Ed Vinicombe of BT on Running a Design Organisation and Building Relationships at Work

Ed talks about the behind-the-scenes work of a design leader, ways of building relationships, and his thoughts on design education.

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Photo of Ed

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Head of Design @ BT

Ed Vinicombe

Connect with Ed

LinkedIn, Website, Medium, ADPlist

Selected links from the episode

Undercover User Experience Design

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Daring Greatly

The Coaching Habit

The Heart Tree Start framework

The People Paradox: Human Nature’s Impact on Digital Transformation

Shape Up by Basecamp

Google’s HEART framework


Spotify’s Failed #SquadGoals

Full transcript

This transcript is provided by an automated transcription service and might not be entirely accurate.

Christian: Welcome to Design Meets Business, a show where design leaders talk about practical ways to quantify design, about making our work more transparent, and about how designers can make a bigger impact in their organization. I’m your host, Christian Vasile, and before we begin, I’d like to thank you for tuning in today.

Today, you’ll hear a wholesome conversation that I’ve had with Ed Vinicombe, who is Head of Design at BT. We talked about why it’s important to make allies at work and how you can go about it, how to structure your design study cases, and towards the end, we’re talking a little bit about design education. Hope you like this one. 

Ed welcome to Design Meets Business. We’ve crossed paths before at British gas for a brief amount of time, not enough time to talk too much, but enough time to find out about the quality of work you are doing. So I am delighted to have you on today to discuss design leadership and how to work at that intersection of design and business.

So before we jump into all of that fun stuff, why don’t you give us a brief intro about yourself? So people know who’s talking to them. 

Ed: Hey, Christian. Thank you very much for having me, first of all, so lovely to see you again. so quick intro to me, my name is ed, obviously. Thanks for that. Thanks for the intro there.

Um, I’ve been in the design industry now for about 15, 20 years working at all sorts of organizations, both big small agency, side, client side, all sorts of different sectors. I’ve wound up in my career at BT. Now I’m head of design there leading a team of about 20-30 designers and, um, you know, still trying to keep it real, still trying to make all some products I’ve come all the way from designing my own skateboards all the way here.

So, um, it’s been a long journey, but still, still enjoying it here I am. 

Christian: Well, it sounds like you’re in a good place. 20, 30 people. That’s a, probably a massive challenge with what do you, how do you find that it’s your first role as a head of design, right?. 

Ed: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, how have I found it? Wowzers how long have we got?

We got an hour? Um, yeah. Well, I mean, it doesn’t come without its challenges, right? Absolutely. It’s I mean, probably just from a practical point of view, there were a lot of. Um, and there’s only really just one tribe. That’s only one small part of BT that I operate in. And, um, just the practical side of it, doing things like design reviews, one to ones, crits swarming, all of those things just become that much harder when there aren’t that many people in your team.

, but you know, we’re working on some awesome stuff at BT at the moment. We’ve got some crazy ambitions for this year. so yeah, it’s, it’s going to be a really exciting time for everybody in. So 

Christian: some of the work that you’ve just mentioned, you know, design creates and all of that, it’s probably work that people know that it’s happening at that level.

But I think running the design organization all the time consists also of work that now that nobody else really sees whether that stakeholder management, whether that’s talking about design with people who don’t know about design, how are you finding that part of the role. 

Ed: I mean, that, that for me is kind of largely like any other organization I’ve worked in, I mean, like BT aside, it’s kind of like the same as any other company that I’ve worked in.

It’s the same as the first company that I worked in when I started my career. A lot of the stuff that happens behind the scenes really for me is mostly about relationship building, right? It’s about getting that ally on the other side of the table, really getting to know the people that you’re working with because ultimately. The more friends you make and the, uh, the more allies you have on the other sides of the table, the easier your job is going to be in the more you’re going to be able to accomplish. So I would say largely that’s most of my responsibility and most of my kind of activities behind the scenes like you were describing is, is about that.

A recent example of that is. We run this kind of team building day, uh, recently with my tribe leadership team. And I facilitated it and prepared a few activities for it. And one of the activities we’ve ran was an Ikigai. Exercise, not sure if you’ve ever heard of Vicki guy before, but it’s essentially, it’s kind of like, um, Helps you kind of understand like what your motivations are, why you do what you do, what your purpose is, why you’re here.

 And right in the middle of all of these things that you do. So things you love, things you’re good at things. The world needs things you want to get paid for. Brighton. The mid-level of that is your icky guy. And we kind of run that with with our leadership team recently. And, you know, that was just a great tool.

One of the tools that I’ve used throughout my career to just really just get to know the people that you’re working with. You won’t expect half the stories that you hear from those kinds of things. And, it’s really just a good way of, um, kind of breaking down the barriers, forgetting about work for a minute and actually just getting to know the people around you.

So that’s a, that’s a really good example. I mean, I mean, retros are another good way of doing that. We do a lot of those at BT. Do a lot of those. When I start a new team or join a new team, it’s, that’s a really good way of doing it to. 

Christian: You mentioned a word there that’s I wanted to talk about, I always tried to tackle this and that is trust, building trust in organizations that you join, whatever level you’re joining a trust is something that you’ve got to have.

You also said allies, that’s not a word that I like. I know. But sometimes it feels like the more people trust you and the more people you can kind of go to and have a developer that can do some work for you on a weekend or stuff like that, the more successful you potentially could be in that organization.

So when you join, not necessarily think about the role now, but in general, when you join organization, how are you trying to go about building those relationships and any practical tips there that you might have for. 

Ed: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s a good, it’s a good point about using the word allies, especially with current world events.

