Q: Can nice designers be good leaders?

Monish SubherwalDesign LeadershipLeave a Comment

Being a UX Design leader and growing yourself is challenging, but is even harder at times when you have to deal with:

  • difficult coworkers or managers
  • a political work climate
  • A-type personalities
  • passive-aggressive and indirect behavior
  • people who aren’t very transparent
  • etc. etc.

People and their own agendas can get into the way. Politics as usual.

What’s a straight forward, honest person to do?

There’s an ancient Indian philosopher and military strategist (consider him the Indian Machiavelli), Chanakya, who once said,

“Do not be very upright in your dealings for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked ones are left standing.”

Wow. Jaded words.

The quote leaves a big debatable question: Is it possible to be an honest, nice person and still get ahead despite work politics?  My take is:  yes.  It is possible. In fact, I have 5 core principles I live by, that makes me believe this is true.

Read on and find out what they are…

Principle 1.  You can’t control anything except yourself

I’ve been laid off after doing very well, I’ve had projects I’ve worked on for months get de-scoped once they were built, I’ve had managers leave and been told what I worked on under that manager wasn’t worthwhile at all.

Drama and change in the workplace is ongoing, but you can’t control it. So focus on the one thing you do have control over: yourself.

Develop yourself and keep learning. That’s the only thing you can control.

Which leads to my next principle…

Principle 2.  Cream Rises to the Top

When you focus on developing yourself – you don’t spend energy proving you’re better than everyone.  Nor do you need to spend energy “faking” that you are awesome (this is called “looking good” – I wrote an article on this bad habit).

You’ll start developing a learners attitude, a growth mindset.  With this proper attitude, you are setting yourself up for success.

By not focusing on “getting ahead”, but rather, being a person of value, you inevitably will get noticed and get ahead.   If you are good at what you do – eventually people will discover it.  Why cut corners?

Which brings me to the next principle…

Principle 3.  People don’t like “Whipped Cream on Poop”! 😉

While some people advocate a “fake it, til you make it” philosophy (cutting corners),  I do not.

People figure out who is good at what they do.  And they also figure out who is NOT good at what they do.  Titles and positions don’t mean much after a while if you aren’t producing results.

Over time, people may be fooled by a person’s high ranking position or charming charisma (“whipped cream”), but eventually they do “smell’ the incompetence or mean personality (poop) that is hidden.  It may take some time, but people are not stupid.

You may see some people who get ahead and wonder “how did they get ahead?!”  Don’t worry – if they aren’t the right person for the job and/or have a horrible mean personality, they’ll eventually be found out.  It doesn’t take long for smart people to move past the “whipped cream”.

Which brings me to my next principle…

Principle 4.  If you make yourself a target, you’re gonna get hit

At times, you may find people who are conniving at work. They find ways to give others a hard time. Some people make others look BAD so they can look GOOD. Others refuse to play at all and block your initiatives. Some openly discourage your work – attempting to diminish your reputation or authority.

My mindset regarding this people is this: if you make yourself a target, you’re gonna eventually get hit.

People who hurt other people will suffer the repercussions at some point or another. It may not be today or this year – but it will happen eventually.

Yes, my philosophy is very karmic in nature.

To me, when I see these things happening – I try to observe and not judge. That eliminates the upset emotions and victimization feelings.

I believe that person will get whats coming to them – if not at this company, then at another one. Oftentimes, this is hard to believe. But you have to see the long term impact of people’s actions and sometimes that involves you staying out of it.

Which brings me to my next principle…

Principle 5.  If you aren’t good at politics, don’t play them.

I had told my manager one time, I am not very good at corporate politics – can you share with me what is going on? He smiled at me and told me this: if you aren’t good at politics, it’s simple: don’t play them.

And I love that advice. People think they need to be mean and be indirect just like others.  You don’t.

Don’t get sucked into playing other people’s games. A coach once said to me, “you’re always winning the game you’re playing.” How true! So don’t play one that involves politics. Play the game of being nice and helpful to others regardless of how they are behaving.

What do you think? Can nice people get ahead with the ideas I’ve shared?

People like to think that nice people CAN’T get ahead, but that’s their own viewpoint.

Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments area below.

When Stakeholders Say “NO” During Design Review

Monish SubherwalDesign Leadership1 Comment

getting stepped on during design review

Does this sound familiar?

Business stakeholder:  “I think it looks good, but we need to make sure the design is not too edgy.  It may scare off our users.”

The design gets rejected and you have to stick to the old design or design something less than ideal for your users.

Good grief.

Design Reviews Gone Bad

When we do a design reviews – oftentimes, it’s a stressful occasion.  You have worked hard, you have to present your solution, and you want your designs to be approved and sent off to development.  That’s the dream come true!

YET, sometimes when we present to stakeholders – the feedback becomes nit picky and can be sometimes outright resistant.  The other person doesn’t “get” your design or doesn’t see the value in your direction.

