It takes a village

I was a programmer from 2012 to 2017. I realized during this time that my impact would multiply if I could focus on the design instead of being the one to code it.

Early in 2018, after years of reading, taking courses, and experimenting with UX, my dream came true: I was hired as a UX Designer. I’m almost at the one-year mark of this new career of mine and I’m using this milestone as an excuse for gratitude.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also took a village for me to make this career switch. My switch definitely wouldn’t have been possible without these people.

Rob Ursem, manager 2012-2015

Rob was my first manager as a programmer. When I was working for him I’d have endless ideas and suggestions about usability and design. Rob saw this enthusiasm and recommended some books for me to read. Design of Everyday Things. The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Many more. Without him I wouldn’t have even known that User Experience was an actual job. I’m so grateful for Rob for that.

Andrew Wright, meetup coordinator

Soon after I finished reading the book the Inmates are Running the Asylum, the local meetup group Calgary UX featured it in their book club. What an awesome coincidence! So I worked up the courage and went to the meetup.

The whole premise of that book is how programmers have way too much say in how software is designed. I was a programmer when I read the book, so I was one of the inmates who was running the asylum! I was shocked at how welcoming the meetup was, especially the organizer Andrew, even though I felt like such an outsider.

I’ve been in touch with Andrew ever since then and he’s never stopped being that welcoming, knowledgeable, and helpful presence for me.

Meghan Armstrong, unofficial mentor

I also met Meghan through Calgary UX and she has been so kind and helpful through the years. On many occasions, she has taken the time to meet with me, including helping me with my portfolio when I was first thinking of making the move into UX.

She also taught me a great introductory course on UX through Habanero, which gave me a lot of confidence to start trying things out at work.

Jason Grant, UX role model

Jason is a design leader. He works with an impressive list of clients, is active in the London tech community, and even talked shop with me a few times. I interviewed him in 2017 and have been watching his career for years.

He’s now the founder of Integral, striving to “continuously deliver latest Integral and Design Thinking models to 1 billion community worldwide”.

Mark Plant, unofficial mentor

I wrote about Mark in 2017 as we were working through a design side-project together. This project started with me offering to buy a coworker a coffee. It ended with me learning about managing a corporate design system, appreciating marketing and the sales funnel, and gaining confidence in my design skills.

Meaghan Nolan, official mentor

Meaghan was my mentor in the Chic Geek mentorship program in the first half of 2018. She was the perfect guide for me as I researched UX Maturity, having co-authored a book on design maturity. She is currently doing impressive work with her startup Mikata Health.

Stuart Jones, manager 2018 and beyond

While Stuart was thinking of moving from London to Calgary in 2015, I was moving from Calgary to London. We met up a few times in London after I made the move, and he answered all the UK and UX questions I could throw at him.

Fast-forward a couple years to when I returned to Calgary. Stuart and his family had settled in and his employer, Solium, happened to be hiring! A few interviews and a job offer later, and I was finally a UX Designer.

My advice to you

If you are making a career move, go out and meet some people who are already doing your dream job.

If that dream job is User Experience, reach out to me. It’s my turn to return the generosity of these great mentors!


Killing your darlings

Last month I wrote about my process of designing what I called vesting sparklines. I was super excited about them because they packed so much information into a small area and because they made so much sense to me.

There is nothing like the moment when you suddenly come upon the answer to a design problem. Whether it is a particular interaction or the perfect design element, it is a moment of pure elation.

-Joshua Brewer, 52 weeks of UX

Testing my idea

When I showed a couple coworkers an early version, they were extremely confused. They wanted to understand but even with me there explaining it to them, it took a while. Even then, they didn’t seem to love it.

And these are patient, smart people, open to the idea.

Users are typically in a rush, distracted, and resistant to change.

But that’s okay, I thought, it’s just an early version.

Tweaking my idea

So I added a detailed modal to my prototype, so that if you click the sparkline you see a carefully labeled version of it with a table showing all the data below. Hover any piece of the chart and the appropriate table row lights up. Hover any row and the appropriate bar on the chart lights up.

Retesting my idea

Recently, another group of coworkers was discussing showing a timeline of events. I couldn’t contain my excitement so I called them over to my desk and showed them my sketch file with the table and the hover and everything.

It fell flat. Again.

