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Influencing the level of Design Maturity within your organisation and teams

Updated: Jan 27, 2023



Recently, Liam Pietzka, Director of Brightbox Consulting, hosted our second webinar on Design Maturity with a wonderful panel of design leaders. We thank Marla Mitelman (Director, Mitelman Webb and Antler Advisor), Depy Kyritsi (Head of User Experience, Macquarie Group), Steven Mulligan (Director of Experience Design, KPMG), Patrick Kennedy (Design Director, Design It) and Erin Turner (Associate Director, Service Design, Optus) for taking the time to join us and for sharing their perspectives on how you as a designer can influence the level of design maturity within your organisation and teams.


For those who missed the conversation, I’ve provided a summary here to give you a sense of what was discussed but I highly recommend you check out the recording, and while you’re at it check out our first video on Design Maturity.


Design Centricity


To kick things off, Liam thought why not start in the deep end and he asked the panel to share their ideas on how they define a design centric culture. It’s clear that there is no one way to define design centricity but there are clues to look for to determine where design sits within an organisation which can shed light on the level of influence design has. There was consensus among the panel that design needs representation at higher levels of the organisation and it should be involved with strategic decision making. Steven sees design as a tool to help find the point of the horizon and to steer the business towards it. If an organisation accepts the voice of designers when identifying direction and decision making, it’s obvious there is an element of design centricity within that organisation. However, Depy reminds us that design isn’t just a tool for developing and executing strategies but it is also about creating a safe place where ideas can flow freely.


“For me a design centric culture is the way we choose to behave collectively...elements within design practises should be ideation without labels, that is allowing people to raise their voice and share their ideas about what needs to be done. And if we embrace experimentation within the organisation then we need the allowance to fail, which brings us closer to innovation” - Depy Kyritsi, Head of User Experience, Macquarie Group.


So, how do we design, design?


The conversation then moved to discussing how to create a design culture. If there is a desire to have design play a role in decision making, how do we start to move the needle and actually create design centricity?


Having the right conversations at the right time is an important aspect of advocating for design. In our first design maturity webinar, the panel emphasised the need to speak the same language as the wider business to show value. Erin took this one step further and highlighted the importance of getting proof points together to demonstrate how design can be valuable in identifying and meeting customer needs and ultimately business needs.


Moreover, Depy and Erin reinforced that design shouldn’t be isolated, it has to be embedded into the organisation. Erin suggests that design should work closely with other areas of the business, such as Product teams, to ensure there is an understanding and appreciation of when design should enter the conversation. Just as working with other business units is important, identifying the organisational design capability is key as well. Often in larger organisations design can exist in pockets, it’s important to identify these pockets across the business and start to bring them together.


Patrick - “Find out what capabilities you’ve got within your organisations because if you know about each other you can work with each other to share that load...sharing knowledge, sharing contacts, sharing assets...getting an understanding of where those blindspot are, where should we be looking and where is design not focussing on yet?”


Personality Matters


We then shifted gears and opened up the discussion to identify what type of designer you should look for when you’re building a design practice. It is obvious the first few hires in the door will need to show excellent craftsmanship but what is most evident is that the first hires are very likely going to be your advocates for design across the business. They need the ability to communicate effectively, adjust their messaging to different audiences and be approachable. Patrick reminds us that design advocates don’t need to be the loudest people in the room.


Erin Turner, “One of the things I would add to the list of qualities that Marla provided is the ability to adjust...You need to understand what are the different languages of various stakeholders are speaking and how can you adjust your storytelling to speak to their hearts and minds to get design further along in design maturity”


And what about our design leaders? Liam asked the panel if they felt certain leadership qualities are more effective than others when talking to a room of designers. Steven suggests eating our own cooking and showing great empathy when leading designers. Often, people look to leaders for answers but he suggests helping designers find their own way and support them in finding the answers themselves. Depy very simply suggests being the example. It is simply put, but difficult in practice.


Does everyone need to learn about design?


Educating stakeholders on the importance of design is a topic that regularly comes up. In discussing how we can educate others on design thinking, Patrick highlighted that a common pitfall is often experienced when attempting to teach everyone across the business. If an organisation isn’t ready to implement design thinking then teaching everyone about the benefits of design, without being able to implement anything is counterproductive. Instead, he drew a distinction between identifying who needs design training and who you need to demonstrate value to.


Steven - “this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in the business is a designer, what it means is that a lot of the people in the organisation appreciate it but they still appreciate the specialist...a key moment in an organisation maturity curve when they realise the challenging career it is to be a designer.”


Additionally, there was consensus across the panel that design ‘education’ can be approached with a mindset of trying to expose as many people as possible to the benefits of design. The more people gain exposure to something, the more they begin to understand and appreciate its importance. If you can expose stakeholders to the process or expose them to the value of design, you are on your way to promoting design within an organisation.


Best Practice


With all the talk about creating design centric cultures, Liam threw it out to the panel to discuss what they feel best practice in design should look like, and boy was that a mistake. Marla passionately argued her dislike for the term ‘best practice’ as it assumes that there is one best way to implement design.


“What the hell is best practice when it comes to design...to me the way I interpret best practice is, what have people done before and how can we mirror it? To me that is not design best practice...at the end of the day every problem takes inspiration from really great solutions but our role as designers, practitioners and leaders in this space is to innovate and make things better” - Marla Mitelman


Erin and Marla both agree that a proven methodology is what is necessary within your design practice. Marla reminds us that design is about reducing the risk you take into production and to do this we need to bring in people’s voices into the conversation. Erin backs up this point by reiterating that having the right method in place, using the right tools and inputting them at the right time is a recipe for success. She ended the conversation with the same point she started with, which is to create a feedback culture. “Set up a feedback culture and the feedback has to flow in all different directions. Leaders have to get used to hearing feedback from customers and from people they manage” - Erin. Depy adds and adapts to this sentiment and reminds us that “we have to bring the voice of the customer to the table, is the best possible way and the best point to start to implement change”.


Wrapping up


To close out the webinar, Liam asked the panel to share with the audience their one piece of advice that someone can take away from this discussion and begin to implement straight away. The answers from the panel were thoughtful and considered and give inspiration and direction for anyone looking to influence the design maturity of their organisation or teams. You can listen to the full recording here.


At Brightbox Consulting, we specialise in Human Centred Design, Digital Product and Technology and Digital Marketing recruitment. We are committed to putting on events that educate and pull together communities in our space. With that being said, we are always looking for new topic ideas that are relevant to you. If you have a suggestion or if you would like to join our next webinar as a panellist, please reach out to myself or Liam Pietzka.


Nicole How

Talent specialist Human-centred Design | Brightbox Consulting

E: nicole@brightboxconsulting.com.au

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