Conor Ward: Culture Change and Enterprise Design

Conor and I talk about how designers can prove their value in larger companies, why working in silos is a thing of the past, and how to transition from a design leader to a business leader.

Photo of Conor Ward
Photo of Conor Ward

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Guests

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Director of Design, BT Consumer

Conor Ward

Connect with Conor

LinkedIn, Twitter

Selected links from the episode

BT’s Medium Design blog

Shook’s model

Marty Cagan, Inspired

Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden, Sense and Respond

Full transcript

Christian: Welcome to Design Meets Business, a show that inspires designers to think beyond pixels. I’m your host Christian Vasile, and on this podcast, I sit down with creatives to talk about their stories, lessons they’ve learned during their careers, and how you can use design to make a bigger impact in your organization.

On the last episode of season one, we’re talking to Conor Ward, Director of Design at BT Consumer. We talk about how designers can prove their value in larger companies, why working in silos is a thing of the past, and how to transition from a design leader to a business leader.

Conor, thank you so much for joining Design Meets Business. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a while. You are one of the design leaders that I was lucky enough to work with, and I’m really looking forward to bring some of your knowledge to the masses if you will. So you used to be the Global Digital Experience Director at Centrica, and for the people who don’t know what that is, it’s the owner of British Gas. And as I said, I used to be part of your team. And I remember we have chats about “playing the game,” which basically is the whole idea of designers understanding how to manage their stakeholders in larger organisations. 

So, before we go into all that, if you’d just like to dive a bit deeper into who you are, so people know who’s talking to them. You grew up in Northern Ireland, if I’m not mistaken, how you came up to London, and maybe a couple of words about the saxiest man alive. That’s a story that I love. 

Conor: Okay, how do I do it in about four seconds so that I don’t bore anybody. It’s great to chat. It’s been a while. It’s good to catch up. So I guess my career has been in three really quick phases.

So first phase was music, and I did a lot of improvisational music as a kind of a career for a while, a step away from design for a while. And that basically taught me how to get good at generating ideas and then throwing them away. So, the old kind of diverge-converg model got fully ingrained in my brain being an improvisational musician. So it was great. 

Second part of my career was getting back into design again after university and did a lot of agency work. So did huge amounts of kind of different brands and enjoying the breadth of different types of skillsets. I had to figure out what does design mean and all the different areas, which was great to kind of broadened my thinking about what I think design is as a role. 

And then the third part of my career is enterprise size things. So that’s where I moved into kind of heavy design leadership and learned a lot about that since then, and some in some very large companies, British gas and now I’m the Director of Design at BT.

Christian: Fantastic. Looking over your profile and doing a bit of research before this, I’ve noticed a lot of things that I didn’t know about you. So first, I didn’t know you had a Bachelor’s in Computer Science. You’ve been a software tester for a while. You’re a certified scrum master. How have these aided you in your career as a designer or as — and then later on, of course, as a design leader, but take it a step by step.

Conor: Yes, and certified product owner, a number of other things. I think it’s trying to figure out what other feathers can I add to my bow? I think for me, the most interesting part of this digital industry is to try and broaden beyond a particular silo that you might be put in. So if you’re a UX designer, how do you broaden yourself to consider all the other different disciplines. If you’re a broadly skilled designer or a design leader, how do you broaden your knowledge, skills, influence, and expertise around lots of other different areas? How do you understand technology and your technology colleagues better? How do you understand product and that kind of product management approach, and how does product ownership work? What does the business need, etc? I just kind of value that enough. I think that knowledge helps you become a better designer.

Christian: Let’s keep talking about that. Why does that, all that knowledge and understanding what everyone around you works on, and all the disciplines you’re kind of cross collaborating with, why is that important to designers?  

