Alumni Stories · · 3 min read

Practical, the right amount, and powerful!

Do you remember that feeling when, as a designer, you did your first user research and made design decisions from those insights? You came away like OMG WHAT was I even doing before this?? That’s how this felt.

Practical, the right amount, and powerful!
Sarah Mills

I don’t usually post a lot here, but I have A Recommendation™️ for my design leader friends that want to be better on the business side of things. Also, I don’t think Ryan is very much a tooter of his own horn, so I want to share this.

Do you remember that feeling when, as a designer, you did your first user research and made design decisions from those insights? You came away like OMG WHAT was I even doing before this?? That’s how this felt.

I wanted to be a better partner to my business colleagues, and part of that was understanding their context—but I didn’t really know where to start, or even what questions to ask. I’d read tons of articles on “Design ROI” but nothing really...clicked. How did this apply to my work? What does it look like?

I saw the pilot cohort for Design Meets Business in a design leadership slack and I was curious: I didn’t have the time to go back to school for an MBA, and even if I did, there was no way to tell if it would be tailored to my needs. I have an amazing design leadership coach, but I was still craving more understanding of the business side of things. So I chatted with Ryan and signed up.

Practical and the right amount

Firstly, the way this is structured fit well with my learning style—I tend to zone out if we start with theory or principles. We got right to activities and tools, which then allowed me to come back around and draw the larger connections once I’d gotten my feet wet.

I could do all the activities asynchronously but still have the structure of a schedule to make sure I prioritized my learning. Lord knows I will just take a nap if there’s no deadline.

What is going on in there?

How are executives making decisions? What tools do they use? What do all the acronyms and jargon mean? Are they using math or going with their guts? 

I learned how my business colleagues structure their decks and argument structures. Understanding why it was done this way demystified so much for me. Like any good designer, if I use a pattern people are comfortable with, they can focus on the content and not have to decipher a new format—I can better speak to people in their language.

Focusing on better empathy for my colleagues showed me how to prepare for negotiating and pitch ideas. Brandy Porter came for an AMA so we could see how she influences and persuades for design. We learned different ways to align with colleagues—things I knew from design thinking, but just hadn’t managed to connect to my work. One thing I realized from applying the Fogg model was that my prompts were all wrong or missing entirely for the changes I wanted to spur. Could I have figured it out on my own? Probably. Was it likely that I would get there without help? No.

Fill in the gaps

I had been struggling to connect all the design infrastructure needs (like design ops, design leadership training, the design system, etc.) back to financial goals. I knew these things were needed for a healthy design organization, but couldn’t map them clearly...I have lots of hideous scribbles to prove this. Then Ryan introduced the Balanced Scorecard and strategy map: by far the most eye-opening for me. All of the sudden the relationships between these things made sense, and I felt a little goofy for being blown away by some powerpoint boxes. Some of the best learning in life is like that though 🤷‍♀️

I’m not alone

One of the best parts was being in a cohort with other design leaders: I saw that I wasn’t the only one dealing with these challenges. I got to see how others handled problems or how they viewed their work or role. Honestly that kind of thing is an absolute gold mine—people were open and transparent about what works for them or what they struggled with. This was safe place to say, “I don’t know.” 

In the end, the most impact has been on my peace of mind: I feel significantly less anxiety when I am able to look at my role and how I provide value in a clear way. I felt empowered to solve for how design supports the business where I am, not on trying to keep up with design maturity scales or what we “should” be doing as a design organization. It kind of felt like I finally had a subway map of how everything fits together after a few years of riding aimlessly. 

If you want a way to level up on your business skillz and understanding as a design leader (or any designer really, I feel like this info should be mandatory), consider applying for the next cohort.

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Like a lifetime of experience
Alumni Stories ·

Like a lifetime of experience

There were eye opening facts & thinking, expanding type of activities , diving into business impact of Design, connecting Design desirables to strategic business objectives "KPI's , KR's ,ROI", communicating Design Rationale & storytelling… any many more valuable topics.