I think that’s probably quite topical in this problem. Yeah. It is probably a dated way of explaining that situation, but yeah. Allies, friends, people that will trust you. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It’s a really good shout out. Um I guess, well, back to your question, I suppose building trust is a kind of critical.

Part of any role, regardless whether in design or, you know, a janitor for a school or something, and like building trust of the people around you is, is a critical part to anything you do both in your personal professional life. But I think there’s a couple of outcomes to focus on when you are building trust, right?

Either you’re building trust to prove the worth of your design. That’s a very different kind of methodology of building trust, or you’re just building trust with the people around you, in your team and squad. Right. I think if you’re, if you’re joining an organization and you’re trying to get a team set up and maybe you’re starting it from scratch, and you’re trying to kind of prove the worth of that team and you’re trying to build trust in doing so.

 For me, it boils down to three things that you need to focus on, right. To build that trust is reliability, efficiency and kind of cultural shift reliability. First, if you’re proving a team out for the very first time. You have to build that reliability with the people in the kind of stakeholders around you.

Right. So do you have the talent in-house to design and build outstanding experiences? Yes or no. Is that a better option than just getting a third-party supplier in or an agency? Hopefully. Yes. If it is then that’s great. Then you can start building that reliability with the people around you and the less money will be spent on agencies and shiny stuff.

And more money will be spent on your team and investment into your. So there’s reliability is a massive part of that building trust and proving that worth of that team. efficiency as well as it is, is a big part of that, you know, day one building trust it’s can this team achieve or help us achieve our organizational goals either quicker and ideally for less money than what we were spending before, because it’s always going to boil down to that, right?

Is this costing less or more money than our kind of current? , our current options. so those are kind of two critical parts. And then the last bit is the cultural shift, right? Like is the team, or as a team that you’re setting up and scaling, et cetera, is that helping your organization move toward a more kind of user centered design way of thinking?

You know, are people around the team attending research sessions? Are you democratizing the design process? Is everybody involved in those workshops or is it just designers going off and kind of headphones on sitting in a room and bashing this stuff out themselves? those are the things that like really some kind of core questions you need to ask yourself when you’re going to setting up a team.

When you’re trying to build trust with an organization. There is, there is a fantastic book. Yeah. I’ve got it right here by my side. Cause I was reading it earlier just to catch up on a few bits, but it’s a book called undercover user experience design it’s by, two guys, like an old boss of mine, actually James box and, uh, a chat called Kenny bowels.

And it’s a fantastic book, really kind of depicts and describes all of the things that you need to do to start setting up a UX design practice in a business. so really good read for anybody listening. Who’s who’s going through that. The second outcome that I described there when you’re building shots of the people around you, which I suppose is inherent to the first point that I made, but it is also another kind of critical part of, like I said, any job.

Um, and in terms of like practical tips, I don’t know. I think it’s you would get to know somebody at work as you would do in any other part of your life. Right. You spend time with them trying to understand them, trying to understand what motivates you. What is their purpose? Why are they here?

What can you do to help them realize that purpose? , so it’s kind of like, I think that relationship building isn’t any different in personal or professional world. , one tool I have used though to help me, and my team in terms of like helping others, helping me understand them and their motivations is, um, is a framework called the heart tree star..

 Can’t remember where I found this. I think it was on some medium article somewhere. I think, I think Jane Austin shared it awhile ago. It was basically like heart, you go through it in each stages and you like talk it through with your, with your team. Heart is like the things that you absolutely love to do where it’s like, why’d you get out of bed in the morning.

You kind of talk about that. We describe it document. And then the tree is more about how do you want to grow? Like what areas you want to grow into, where do you see your career growing into in the next 10, 15, 20 years? Even if you have answers to those questions and then star is like, how do you like to be rewarded?

Is it like respect and seniority or is it money or is it just working on some really cool stuff? and that has been a really, really effective tool for me. Kind of like helping me understand my teams and. it’s a good thing to do first kind of sets the tone nicely. and of course, like why do all these things matter, right?

Like you said, like why is it important? I’m hoping anybody listening to this, you should probably understand why you should all, hopefully already understand why it’s important doing these things. Ultimately you probably, we all probably want to live in a world where, you know, the services we’re using are intuitive. They’re easy to use. They make sense. They’re good. Not rubbish and having a good design team in place is probably going to help those things along for sure. Yeah. Yeah. It’s uh, you know, 

Christian: having a good design team is part of it, but having a generally a good product team is designed. It’s just team support, right?

You are very much dependent on everyone else in the team as well. And to me building this relationships and making all this effort, especially when you joined a company a bit in the beginning, what it does is in a way. Kind of like a team-building exercise, right? A bit over a long-term one, but the closer you can work with the rest of the team and the closer everyone can work with each other, the more, the better results you’re likely going to have as a product team versus a, at the teams that maybe don’t necessarily enjoy working with each other, or maybe don’t know much about each other on a personal level.

I’ve always found that the best work that I’ve done was in teams where I could go for a beer. With the CPP or people in the, in that team. So, um, I, and I, you said something interesting though. You said this is no different, uh, building relationships at work is no different than building relationships in real life.

And 10 that’s so accurate because it is exactly the same. That’s why it’s not different because it is the same. 

Ed: It is. You just, you just share the same. Really with the people that you work with, or now, like now virtually you just share the same kind of teams chat rooms. Yeah. It is. It is the same, it’s an interesting point that you raise, you know, about the best work that you’ve done.

There’s in kind of like collab, like collaborative teams and all that kinda stuff. Absolutely, totally agree with that. And I would probably echo that same thought myself with the work that I’ve done in my own career. But another point I wanted to add to that, just to build on that is that collaboration is great, but collaboration.