Conor: Well, I think it’s the old Venn diagram, isn’t it? We talk about that quite a lot here at BT with me and my other director colleagues. There’s hundreds of different, funny Venn diagrams of what design is, what a product is, etc etc. But the one I think that works for me in my head most days, the three circles or the three-legged stool, where one of the circles is the user, one of the circles is the technology that you have to work with, and one of the circles in the business and the reason why anybody is getting paid to work on this in the first place. And I think the centre of that, sometimes I think people get confused that the centre of that is a discipline like design, or the centre of that is UX.

For me, the renter of that is the product. It’s the thing that you’re creating; it’s the experience. And the more that you can broaden your knowledge across those three different areas, the more you can contribute to the — you can empathise with your colleagues. You can contribute your thoughts and be part of the overall holistic process of creating a great product.s you do that, the more you’re just going to, I guess, get in people’s way and annoy them a little bit and try and be a bit of a purist where you’re fighting for your own discipline, you know? 

Christian: Yes. And I guess a lot of designers struggle with that in larger enterprises, especially where design maybe is not that valued as in a small startup is actually is fighting a lot against people who, at the end of the day, have the same goals as them. Which the goal is, “Let’s create a great product,” but they go by achieving these goals in a different way. 

So let’s segue a bit into talking about design in larger enterprises, where you have most of your recent experience of about the last four or five, six years. In your experience, what have you seen as patterns of what design as a practice struggled within some of these bigger companies?

Conor: Yes, so our design team at BT is 190 designers at the moment. It’s very large, and that’s because our definition of design is very broad and wide-ranging. So our definition of design that we created when I joined the team – I created with the rest of the team two years ago was human insight-based creativity. So that covers kind of four areas of our team that we set up at the time. 

So, first area is product design, and that we have kind of 80 or so product designers. And that’s a mix of people that have typically they would be called UX designers or UI designers, etc. And we have a single role that’s called a product designer that looks after how does a user interact with our products. The secondary of our team is content design. That looks after all of the creation of the content, the reason why it exists in the first place, all of the kinds of content editing, updating, producing it, and all of the SEO and how it’s found in the first place.

And the third design team is called inclusive design, and that covers our user research team that covers our service design team, and it also covers our accessibility specialist roles. So just looking at how do we make sure that we’re being as user-entered as possible? On the fourth role is a DesignOps team. So that covers the design systems squad. We have DesignOps roles. We have ContentOps role. We have a ResearchOps role. And for me, this is the engine room of our design team because they’re trying to essentially make designing easier for the rest of the design team. 

So that’s kind of a really nice summary for me of what the design team is, but the really interesting thing about the way we’re set up at BT is the rest of the organization. So, for example, I’m the first design director at BT, which is a really exciting role for me to take on, but my peers are product directors, engineering director, kit building planning director, etc. So it’s kind of like, instead of those being perhaps in other organisations pulled into, engineering would report into IT, product would report into the business, etc. It’s kind of more like we’re all the business, and we’re all trying to do something together. We all report into the MD of Digital, and he reports into the CEO. 

So you start getting these things that are promised in Silicon Valley companies where design is one step away from the CEO. It’s being represented on the intent is that it’s an important thing, and that’s why it has a representation at director level. And so we do things like,” Well, we need to have a design strategy.” That was another place is that wasn’t necessarily accepted because we have to just be part of another strategy. So it’s kind of, “What’s our design strategy, and then how does that contribute to the overall product strategy? So, I think that that set up is really working for us. 

Christian: So that set up is really working for you because design is seen as a very important part of the whole organization. Therefore, you have a role basically as close to the top as possible, and then it just triggers down the trust and the belief that design matters that triggers down to the rest of the team. But unfortunately, not all enterprises work like that. Unfortunately, as you said, design sometimes — sometimes design reports into engineering, sometimes reports into product, sometimes not even one of these. Let’s talk a bit about that. When that happens, how do you then make design important enough? Or how do you talk about design so people around realise that, actually for us to be the most effective, we would need to sit at a higher level?

Conor: Yes, it’s an interesting question because it starts to get into what is design versus designers. And for me, design doesn’t exclusively happen from designers or by designers. Designers, in my view, they’re there to help all of the other roles become as user-entered as possible in their activities.