Five brilliant people, all very knowledgeable in the world of equity compensation, didn’t understand it. So I explained. And explained. And it still wasn’t clear.

Example chart of price vs. quantity for upcoming equity vests

Part of my “improved” design: simple, right? Wrong!

Then a coworker asked “What pain point is this solving?”

Oh. Yeah. That.

The problem with my idea

My problem with this idea was that it wasn’t directly addressing a known user need. It was just an exercise I came up with based on the Tufte book I read.

They say when the only tool you know how to use is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I was wielding my Tufte hammer and swinging it all around, not realizing that there were no nails sticking out.

Another lesson here is that even designers are guilty of self design. I’ve always been an Excel nerd, in love with spreadsheets and data and graphs. Most normal people aren’t. So while the sparklines I designed may have been perfect for me, they were utterly baffling for most other people.

Killing my idea

It’s hard to do, but as a designer, sometimes you need to kill your darlings.

So goodbye vesting sparklines. It was nice knowing you.

On the bright side

While designing this, I taught myself how to get API responses from the Chrome inspector, turn that json into csv, and play with it in Excel. This has already come in handy in a real work situation when we wanted to dig into the responses of the API when testing some recent work.

Also, I enjoyed the process of creating this design. It was truly eye-opening to test the it and see what people thought about it. Those tests didn’t go as planned, but that’s why we test!

Fall out of love with your ideas and fall in love with your process.

Chirryl-Lee Ryan

Visualizing vesting schedules

I recently wrote about the book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte.

That book inspired me to explore ways of visualizing the vesting of savings and awards.


Skip this section if you know equity!


Vesting is when stock or cash becomes available. This allows companies to reward their employees for staying with them for a long time. Savings plan matching and stock options are two examples of

Savings plan matching

Savings plan matching encourages employees to save for their future. For every dollar an employee saves, the company will contribute a certain amount. This happens every paycheck. That company contribution is often subject to vesting. In other words:

Dear employee, you saved $1. Good job. You can have this quarter… but only if you are still working here one year from now.

Stock options

Stock options freeze the price of a certain number of shares for employees, who can then buy them a few years later. It’s like:

Dear employee, the stock price today is $30. If you’re still working for us in two years you can buy 200 shares for that price. In three years you can buy 100 more. And in four years 100 more!


This promise of future money is a win-win. It helps the employee because they get rewarded. It benefits the company because employees are owners too and are less likely to leave. Some people call it “the golden handcuffs”; I like to think of it as a carrot on a stick. There’s always some money just out of reach, which encourages employees to stay.

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « bugs bunny carrot on a string »

Kind of like Bugs Bunny motivating himself with a carrot on a stick

My process

Vesting and employee equity can be hard to explain but once you get it, you get it. I’ve spent a lot of time lately exploring ways of representing equity visually.

I have done a ton of sketching. And thinking. And sketching again. It’s funny how ideas in your head can seem perfect but their flaws are revealed when the pen hits paper.

Initially I explored the idea of plotting time vs quantity of upcoming vest events.

That didn’t always work because there are often large gaps between vest events. So I decided to order the vest events by date instead of scaling by date.

Here are some of my sketches.


A collection of sketches. Spot the coffee stain!

I settled on a sparkline showing the quantity of vest, the award price, and the market price. What I like about this is that the area of each shape is proportional to its value. It explains complex concepts like stock options vs. RSUs at a glance.

I’ll illustrate this with an example. For a fictional employee with a few savings plan contributions and a recent stock option grant, the raw data might look something like this:

Type Vest Date Quantity Grant Price Current Market Price Estimated Value
Savings plan 01-Aug-19 10 $0 $103.30 $1,033.00
Savings plan 15-Aug-19 11 $0 $103.30 $1,136.30
Savings plan 01-Sep-19 12 $0 $103.30 $1,239.60
Savings plan 15-Sep-19 11 $0 $103.30 $1,136.30
Savings plan 01-Oct-19 9 $0 $103.30 $929.70
Savings plan 15-Oct-19 8 $0 $103.30 $826.40
Stock option 28-Sep-20 50 $114.23 $103.30 -$546.50
Stock option 28-Sep-21 25 $114.23 $103.30 -$273.25
Stock option 28-Sep-22 25 $114.23 $103.30 -$273.25

There’s a lot to digest here. And this is a simple example. For many employees, we have to limit the number of vests that we show because there are too many. But it becomes much more visual and compact if we represent it using what I like to call a vesting sparkline.

vesting sketch

A vesting sparkline for the data in the above table. Note the savings plan vests on the left and the (underwater) stock option vests on the right.

