January 26, 2022

Design: the key points to know to ensure its integration into tech companies

During the Tech.Rocks Summit 2021 event, Amélie Boucher, UX design consultant and coach at Ergolab, shared her expertise in a conference entitled “Design in tech: issues and practical advice”.

Discover tips and best practices for integrating design into tech companies. © Lakee MNP / stock.adobe.com

In her talk given as part of the Tech.Rocks Summit 2021 event, Amélie Boucher, UX design consultant and coach at Ergolab, looked at the subject of the integration of design in tech companies. While skills are now increasingly internalized within organizations, the speaker deciphers 4 key concepts and shares her best practices.

La culture design

The design culture of a company is fundamental. Amélie Boucher thus affirms that design leaders consider it to be a founding element of the successful integration of a design team. However, companies still too often associate design with decoration or perceive it as a superficial element. It is to this extent that it is essential to establish a culture of design.

To let this culture interfere in a tech company, the consultant identifies two ways of proceeding. This can go through evangelization, which designates acculturation through discourse. But for Amélie Boucher, this strategy is not enough. It is rather a question of betting on an acculturation by the project, and of showing by example: how we practice the design and the results which we can achieve. To illustrate this diagram, Julien Hillion, senior lead product design at qonto, explains that this is “Take a project to make it a working standard”.

The organization of design in the company

The major problem for tech companies lies in the organization of teams to carry out their projects.

Operation in ratio

On the one hand, as a consultant, Amélie Boucher explains that she is often faced with the same questioning from tech companies, namely: how many designers are needed? His advice: operate with a ratio. It is thus possible to plan the workforce according to the number of product managers and developers. According to a study conducted by Nielsen Norman Group, in November 2020, the typical ratio is similar to 1 designer for 10 developers. However, some companies rely on a greater number of designers, such as IBM (1 designer for 8 developers), Intercom (1 designer for 5 developers) or even Oda (1 designer for 3 developers) . For Amélie Boucher, this choice shows “What the company thinks of design”.

The speaker emphasizes, however, that it is impossible to mobilize designers like so many look-alikes. Thus, expertise and seniority matter. In addition, thinking in terms of the ratio is a good basis, but not a guarantee. Amélie Boucher invites companies to measure the impact of design by focusing on observing what the design team delivers, how it impacts metrics, or what changes have been made in design quality and usability.

Several organizational models

On the other hand, the other issue facing tech companies is how to structure their teams. For this, the consultant identifies 3 models:

  • centralized: this model corresponds to that of a design studio or an agency, and results in a pool of designers at the service of product teams who come to express needs, which the design team must meet. The major advantage of this model is here that the design team can share their skills. Its shortcomings are in particular that it requires traffic management, but also that it can lead to relationships similar to the pattern of a customer-supplier relationship. Amélie Boucher thus notes a lack of efficiency and fluidity in this organization and a difficulty in teaming up.
  • decentralized: this is an integrated model that involves 1 designer per product teams. The UX design consultant notes that despite the squads, the tribes and the initiatives of chapters, which make it possible to act in a transversal manner, this organization generates work in silos. This often results in an unbalanced balance of power because the designer often becomes the performer of the product manager. In addition, this model does not enable the multidisciplinarity of design to be activated, an essential condition for the quality of its practice.
  • hybrid: this model results in 1 product designer per product teams, but also the presence of a pool of experts. This organization offers the possibility of welcoming experts specializing in a particular discipline. This hybrid model is seen in companies as they grow, registering as a “Maturity indicator” according to Amélie Boucher.

The collaboration

Companies must pay particular attention to collaboration, and in particular allow the designer and the developer to understand each other. For the consultant, this understanding, but also sharing and acculturation are key concepts. To optimize this collaboration, there are two traps to avoid: reserve design for designers and think that collaborating is a waste of time.

Collaborating means forming a team and involves both working together, but also knowing each other, supporting each other and advising each other when a project is underway. For the consultant, collaboration also makes things faster and it is imperative to favor this bias at the right times, especially at the start and end of the project, which are particularly important.

Creativity

Whatever the design culture of the company, the organization set up, and the collaborative practices, Amélie Boucher notes today a certain “Phagocytosis of design activity to transform it into something of the order of the factory ”. As evidenced by a quote from Marie Dehaves, design advisor at Sésame, who affirms that a “Product design today is a soldier”. Thus, successfully integrating design into tech companies also means welcoming and promoting creativity. For Amélie Boucher, this is the condition sine qua non to appreciate the practice of design and the assurance, for companies, to retain their designers, but also to differentiate themselves in a very standardized industry. In particular, the consultant urges organizations to focus on the diversity of profiles and specializations, in order to allow teams to be more creative.

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