So, that becomes a really interesting shift on things because — and you could play with this notion and use the Twitter phrase, not everybody’s a designer. I don’t know if you want to play that game or not. I’m more interested in the fact that everybody contributes to the experience. So, for example, when we started our team, the new version of our team at BT a couple of years ago when I joined, we created a set of experience principles, not design principles. Because we wanted everybody to say, “Well, the experience that we create should meet these five experience principles, and everybody’s responsible for that.”

So I think things like that help to get the buy-in from people that it’s not these clever designers with their clever hats that can go and do some clever things and they have all the right answers. Designers don’t know what to create, but they have a certain set of methods that they would go through on. Here’s how we find out what to create and certainly engineering have their own version of that, product, their own version of that, and how we bring that all together.  

Christian: So staying on this topic, we were talking on some of the previous episodes about how one of the largest or one of the biggest problems designers have is showing the impact of their work. And I guess that’s mostly the top — that’s the topic of the podcast; design is business — Design Meets Business. 

So, let’s talk a bit about that because design historically has been known as art. Art doesn’t solve problems; art just exists. In the past 15, 20 years, we’ve moved more and more away from that and towards maybe more like product design, and we’re working on closer with engineering and with the business now. But I think one of the problems we still have is that we’re not really very good at measuring our work. So how can we start doing that? And how can we talk about our work in organization so people understand what value we can add?

Conor: It’s such a good question. It’s one many of McKinsey study has been created to try and quantify, “Hey, every dollar you spend in design, you get $10 back.” And I think it’s very hard to extract just the value of design all by itself.  I think we’ve had a look at some case studies over the last year to see what progress we’re making, and we have — the highest ever NPS that BT has ever had. We had that as in the last kind of year, which is amazing. We have kind of 14% increase in our conversion funnels for our sales journeys, etc. We raised a million pounds for the NHS. We’ve done some great things that you could attribute if you wanted to, in part, to design, but you wouldn’t say it was just design. I mean the experience was improved, but everybody contributed to the experience being improved. 

So I’m kind of more interested in how does design help everybody succeed and the overall business value being achieved. And this brings us back to the kind of three circles idea is, are we trying to become more user-entered as a company, with the ambition of trying to achieve and provide more value. And value can mean two things. It can mean value for the customer, and it can entirely mean value for the business. And as long as those two happen in tandem, it’s the right answer.

I think it brings us back to our experience principle, one that we have at BT, which is — and we kind of stated in the principle text that says, “The best way to achieve business value is by providing customer value.” And I think if that kind of thing actually becomes a behaviour shift and a mindset shift, and that’s the kind of value that you’re able to start to attribute to a more user-centred organization rather than a design-led organization.

I think if you read any article out there that’s worth its salt, that talks about the value of design, it doesn’t talk about becoming a design-led company. It talks about becoming a more user-centred company. And I think that helps with the politics of trying to push that through. You’re not trying to say “Design is the right answer, designers are the best.” You’re trying to say, “Hey, let’s become more user-entered.” Design might have some ways to try and do that, but everybody else might have some ways too. How do we work together on that? 

Christian: Yes, totally. And I think a lot of the aspects you’re talking about are very much at a high level. These discussions happening at a leadership level, at a director level. When we’re trying to bring it down to earth and the day to day over designer, how can people down on the ground who are working in the trenches, if you will help someone at the top to push that, let’s call it an agenda for lack of a better word?

Conor: So I think it comes down to behaviours. So there’s a lot of efforts. I see a lot of designers putting in effort trying to evangelise. They’re really kind of almost tiring themselves out sometimes during the day, trying to get people to believe what they believe. And it’s a hard job to do that.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with — there’s a model that Barley O’Riley shared in a conference one time called Shook’s model. And it’s all stuck with me because Shook’s model was — it’s this kind of part of it — It’s hard to describe that diagram, but I’ll try my best, but it’s a kind of a three-layered permit. On the bottom, it says culture, and in the middle it says values, and on the top, it says what we do. And the old way of trying to change, what we do is by starting at the bottom and say, “We’re going to change our culture.” And then if we change our culture, our values will change. And then that will change how we all operate. And we’ll all do this great user-centred thing. We’ll all be all these activities. Everything we do will be all user-centred.

