experience. Then we show them the interface and they go, whoa.”
A screenshot from the Command Center AXS Dispatch Console, one of the many tools dispatchers rely on in mission-critical situations
The proof is in the product, according to Roy. “Working closely with the design system team and the research team is helping us stay consistent as we merge code bases and move our products to the cloud. We’re building a more consistent, more powerful workflow for users, and UX is the front face of it.”
April sees a bigger trust conversation on the cloud horizon. “Right now most of our public safety clients need to move their systems to the cloud, so that they can increase data security and keep things running seamlessly during the kinds of emergency situations they’re facing right now in the middle of the pandemic. But that move can be scary for them. How do we get them to go there with us–how are we designing our sales process to communicate what it means, failures that can happen, plans for when those failures happen? This framework can help us think through all of that.”
by Rebecca Kerr
Rebecca Kerr collects stories from change leaders as Principal Conversation & Content Strategist for the Design Transformation team at InVision. She started as a full-stack tech poet in UX writing, marketing copy, enterprise SaaS messaging, and strategic storytelling. Her home base is Austin, Texas.