Super large groups is really difficult and sometimes very unnecessary. A lot of rope. I wrote an article about this recently. If anybody listening is, I think it’s on my Twitter or LinkedIn somewhere about kind of sizes of groups, sizes of teams, right? Like these, these things have grown exponentially over the last 20 years and even more so recently with the pandemic, because everything is all remote, everything’s virtual and team sizes, or people working on particular projects or products 20 30, 50, even a hundred people working on these things.

And you might even still then be using the bracket like, Hey, but we’re doing it collaboratively, but you’re moving so slow. Because there’s just so many people to kind of consult during that process. So I think an interesting. Is that? Yes, collaboration is great, but you want to keep it in small groups or least like when we think about the original kind of cross-functional squad model that apple came up with originally, I think what was it like late eighties, early nineties or something like that yet, but one marketing, one product designer, one kind of engineering and a product lead. We’re talking to a group of like 500. Yeah, when it’s smaller, manageable, you can move fast and this, and it’s easier to trust the people around you because you know, you know, each other you’ll have a far higher chance of getting to know the people cause it’s a smaller group. so yeah, that’s something to be really wary of. I think. 

Christian: Yeah, it just reminds me of base camp. I don’t know if you know the way they work, but base camp for anyone who doesn’t know is a. Company in the U S and they have these really interesting way of working where in each team. So they have really small teams of three people. They have no project managers or any of that.

They have two developers and one designer that’s it. And they get goals, product goals every six weeks, and they get full autonomy on how to reach them. But there’s only three. That’s it and I find it right. It’s just so lean so fast. And, and, and they I’ve read that article. I just don’t remember w someone from base camp wrote an article about just how much more happy they are at work, because it allows them to move so fast.

It allows them to truly make an impact versus sitting in meetings or having to ask permission here and there and all of that. So, yeah, for sure, small teams are much more agile than large. 

Ed: I wonder if that model will become the new Spotify model, you know, because it’s like almost every company you work in these days, it’s like, how do you operate?

It’s like, well, we operate, like the Spotify and what’s quads. Yeah. And, um, there’s a, there’s a great article. I can’t remember who shared it, but it was the other director of design or director of product from Spotify recently shared an article. Explains that they don’t even use the Spotify model.

There’s just like some myth, like late. Like we didn’t come up with this. Don’t know where this came from, but we don’t operate like this. That’s not how they work. Right. So I think that it’s just perpetuated out into numerous organizations from around the world to be like, we’re going to be like Spotify and we’re going to organize our people like Spotify, but they don’t even do it themselves.

So maybe, maybe base camp will be the new Spotify and it will be even smaller. I thought there could be a good positive shift, I think. Yeah, for 

Christian: sure. , and there are a lot of things that, that base camp as well, I think in the way they work, they wrote, they wrote a small book called shape up, which is available for free on the internet about the way.

, it’s a very good read. It’s not it’s much shape RPA. You can find it on. Um, I think it’s on their website. Just, just Google it. nice. It’s uh, it’s, it’s a really good read. Anyway, moving on. I, one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about was this idea of starting out as a designer, and then you become really good at what you’re doing.

And then sooner or later, you will find yourself at a crossroads of. staying an individual contributor or going to management. And I find that a lot of designers have a hard time deciding which way to go, because what made you really good in the beginning, which was design is potentially going to be taken away from you, or at least, a lot of your time will not be spent on that anymore.

How have you made that decision? Have you battled with that choice when you had to step up into a manager. 

Ed: Oh, here’s a good question. yes. Yeah. Short answer is yes, absolutely. Absolutely. to be to, I mean, to complete, to be completely honest with you, I’m not really sure where my sweet spot really lies these days.

I think in, in a lot of ways, I’m still trying to figure that out. My previous roles I’ve had, I’ve probably been a lot closer to the detail. My role at Virgin, I was quite close to the detail quite hands-on and that felt quite good because, you’re very much like leading by example, you know, you’re in the detail yourself, you’re kind of icing and you’re managing teams at the same time.

There’s kind of player, coach kind of role equally. I don’t really think that’s sustainable with very big teams, but, but yeah, it’s a really good point. I think. you have to feel comfortable. And I think you have to be aware of your own motivations and the things that you want to try and do in your career.

And, kind of see where that takes you. For me personally, I felt like the leadership management track, or however you wanna describe it was a natural kind of progression for me. So I’ve been working in industry for a long time. I felt as though. I felt like I know enough, it’s difficult to say that about yourself, but I felt like I knew enough to kind of lead other teams and to try and give this a try, but that’s not to say that you’re not necessarily closer to the.

Right. Like, I think like something that I try and tell my team is like especially my managers, is that, look, we w we’re leaders. Yes. But, but don’t forget the first word in that like we are design leaders. So, you know, like a big part of that role and a big part of that accountability is ensuring that what’s going out the front door from a design perspective is good.

It’s high quality. And I think to do that, you do you know that there are obviously going to be certain aspects of the role that, you’re going to need to be close to the detail. And, um, I think you’re gonna need to do that to try and help your teams in the right way. So. You know, yes, you are.

You know, as light as that leader, the more senior you get, you are essentially a multiplier of people, rightly or you want to make sure, that the people you have in the teams can achieve outcomes. That is basically greater than the sum of its parts. But that’s not to say that you won’t always be in the detail.

Sometimes you will. Um, I’ve lost the thread of your question, Christian does that. It’s a really tough one. It is. It is. And 

Christian: everyone I ask says something. Slightly similar candidates about what preferences you have at dinner dates, whether you can imagine yourself not being in Figma everyday, or, you know, you can imagine yourself being in stakeholder meetings and all of that be way beyond the, you know, the design meetings that we usually have.