So what is REALLY going on?  What I’ve observed and also got validated at UX Advantage (a conference I attended a few weeks ago) – was that stakeholder alignment was REALLY important in having your design ideas accepted during design review.

But what is alignment?  How do we get OUT of alignment with stakeholders?  And what can we do to get back INTO alignment?  

Read on and I’ll share what I’ve learned about design reviews where stakeholders don’t play along.

Why Stakeholders May Not be Aligned with You

There a lot of reasons why stakeholders are resistant to your suggestions – and a lot of them has nothing to do with you per se.  A lot of it has to do with the organizational climate, their own priorities, and not understanding what you do.

Here’s what I’ve discovered are some reasons why stakeholders are so resistant:

  1. They don’t understand UX Design
  2. They are scared of taking risks
  3. They are overburdened with work and don’t have the time to “innovate”
  4. They don’t see the value of your work and team
  5. They feel like their opinion is not valued – AKA, they don’t like you or your team very much
  6. They have their own agenda (politics)

What do each of these have in common?  They all are scenarios where you and the stakeholder are NOT on the same page.  In other words, you are out of alignment about design direction.  They don’t trust you and don’t agree with you. The result:  a nit picky design review with constant resistance.

So how do we get alignment?  Read on.

Getting Agreement from Stakeholders

The only way we can truly get design alignment, is if we STOP trying to get design agreement.  There is a night and day difference between design agreement and design alignment.

The reality is – you are looking for agreement.  You are looking for them to just give you the green light, praise your design genius, and agree to a job well done.

When we do a design presentation with “agreement” as our intention, we start being:

  • Broadcasters – we broadcast our designs rather create dialog.
  • Dogmatic – we get attached to the “right” design.  Our design.
  • Closed off to feedback – we stop listening.
  • Not open to discussion – we stop listening.
  • Argumentative – we get defensive.
  • Convincing – we get creative with how to convince them (using data)
  • Emotionally attached – our designs become sacred cows.

In sum:  trying to get agreement is trying to control the other person.  And you can never control another person.

When a stakeholder says “NO” – we can get angry and our ego’s can get hurt.  It’s easy to get into the the blame game and eventually feel like a victim to these stakeholders.

But the real culprit is NOT the stakeholders – but really us.  We’re in the “agreement” frame of mind (I wrote an article on frames here), where we really need to be is in the alignment frame of mind.

Alignment is the art of getting someone to say “hey, we’re all on the same page.  Let’s do it!”

But how can we do that?

How to Get Design Alignment

Sun Tzu, the author of the Art of War, once said “Every battle is won before it is fought.” And this statement is true of design alignment.

If you are encountering REPEAT resistance – it’s a sign a few things gone wrong, FAR BEFORE your design review.

Here’s what I’ve learned to counter this sort of repeat resistance:

We need to build SOLID healthy partnerships FAR before work gets done.  

Here’s a few ways I’ve learned that help do just that:

  1. Make friends.
    As simple as that.  Take your stakeholders out for lunch.  Get to know them as human beings beyond work.
  2. Don’t sit in an ivory tower.
    Be inclusive.  If you want their investment and involvement – get them involved in the beginning!
  3. Make others successful.
    If you make your stakeholders more successful – you’ll never have any issues.   If your UX team is not solving problems for other groups to make them better – you won’t be successful.
  4. Stop policing others.
    If you are a policeman – stakeholders will run away from you.  No one wants to be hunted by the design police.
  5. Earn the right to have skin in the game.
    Whether it is providing a design language that helps the company ship faster or designing posters for your work environment – find a way to create value for others and earn their respect and trust.
  6. Talk to your stakeholders like they are customers.
    If they think you have an agenda other than helping them out – they’ll stop listening to you.
  7. Create proofs of concept.
    Demonstrate that you can do what you said you could do.  Understand your stakeholder’s risk tolerance and work towards calming them down by proving your value.

Final Thoughts

While you may be 100% right about your designs, unless you do the right relationships building – the foundations of team work – you won’t be successful.  I have met many people who get combative against stakeholders.  But, they don’t get it.  They think THEY are right.  And THEIR ideas may just be.  But the reality is, they are a part of a team and stakeholders are the final approvers since they are accountable at the end of the day.

Yes, you can try any of the 7 ways to build design alignment AND still get resistance from stakeholders.  Some stakeholders literally put a stake in the ground and don’t want to accept you or your design.  It can happen.  But focus on what you can do.  The 7 ideas given are guidelines, not rules.

8 Tips for Acing Your Next UX Interview

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

Impressing Someone During a UX Interview

I have been on both ends of ux interviews.  I know, from experience, that interviewing can be nerve recking and challenging.  After all, you are selling yourself!

Over time, I’ve adopted a few healthy mindsets that have helped me through the challenges of interviewing.  I hope they help you too.

1.  HR is paying a LOT of money to find viable candidates.

Remember you are wanted.  HR can spend $10-20K to find a good UX candidate for a job and up to 3 months or more to place the right candidate.  It’s a LOT of money and time.  So remember, they are looking for YOU.