Now that’s too hard. It’s just too hard. And there’s a couple of really good examples I guess I’ve gotten in my last couple of roles where you just start at the top. You change the behaviours of a particular group of people. So if you and your squad, you say, “Hey, there’s this new tool we’re going to use. There’s this thing we’re going to do. We’re going to — We’re going to pop into the lab once a week, once a month, whatever.” And we agree with that behaviour. All of a sudden, people go, “Oh, this was really good. Our product is succeeding. Now, this was much easier. We understand a lot of the things better now, etc, etc. Why did we do that again?” And we say, “Yes, this is part of user-centred design. I can tell you more about it if you understand. There’s lots more things we want to instil into the way we work.” And all of a sudden, the values change, culture changes, we’re all user-centred. So, it’s that kind of changed behaviours to change mindsets. Don’t try and change mindsets first. It’s too hard.

Christian: It sounds to me like one of the keys to that is a bit more transparency around the work we do, because in order to be able to show what we’re doing, you need to be more transparent. And as designers, we oftentimes work in silos. We don’t really talk about our process and then two weeks later is the grand reveal of what we’ve worked on. So we — in some organisations, that’s how it works. And I guess what you’re talking about is changing that and collaborating more with people around and being more transparent about the work we do. And then through that, over a long period of time, things might potentially change. Did that — did I read that correctly or?

Conor: 100%. And that’s one of the things that, for example, DesignOps has given us, and that fits with the model of change behaviours first around the change mindsets. So we changed our tooling set first. So we stopped using Photoshop and all of that. We stopped using Sketch and all that. We said, “We’re all in Figma now. We’re all in Figma for our design, and we’re all in kind of Miro/Mural for our collaboration activities. And this was perfect timing, pre-kind of lock down. Everybody took it to jump into these digital tools. 

And the key behind that was, first of all, product designers and content designers now work in the same file. So there’s no point at which there’s a handover within Design. Previously, there was kind of wireframes, got sent to somebody else, somebody else made some beautiful kind of visuals, somebody somewhere else was a copywriter writing in Word these things somehow, I got them together. Then I had to go in front of stakeholders, etc etc. And then at some point to engineers.

Tools like Figma again, becomes a behaviour change where you say, “You guys are all in the same document, same time, create stuff all at the same time, have no handover process.” And that’s because, like, “Oh, okay, we’re trying this out now, and so we shifted to those tools because collaboration is constant and visibility and transparency is constant. And you say to anybody; you go along to your marketing stakeholders or your kind of directors, etc. You just go, “Hey, here’s our file. Pop in.” We’ll pop it in Slack. It’s only updated, but just click on the link, come and have a look. We’re not going to create presentations for you. We’ll welcome you into our space, which is our file. And we’ll show you constantly where we are, what we’re trying to do together. So again, that’s another behaviour change that results in intense, constant collaboration, not just within design, but with the rest of the squad and across the business. 

Christian: So did you find that when you shifted those processes, and you’ve, for example, said to your wider team, “Here’s the Figma file. Here’s where we do our work. We invite you in.” Have you discovered that people are actually interested and that it improved collaboration?

Conor: 100%. The difference is fantastic. People in these files together, and what you get then is anybody is able to go to any point in the file. When you’re getting presentations, people are kind of like just walking through it. Doesn’t have to be anybody, in particular, presenting anything. It can be — could be product owner, it could be an engineer, can be a designer. Just like walking through, “Here’s what we’re trying to achieve together.” And the same for the kind of interactive whiteboard to those like Miro and Mural and that, it’s the same.