So I think it’s always a matter of preference and what works for you. I was just curious, how have you made that decision? But yeah. In a way you, you haven’t, you haven’t because yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. It’s something that takes time to, to, 

Ed: yes, it does. I think it’s tough kind of, um, feeling like you’re lacking.

You know, you’re well, not like losing control, but you’re letting go of control of the pixels basically. Right? So you are there to essentially empower your team and to help them realize all of the amazing things that they’re going to be doing over the next year or two.

And that is really hard, especially if you’re you have been an IC all of your career. It’s really hard to try and let that go. Like this and just to turn it off, like I’m not going to go back into it, like this, let the team are going to do all of this. Um, so yeah, it’s do, you know, like I think it takes a lot of soul searching, you know, to want to want to do something like that.

And, um, you know, it’s something I ask myself regularly, you know, my, my on the right track. Am I not? But ultimately, you know, I think if you’re, if you’re happy doing what you’re doing and you know, you’re living a good fulfilling life. I think it’s fine. Go for it 

Christian: for sure. I think it’s, uh, what you said, they’re constantly asking yourself.

You’re doing the right thing or not. I think that’s a key ingredient of this is it’s just all these just in life in general, not only when it comes to, what am I doing at work, but all these inquiring into whether what you’re doing at work is something that really fulfills you or not. And you can, maybe you can maybe change some of that.

So. Shift gears a little bit and talk a bit about, hiring your experience there. Because I think you’ve got a lot to offer for people who are potentially looking for work right now and the reason that, or not right now, but just in general. And the reason I’m saying that is because although you are head of design and most of the head of designs that I know don’t even have a design portfolio.

The work that they’ve done, the work, the pixels that they’ve pushed are so far back, that this doesn’t make any sense for them to have it. Well, you have one of the most well-thought of portfolios that I’ve seen out there. Thank you. So for I’ll put that in the show notes that anyone can see what I’m talking about, but let’s talk a bit about portfolio.

So what is important when building it, but building your portfolio? 

Ed: Well, firstly, thank you for the kind words as nicely to say that, um, Well, when, uh, when I pulled that together, I think there’s it’s just one thing on my mind really. It’s how can I describe these things as a real narrative?

How let, like, how can I tell the story of what I’ve done? Yeah. Right. It’s not, I mean, I’ve seen countless portfolios count. Countless CVS. And it like everything else where, you know, just like Chuck, a few pictures on there, this is kind of roughly the problem we were solving and this is like, this was it.

It wasn’t really telling me anything. It’s not really telling me anything about the work. It’s not really telling me anything about what you have personally learned through that process. What the organizational benefits were, what the financial benefits were, what the next steps were nothing. So I th I think probably one of the.

Things that I wanted to try and take away from my own portfolio was, yeah. How can I describe this as a real narrative? So what is the problem we’re trying to solve right. To begin with? And that might be customer problem. That might be an organizational problem. That might be a team problem. It could be any problem, but one of the, be very clear about what we were doing, why we were doing it, and then just walk it through step-by-step as structured as I possibly can, and then be sure to include the things that I’ve learned personally.

The things that went well, the things that didn’t go well, which I think equally as important, the things that didn’t go well, no one really mentioned that very much because I don’t want to be embarrassed. I don’t want to be ashamed or I don’t want to kind of allude to the things that I could have done better.

Those are the things that I’m probably more interested in. Cause if you’re not sharing that openly, then you’re not, it’s almost like there’s a, there’s a little, like lack of vulnerability happening there. It’s just like, look, no, one’s going to get anything. Perfect. So if, if you’re not going to sharing the things that you didn’t that, that didn’t go well, sorry.

Then I don’t think you’re being completely truthful. and then lastly, it’s going to let you know, like I said, what are the kind of clear results from your efforts? If you can describe that as a narrative and be really clear about how your work benefited the kind of bigger collective the organization, then I think you’re on sort of.


Christian: Well, I liked that you took the discussion to results because I see a lot of portfolios, not necessarily portfolios, but gen general. When you talk about, when you talk with people about their design work, very rarely, the focus is on results. Very rarely. The focus is on well, here’s the needle that I moved for.

The company. Here’s the. Well, it could doesn’t necessarily have to be a financial improvement. Not everyone works on conversion rates and all of that, but it’s some sort of improvement because the way. To frame. It is even when a feature or some sort of a request trickles down from the top. There is a reason behind that that’s business linked.

There’s something, some sort of reason there, we need to make more money. Or at the end of the day, it’s always about money. We’ve if you truly ask, you know, you ask why five times you’re always going to 

Ed: get to the bottom line. So, and that’s fine. And that’s fine by the way. That’s okay. That’s what, that’s what organizations do they make money, but I only, I 

Christian: don’t only think that’s okay. I think that. That’s what this whole podcast is about. I just want to bring it out a bit more about the fact that design is about making money and is about keeping organizations running smoothly. Just like any other function in the business does. So should design just we do it through design work right through, um, 

Ed: absolutely.

You have to pushing pixels if you will, 

Christian: but yeah. I think sometimes it’s much more clear cut. So if you, for example, work at an organization and you work in the growth team and you have to work on a conversion rate, it’s probably much easier to put a portfolio piece together because from the beginning you started working with the metric.

So you can talk about that. But what about when there is no metric attached to a project, which I certainly have had in the past? 

Ed: Why do you do. When there is no metric attached. Yeah. Yeah. I think, I don’t think I’ve ever come up with that in my career. I mean, Y and again, I’ll probably go ask why are we working on this?

If there’s no kind of clear measure of success than that, we don’t know whether what we’ve done is actually an improvement or it’s just we’ve just done it just because, so I think if you’re, if you’re working on something without a clear metric, I would probably push for that. That could be, I, you know, and that could be.