This truth about HR helps you from feeling dejected during the process.  You have nothing to lose, and only to gain.  They want you.

2. Stay positive.

Some people who interview are in a BAD mindset.  They either hate their current job or are in between jobs.  Don’t talk negatively about past employment or your situation.  Stay positive.

3.  Rejection is a sign that you are rusty.

Think about it – once you’re in a job, you really don’t interview after a loooong time.  The skills and the mindset needed to land a good job is something you learn over practice.

4.  How you are treated during a UX interview, says a lot about the company – and not you.

I’ve interviewed at places where the people who interviewed me were very critical.  I’d come home dejected and feel like something was wrong with me.  Amazing how an interview can do that!

However, now I realize these people are just WEIRD.  How so?   It’s taken me many years to get this – but it’s simple. People who make you feel uncomfortable or feel bad – are not worth your time.

A candidate may not be qualified for a job – but interviewers who make the candidate feel bad is an indicator of a company’s messed up culture.

I’ve had UX interviews where I was positive, my answers were VERY good — and the person on the other line was stale, dry and not encouraging.  Was I the problem or them?  People behaving strangely is typically an indicator of their company’s culture and not you.

If you are nice, friendly, knowledgeable, share your work and try your best – and are met with weirdness, be happy they didn’t choose you! AND have the courage to reject them if they make an offer.  No one wants to work with weird people.  Not worth the money and headache.

5.  Smile and be human.

A lot of interviewing has to do with rapport. You’ll be amazed what people say after the interview.  “I felt like he/she wasn’t interested in us!” or “I feel like he is a flight risk.”  People like people who are similar to them and who are real human beings.  Smile, share some jokes, break the ice, have a good time.  Positive emotions are contagious.

6. Stop proving yourself.  Start expressing yourself.

Interviewing is a lot like dating.  When you are chasing someone else and proving the value you offer, you actually are hurting your self esteem.

When you know your own value – that you are enough and wanted – thats when you meet the right person/job.

7. Qualify them and turn it into a dialog.

A majority of a UX interview is spent with people asking you questions (the word for this is qualifying, in sales).  When there is 5 minutes left they sometimes give you an opportunity to ask your questions!  Wow.  That’s a bit backwards.

I try and have it be more of a dialog rather than a Q&A session.  If they ask a question, I’ll answer it and then ask them a question back.  It’s a dance.

I also make sure I am TRULY interested in the company.  This is an opportunity for me – and i want to know about the company.  It’s a healthy curiosity – not an annoying prying.  See question #8 for the right mindset.

8. Ask how you can help them.

While the interview is an opportunity for you and you are qualifying them too – don’t have an entitlement mindset!

You want to go in with the mindset, “I’m here to help.”  Otherwise why would they want you?  Stay humble.  Ask each group/person you meet – how you can help them.  Ask them what their biggest problem is.  This way of thinking is probably different than 90% of people out there.  Most people sit passively and await the questions.  Instead, try and lead and see how you can help them out and fit their needs.

Phew.  That’s a lot of tips!  But I hope it helped.  These are just my own learnings – so try them out and see if they work for you and your personal style.  The UX interview process can be tough, but with practice and mental toughness, you can become a UX interviewing pro.  🙂

When the time comes to interview, review these and carry on confidently.

cheers,
Monish

Facing UX Career Uncertainty

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

Where are you going to be in 5-10 years? I hate that question! Yes, I have been struggling with figuring out my UX career path and it’s not an easy course.

Life is about change and movement – and staying stagnant doesn’t resonate with the ambitious. Looking into the future and creating a vision for yourself is what proactive people do! It’s a great and difficult task at the same time. But worth the reflection.

The Fear of the Wrong Move…and No Move

One the most poignant and chilling things I’ve read was a quote by Thomas Merton,

“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

To find after all your hard work that you had chased a wrong vision – seems like the ultimate waste of time and life.

Yet, it’s so easy to chase someone else’s dream. For example, your parents or peers think you should go into medicine, so you become a doctor. You have years of experience as a lawyer, and make good money – so it makes good sense to continue doing that work. The same sorts of pressure apply to UX.

Yet your heart says to do your art. To try something new.

There’s a great quote I like from the movie, “A Most Violent Year.” The protagonist, Abe Morales says,

“When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can’t do.”

It’s a great quote. Inspiring even. Yet most people don’t jump. I too have found myself in this boat. Smart people tend to get paralyzed by a few things:

  1. Having a vague idea where you want to go next, but knowing it’s not so career viable (the artist) or not knowing how to pivot
  2. Choosing the “safe” route and getting back to your job
  3. Not knowing where to go next at all, chasing different ideas of what would be lucrative (other people’s ideas of what you should do)

A person begins to question him or herself and ask “What SHOULD I be doing next?”. And there is a tremendous fear underneath this question.

Indecision and Doubt

Yes, it’s hard to move when you don’t know which ladder to climb.