People are actually together planning things rather than going off in a silo, making a slide deck or something. It’s like, “Well, we’ve decided this, and we haven’t told you. So I think it seems like a small thing to focus on. Like what’s the right tooling set, but if you have a DesignOps team, that’s the kind of thing it can unlock for you is — actually it’s not unlocking the right toolset, it’s unlocking collaboration and transparency. 

Christian: Another example, I think maybe you could talk a bit about that is — another example of how you show the way if you will, and then in overtime, people will understand the value of it, and we’ll follow it. I think I remember the story of how the in-house lab at British Gas came about which very few companies of that size, where design is not part of the company — part of the core of the company have a lab. It was crazy when I was talking to people and telling them they couldn’t believe. So you were a big part of making that happen. So talk a bit about the process of pushing for a lab and how that came about. 

Conor: Yes, it’s quite funny. I think when we talk about this, it’s — we had like 23 versions of the lab or something. It’s just like iterations and taking our own iterative methodology to build in a lab. So, I mean, that’s what I joined the team I realised that the team used to kind of go in and pay a lot of money to do some external testing a handful of times a year, and so it didn’t happen very often. Big huge reports that weren’t really used at the end of it, because it was like in a stage before it went live. So it was like too late to change anything. That old story.

So what we did was we said, “Well, what’s the version one of a lab because we haven’t got any money? There’s no justification for this.” So version one was we kind of — one person with a couple of users go and find a meeting room and just say, “Hey, we’ll bring somebody and will sit down in front of our laptop, and that’s it.” And they would sit there on their own, and then they come out, and they say, “Okay. We’ve done that for a few days. Here’s all the things that were wrong with that.” It’s hard to find people, no money to pay them. Nobody’s understanding the results. The person’s too busy moderating to capture, etc, etc. Like, as you would expect.

So then you go to the next one, which is like, “We’ll do a Skype screen-share with like two o ther people from the squad and another like meeting room.” So you book two meeting rooms, and then that’s it. And now you’ve got like a moderator room, and an observation room and then people go, “Oh God, this is great.” I get to see what users did. How do I get more of this? 

And so it just kind of developed where we stuck it like a sign, and one of the doors said, “Hey, this is the lab.” And I started going around and tell everybody, “We’ve got like a lab now, and we made like little funny logos, science icons, and whatnot. We got this like lab, and we do science things in here. It’s behavioural science will tell you what that is when you’re interested, etc. People go, “Oh, right. I didn’t know you guys had a lab, like what happens in the lab?” And all of a sudden, we kind of started buying more things, little signs that say, “There’s testing going on here. Don’t come in, then people go “Hang on a minute, there’s a sign saying, I can’t come in because there’s like customers in the building Is a customer in the building? I’m kind of excited about that. I don’t know how I like — I thought only people in the call centre or the stores get to see customers. We get to see customers too?” 

And it’s just –, and it goes off, and at this point, we still spent like no money. And somebody’s like, “No one’s noticed that we’ve stolen a room and one of the meeting rooms.” And then the next thing, we went down to a charity shop and spent like 25 quid on bits and bobs to try and pretend that it was a living room. Like all these little wooden ducks and like books and stuff or whatever. And then to try and say like, “Hey, come into our lab. It’s like a customer’s home, etc.”

So, it was really fun, and all of a sudden, we got like the value of this. And everyone gets this right. We expect all of our squads to be in the lab once a month because this is how you get user-centred. Others are like, “Okay, great.” Because that’s what we were already doing. And we had to say, “And by the way, we need a whole bunch of money.” For like to do out the lab properly and to get proper technology. So we don’t have to Skype each other and put wires to the roof or whatever. And by the way, moved to pay these users some money to participate,” etc.

So you just kind of, you can’t say no at those points, because it’s proven its value and it’s becoming kind of sold in. So again, it’s a behaviour change where people see the value of something. It’s the show, don’t tell. I’ve kind of; we’re doing this. That’s great. And then you say, “Hey, let me tell you why it’s great. And let me tell you the thinking behind this, let me tell you how — what are the other things we want to bring to our culture to make it more user-centred as well.” Fun times 

Christian: That’s fun times. The reason I wanted to tell that story is because I think it’s a great example of how you eat your own dog food, is that expression. So you don’t only design in a specific way when you create products, but you can also design the way you work. And every other problem you can have, you can use design thinking, and an iterative process, if you will, to try to solve that.