Um, you know, kind of, I guess, yeah, that could be business-related or customer related, like you’re saying, ideally there’s a kind of sweet spot in the middle where Alexa, like somewhere in between. Numbers without meaning behind them as a kind of like a crying baby, you know, that something’s wrong or something’s right.

But you’re not really sure why that is happening. So just generic metrics and generic kind of like quantitative data, like that is useful, but it has to be paired with qualitative data, for help to, you know, to help us understand why that thing is happening. Typically the metrics that I’ve used.

I’m working towards something. There’s probably both at Virgin and BT. We kind of look to these, like C-SAT MPS. We use things like that. This are the most common metrics that we use. You know, let this journey ship, or this, sorry, this improvement should improve. C-SAT or NPS by X percent, what, you know, it’s just like the most common metric that people are familiar with.

But I think, I think there’s plenty of opportunity to go deeper on those metrics. And actually talk about the things that customers are trying to do and tie those things into business metrics. So let’s say a customer is trying to book a ticket, trying to book an airplane ticket. That’s what they’re trying to do.

That is the customer goal. I want to book a ticket to go away to Barbados or something, and then. Customer goal will be tied to revenue, be tied to average revenue per user. It’s like, it’s really critical to try and get that link. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think it’s really critical to try and do that.

so it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s a real tough one, you know, and those and those metrics are going to depend on what your business values as well, so most of the time it’s probably gonna be. Seesaw NPS, like you said, but apple, for example, they value ID registration as a key metric. Right? So at the amount of people that they can get signed into their ecosystem, that’s the metric that they value but most of the organizations don’t yeah, maybe a little bit behind the curve like that.

They’re not really tied into that. Customer real customer focus on it. Yeah. Some companies 

Christian: have what they call a north star, which at the end of the day, ideally everything you’re doing should in a way or another impact that some of my experiences is in the business to business world where. There is not necessarily a direct impact because, well, first of all, financially, you don’t really have conversion rates in many places.

Many B2B software is sold by sales teams. So they take care of that. But then in that case, then you have, um, something on the customer, you know, a customer benefit, a framework that I’ve used in the past. And I will obviously forget what all the letters stand for, but it’s called heart.

It’s called the heart framework and it’s actually done by Google or someone at Google. And I’m one of the, I think the T in heart stands for task success. And that’s the most, the simplest form of benefit that you can actually come up with. Well, it’s well, did. Do. This action faster now or better, or, you know, compared to how they were doing it previously.

And if you can prove that that in itself is a benefit that your design has, has helped bring about. So it’s, it’s stuff like that. 

Ed: Yeah. Hot. Our heart’s great. I’ve used the light. Use that before as a kind of framework, we use something similar to BT. We use something called E S. it says effectiveness to just measure, like you’re saying task completion, efficiency to measure friction and satisfaction to measure, ease of use.

So we use this, so we use a similar framework to help us structure data, to help us inform design decisions. And I think with that, Without those kind of, without this kind of framework, I’m a big fan of frameworks, by the way, if there’s a framework for anything, will I will be using it. But I think without these frameworks, especially for things like user research and for things like data to help kind of inform design decisions, you’re probably going to get a mix of like verbatim and kind of task completion. Those two things are not necessarily going to be complimentary unless you’re kind of objectively looking at it, using a framework like E S . So I think at BT last year, I think before we use this framework, we would get like conflicted. Insight. Right. So a customer might be able to complete something, but they thought like, yeah, but I just didn’t really like it like this, you know, this it was really hard.

It was difficult to see the text. It was, either it took them a long time. But without that framework, without that structure, it was difficult to kind of score those things. And you weren’t really sure where to go after that. , so using that framework, using the EES framework, enabled us to experiment a lot more.

It allowed us to look at that data a lot more objectively. 

Christian: When you, when I was talking earlier about some of that work that our design leader does, that’s not really talked about it, also, something like this. So if you join an organization, that’s not necessarily great quantifying design, what you might want to come in and then either create or find a retrofit.

One of these design frameworks that are KPI, frameworks, whatever we call them, and then measure the impact of your design team against that. Right. You know, per project, like, wait, it’s good to have an overall framework. I remember at BG, we used to use the NPS score. That was everything we were trying to do was against the NPS.

Ed: Yeah, yeah. Yeah., it’s a fairly common metric. I mean, like, you know, I don’t think. Totally to oft I mean, you know, MPS, I mean, you can get quite specific with that, at Virgin we did something quite similar and you can get quite specific with those metrics. Let’s see satellite for a particular journey for a particular thing.

And I do see the value in that. But like I said, I think it’s about linking those things to like usability and knowing that ultimately want to be able to point to something and say, This particular part of our experience, the poor kind of like the poor usability in this particular part of the experience is directly related to this drop in revenue.

Right. And we know that is a fact, but having that specificity and having that kind of focus on those things is really hard to achieve if you’re not linking these things together. Um, so that’s, I mean, we do try and do that, we did try and report on. On on kind of metrics with that kind of customer goal lens.

And that’s, you know, that’s why it’s so, so important. When you look 

Christian: through some of these portfolios, how do you usually weed out good potential candidates from the rest? Because I know that you’re not spending 10 minutes reading every person’s portfolio, right. , you probably have seconds.

So how do you make that decision so fast? 

Ed: Well, I mean, generally alone, I try, I try to meet everybody because. It’s really difficult to understand what someone or who someone is and why they do the things they do when you’re just looking at a CV. . And also it’s not massively inclusive, right? Some people might not feel comfortable kind of writing a CV.

