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June 23, 2015 /UX/UI Design /

UX Design AMA 2: Better Meetings & Culture by Design with Kevin M. Hoffman

062315_AMA2_KevinHoffmanThis is the second in a series of AMAs related to UX Design.

This AMA (Ask Me Anything) took place in Designer Hangout: The UX Community on Slack. Kevin M. Hoffman, an information architect and design strategist, answered the community’s questions and shared his unique insight on company culture and meeting design.

Kevin is the founder of Seven Heads Design, a virtual digital agency; prior to that he was the experience director at Happy Cog in Philadelphia where here he led design teams tackling projects for a range of clients including non-profits, start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Kevin is also writing a book titled Meeting Design to be published by Rosenfeld Media this year.

How do you build a culture from nothing? Identify how you can solve existing problems with things that don’t currently exist in the culture. The funny thing about “UX” is it means so many things in so many different organizations. I think there’s even an “East Coast UX” versus “West Coast UX”—and I wish I was joking! My opinion is that if I’m in New York City, UX often translates into “wireframes.” If I’m in San Francisco, it usually translates into user research and related fields. I’m working with clients in both cities, and this belief I have is often not true, but it’s usually a good guess. I’d say that my first question is “What do you mean by UX?” If I’m a gambling man, I can usually guess East vs. West definitions. But there are plenty of people who do user research in New York City, obviously.

Have you found any efficient ways of establishing the UX culture practice? White-boarding is a great technique. It’s collaborative and cheap to get started. But culture is hard! If you want to learn about your own organization, I would recommend my favorite book on culture, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar Schien. It’s a very quick read.

Humble Inquiry in a nutshell:
You have to occupy a state of conscious dependence (active humility) when asking questions for research into culture. Because the culture people say a company has and its actual culture are two very different things.

There are four really good question “types” to learn about culture:

  1. Feeling questions. (How does it feel when this happens?)
  2. Motivation questions. (Why did you operate the department that way?)
  3. Action questions. (What did you do when the budget was released?)
  4. Systems questions. (How did your staff react to your decision?)

Note all of these questions are open ended; questions like “Did that make you mad?” won’t really help you do good inquiry. (I also recommend Dave Gray’s culture mapping technique.)

On the variable understandings of UX, it’s real and we designers are partially responsible. How do you go about this early on in a project? When talking with a new company, some of my first questions are, “What does UX mean to you?” and “How about UI?,” and so on. I guide the conversation with lines like, “When you say UX, you mean…” Another example is, “If you saw a UX in the wild, what would it eat?”

I’m looking forward to your book Meeting Design. Right now, how often do you meet with your distributed design teams and what’s the meeting format? I have weekly meetings with each project team I lead. The weekly meeting is an open Google Hangout, and everyone is optional. If no one shows, no meeting. Also, Lean Coffee is a great way to run remote meetings for distributed teams; its definition in a nutshell:

Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated. There are currently dozens of Lean Coffees happening worldwide, including Seattle, San Francisco, Stockholm, Toronto, Boulder, New York City, and more.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to start their own design agency or independent user experience consultancy? Get at least a few good relationships with clients on the side before you start to stimulate cash flow. Prepare for slow periods by saving when cash flow is good. Figure out a way to differentiate what you do and how you talk about it, because the market is saturated. Don’t take offense when you write your first (also your second, third, etc.) awesome proposal and it doesn’t get selected.  Refer people often.

“Always be caring.” Just because someone doesn’t have a budget now doesn’t mean they won’t have it later, so if you genuinely care about and check in with them, they’ll think of you when it matters. People can really pick up when you only care about the next project deposit.

UX/UI Design