What I love about this is that it reduces all the complexity with grant prices and vesting timing into simple geometry!

The area of each box is proportional to its value. The savings plan vests are narrower because they’re smaller, but their $0 grant price makes them quite valuable. The option vests are currently underwater, meaning their grant price is higher than the market price. But if the price jumps, they’ll be much more valuable than the savings plan vests.

I think this idea has potential.

Or am I crazy?

I’ve obsessed over these sparklines on and off for a month. I’m way too close to them to be objective. So, readers, please let me know if this idea sucks!

And more importantly, I need to try these charts out with real data. What will it look like for typical Australian employees? What about German executives?

If I’m satisfied that I can cover all cases with the design, I’ll then test prototypes with coworkers and real customers. Do they understand what they’re looking at? How can I tweak the design to help?

I’m hoping that this will make it into production but even if it doesn’t at least I had fun doing it!

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte- Book Review

“A little light reading, hey?” the doctor from Pennsylvania asked me on a recent flight. “Do you have to read that for a course or something?”

“No,” I said as I showed him a fascinating chart of Napoleon’s army’s advance to and retreat from Russia, “I’m actually just reading it for fun.”

And despite the fact that the cover looks like required reading for a 1960’s advanced course in Macroeconomics, it WAS fun.

The book

Even the cover is fascinating. The graph on it looks like a meaningless jumble of lines, but it actually contains the entire train schedule of France from 1885. It is so rich in information and so elegant. It’s a thing of beauty.


The beautiful cover of the book

The book goes on to highlight many amazing graphs, as well as a few counter-examples, and explains what makes them good or bad.

It all boils down to just a few principles. The ones that stuck with me were:

  • Don’t waste “ink” on unnecessary or distracting “chartjunk”,
  • don’t use a chart when a table will do, and
  • don’t lie.

An example of wasted ink included using internal grid lines, which often reduce the readability of the actual data. This should be avoided.

As for using charts vs. tables, the “magic number” that Tufte gave was 20. If there are fewer than 20 pieces of data, it’s often better to print those values directly in a table than for to abstract them into a chart.

The book contained several examples of charts that lie. The biggest offense was shifting axes for some or all of the data in a chart to make the data seem better or worse than it actually is. Tufte also recommended adjusting monetary values for inflation whenever possible.

Applying these ideas

I work as a UX designer for Solium, an equity compensation software company. What does that mean in English? Many companies reward their employees by giving them ownership through things like stock options and savings plans. Solium makes software that helps those companies keep track of these plans.

We recently released a redesigned interface for these employees (participants). These participants have appreciated the new interface, though there are still a few important questions that it doesn’t fully answer for them. One of which is “When am I going to get my money?” because these equity compensation programs usually have what’s called vesting, where rewards are only released after the recipient has worked for the company for a certain amount of time, usually 1-4 years.

I’m now working on a simple, compact, easy-to-learn chart that shows the vesting schedule for a participant. It may never end up being released in our software, but it’s definitely been a fun exercise exploring different concepts based on what Tufte taught me!


Some of my sketches for vesting schedule visualizations

For details on these charts, see Visualizing vesting schedules.

Definitely worth a read!

Anyway, The Visual Design of Quantitative Information was a great read. I’d definitely recommend it if you work with data or are curious about how these things work… Or if you want to impress that doctor sitting next to you on a flight.

Using Airtable to store research nuggets

I started at Solium in January. They did a full day of usability testing for World Usability Day in the previous November but hadn’t yet got through analyzing all of the videos. It’s a small team and other priorities got in the way.

Around that time, I listened to a Tomer Sharon interview on Mixed Methods, a UX Research podcast that I highly recommend.

In that interview, Sharon discussed how UX Research usually ends up in reports that are read once then forgotten, and how non-researchers make observations about users every day that aren’t documented.

The answer?

Track every observation, or nugget in the same place. The nugget is the atomic unit of research, not the report.

This prevents research from being forgotten, it gives transparency to how research is interpreted, and it “democratizes UX” by potentially allowing non-researchers to contribute and search research findings.


Here’s what I did

So I copied Tomer Sharon’s “Polaris UX Nuggets” base.