And I think you just said something a few seconds ago, proving a value over time show don’t tell. And I think sometimes as designers, we expect to come into organisations and everything to be there for us so we can do the best work, but actually, most of the time, that doesn’t happen. And I think the key to this is exactly proving the value over time and showing and not telling. So other than this example of the lab, what else could designers on the ground, in the trenches, do on a daily basis to show the value of what they’re doing over time?

Conor: Yes, well, I mean, another example that we’ve tried recently about six months ago, that’s really showing some promises, is we created this thing called a build measure learn canvas. And it was another kind of behavioural change, cultural change type tool. I think we’ll have a blog post about it in our BT Design Medium blog if you want to go have a look. But essentially, we made the — just like we decided not to have design principles, but instead experience principles, we decided to not have a design process, but instead a product process; a product squad process where everybody could feel a part of it and contribute to it. And so we kind of put lots of loads of red X’s around all the things we could have chosen – we could have done there kind of to the left to right double diamond thing. We could have done that design thinking stages etc etc.

But the problem we’re trying to solve at the moment is that there’s lots of waterfall areas of an organization that are used to going left to right and having a finished point, a project mentality, whereas we’re trying to bring a product mentality to it where you constantly iterate, and you’re constantly increment.

So we thought, well, we have to have that type of a model. And also it can’t be for designers. It has for everybody. So we went with this kind of build measure learn model, and it has these kind of four questions. Two are about the business; two are about the customer. So the first to buy the business says, “Should we do this?” So the four questions are, should we, how might we? And then the other two questions are, can they, and will they? 

So, should we even do this? What problem are we trying to solve? What’s the business goals. What’s the primary business goal? What’s the user needs. What’s the primary user need? So perfectly already everybody’s aligned on the same problem, and fantastically there’s a user need in there, right side by side with the business goal. So again, that’s changed things because now we start off with alignment and agreement on a business goal on a user need that we’re trying to meet. Fantastic. Change things overnight. 

So even if you just did that alone as a team, as a squad, you’ll see the difference overnight. The other bits were fantastic, and you can read about them in our blog, but it talks about — the highlight is like, what are all our experiments? What are all our hypothesis? What are our kind of current limitations? What are we going to try next? And then all of a sudden, they’re not. Turns the product backlog from a set of deliverables into a set of experiments. Excel things we’re trying to learn because any MVP you create should be about learning something, not delivering something.

So then the second two questions. Make sure we’re focusing back on the customer again. So I’m trying to understand what’s the leanest way of creating something to find out something. So, for example, the “Can they” is can users use this? Can they understand it? Can they find right, etc? You don’t necessarily need to go live for that. You want to go into a lab for that. You want to create a super-thin, super lean prototype, put it in front of users, find out all those “Can they” questions. Can they get this kind of understand it kind of find it, etc? But if you’re trying to find out a, will they question; will they use this? Will they actually stop calling us? Will they buy more of this? Will they sign up to this product, whatever, then make sure you jump straight into that area and create a super lean MVP and live code. And you can’t find those questions in a lab. So don’t get to your types of research mixed up. Put it live, find out will users actually utilise this product?

And so that clarity of our process means everybody’s involved in it. That means the prioritisation is right, it means it’s user-centred, and it’s not some sort of design process for designers that they go and stick your headphones on and do something in a corner and try and look clever.

Christian: Makes sense. Makes sense. And I’ve seen it firsthand working in your teams, how that — how we’ve tried to make that happen. So yes, there’s this discussion that design or designers, but mostly design leaders, the ones who are more towards the top, need to become business leaders or are business leaders because, without the business, there’s no design. Design has no purpose unless it’s to help the business grow or whatever the business goals are. But that transition can’t happen from one day to another. If you have a background in design, you understand design; you can’t the day after just be a business leader. So how can someone who’s trying to make that transition ease off on that or make it any easier — make that transition in an easier way?