Some people might be quite illiterate. Some people might have the, I, I don’t know what else that might stop them from, being able to do that. So. One thing I would like to try. I haven’t actually been able to try this, but one thing I would like to try at some point is to advertise the jobs and there’s no CV required.

Right. Just like to meet people and just see, see what they like, see what motivates them and everything else. , and then from meeting them and meet them face to face or virtually whatever. I think you’d be able to ascertain kind of three qualities that I always look out for.

And I totally rip this off of a book called. five dysfunctions of a team by a guy called Patrick Lencioni, fantastic book for anybody listening. He wants to understand about organizational structure and culture and what it takes to let the pieces, you need to build a good team. And he depicts one of three things like triple H it’s like humility, hunger, and honesty, right?

Like, are they humble enough to understand. And realize like where they are in their career, even if they’re very skilled, no, one’s really a master of their craft. You know, like we’ve all got things to learn. We’re all on the learning path. So are they humble enough to understand where they are in their career and identify the things that they need to do to move forward of a hungry, to do those things?

Or they just got completely despondent with the design industry and they all actually want to move on to do something else, or they actually hungry to like help your organization and really hungry to build and design great experiences, you know? And, and I think honest about that stuff, you know, they are they really telling me like, what’s what what’s happening here?

Or are they really telling me why they’re leaving their job? Or are they doing those things? Yes. I think the more honest than the more transparent they can be with me during those interviews, the more I think, and the more they show that vulnerability, the more I know that, I’ve got something special here.

Yeah. Um, but for leaders is a, you know, as could look quite different. When I’m hiring for managers or senior managers are more looking at more the how rather than the, what they’ve delivered. Did they have any experience kind of empowering teams? Sometimes I can’t stand the word empowering, but I, I keep using it as it’s a really overused.

Um, but I’m hoping, you know what I mean, but you know, how, how are they been empowering their teams to accomplish an outcome? How did they leverage the right skills across their team to accomplish this outcome? Are they using the right people for the right problems? How did they communicate progress, blockers, successes to the wider team?

Are they bringing people into that process? Are they democratizing the design process? Um, you know, are they bringing everybody along on that journey? These behaviors aren’t really about what they delivered, but rather the things they did collectively to raise the maturity of design.

Yeah. So yeah, very difficult to get from a CV. 

Christian: Yeah. And I assume also difficult to get from portfolio. Isn’t it? It’s kind of the same story. So I know, I don’t know if you have, but I know, certainly I have in the past said yes to some opportunities. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have said yes to you only realize a couple of days and you’re in your new role.

Uh, well, there you go. So how can designers make sure they avoid that? Is there any tips for them? Any, any ways you try to make sure that when you’re in front of a potential opportunity, you inquire the right way about that role. 

Ed: Let’s see. Get quick to get a really good question, my first kind of thoughts on that, right?

When it, when you’re describing. even if you did step into a role that you regret after the first week that’s that’s okay. It’s like the world is not going to stop spinning tomorrow. If you kind of realize that, oh, actually hang on I’ve made a mistake. This isn’t actually, for me, you know, that’s fine.

It happens. It happens all the time. It’s happened to you. Like you’re just describing there. Christine has happened to me as well. I’m sure that most people you meet throughout your career, they’ve probably experienced the same thing. Um, so my first recommendation would be don’t pay. It’s like, it happens all the time.

there’s plenty of work out there. There’s plenty of opportunity and, you know, maybe just needs a bit of a course correction, so that’s fine. how you can avoid it. I mean, like I said, I don’t think you’d like, you’ll always be able to avoid it, but I think that there are some questions that I ask in interviews to kind of help me gauge the appetite for design in that organization.

Right. Firstly, it’s important to point out that for anybody listening, if you go to any organization in the world, isn’t it. It’s never going to be perfect. I’ve worked for a lot of companies and they all have their good bits and they all have their bad bits. The things that I ask in interviews, things like what stops design from being heard that’s like a really kind of open.

You know, that really kind of like sets the tone of like, you know, how, how mature are you in your organization? Right? Like how, like how far does design really go? You know, he gets some really interesting questions out about Also things like setting expectations, like what does success look like for you in this role in a month, three months, or six months time by asking that you might find that?

Well, my expectations to completely misaligned to what this guy or this woman is saying, like, this is not what I want to do at all. There’s, I mean, there’s a couple of kinds of practical. Tips that you could take away. Also like reaching out to people who currently work there as well.

I know that’s like such a classic, but it is so useful that’s really good reaching out to people on LinkedIn asking them, like, what’s it like working there? What’s the appetite for design? What are you most proud of that you delivered recently? I’ve got some pretty burning questions for people.

When I go into interviews, you interview them more than the interview. Well, they should want it to be a two-way street should be. Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Should be asking them what they like, what they’re most proud of. That’s another really good one, because you can gauge them. Like what they’re saying.

If they say something quite like, I don’t know, like we managed to get like this HR tool working, right. It’s not right. I’m like, why am I really interested in that? You know that you actually delivering something for a customer that is really amazing, really ambitious. Are you talking about that then?

I’ll know, you know, if I’m more suited to that 

Christian: role, there’s something that you said there and I really want to highlight it. Cause I, I find that we’re not saying that enough when you join a new company and you realize this might not be it it’s okay. It’s not any, it’s not only okay to, first of all, admit that it might not be the right thing.

But I like to add on top of that and say, it’s okay. If you can only be there for three months and move on because your CV doesn’t matter more. Then your happiness at work because when you’re not happy at work, you’re not doing the type of work you want to do. You won’t do great work. I’m so convinced of this.