At some point in every person’s life, a person may question if the direction they are going is the right direction. I know I have. At times in the past, it’s caused me to check out at work, to not be as productive, to disengage.

It’s the decision of no decision. Which causes doubt.

The feeling of not knowing where you are going and the uncertainty of the future causes great internal doubt that most don’t ever see — but that you yourself feel and know at a deep level. To say “I’m lost and I have no clue where I am going” is tough to say.

And it’s exacerbated by the fact that America demands we be successful. America prides itself in the confident A-type person who keeps earning more and more, and climbs higher and higher every year. America expects it from you, your parents expect it from you, your neighbors and community expect it from you.

Making the doubt go away

All this uncertainty and fear, causes people to do something obvious “Try and make the bad feelings of fear, uncertainty and aloneness go away.”

No one wants to feel bad feelings: internal incongruence, dissonance, and misalignment.

So people will hastily choose a direction, will ignore their futures (deny it’s a problem that they don’t have a UX career plan), choose to “live in the moment”, ask a bunch of other people what they should do.

You may think any direction is better than no direction. I disagree. A direction based out of fear — will promise that you will most likely “climb the wrong wall.”

Direction

My explorations in all this have found a golden truth. For the time being, ignore America’s definition of success, ignore the drive to earn more and get a bigger and better title and role. Ignore your peer pressure.

STOP CHASING THE BIGGER VERSION OF YOU.

Instead ask, WHO WILL YOU BECOME?

Instead of thinking about outputs and what you will get, think about the process and person you will transform into. When you can do that, something can open up. You can stop chasing false dreams and evaluate your options with your emotions. Who we become is a story. And it’ll be the story of our life and journey.

And you may be thinking “well, that didn’t help!” Then know your mission is to FIND OUT who you will become. Stop sitting there in isolation and aloneness with your doubts, instead expose yourself to your community. Go to a conference, talk to others, help your community. Get connected back to how you can help others and serve them best, rather than yourself (THE BIGGER VERSION OF YOU, you cling to).

And if all this is still not opening anything for you: let go. Be willing to sit in uncertainty and be ok with not knowing your path.  Over time, you will get that clarity.  Trust that things will get clearer.

De-prioritized? Stop Blaming Design Leadership

Monish SubherwalDesign Mindset and PhilosophyLeave a Comment

Has this ever happened to you:

  • Your project you spent days on – gets canceled.
  • Your manager wants you to stop what you’re doing and work on something else.
  • The designs you worked on gets de-scoped and now is MUCH less usable.
  • New design leadership comes in, and now you are told what you worked on was not important.

If so, what do you do to remain SANE? These are the issues that drive designers nuts and have driven me nuts before.  But as time goes on and you mature as a designer, you learn how to deal with this sort of “unstable” corporate culture.  There is no power in being a victim and playing the victim role.

I’ve managed to stay very positive despite such hiccups that ALWAYS occur.  How?  Here’s how:

1.  Expect it to happen.

I’ve heard people get so angry and jaded that their project got descoped or the work they were doing is no longer needed (or won’t be built).  I get it.  However, designers need to understand that this will happen.  Business pivots or priorities change.  

Designers get angry because (1) They get very attached to their work and think everything is about them.  (2)  They forget they are a part of a business who has to make decisions without them.

The reality is:  it’s not worth the company’s time for you to work on things that don’t matter anymore.  If they did have you continue working on non-important stuff, you’d probably be out of a job.

2.  Understand you are here to save the company time and money.

I wrote an article a while back on the ROI of design.  Design is often used to cut down on product development costs.  After all, if I have a designer in place, I won’t have to have my developer make ugly unusable products.  Design allows you to plan and then build.

So in other words, we’re planners.  No one gets upset when the gant chart gets rewritten – but they do when their design gets de-prioritized or canned.  

Know that you are there to help the company save time and money.  If the company wants you to work on something else – work on that.  It’s in your interest and the company’s to work on things that matter.

3.  Stay grateful.

People are always unhappy when they find themselves out of a job, happy when they had a job, and then unhappy again when their projects get descoped or deprioritized.

I always take on the attitude that I am here to serve.  I was hired to help the company, not so I can win awards and bask in my glory.

Your ego typically gets bruised when people tell you to shift your focus or stop doing what you’re doing.  So stay grateful, be happy you have a job and work on #4 (next section).

4. Be a part of the solution – not add to the problem.

Getting angry and blaming others doesn’t work.  Instead, have conversations with design leadership and management about design churn (if its happening too much).  Don’t blame them, but share with them that it’s important to work on things that get shipped.

Seek to understand why design churn is happening (decisions which could be happening many levels above you) — and seek to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.  Perhaps it’s better if your team works in smaller shippable chunks.  Or they work in a lean way and help validate and prove ideas – before spending lots of time and the company’s money on design resources.

When you start to blame others – it’s time for you to go.  Management doesn’t want negative people and you don’t want to remain negative either.  Better to move on then remain sour.