Screenshot 2018-06-21 06.08.34.png

Tomer Sharon’s Polaris UX Nuggets database- available for you to copy!

I knew that this wouldn’t be adopted by my team if it was too much work, so I simplified. And simplified some more. Including:

  • Removing provocations, journeys, acts, scenes, props, and sets
  • Combining “Experience Vector” and “Magnitude” because they’re two measures of the same thing and because “High Neutral” doesn’t mean anything. Thanks Cong for suggesting this!

Then tried it out.

Then documented.

Then tested it with a teammate.

Then moved our videos from Dropbox to a private YouTube channel and added a function to timestamp the nugget url. Thanks Jason for suggesting this!

Then tested it with another teammate.

Then simplified by creating a simple form with only 3 mandatory fields. Far more efficient and less overwhelming than dealing with a giant database.

Then tested it with my manager. Thanks Stuart!

Then simplified.

Then assigned all remaining videos to be nuggetized by the team.

Meanwhile we’re doing more usability tests and nuggetizing those as we go.


The Results

This has already come in handy twice.

First when my coworker Jason was considering adding a hyperlink in a certain place, I expressed my doubts. Luckily, Jason remembered some recent observations and within a couple minutes he had pulled up Airtable and showed me two clips of real customers trying to click the text that he wanted to hyperlink. Damn you Airtable! I gave you life and you’re already proving me wrong!? Seriously though, these observations would not have been found so easy if they were just buried in a usability report somewhere

Second, when we were having a mini design sprint on one problem area in our dashboard, I was able to quickly pull up several short video clips of real customers running into usability issues in that area. It’s great that this database can essentially provide a highlight reel for anything you need!


Next Steps

Going forward, the UX team at Solium is continuing to evaluate Airtable this will continue to evolve, but so far I’m very grateful that Tomer Sharon was sharin’ his database! #punIntended #dadJoke #badJoke

Getting away from it all

As I write this, I’m three hours away from home in the middle of the woods with no electricity, no roof over my head, no running water, and of course no cell reception.

And it’s awesome.


Our beautiful spot right on the river.

Yes, I know I’m contradicting myself. Like an alcoholic trying to shake the last few drops out of the bottle, I’m writing this blog post in offline mode. But it’s definitely not the same without WiFi.

Without an internet connection, I don’t have alerts buzzing every five minutes on my phone. I don’t go to check my email, only to find myself scrolling through Twitter half an hour later with no memory of even opening Twitter.

UX Designers like me are paid good money to grab your attention and hold it. And they’re damn good at their jobs. They are great at making everything seem urgent and important, even if it’s not.

Out here, it’s just me, family, and nature. We eat, drink, laugh, play games, and just relax.

It’s not all fun and games though. We have a luxurious portable toilet that occasionally, you know, fills up and needs emptying…

Image associée

Our luxurious portable toilet is kind of like this. Way better than squatting in the woods!

…Otherwise it starts overflowing.

At least what seems urgent and important out here actually IS urgent and important.

Speaking of urgent, I need to climb a tree to try to find cell reception so that I can keep my Duolingo streak alive. Wish me luck!

Falling through the cracks

This post is #7 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.

Greg’s story

Greg Price was a healthy young man who grew up in Acme, Alberta. He played sports, he was close with his family, and he even had a pilot’s license.

Greg had testicular cancer, one of the most survivable forms of cancer.

Due to a number of mistakes and unnecessary delays, Greg ended up dying from a blood clot just days before his chemo was scheduled to start.

This happened despite the fact that everyone that Greg encountered was a competent, hardworking person who genuinely wanted to give him the best treatment possible.

This happened because of the siloed nature of the Healthcare system and poor communication between those silos. And because of fax machines.

Modern technology and patient-centered care could have prevented Greg’s death, but the healthcare system is slow-moving and resistant to change. “Fail fast” doesn’t fly in life-or-death situations, but that doesn’t mean that healthcare shouldn’t change.

I attended a screening of Falling Through the Cracks: Greg’s Story last week, followed by a panel discussion about the film and healthcare in general. I was motivated as a patient to demand better from my healthcare system and gained increased appreciation for companies like my mentor Meaghan’s startup Mikata Health.

I also learned two valuable lessons from this event.


Lesson 1: The power of storytelling

I was moved by this film.

