Creating my own design team at FedEx.

For the past several months I’ve been consulting at a newly-acquired company by FedEx. I was tasked with reimagining and redesigning an aging and poorly designed application. The catch: I was the only designer at the company, and I needed help.

UX is not meant to be alone, and I needed to bring in others to generate ideas and critique my own. I needed perspective, and insight others had that I didn’t. I needed constant feedback. And I especially needed others to promote better usability and design. I needed a team.

As I was conducting research and interviewing employees, I soon found those who brought energy, insight and a helpful attitude. These were the people I could count on to help make the project a success.

Here are the people I found to be valuable in my home-made design team:

The Executive Who’s Become a Fan

Seeing a cool new UI and being presented with a deck showing initial research and the potential for improvement and money-saved is a quick way to get an exec on board and on my side.

The Manager Willing To Set Aside Time

Managers are busy with meetings, reports, supporting their team and responding to problems. Those who were willing to schedule team meetings to generate ideas and processes were invaluable to move the project along. They also set an example that it’s OK for other employees to put time and effort into ideating better usability. Usability that would pay off for everyone down the road.

The Employee Who Hasn’t Given Up

People know what good usability design feels like. They experience it on their phone and on popular websites. But when they come to work and slog through a dated application with no thought for usability, it’s easy to be discouraged. I found employees who realized they could make a difference and were willing to do user tests, sketch out their own ideas, and even send me emails with their thoughts about feedback.

The Newbie Employee

They don’t know what they don’t know. And that can be a good thing. When I ask for help responding to the current software and imagining different ideas, they have very little history with it. They can give fresh ideas that aren’t restrained yet, and judge it with fresh eyes.

The Developer Who Understands What Good UX Can Do

I connected with developers who were more of a mind to stay on top of UX principles. They were willing to talk with users (on occasion) or at least go with me to meet them. Not surprisingly, these developers gave valuable feedback and ideas that improved my designs and flows all the time.

Designers Outside the Company

Some of what I was doing at FedEx couldn’t be shared. But it was still important to get feedback, mental and emotional support from other designers who could relate to the issues I was facing.

But what about the opposite side?
Here are those people I found not to be helpful:

The Know It All

There are those who do know a lot but have a condescending attitude towards others because of it. I saw that they lacked the ability to listen and try to understand much of the time. They weren’t flexible and had a hard time engaging with other employees. As expected, others had a hard time working with them too.

The Subversive

Sitting there with arms folded, murmuring under their breath, this person relishes pointing at all the mistakes and shortsightedness they see in a company. They take pleasure in sitting back and not participating in building solutions because they’re the only ones who get it.

Short-Order Developers

There are developers who are kind of like short-order cooks. They reach into Jira, pull the next ticket off the carousel, fry up the code. “Order Up!” Their interest is more about marking time until their shift’s done, not in reaching out to try new things.

Been There. Done That. Ain’t Gonna Happen.

I met some employees who at first I thought were going to be a golden resource of knowledge and perspective. They’d worked in different departments and knew how all the pieces of the company fit together. But there was a dark side. They had seen their share of ‘initiatives,’ that had faded without effect, and had all but given up that anything would ever change.

“We’ve tried stuff before. Can’t be done,” was a common response.

And the results?

The other day I overheard a couple of developers talking about where a button should appear on the screen and whether it should say ‘done’ or ‘close.’ I bristled at first thinking they should be consulting me. But then I had another thought. Isn’t part of my role as a UX designer to promote usability and its benefits anywhere I can? And instead, I should be excited to find other people having a UX-related discussion amongst themselves.

Designers working in teams at other places may have a more established UX environment and culture. But I’ve been able to design my portion of a big project and show huge cost savings for FedEx. Due very much to recruiting the indispensable help of people inside the company that never even knew they were part of my product team.

UX of one. was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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