5.  Remember nothing goes to waste.

Life is not an outcome, it’s a process.  Working on a project isn’t ALL about the output, but also about the process of working together and creating something.  Even if a project gets canned –  it wasn’t a “waste”. You develop yourself and grow in the design process — irregardless of whether your product ships or not.

What are your thoughts?

I hope the above ideas help you stay grounded when change happens.  And it will happen, I promise you that.  Share your thoughts below.

The trick, I find, is to stay empowered and not get demoralized.  It’s helpful to understand that change is a part of any company’s culture — and that is OFTEN outside of your control.  Sometimes your hard work and initiatives are left to dust.  You can plant in the spring and things are going well and BAM!  a meteroite smashes down and kills your crops.

It can happen.  And it sucks. I know.  But learn how to deal with those catastrophes.  Your attitude is the one thing you can control.

Practice what you preach, preach what you practice

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

I had a good conversation with my manager today at work about confidence.  Being good at what you do, diversifying your skill set, growing and adding to your portfolio – helps prove to yourself, that you are a great designer.  And that sort of confidence carries itself when you interview and when you socialize with people you work with.

Indeed, TRUE confidence comes from authenticity.   When you are congruent with who you say you are, you have pretty solid confidence.  You aren’t “faking it til you make it.”  You are enough.

Do I need to be a ROCKSTAR designer?

Disclaimer:  I am not saying you need to be a ROCKSTAR designer.  No.  But you have to be competent and “good enough”.  And just so you know, what’s “good enough” is up to YOU (but for heaven’s sake, be honest with yourself!).  How can you plan to manage and lead your team, if you don’t have good design skills or good leadership skills?  Tough love, I know.

Other People Know

People are smarter than you think. Many have built in BS detectors.

You may land a great job – but if you and the job aren’t a good match, people will know very soon.  Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s very clear to others if you don’t  know what you are talking about.

So you better start learning and growing quickly!     Why?  I’ll share with you why.

Why:  Whip Cream on Sh*t

A designer who gets promoted to manager is learning to lead.  He/she is really in transition – almost like a moth transitioning to a butterfly.  This new manager is “clumsy” (so to speak) since they are still learning the ropes.  And that’s OK so long as who you are being is someone who is growing and learning.  This is a healthy growth mindset.

However, where the problem comes is if you HIDE your incongruence from others and even worse, from yourself.  When your ego gets the best of you and you pretend to know it all — you become inauthentic.  This is a power hungry mindset.

There is a difference.  The difference is mainly between being humble and authentic VS. being “THE DESIGN LEADER” and inauthentic.

This example above doesn’t just apply to new design managers – but anyone who is saying one thing, but not feeling complete inside.  Incongruence.

A lot of leaders feel this feeling – it’s called imposter syndrome.  But a coach of mine once called this something else: “whip cream on sh*t.”  When you don’t do the necessary work to be somewhat congruent to your position, you will eventually be found out.   People will SMELL the sh*t under the whip cream.

Not only that, but my take is that your design skills PLUS your leadership skills will be enough to make you a great design leader — but if one of the two are seriously lacking, you will always feel insecure about your job and others will feel that insecurity too.

Know The Gap

I say all this – not being a design manager myself.  I am a UX Design Lead and I am working my way up.  But I am doing so while developing myself.  I am trying my best to be honest with where I am at, so when I do move up, I am congruent and authentic and have the real skills to walk my talk.

I hope this article isn’t making your uncomfortable (or maybe its ok if it is, it’ll be a wake up call).  If you do feel like you constantly have to defend yourself at work or you feel like your reports know a LOT more than you do – then maybe its time to do a skills gap analysis.  See where you are lacking and where you need to grow (design skills and/or design leadership skills) and get to work.

Instead of being busy as a “hot shot design leader” — take the time to grow and expand yourself.   Of course, admitting to yourself that you are missing skills requires a LOT of humility.  But ignorance is not bliss.  “Cream always rises to the top” (back to whip cream examples 🙂 ).  The congruent design leaders sleep well at night.

So remember: Practice what you preach, and preach what you practice.

Design Across Borders: My Hong Kong/Beijing Trip

Monish SubherwalDesign LeadershipLeave a Comment

For two weeks I was traveling on vacation to Hong Kong and Beijing. In a whole new world with different people and different needs, I saw many examples of interesting design solutions.

Here are ten that I captured and wanted to share:

1. Umbrella Cover

It was raining a lot, but at the entrance of the mall I saw this — it’s an umbrella cover. You put your umbrella in it, and it will cover it with a plastic sheet so the water doesn’t get the floor wet.

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2. Umbrella Dryer

They also had an umbrella dryer — put your umbrella in it and clean it. Not sure how effective this was — I didn’t use it nor did I see anyone else using it.

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3. Priority Lines

The train stations in Hong Kong had really good signs — and the people tended to follow it! Here at the elevator entrance you can see 2 lines – for Priority and Others, the icons for priority are good too.

