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To create a happier design team, turn your UX design process inward

Shanon Marks's Layout avatar

Your people are not your products. They’re the geniuses behind your product. True, sometimes the products themselves are amazing, like Apple iPhones or Nike sneakers. But here’s a secret: The magic isn’t in the sneaker; it’s in the people who designed it.

As designers, we often obsess over how our work affects customers. We have processes in place to ensure we’re delivering the best possible user experience, but we seldom turn the process inward to optimize the employee experience. This is a mistake, one that’s all too common in our brand-centric world.

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“Investing in employee experience is just as important as investing in customer experience. ” That’s why my company recently brought on a head of people who’s responsible for creating an environment in which every employee can thrive.

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Making employees happier may sound like a fluffy goal, but it’s directly tied to the bottom line: Happier designers produce better work and are more productive, delivering more value for our customers.

Listen, test, improve, repeat

These days, salary alone isn’t enough to keep people happy. When work is just a tap away and employees regularly struggle to separate themselves from their jobs, it’s essential to design an experience around what it’s like to work for you.

“You’ll need to invest and reinvest in your people and organization to stay in business. ” Any funds spent on optimizing the employee experience should be considered an investment in your company’s future. If you’re not going above and beyond in taking care of your team, they won’t stay long. Turnover costs a lot, so high retention rates save money overall.

You wouldn’t neglect to regularly obtain feedback from consumers on your designs, so make sure you’re lavishing the same care and constant monitoring on your employees. It’s the only way to truly improve the employee experience.

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To keep a pulse on what our employees are feeling, we use a tool called Officevibe that allows me to send AI Slackbots into our team Slack channel with a series of timed questions. These questions dig into different areas of engagement, relationships with colleagues, and happiness at the home and office.

One area we explored was nutrition and health — two major factors of employee happiness and performance. I worked with one of my designers around the data point of nutrition and the availability of healthy food in the office. We designed a nutritional meal program with fruits and vegetables and swapped sodas for water.

Using data gathered through the Slackbots, we then quantified the rise in health and happiness among our employees and the resulting effect on productivity, quality, and other key metrics.

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Minimize productivity roadblocks

When we design an experience for consumers, one major goal is often ensuring the product is effortless to use. You should similarly be concerned with how efficiently your designers are able to work.

By definition, experienced design is improving the sequence of events that we encounter when we’re trying to accomplish a task. Employees are happy and empowered when they feel like the entire experience of working with their colleagues for an organization was personalized for them.

To accomplish this, examine how your team works together, break it down, and make it a more efficient process. Make sure you always have the latest hardware, software, and other tools to get the job done, and maintain open communication with management. Without this proactive thinking, you’ll end up with employees scratching their heads, wondering where to direct questions or report inefficiencies.

Break and rebuild

When you design an experience for consumers, you put things into play and examine the way pieces work together. To turn that process inward, you’ll need to bravely break things and rebuild them — that’s where wisdom and sage advice comes from. Here’s how to get started:

1. Measure where you are today

Find out what your employees are feeling, what they’re happy about, and what they wish was different. You don’t have to use Officevibe for this. Google Forms and a variety of other programs allow you to easily check in with your employees.

You might be surprised at what you uncover about both the good and bad parts of your organization. Work with your designers to create a list of questions that will deliver the most complete picture of your current situation.

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2. Empower your people

Next you need to empower a small group of people with the ability to carry out necessary actions. For a firm with less than 30 employees, a leadership team can do much of this, but it’s always a good idea to involve more junior folks with something to prove.

These people have incredible energy and ideas to be harnessed. The less power you have in an organization, the less ability you have to escape bad decision-making. Empower the people with the quietest voices to carry these things out because they’re the ones most affected.

3. Proactively address issues

Don’t wait for annual or biannual reviews to discover what’s bothering employees — it should be a constant process. If you see something that needs to be addressed, come up with a solution and quickly implement it. I saw stress rising in our office, and now we have yoga classes twice a week, as well as a weekly delivery of healthy snacks from AmazonFresh. When I see people concerned with how much they’re working, we make sure they’re rewarded with paid time off.

4. Constantly improve

Your firm is fundamentally broken if there’s no continuous improvement program. Incentivize the team to improve the business. One way to do this is to evenly distribute monetary rewards so if the company makes more money, so do the employees. Think of this as an investment with high positive returns. Sure, you’re giving away today’s profits, but doing it provides a long-term ROI that’s far more valuable.

5. Hire a head of people

From the day an employee interviews to the day they move on to a new opportunity, the head of people shapes the experience. Our head of people isn’t just some mascot — it’s an executive role that every organization should have. This individual takes the team’s ideas for improvement and sees them through to the end. To make anything happen, it’s necessary to have timelines, deadlines, and budgets; it’s too valuable of a role to leave vacant.

The customer experience is important, but don’t make the mistake of ignoring your employee experience as you grow your firm. “Happy and healthy employees reduce churn, improve performance, and increase revenues. ” Investing in a personalized environment that caters to each team member may have the greatest ROI of any other business decision you make.

Shanon Marks is president and founder of MU/DAI, a design firm that simplifies technology by blending the imagination of digital with the power of practical. MU/DAI’s work transforms ideas into experiences and makes technology more effective and useful.

For 15 years, Shanon has focused on the application of emerging technology and harvested data to augment and improve the human experience, accelerating the market through innovation and emerging technology. When Shanon isn’t working, he can be found flying a small plane or surfing at his favorite break.

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