I’ve heard the stats and anecdotes about how the healthcare system is behind the times when it comes to technology, leading to wasted money and reduced quality of care, but it had never really hit home before I saw this film and Greg’s story.

As I’ve spoken about before, stories are STAR moments: Something They’ll Always Remember. And it’s true, when you give a problem a human face, people will start caring.

I need to use more stories when I’m trying to change minds!

Lesson 2: I’ve got it easy

I’m obsessed with making enterprise software companies more user-centric, which is usually far tougher than doing the same with consumer software companies. However, I didn’t realize until this event that I’ve got it easy compared to the behemoth that is healthcare.

Order of Canada recipient Dr. Ewan Affleck was part of the panel and spoke about a project that he worked on to make one single patient record system for all of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Against all odds, this system is now in place for all 40,000+ patients in the territory.

“Whether you are in Fort Smith or Ulukhaktok or wherever and you have kidney failure, you can have your nephrologist in Edmonton following your results and your blood pressure. You can have the intern in Yellowknife and the GP in Fort Smith. They can then work together to ensure your care is good and it’s not dependent on shipping you around.”

Dr. Ewan Affleck on NWT’s medical records system (source: Northern Journal)

This effort took a mind-blowing 17 years. In a territory with less than 0.2% of Canada’s population. Imagine the work involved in getting the rest of the country on board. Now compare that with convincing 100-1000 employees of a software company to make a similar change.

I’ve got it easy. And I’m so grateful for Greg’s family and Dr. Affleck for sharing their stories and teaching me these lessons.


It’s okay to be slow

This post is #7 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


Last week I wrote a long post summarizing my progress so far. At the end, I discussed some of my constraints, including the following:


Do TWICE as much with HALF the resources

  • Don’t do more; do it differently
  • Can’t sacrifice speed


Which came from numerous quotes in my research, such as:

  • “We [designers] slow things down because we think about them longer. “
  • “Can’t slow down velocity on getting features done”
  • “Product owners need to demonstrate progress. If feels like we’re interfering with their status updates. “

But now I’m starting to have my doubts.


Maybe you can sacrifice speed

I recently realized that while it would be great to speed up design, that might not be the best approach to increasing an organization’s UX maturity.

The reality is that good design does slow things down.

But isn’t it better to walk in the right direction than to run in the wrong direction?

Yes, well-designed solutions take longer than just getting features done, but they make your users happy, they are less buggy, more maintainable and extensible, and they differentiate you from your competitors.

My research was focused on mid-maturity companies, where people told me that design has to be fast. But I’m now learning that high-maturity companies don’t think that way. As UX Designer Barbara Shain told me about a past employer:

“There isn’t just a perception that design slows down development– we all accept it as a fact.”

In other words, yes UX is slow, but no that’s not a problem.

Related image


But speed is still important

As I was writing this post, I decided to look up some transcripts of the podcast that first introduced me to User Research 3 years ago: Dollars to Donuts. Turns out that many of the mature companies featured in this podcast do still have speed pressures.

I think if we double the size of the research team, I’m not sure that would be in the best interest of the company. I think that might actually slow things down.

-Alex Wright, Etsy

[The research team] got our foot in the door with some product teams and showed what kind of impact we could have and how… rapidly we could do this work… How it could speed up development in some cases.

-Aviva Rosenstein, DocuSign

But again, speed isn’t everything.

You can go too fast if you skip especially those early important steps of focusing on ‘Okay, let’s clarify, what are we doing?’ … if you cut the wrong corners, there’s a “gotcha” at the end.

-Kerry McAleer-Forte, Sears Holdings

Like many things in life, this is a very delicate balancing act.


What do I do now?

I’m so confused. But that’s normal in research.

Going forward, I’ll continue exploring ways to incentivize teams to care about design while keeping up the speed. However, I’ll also look into ways of embracing the slowness!

The first diamond

This post is #6 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.

The double diamond

The double diamond is a great model for the design process. This Kayla Heffernan blog post describes it in more detail, but it boils down to two phases:

  1. First you figure out which problem to solve,
  2. then you solve it.

In both phases, you first diverge (go broad), then converge (go deep). Hence the diamond shape!

My UX career has really focused on the second diamond (solving problems) as opposed to the first (figuring out which problems to solve). Which is why I’ve focused my work so far on the first diamond (figuring out which problem to solve). It is so valuable to take the time to understand the problem space before diving in and exploring solutions.