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4. Helpful arrows

When the train stops it can be a jumble. People are usually stressed. To alleviate this, signs on the floor show where you should stand.

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5. Adoption of lines

People actually follow the signs!

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6. Priority Seating

Priority seating on the train is marked in red. I like how they put a smiley face on the seat to differentiate (but reminds me of mcdonalds a bit much).

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7. Beijing Train Map

The Beijing train station however was SUPER complicated – and difficult for any english speaking person (notice nothing is in english here!). Too many trains and many colors.

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8. Elevators without the Number 4

Cultural differences – the number 4 tends to be bad luck so they remove it from the elevator. The other interesting thing was that on the left side the numbers were ascending — and on the right side of the elevator they were descending. This was so handicapped people could get to all the buttons.

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9. Dragon Holes

Cultural design – many of the middle of tall buildings had something called a “dragon hole.” Folklore says that dragons would come in the evening to drink water – so the dragon holes provided passage through the building. Nice honoring of cultural traditions. This area in the building usually has a garden or something else (pretty crazy how they do this considering the cost of living there is SUPER expensive and that could be a lot of potential money to the builders/owners).

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10. Fitting Rooms

Fitting rooms at the airport on the international side (Makes sense). Near baggage claim.

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What have you seen?

Ever been to Hong Kong or Beijing?  Or any other part of the world?  What have you seen?  Share below.  🙂

Using Evernote to Capture Competitor Screenshots

Monish SubherwalDesign LeadershipLeave a Comment

I LOVE Evernote. So much so – that I think people at my work call me the Evernote man behind my back.

Why? Because I use it for all design/web screenshot capturing including competitors.

Why Should You Care?

In order to be a design leader, you must think about the business. If you are not aware of the competitive landscape, who will be?

Top reasons why you should care about capturing competitor screenshots:

  1. You need to have an eye on your competitors. Are they responsive? How are they selling their products? What are they doing differently? What can you borrow? What shouldn’t you do?
  2. Leadership is about helping your team and company WIN. You can’t win if you don’t know your competitors.
  3. Most people DON’T look at their competitors. If you are able to articulate what the competition does – you are ahead of the curve and stand out at work.
  4. You don’t want to be stuck in a meeting not knowing what your competition is doing. The opportunity to demonstrate business awareness is then lost.

A lot of people don’t use Evernote. I know I didn’t for years. However, I think anyone who wants to be a design leader should be HIGHLY organized about capturing competitor screenshots.

Evernote helps you do that.

What’s so Great about Evernote?

Prior to Evernote I’ve tried using Google Drive, Pinterest, and our company’s server. However, each one of those methods failed. They weren’t very good at capturing competitor screenshots. Not only that – we really wanted a way to tag multiple images and share them amongst each other – and none of those methods above did all that.

As an Evernote Plus member (and no, Evernote doesn’t pay me to do this – I wish!) – I use the tool as a personal and work journal. Everything I do is in there. Notes, ideas, lists, and yes – screenshots.

Evernote is awesome because it lets you capture screenshots quickly, save them to the Evernote cloud (where your team can all access it), AND tag screenshots.

I want to share with you what I’m doing currently to capture competitor screenshots using Evernote. So the following is a handy guide for setting up an Evernote notebook.

NOTE: You’ll need Chrome to work in order to do any of the following steps.

Step 1: Get you and your team on Evernote and Evernote Web Clipper.

Download Evernote and get an account.

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Then download Evernote Web Clipper Extension for Chrome.

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Step 2: Create a notebook for saving competitor screenshots

Using your Evernote, create a notebook in Evernote for saving your competitor screenshots. Call it “Competitor Screenshots.”

To create a new notebook, go to File > New Notebook > Synchronized Notebook.

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Step 3: Share the notebook with members of your team.

You can do this by RIGHT CLICKING on the “Competitor Screenshots” notebook, then go to “Share Notebook.”

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Add the emails addresses of your teammates. Make sure “edit and invite” is enabled. After adding email addresses, you can add a personal at the bottom and click “Send”.

This will send an email to your team and create the shared notebook within their Evernote.

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Step 4: Use Evernote Web Clipper, and take screenshots.

Launch Evernote Web Clipper in Chrome. It should be the elephant icon in the top right of the browser. Select “Screenshot”:

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This will launch the scope tool which will let you take a screenshot:

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When done, Evernote will give you a menu with lots of buttons. Under the Organize section choose the notebook you created “Competitor Screenshots” (you can search for it too):

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Lastly, feel free to add tags (I’ve added “homepage” and “yelp” here – but you can easily add “desktop”, “responsive”, or whatever):

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TADA! You’re done! From here on, team members can save any screenshots to the shared Competitor Screenshots folder and everyone can access the latest screenshots.

Now go out and educate your team on the tool and have them contribute to this notebook.

