Building a Research and Service Design Practice Inside a 90-Year-Old Institution

It’s not often we find ourselves with a blank canvas to begin the creative process. Typically, there are legacy systems in place. And, whether these systems are design systems, technology systems or organizational processes, these systems act as constraints that will guide the creative process whether you want them to or not.

Freshly graduated young adults may feel a similar constraint when they move into their first home with empty cabinets and no curtains. Coffee, cereal and cup of noodles can all be consumed from a coffee mug. What in the house can we use to open the wine? Can we find enough newspaper to cover the windows?

The theory is that creativity flourishes when constraints are present. The crazy journey we take to overcome constraints and solve complex problems is exciting. It is creative fuel.

I want to sink my teeth into these design challenges.

A few years back, I was able to spend a day at Spotify learning about the Spotify culture and the origins of the mission, tribe, squad and guild culture many companies have adopted in this post-traditional workplace environment, trying to gain that perfect harmony of autonomy and accountability.

The most memorable part of the day for me was learning Spotify approached the design of this new way of working just like you would approach discovery and experimentation for a new product. They were actively experimenting, learning and changing the way they worked, and it all started with deep empathy research into the needs of the actual human beings who were working at Spotify.

Their culture was a product. Since the release of the original culture videos, they had learned and adapted as needed.

The human-centered design toolkit can be applied to all aspects of life, and my new role has been the perfect opportunity to do just that. In June, I joined a 90-year-old bank to build a research and service design team from the ground up (About the Team).

This is how I approached my first 90 days.

When I started my journey to better understand how research, design and strategy fit into my new organization, I knew I’d uncover a few constraints. Some of the questions I had:

  • What technology was available for the team to use?
  • How do I get the software we need?
  • Who in the company had experience with UX research or UX design?
  • How would we identify people to interview?

I made a list of people I knew would be key partners to the research and service design team. Then, I made a list of people that had been at Valley for more than five years and seemed to be open to having an honest conversation. The more straight talk I had, the better information I would get. These lists included people across the company, from executives to partners in HR.

The biggest insight from these interviews was that I wasn’t alone on my journey. People across the company were joining Valley for the same reason I was — the opportunity to make a direct impact on the future of Valley was huge. And, people that had been at Valley were staying there for the same reason. It is an exciting time to be at this organization. And, even if we have big challenges ahead, we will be facing them together.

Through my interviews, I also now understood people knew just enough about research and design to be dangerous. The concept of human-centered design was understood. The messiness of the process and resources needed to execute — not so much. These are lessons you learn overtime when you work in this area — not necessarily things you can just pick up.

To start the conversation about resources and the messiness, I needed a way to communicate how a team of researchers and designers work together on a design challenge and the various milestones they’d complete during it. So, I decided to create a journey map of my most recent project.

Then, I turned this journey map into a story map. Every task I could not complete at Valley because of unavailable resources or technology, went on a card on a planning board.

There were a lot of cards.

All UX research and design was outsourced at Valley. So, there wasn’t a set of tools available for researchers and designers. Every task that could benefit from a little technology, such as creating and sharing a prototype or conducting a usability test, did not exist.

I started to go through the cards on the planning board one-by-one. Thanks to the incredible design community (thank you Eduardo and Chloe!), I got a head start on a competitive analysis of various tools we could use.

There was a reason for the planning board madness. Having manageable, shippable pieces created momentum and kept me motivated while I continued to build the foundation for an incredible team. It was an opportunity to do this right.

In my next post, I share how I leveraged design sprints and the shared knowledge of the research community to design, develop and launch our research-opt in program and the application to power it in 42 days.

Read More: Why I Joined Valley Bank

Researcher. Designer. Human. Currently hiring!

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