So I’ve in the past left companies quite shortly after I joined. And, and you know, you have that, the societal pressure like, oh, am I staying enough? Here is anyone else going to hire me now that I’ve only been here for six months, seven months. And that. Nobody is thinking about that anymore. If you’ve only been in the role for six months, as long as you can say, look, I’ve tried, it didn’t work for me for X and Y reasons, then you’re fine.

So give yourself permission to also leave if you’re unhappy. 

Ed: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I couldn’t honestly agree with you more. I saw that I saw a great visualization on LinkedIn recently and, um, because it’s gonna, it’s just kind like this infographic of like how we used to kind of gauge success.

Of our, of our roles. Right. And it was kind of split into like job title and salary. If I’ve got like a really fancy job title, I’m like VP of design or if I’m head of design or something like that, director of design. And then I got a big salary coming in, nice car, et cetera, all that kind of stuff.

I’d say absolutely typically how people would measure success. Right. But, but this, this infographic on the bottom harvested for graphic is like, okay, those are two things. Yes, we need to acknowledge, but they’re only kind of two very thin slices of a bigger a bit like a bigger pie for want of a better phrase.

And the other things that you need to be thinking about are things like your own mental health. How much time do you spend with your friends? How much time do you spend with your family? What about you yourself? Are you like doing the things and hobbies and the passions that you want to do?

You’re like reading or running like a good, like a passion of. What about all of those things? Because if you don’t have time for any of those things, and I would, I would tell anybody, listening to this, and I wouldn’t necessarily, you know, deem your experience, your career up until this point, maybe as a success.

Cause if you don’t have time for friends and family and the things that you want to do, then, then Hey, yeah. It’s time. It’s time to revisit it. Yeah, sure. 

Christian: I want to talk a bit about design education because, um, you’re doing, you’re, you’re pulling some moves or you have for a few years in that space.

You’ve, uh, you’ve created a course for four designers. Great reviews. So I think I’d like to argue that, you know, a little bit about what design education is supposed to be like. So let’s talk, talk about it a little bit. 

Ed: Go for it. 

Christian: What’s your take on what’s missing at the moment when we’re talking to designers.

Ed: Design education. I mean, firstly, if anybody has seen any of those UX club videos, I’ve got some pretty funky hairdos in there. It was like, it was filmed a long time ago too. So yeah, no judgment, no judgment. Just put, yeah, just focus on the content. Not the hairstyle. Well, I mean, one thing that’s missing in design education, I mean, again, I’ll probably challenge you in saying, I think it’s probably broad within design.

I think this is kind of like any role that you’re working in. I think probably one of the key ingredients that I see missing is what your self-awareness to think is like the biggest thing. I think it’s probably one of the biggest qualities that you can have if you want to progress in your career is self-awareness.

And without that level of self-awareness is going to be hard for anybody to design or not to understand what they’re doing well and what they need to improve. Right. And it’s also going to give you perspective when thinking, you know, of your own journey in your own career or thinking of an organization’s journey, and they’re going to in terms of design maturity and that’s super important and big companies, because it’s really easy to lose that kind of sense.

And that kind of perspective in the valley that you’re offering that company. So, so self-awareness is really, really critical. You know, it, for me, it’s kind of like the origin of a lot of threads, right? without it, you can’t tell what you need to improve on without it, you. no. What kind of social situations you either comfortable or not comfortable in without it you’re not going to be able to determine what it is you actually want to do over the next year or two years in your career.

It really just starts with self-awareness how you get it really tough question. But I think a good place to start is just being a bit more vulnerable, right? Again, easier said than done. I’m just like, kind of going down, down the motions of all of these kind of things that you need to make these things happen.

But, but you know, to build that self-awareness, you ultimately need to be a bit vulnerable and that looks like sharing things that you might not normally share, being honest, constructively and respectfully honest, like with your peers describing how you’re feeling. Describe how you think you’re doing, how you think your peers are doing.

You know, it’s just, it’s just being vulnerable. Admittedly. I know like some people would find that difficult. But there is another great book actually about being vulnerable. It’s called, um, daring greatly by Brenae brown. Yeah. Fantastic book about learning about vulnerability and the things that you can do to do more of that.

So anybody listening, definitely go and order that on Amazon. 

Christian: So a self-aware. That’s really important. I’ve heard that before and I agree. So when it comes to, when it comes to, um, more technical skills, design education, what is important to learn right now? And the reason I’m asking is because I am. I have a bachelor’s in design.

And I can tell you, I’ve learned almost nothing in that, in those three and a half years, almost nothing that I’m applying today, because it was never really about, about what we’re talking about today, about business, about metrics, about what design really supposed to do about what the impact of design is about teamwork.

All of these things that we’ve talked about today are not really tackled in design education. So no. Younger designers come out or want to be designers come out and they don’t necessarily feel prepared to take on these roles and no wonder nobody, not, nobody would know no wonder. They’re not really hired because.

It’s, uh, you, you, you might have done a six month bootcamp and then you join a company that needs to train retrain you as if you’re totally new. So when you’ve structured your course, the way you have, what are some of the pillars that you focused on to make sure that whoever gets out of this is in a better position in front of a potential employer than someone who doesn’t do the course?


Ed: that’s a really good question. I mean, I think I’ve tried to structure that UX club. From the very beginning. Lately I’ve tried to, I tried to structure it in like a, in the most logical, most kind of sensible narrative that I possibly could. And I think really that kind of begins with firstly understanding the problem that you’re trying to solve.

I think I’d say I wouldn’t have missed it necessarily say there’s like a technical skill that you need to learn, but I think it’s an absolutely kind of critical part of your design. Kind of career and your, like your design, like arsenal, if you will, is actually understanding how I’m going to minute what problem are we trying to solve here?