Team Adoption of the Tool

Adopting new technology and tools takes some time. There could be some resistance to change and that’s OK.
To counter resistance, that here are two proactive and powerful mindsets:

  1. Lead by example. If you don’t find the tool useful – no one else will. Keep using it yourself – be ahead of the curve and aware of your competitors. Over time you’ll convince others of its value based on how you are using it.
  2. Find an influential person on the team to adopt it and evangelize it. This could be your boss or co-worker. This person can spread the good word for you.

If 1 and 2 don’t work – people may not be adopting the tool because you haven’t communicated the value of doing so.
Refer back to the beginning of this article on “Why you should care” and adopt the ideas there to help educate others on the importance of capturing competitor screenshots.

Extra: How to Capture Full Pages and How Tagging Works

Capturing the full page

Nothing is ever 100% perfect. There are some complications with Evernote Web Clipper – the primary problem being, it is not possible (currently in Evernote) to capture below the fold.

If you have a large monitor, you can capture the entire page. But if you don’t here’s what I do: I use is a screen capturing tool to save the entire page as a PNG or JPG and import the image into Evernote.

Currently I use Nimbus Screenshot – it’s a Chrome extension. You can download it here. But you can use whatever you want that gets the job done.

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When you save an entire page through Nimbus, you should then:

1. Go into the Competitor Screenshots notebook
2. Create a new note
3. Either drag and drop the image there OR you can go to File > Attach Files to import the image.

Phew. You’re done. A little pain in the butt, but once you get it – it’s simple.

Using tagging

Tagging is a little wonky in Evernote.

As the creator of the notebook, you can select a tag within Evernote Web Clipper.

As a member of your team (non-creator of the notebook), you will NOT be able to select pre-created tags – which is a little weird.

What you have to do instead is go INTO the note (the screenshot) and tag it there. Then the tag will be enabled for all members of the team.

10 Ways to Measure Design Return on Investment (ROI)

Monish SubherwalDesign LeadershipLeave a Comment

One of the key questions that has been on my mind, is how do we measure the value of design? If someone says the “redesign was a success”, what does that mean really?

Being able to measure the ROI of design is important because:

(1) Business needs to know the real value of investments in design.

(2) Design managers and leaders are often asked to provide evidence of success.

(3)  Design is often utilized to meet business objectives and designers should know the impact of their designs on those objectives.

I’ve been reading the book, Building Design Strategy (by Lockwood and Walton) – and they provide 10 categories of design measurement (a design value framework so to speak).

I’ll share them below and give some examples and explanations:

1. Purchase influence / emotion

They say, “Money buys, but emotions sell.” This is especially true with emotional effect of design.

In the ‘Experience Economy’ we live in, great design allows companies to charge A LOT more for products and services. So design can be measured in terms of “purchase influence” and emotional impact. 

We live in a time where Starbucks which can charge 4-5X per coffee cup compared to your local mom and pop shop’s coffee. Or the Mini-Cooper, whose parts cost the same as similar cars in size, can charge a premium. Both Starbucks and Mini-Cooper are doing well in effecting bottom line sales.

Yet how can we measure that?  We must be “creative.”

Consider this quote – which refers to how to calculate purchase influence in packaging design by simply placing two products side by side in a grocery store and seeing which product sells:

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2. Enable strategy / enter new markets

Boy, there are too many examples here: Apple, Dyson, Amazon, Google – practically any company that has utilized design to create products and services that have differentiated the company from others in the market.

Design can also enable business strategy. British Airways set out to increase long-haul international flights. After extensive studies – designers came up with the first seat that could recline completely flat. This increased sales and profitability considerably for British Airways.

Below, the reclining seat:

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3. Build brand image and corporate reputation

Any company that is updating the look of their website and their messaging is playing with their brand. Design has the ability to impact brand awareness and brand loyalty. In similar stride, design awards help to increase corporate reputation and brand image.

Here you can see Yahoo promoting their Apple Design Award to drive traffic to download their mobile app, News Digest:

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4. Improve time to market and development process

Agile and Lean methodologies that are now entering the design world – are geared towards designing with speed. This allows a team to focus on the right things, learn, and build faster.

Design standards and guidelines have been helpful to reduce time to create products (and in return, reduce costs).

Here, Twitter bootstrap is helping designers and developers move faster in producing software:

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5. Design ROI/ cost savings

There are numerous studies conducted that show that companies that are design-driven (using design as a key strategic advantage) were founded to be stronger on all financial measures (managerial and statistical perspectives).

6. Enable product and service innovation

What’s it like when you buy an iPhone? You go to the store, the experience is wonderful from beginning to end.

Companies that enhance the customer experience at every touch point, are using design to enable product and service innovation.

Open Road Toyota worked with Karo Design in Canada to increase their sales by 25%. How? They designer and redesigned every touch point of the customer experience. The result: they were ranked #1 Toyota car dealership in all of Canada.

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7. Increase customer satisfaction / develop communities of customers

Design can also be used to increase customer satisfaction and develop communities of customers (a lot of online marketing campaigns are aimed at increasing engagement and fan interaction).  Brand perception, loyalty and familiarity are affected by the design.