Conor: Probably two things come to mind for that question. So the first one is understanding value. So, what value are you contributing to the organization, and how do you work that out? How does it show up? And if the details have been able to kind of speak that language, to understand what all the words mean, all of the kind of terms, etc. And I still can’t do that. I’m working hard on it, but there’s still plenty of terms I’m not exactly sure how they’re calculated our numbers. I mean, I have to ask for clarification on graphs way too often in sessions or on Slack behind the scenes. “I don’t understand what this graph is telling me.” But that’s part of growing into that area. 

It’s back to the three circles about how much about the business, and the value to the business do you understand? Looking at the money that you’re spending, the cost that you’ve taken out of the business to pay for these teams and the return on investment, by again. So it absolutely has to be part of the process that has to be part of your thinking.

And I think the other thing — the second thing would for me would be, it’s hard for maybe some designers, certainly myself to get out of the utopia mindset because that’s kind of what we’re paid for. We’re expected to kind of think of the perfect future. Wouldn’t it be great if…? And purveyors of the impossible. So it’s kind of like, “Well, that’s great, but we’re kind of in reality right now. So how about dial back your utopia back to what’s the next step towards it.” And I constantly make that mistake, ask any of my peers. They’re always giving me that feedback of saying, “It’s great Conor that you want to take us to 10 years down the line, you’re getting confused to thinking that’s tomorrow. That’s 10 years away. So, I love that you’re giving it a challenge; maybe you could find out a way to get it five years away. But this confuses between today and tomorrow. So, how about you come back in the room?”  I was like, “Okay. All right. Fine. Fine.” So I think it’s that. It’s trying to find out, how do you still provide that value, that it’s kind of limitless thinking, but in a way that’s useful to current realities and current business challenges?

Christian: One of the favourite subjects that I like to talk about is design education, whether that is school or whether that is self-education. I call both design education. So starting in your career, do you have any opinions on that, which one is better, or maybe any opinions on design education as it is today?

Conor: No, I guess my only opinion is one of my kind of core beliefs or core values in my life, even just beyond design, is just continuous improvement, continuous learning, continuous education, self-improvement. I think whatever way works for you to do that, go for that. I mean, I spend way too much time on Twitter. My whole Twitter is just design Twitter, which sometimes is fun, but a lot of the time is educational. Not always, but a lot of the time. 

And reading those books, trying to like read the books that are on the edge of your knowledge when it comes to, are you reading business books? Are you reading — have you read Inspired by Marty Cagan? Are you trying to figure out what does a product manager do? Like, have you read Sense and Respond? Have you read The Lean Startup Way? Like, have you considered what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and then bring that back to being entrepreneurial business? What are all the things that you can keep doing to expand your knowledge, your expertise in areas that you might not necessarily use immediately, but you almost certainly will in the long term?

Christian: Keeping a bit on that topic and mostly around people starting their careers, you’ve had conversations with junior designers for ever. You’ve hired them. You’ve said no to them after interviews, etc. So what do you think are some of the blind spots that designers early in their careers have versus someone who’s more experienced? 

Conor: I think that the normal blind spot is always focusing on output rather than outcomes, isn’t it. So it’s the old Jeff Gothelf video of Output, Outcomes, and Impact and trying to kind of understand that, how can you create the least amount of output for the most amount of outcomes and the biggest impact and not just focusing on what the output is, what it looks like. I still see to this day, people that have an approach to, for example, presenting their designs where they show the output. It’s a bit of a shame because that’s not really what the focus should be on. And that kind of thing actually encourages behaviours that we wouldn’t necessarily enjoy across the company where people then respond subjectively to the output.

