Monica currently works as an Experience Design Manager at the ICRC, where she manages a team of UX Designers as well as the UX Design practice at the organization. Whether it's hosting design meetups, sharing design jobs online or writing about changes in the industry - anything that connects designers with one another gets her excited.
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[00:00:00] Monica: As a UX Design Manager, it's literally your job to give feedback and to give feedback for people to grow. Dealing with feedback, getting it, giving it, experimenting with it, trying different ways of giving and getting feedback.
[00:00:15] Lewis: Welcome to the 7 Minute Product Master Series podcast. I'm Lewis Kang'ethe, and today I'm joined by Monica, Experience Design Manager at International Committee of the Red Cross. Welcome monica.
[00:00:26] Monica: Thanks for having me, Lewis. I'm excited to be here
[00:00:28] Lewis: And to start the show, give me a brief definition of UX Design Management.
[00:00:34] Monica: So I thought I would just describe the role as I most like to do it, and for me it's sort of putting the structures, the routines, the processes in place so that designers can do their best work.
[00:00:46] Monica: I sort of tried to break it down into three parts. One of the parts is Collaboration. What is the team constellation, the hiring set up, the roles, the routines for the current organization, also the vision of the organization, the headcount available, the budget available, to figure out what kind of design team do we need in place.
[00:01:05] Monica: Another part is sort of workflows and processes. What are our design principles? Do we have a design system, design guidelines, building a research hub, sort of putting research processes in place, and figuring out what that would look like, again, for the current organization.
[00:01:20] Monica: And the last part and something that I personally really enjoy is sort of communication and advocacy. So getting organizational buy-in, advocating for design and for designers explaining what is our design process, what's the value add for you? You know, whether it's a client or an internal team, writing, publishing, conferences, and also creating opportunities and spaces for designers to share their work in a way that's comfortable for them.
[00:01:44] Monica: It sounds very much sort of like Design Ops, but yeah. So in an ideal world, That's what xDesign Management would consist of for me.
[00:01:52] Lewis: Thanks for sharing that. And I'm curious to know, what's the biggest UX Design Management mistake you've ever made, and what did you learn?
[00:01:59] Monica: So before coming to the ICRC about two years ago, I first worked at agencies. So I've got sort of like a design agency profile and mindset. And I wouldn't say it's a mistake, but just sort of like a typical trap for any designers is focusing too much on the isolated product or project or design challenge at hand. And it's really important to see that bigger picture. And you are in an agency, it's obvious, like that's the brief you get. That's all you see. You don't see everything that's going on behind. So it's normal to just focus on that. But now being in-house and also seeing the difficult side of organizational politics, you can see how interconnected everything is.
[00:02:35] Lewis: Brilliant. Thank you for sharing that. And what's the one piece of common wisdom you disagree with and why?
[00:02:41] Monica: One of the statements we say, or used to say, "The user is always right". And of course we are making products and services for users. But if I take sort of the Blackberry example, but not from the business side of things, like from the user side of things, I was a Blackberry user. I was adamant like "I will never not have a Blackberry.
[00:02:59] Monica: I will never not have a full keyboard stuck on my phone". I said "I would never ever use a touchscreen in my life." So imagine like there was a designer on that project and was like, the user's always right, we're gonna stick to, stick to what this user said. There was sort of this hype about it, but today we don't even think about Blackberries anymore. Which is crazy.
[00:03:18] Lewis: What's working best in your Design Management process right now?
[00:03:21] Monica: It's treating initiatives or projects that are not design projects, like design projects. Using the methodology of what we do as designers to do things that are not our design projects. An example would be when we started two years ago as a team within the ICRC, nobody knew what UX design was and was a very new discipline.
[00:03:44] Monica: So our mini project was how do we approach communication and explain what we do. So it started off with slide deck, explaining who we are, what we do, and why it could be a value to the person we were talking to. And we started treating that like a design project. So understanding the users, like who are the departments, what do they actually need, what do they already know, what are their pain points?
[00:04:04] Monica: And using the slide deck as a prototype and building that, showing it to people, iterating on it and not falling in love with it too much. And we've iterated on with actual user feedback. And it's helped to treat it like an artifact and I'm not just like, this is what we think as designers and this is how we're going to talk about it.
[00:04:22] Monica: Yeah. Get feedback, iterate, prototype.
[00:04:24] Lewis: That's interesting. Thank you for sharing that. So what's the best Design Management advice you ever received and why?
[00:04:31] Monica: "Nothing is ever as good or bad as it seems", and it's a quote from Scott Galloway and it sort of ties to letting things go. Like I take work very seriously, like also designers, we fall in love with what we make. We like what we do, and no matter how good it is, it's not going to completely change the world. But also, no matter how bad a situation is, for example, I don't know, you get into a discussion with someone at work or you say something that you regret the next day. It's also not the end of the world.
[00:04:58] Monica: So no matter how high up you feel, oh, I've got this new promotion, it's not gonna change the world, but also the thing that you think is really, really bad, it's also not going to destroy you. So keeping that balance and keeping that in the back of your mind, being humble when things are going extremely, extremely well, and also not being so hard on yourself when things are not going that well.
[00:05:17] Lewis: So thanks for sharing that. And what's the one thing every Design Manager should learn?
[00:05:22] Monica: Dealing with feedback, getting it, giving it, experimenting with it, trying different ways of giving and getting feedback. I would say it applies to anyone and any type of designer, but as a UX Design Manager, it's literally your job to give feedback and to give feedback for people to grow. So really learning how to give that feedback and trying different ways with different types of people to give feedback. Like, and someone told this to me, and it's something I always share with people when I give them feedback. I said, "Your biggest strength can also be your biggest weakness and the other way around."
[00:05:54] Monica: So again, no matter how good or bad it is, take it with a pinch of salt, but also turn it on its head, like examine it and use that to learn about yourself. What we did with the team recently was we all wrote a User Manual To Me. So like a user manual helps and everybody could write in there, how do I like to get and give feedback. Control with somebody, I can literally look at their sort of user manual and see what feedback that they prefer to get.
[00:06:18] Lewis: And onto the last question. What's the one thing you learned about yourself recently that changed the way you work?
[00:06:23] Monica: A colleague told me, so I'm very action-driven to the point where I can be really impatient and I wanna go, go, go, go and do stuff.
[00:06:29] Monica: But on one side, that's really positive and I can move things forward and I'm very energetic. But on the other side, it's a slow down. Maybe it doesn't need to be done in this way and going fast or doing an action is not always the right thing. And a member in my team had said, look, really appreciate one-on-ones with you, like you always take time, you listen to me, but sometimes I just wanna vent and complain and I don't want you to take an action straight away. And in my mind it was like, it's my role to like help this person do something, take these blockers away and I would just go, go, go and want to fix things afterwards. So we've sort of come up with a rule. Anyone can always vent to me anytime. I will say, do you want me to do something? Yes or no? And then they'll say no, or not yet, or, yes.
[00:07:10] Lewis: Thanks for sharing that. So thank you, Monica, for joining us today and sharing all those insights with our audience.
[00:07:15] Monica: Thanks everyone, and thanks for having me, Lewis.
[00:07:18] Lewis: Well, that's the end of the episode. Thank you so much for listening and see you next time.