Qualitative measurements (user interviews, focus groups, ethnographic studies, etc.) are considered “intangibles” of customer satisfaction, but are being embraced in addition to quantitative metrics.

8. Design patents and trademarks / create IP

The value of design is also related to how many patents the design can get for the company. Some company’s patents are extremely valuable (Apple, ahem) and add to the company’s valuation.

9. Improve usability

Design adjustments can be made to increase performance and usability of products and services – all which is measurable.  More time spent on the site, engagement by users, lead generation — are all able to be impacted by the design and are additional metrics for measuring design effectiveness.

For example, for every user who has difficulty completing checkout, a company can lose a lot of money.

10. Improve sustainability

Design can also be measured by it’s impact on the environment.

Take for example how on airplanes, drinks are typically served in small cups. While bigger coups could be provided, airlines strategically use design to (1) limit environmental wastage (2) prevent customers from going to the bathroom all the time and creating aisle traffic (3) limit expenses on drinks. Pretty smart no?

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Your Thoughts?

How are you measuring ROI at your company?  What do you think of the design value framework above?

If you’ve found this post helpful, or have any questions, let me know!

At your service,

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Monish

True Leaders Don’t Chase Success

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

There is one thing I’ve learned from working at big companies like Fox, Microsoft, Myspace, Yahoo, and Sony: Change is unpredictable.

Sometimes you’ll have a great year and BAM! Layoffs and you’re gone. OR…you’ll be working around the clock for a project and BAM! You get a low performance review from your manager. Or your project is going well and BAM! your budget is taken away.

What’s a person to do? Ambitious people (like you) want to get ahead and make an impact. But really, you want to get a BIG SHINY promotion and move up – yet how do you stand out with so much uncertainty?

Here’s the interesting mind shift: You don’t.

Chasing the Promotion = Chasing Your Tail

At work, the more you chase promotion and success – the more you turn off your manager and your peers.

You become agenda-based. And that’s the worst thing ever. That’s the stink of car salesmen – people who befriend you but really are NOT your friends.

The fraud emerges: you tell people you are focused on helping them or the team – but inside you are lying to yourself. You are really focused on yourself – and people can smell it a mile away.

In fact, if you pay attention, your focus at work is really about “LOOKING GOOD” rather than being of service (TRUE leadership).

Most ambitious people work hard at work (which you should), but the source of their action is tied to showing people that they are the best.

That’s stupid and causes people to do stupid things. What stupid things?

  • Giving your opinion at team meetings to show off.
  • Focusing too much on who gets credit.
  • Trying hard to impress others.
  • Being easily defensive and protective.
  • Trying hard to befriend people you don’t care about befriending.
  • Being insecure about your job.
  • Being concerned more with “strategizing” and getting credit rather than making a real helpful contribution.
  • Being stuck in your head- rather than expressing yourself around others.

Listen to me: DON’T BE THAT GUY/GIRL.

There is a better and healthier way.

The cure: KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING.

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Instead of chasing success and promotion – leaders do something differently that most people don’t. Smart leaders focus on what they can control – which is themselves.

It starts with a simple question: do you know who you want to be?

It’s the most important question.

If you don’t know, you should start working on that NOW.

Why?

If you know where you want to be and who you want to be – you can work on closing that gap today.

“Start where you are. Use what you can. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe

Instead of seeing success as something you chase and an end state, it’s something you develop and it’s ongoing. It’s something that PULLS you rather than something you CHASE.

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For example, if you want to be a design manager at your company, do an audit and see what skills you possess and what skills you need. For example, perhaps this year you want to focus on:

  • Speaking skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Design strategy
  • Design systems
  • Methodologies

You can then work on adding these skills INTO the work you do and taking classes and courses on areas that your work may not help you develop.

Chasing success is like…dating

Back when I was dating I learned this the hard way. Chasing girls doesn’t work. Chasing friendships doesn’t work. Instead, you focus on what you like to do and shine. Go develop yourself and your skills, but don’t try and seek out anything.

It’s very ZEN: the more you chase something, the more it goes away.

Instead, focus on yourself and the process of developing yourself. The right people come along for the ride.

How does this relate to work?

Just like dating, your chance of “success” increases when you develop yourself and do things YOU want to do — not for the sake of impressing others and “looking good”. The right people and opportunities come along for your ride.

The best part: Focusing on developing yourself allows you be the best choice when promotion time comes around.

As long as you keep your eye on the skills you want to develop and start bringing that to the team (being of true service), you will be the natural choice when (and if) a promotion is possible.

This takes the nastiness of trying to ‘be better than everyone else’ out of your work. In fact, trying to be the best is inauthentic. Why? Because you’re not the best…yet. You are working towards it.

As long as we take learner’s attitude and focus on growth, we can be authentic at work and focus on contributing while learning.

Your Thoughts?

What do you think of this mind shift? Do you feel at work you TRY TOO HARD? What do you think about people who do that? Share your comments below.