So you say, “Show us the output?” People will tell you whether they like it or not. And that’s what’s going to happen. Of course, it is where if you show an experiment-based learning-focused process, “And by the way, here’s the most recent assumption in an output format of how I were going to learn what the next thing is.” I will tell you when we get in that evidence anybody will go, “Brilliant. When you got, I can’t wait to find out what you learn next.” The only challenge you’ll get at that point is, are you being bold enough? Which is great. That all of a sudden, that changes it. So, I’d kind of — anybody is kind of junior design, I’d say, make sure that design means user-centred design for a start and then if it does mean user-centred design, focus on outcomes, not output. 

Christian: Right. Conor. I wish we would have hours to talk about design because there’s plenty I know you’ve got in store for us. So maybe on a next season or next season again, but I ask everyone towards the end these couple of questions, so you don’t get to escape either. So the first one is, what’s one thing you wish more designers would know?

Conor: Yes, I was just, I get stuck on having more chats about design. I think at some point in the future, whoever knows when I’m looking at a couple of times and continue the conversation as we have done in the past.

Okay. Let me get back to the question. What’s the one thing more designers should know? Gosh, that’s sounds like I have some particular wisdom to impart, which I probably don’t. 

Christian: I don’t know about that. 

Conor: I guess it was probably back to my previous point. Designers should know that design is about users, and if you’re not fully involved in analysing, viewing, observing, and being obsessed with the customer’s use of your product, then I guess it’s a different type of design. I mean, maybe it’s art right at that point.

Christian: Yes. And we all know art and design are very much, not the same thing.

Last one, Conor, how do you reckon the future of design as an industry looks like? 

Conor: Oh gosh, more wisdom. Who knows? I think more and more, I’m kind of really seeing what we’re enjoying at the moment is the coming together of these different roles. So design and gets closer to product, engineering gets closer to design. Removing kind of — removing barriers, certainly removing handovers, or even the thought of a handover. And I mean, with the old phrase about design, having a seat at the table, except that’s kind of that’s happened a long time ago. 

And so now it’s about what happens when you’re trying to make a company more user-centred? And I think that’s the future already. You see companies now more and more becoming more digital, and as a result of becoming more digital, they become more user-centred, they have the ability to put things in front of the customers faster, which means they can learn faster, which means they can respond faster, which means they’re more customer-centric than more user-centric. So I think the future of design is more collaborative, and it’s more user-centred. 

Christian: So off the back of that, do you think that one of the skills that defines and will define good designers in the future is being able to tear down the silos we’ve been into for a very long time? 

Conor: Yes, 100%. Silos across design, silos across digital, silos across the business. Absolutely.

Christian: Right. Conor, where can people find out more about you, read the stuff you write, or anything else you want to plug? It’s now, now’s the time. 

Conor: Okay, cool. Have a little Google for our BT Design Medium blog, where we try and post a few things on how we’re doing, what we’re up to. We’d love to hear anybody’s thoughts if the reading our articles. I’m on Twitter as @UXMuch and which I got a long time ago as a little tag, and I’m quite happy with it. But yes, just follow me on there, have a look at our blog. Let us know what you think and give us any of your thoughts on anything we’re trying is working for you or different angles we should be considering.

Christian: Cool as always, all of these will be in the show notes so people can easily find you. Conor, you have no idea how grateful I am for you being on the podcast. So again, really, really appreciate it. Thank you so much for taking the time, and hopefully, as you said earlier, we’ll get to be face to face soon again and talk design over a pint. So I really appreciate you taking the time.

Conor: One of these days then.

Christian: Enjoy the rest of your day. Yes. Well, hopefully, sooner rather than later. Yes.

Conor: Who knows? Thanks very much, man. It was a pleasure.

Christian: Thanks, Conor. As always. Cheers, man.

Conor: Cheers. Bye.

Christian: That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening to the show. Since you’ve made it this far, I hope you found this useful, and if you did, you should know there’s much more content just like this on the way. So if you want to learn more about how designers can impact businesses, please consider subscribing and maybe sharing the episode with others. And before I say goodbye, remember that you can find show notes and links for this episode and others on our website, designmeetsbusiness.co. Catch you in the next one.