Have we dug and dug deep enough to understand what that is? If we’d done the five whys, if we done gender Civ discovery workshops, have we done all of those things? Do we understand why we’re actually doing this? Because half the work I see is just like, well, we’ve just done it because we were just told to do it, but we haven’t really like challenged it in any sort of way.

So the content new X club., I hope your lessons will probably agree that I’ve tried to structure it in a way that started right there, right. From the top, understanding what that is. I think is a good place to start other kind of technical skills that, you know, get like going back to your original question, Christian is, is a lot of the technical skills.

I feel like a missing from most designers that I bump into these days. I just made a quick note of it. And there is a module on this in UX club.com. it’s about fidelity or like knowing like what fidelity designed for and when how’s this, I’ve never seen this it’s so, so prevalent than I have to know over the last few years, designers just jumping straight into high fidelity things because they wanted to show something that’s shiny.

They want to impress people. They want to impress their peers. They want to impress me. They want to impress my boss. They want to, you know, I don’t know what. The amount of people that I see do that and the amount of time, it kind of wastes, but just uses it is really tough. Right? And the amount that designers who don’t design from just basic sketches, even a sketch in the back of a napkin, right?

You can still like offer like useful constructive feedback and understand the problem that you’re trying to solve and understand the solution that you’re providing a sketch on the back of a napkin can do that. I just don’t see, it just don’t really see it anymore. This is, which is jumping straight to the, to the finish line adding the icing on the cake before they’ve even baked the cake, you know?

So I think more awareness of. Of what fidelity is appropriate and win. And, I kind of saw ages ago. I think it’s actually on that module in my, in my course material there there’s a visualization of the kind of different kind of visual layers that you can add to your design depending on what you want to actually learn.

Right. So if you just want to learn about like the basic kind of usability and the basic problem that you’re solving, you could do something in low fidelity. You could test. Get it done by the the afternoon or tomorrow morning or something like that. But if you’re testing that whole brand experience and you’re testing like their kind of brand perception, then yes.

Okay. Then you need to add fidelity and you need to kind of make it shiny and do all of those things. But understanding the difference between the two is not, not a quality that I see very much in the designers that I work. 

Christian: Cool. So we’re nearing the end. We’re asking, or I’m asking everyone at the end, the same two questions I’ll ask you.

Two. First one is what is one soft skill that you wish more designers would possess? 

Ed: One soft skill. Probably say listening. I think that would probably count for me as well. You know, sometimes I’m a great listener. Sometimes I’m a terrible listener and, um, they just kind of book dropping all over the place here, but there’s another fantastic.

But in short, basically, listeners have heard a bit called the coaching habit by Michael Stanier. Michael . Right. And he talks all about avoiding the advice monster. I read that book. It really, really changed my kind of perception of my understanding of coaching and more focused on listening and more, you know, the more you listen and the more you ask questions, the more you’re going to get to the core of the problem.

And when you understand the problem in its entirety, then you can offer the most appropriate, relevant kind of response since, so I say listening, that’s probably the biggest quality that I think people would need. 

Christian: And you are going to say self-awareness cause you mentioned it earlier and it goes to show you how self-awareness cause you just yeah, 

Ed: yeah, yeah, yeah.

There you go. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Listen, listening into self-awareness do do, do more of all of those things. Yeah. 

Christian: The, I don’t think anyone has ever said, oh, this person is too self-aware this person listens to, well, now this is one of those that you can never, you can never be too good at. All right. Last one.

What is one piece of advice that has changed your career for the better? 

Ed: Of course, that’s another great question. And the first thing that Springs to mind is something that an old colleague of mine said to me a few years ago. It’s a quote from someone famous by, I can’t remember who it was, but the quote is all problems with people.

Right. When you, when you think about yourself, if you’re listening to this, you think about yourself at work and using like, God, this is really challenging. Like this isn’t going to plan. What do you think the like, w where do you think the crux or the core of that problem is? I bet you it’s, it’s just relationships, people problems, right?

Because most people that you work with, I think. quite well-intended, but expectations and things like that. And kind of the relationships that you have with these people is where the work needs to happen. And I think when you start understanding people start getting on with people, you understand why they’re there why they do what they do and how you can help them.

I’d like to say that most of your problems will go. But, but that’s not totally accurate, but I think, I think you would get a much easier time. So yeah, that’s just, you know, that’s just always stuck with me all problems with people, performance, really? When you think about it and most of the time, you know, all it takes is something isn’t working the way it should, or expectations.

Aren’t the line, just read. Yeah, I’m kind of telling myself this advice as well at the same time on this, but, you know, I think it was just like reach out and just talk to these people. Yeah. Just, just be like what’s going on? How can I help? Like now let’s do this a let you, you probably both want the same things.

It’s needs to chat about it. Talk about it like real human beings. Yeah. Right. Like we’re supposed to. 

Christian: And where can people find more about you? How can they get in touch with you? 

Ed: Sure. Yeah. So my portfolio, I guess a Christian will probably put it on this page, but, um, my website is dot com. You can reach out to me there.

If you want to email me directly, grab some more advice, grab a second opinion and anything more than welcome to do so my email addresses, ed@edvinicombe com. Otherwise you can always stalk me on LinkedIn and Twitter handles both. . Awesome. Lovely to meet you at 

Christian: this hour has just flown by. So thank you so much for being part of the design, uh, business journey.

Uh, appreciate you being here. Awesome, man. We’ll speak soon. Cheers. 

Ed: Thanks Christian. Bye.

Christian: That’s a wrap for today. I hope you found this episode useful and that you’ve learned something that you’re ready to implement at work tomorrow. If you’ve enjoyed this. It would mean the world to me, if you’d share it with your community, if you’d leave a review. And of course, if you’d remember to tune in for the next one, peace.