Before I jump into the second diamond (fixing the problem), I’m taking the time to recap my progress so far.

My hunt statement

So where did I start this first diamond? With the following hunt statement, which I carefully crafted when I started this research earlier this year.

I want to learn how decision-makers at enterprise software companies understand what UX design is, and how it fits into the success of their business;

So that I might develop more effective approaches for increasing investment in UX and getting the company to move further along the scale of UX maturity.

As I reread this statement, I’m almost embarrassed by it. But that’s a good thing.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman (source)

The fact that I cringe as I read that means that I’ve learned something since I wrote it!

Like what?

UX growth doesn’t just come from decision makers

Firstly, I really didn’t focus my research on decision makers. I did have formal interviews with one CEO and a couple of managers, but I balanced that with several chats with “worker bees” like myself.

I did this because as I wrote about in The Three ITs of UX Growth, average employees don’t have to waIT for decision makers to force UX growth; they can commIT to UX growth themselves!

Increasing investment may not be the right choice

Fred Brooks said way back in 1975 that doubling the number of programmers on a development team does not double the speed of that team.

The same goes for designers. As one designer who I spoke with put it:

“We don’t need more funding. We need different funding”

Marcos Lopez, CEO of Solium, put it nicely during my talk with him:

“Things work when they’re not forced… organically start to say this is how we build things.”

Increasing investment isn’t just unnecessary for UX growth, but it might actually be a hindrance. I’ve heard stories of multiple conflicting design systems being developed in parallel by different design teams in the same company. That might not have happened if there were fewer resources available and the team had to run a little more ‘lean’.

There’s more than just one “scale”

As you can see in my UX Maturity Models summary, there are dozens of different “scales” for measuring UX growth, so it’s a little ambiguous to say “move along the scale of UX maturity”. Which scale?!

I niched down

I didn’t end up looking at a broad sample of enterprise software companies. Most people who I spoke with were with “mid-maturity” software companies, meaning companies where UX was accepted and encouraged, but where UX was not involved in the overall strategic direction of the company.

This wasn’t really on purpose but was a bit of a happy accident because I ended up seeing a lot of similarities between the companies that I spoke with.

My Methods

So what did I do to address that hunt statement? I did both primary and secondary research.

Primary Research

Armed with tips from Steve Portigal’s great book Interviewing Users, I conducted seven different formal interviews and dug up notes from two recent informal conversations about UX maturity. In these 20-45 minute chats I asked questions including

  • (Show a summary of Neilsen’s 8-stage UX maturity model) Where on this scale is your company? How about when you first started there? If it has changed, why?
  • What would you like to change about UX at your company?
  • Other than Development, which departments should UX collaborate with?

I then summarized all notes in one big spreadsheet then did two rounds of Research synthesis to pull out themes and patterns from these talks. Below is an image of one of those synthesis sessions.


Secondary Research

There is a lot of work that has already been published on UX growth. Reading that work is what’s called secondary research.

In addition to collecting and analyzing different UX Maturity Models, I read several case studies, including this paper on Applications of Maturity Models and this UXmatters article on IBM. I also read the very actionable book UX Revolution by Paul Boag.

These sources were great for giving me a broader view of the problem space and provided a bit of a sanity check of my own research.


I also recently spoke about my ideas. Signing up for a ten-minute talk at a UX meetup forced me to really distill my thoughts down into something simple (see The Three ITs of UX Growth) and also gave me a few insights and introductions from the audience!


The grand-daddy problem

After clustering and analyzing my notes from this research, the main problem I’ve found is that even with a shared vision, UX growth can be stunted by the lack of a shared “how”. To encourage UX growth, we need to change the default “how”.

Even with a shared vision, UX growth can be stunted by the lack of a shared “how”; to encourage UX growth, we need to change the default “how”

Design constraints

To solve this problem, I’m going to keep in mind the following constraints, which were also based on my research:

  1. Do TWICE as much with HALF the resources
    • Don’t do more; do it differently
    • Can’t sacrifice speed
  2. They’ll think it was their idea (INCEPTION)
    • Change can’t be forced
    • Should happen organically
  3. From ANY team to ANY team
    • UX might be a pot calling the kettle black
    • UX needs to be more self-aware

Specific design prompts

I summarized my findings into three possible design prompts.

Firstly, how might we clearly trigger when one team should involve another team?
Software development can be a messy, disjointed process, which makes it hard to join in and act as a team. It can also be hard to know when the design team should be involved (or when the design team should get help from other teams.

Next, how might we improve the design of products without slowing things down? Design needs to be able to jump in without delaying projects.

Lastly, how might we incentivize teams to be fast and produce well-designed solutions? We need to incentivize the right process as opposed to speed only. The design team must be able to keep pace.


What’s next?

While each of these prompts has tons of potential, I decided to focus on option 3 for the sake of time:

How might we incentivize teams to be fast and produce well-designed solutions?


Yes, more research. My research thus far has only scraped the surface of how teams are incentivized. So before jumping into fixing the problem, I have to loop back to that first diamond to get a little deeper understanding of it.


I love this part. Quantity over quantity. I’ll be sketching at least 25 different ideas for addressing this design prompt. After that, I’ll work with my mentor Meaghan to evaluate the ideas and iterate on them. Eventually, I’ll further explore some of the better ideas. Stay tuned!



So far, this research has been great. It’s always fascinated and frustrated me that for some people and some companies, UX just seems so obvious, whereas for others, users are seen as annoyances. I’ve enjoyed sinking my teeth into this puzzle while learning about research.

Even though the mentorship program that prompted me to start this project ends next month, I could see myself exploring this problem space for years to come.

The Three ITs of UX Growth

This post is #5 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


My journey

I used to be a developer. I read as much as I could about UX, then really tried to put those readings to use. There were a lot of successes, but these great UX ideas that everyone was raving about online didn’t always catch on as much as I expected them to.

So I started learning about UX Maturity models. I even compiled a list of models. And I embarked on a research project with the help of my mentor Meaghan, interviewing people about UX and scouring the internet for insights.

That research is still ongoing but I’d like to share a super high-level summary.

The Three ITs of UX Growth

When it comes to leveling up your UX game, there are really only three things you can do.

1) commIT

Some companies up their UX game thanks largely to the efforts of a single person. In fact, my employer Solium is one of them. Not too long ago, we were having problems improving the UX of our products. But then a developer decided to take things into his own hands. He did a prototype of a redesign for one of the company’s main products and showed it to the leadership team. They loved it and built a team around him. That app is being released to the first major wave of customers this week, as shown in the blog post below!

new participant experience

A recent Solium blog post announcing a redesign that started as a side project

Obviously this one developer wasn’t the only person who cared about UX in the company, but his commITment and results led to a tipping point within the company and some very positive changes.

2) waIT

UX is becoming more and more mainstream. From articles on Design Thinking in the Harvard Business Review to reports of enterprise software being rejected by clients due to bad UX, executives are more aware than ever of the value and practices of UX.

Picture a typical customer of an old-skool enterprise software application. Let’s call him Jon. Jon wakes up one day and with two taps on the CityMapper app, he finds the best train route to work. While on the train, he does some leisurely scrolling through Airbnb and books a place for his upcoming vacation. He’s feeling pretty good… until he gets to work and has to try to do his job using a hideous, mind-numbing interface originally developed for Windows 95.


One of these things is not like the other!

Don’t you think that Jon is going to eventually wonder why his work software can’t be a little more like the sweet apps on his phone?

He is.

So if you wait long enough, the executives at your company are probably eventually going to hear complaints about bad UX and be aware of how to fix them!

This is exactly what happened at a financial institution that I spoke with.

“[The change] came top down actually. It wasn’t grassroots. [Prompted by] reality… banks must find unique ways of differentiating or they won’t be able to continue existing for much longer.”

This bank is now undergoing huge UX growth and seeing great results because of it.

3) quIT

If you tried to do IT and you can’t waIT any longer, do what I did: quIT your current job and find a company, like Solium, that really values User Experience.


If you want to work for a company that values UX, go work for a company that values UX!

Obviously no company is perfect, but Solium has gone through its UX breakthrough, which means I can spend more time solving problems and less time trying to convince other people that they are really problems.

The talk

I know this isn’t anything groundbreaking or particularly interesting, but writing and speaking has always helped me clarify my thoughts. I’ll be speaking about this later this week at the Calgary UX meetup in a ten-minute Rapid Fire talk.

Do you agree that UX Growth boils down to these three things? If not, why?