The Current & Future State of UX, Research + DesignOps with Jon Fukuda

Aurelius Podcast – Episode 68 highlights with Jon Fukuda:

  • The ROI of UX, Research and DesignOps
  • Triple forces of change: Economics, Technology and Culture
  • Mitigating business risk through UX
  • Future outlook of the UX, Research and Product industry

In this episode we have Jon Fukuda, the co-founder and CXO at Limina, a consultancy specializing in UX, research and DesignOps. He’s been doing this kind of work both in house and as a consultant for a very long time and had great experiences to share.

We talked about the ROI of UX, digital transformation and the industry at large. We covered quite a broad range of topics as we considered the future of the UX and product industry.

Jon introduced us to a concept of the “triple forces of change”, being technology, economics and culture and the ways they impact UX and research work specifically. Through all of that, we shared perspectives and our outlook for the future of UX, UX research and DesignOps (which by the way, is pretty positive, despite tough economic times).

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Jon Fukuda podcast on The Current & Future State of UX, Research + DesignOps

Episode Transcript

(this transcript was automatically created using our very own transcription feature in Aurelius and has been minimally edited 😀 )

Hey John. Hey, Zach. Thank you for joining me today as our next guest on the podcast connected with you a little while ago on LinkedIn. We had some chats back and forth talking about some stuff recently. There’s a lot of chatter about the ROI of Ux.

There have been some comments from both of us, which I think is how this really started, about really looking at Ux rather than the ROI, but thinking about it in terms of de risking things that happen in a business. And I thought rather than continue that in private, we should have that on the podcast and actually just have a conversation about it. So I think we’re going to chat about that a bit today. But before we dive in completely, would love for you to maybe just introduce yourself, talk about the work you’re doing, your background, give folks a bit of an idea where you’re coming from. Sure.

So, yeah, I’ve been doing user experience work for 25 plus years now. I got started in doing systems integration management consulting work in the UX division of Cambridge technology partners. So that’s a lot of enterprise business systems and not so much involved in agency work boomy stuff that was going on at that time. It was more like, how do we digitize workflow and business process management systems?

The user experience work there maybe not the most sexy stuff under the sun, but we really got deep into what are the human factors in user experience work for technical systems that might be really deep in, you know, data, deep in business objects, and how do you wrangle all the complexity into something simple, seamless, and. And, you know, whenever it came to it, aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable at the same time didn’t come up much in the business context, but I mean, you know, you still want to get things to look elegant and flow elegantly and provide, you know, remove frustrations and all that stuff, so all the things mattered. And so that was the early days. A lot of that was also establishing what was the methodology of requirements, human factors, requirements gathering. How do you turn that into business requirements, technical requirements, and what does that translate to from the user journey standpoint, all the way down to the UI elements and design?

So having stood up some of that methodological work, we actually had the foundation for a user experience shop or service, for lack of a better term. And that’s what served as the foundation for Limina, which I founded in 2003 and have been doing ever since. Nice. So you opened up your own shop basically to do that stuff? Yeah, for those teams that maybe didn’t.

Have that, it was a confluence of things. And this is kind of the theme that’s going to, I think, play throughout our conversation here. But the three forcing functions on anything that’s going on, business or otherwise, tend to be technologies at play, economics at play, and culture at play. And at that time around right before I started, Limina was bust, and so a lot of these consultancies started imploding. And I loved doing the user experience work.

I hadn’t made a huge network of people who did this kind of stuff, and we all wanted to keep doing it. So that’s kind of, we pulled together and started doing this stuff. It was also like, when you do user experience work for a larger organization, you’re kind of at the, you’re at the whim of like, whatever’s going on in the business side of things. With the technology side, this was an opportunity to really lead engagements from the user centeredness out. So we would lead engagements with user research.

We would lead engagements with heuristic evaluations and things. So, like, we would start things from a very ux centric way. And yes, there’d be ux work in there, but it will also shape into what are the business strategies that would support this, or what are the operations that you’re going to need to have on the back end of anything that’s going to support a new user experience? We got into a lot of the other downstream impacts of that, but we would always lead with a user experience.

Yeah, there was a couple of things that you said that really caught my attention. The first one is, I love the fact that you brought up things going on with the business, as well as culture and economics. I’m definitely going to want to hear more about that. But more recently, you kind of mentioned how this happened, and this is not super related to the topic we were going to discuss, but I am curious, if you find yourself, for lack of a better term, is it a little bit easier for you to introduce some of these things as the outside consultants, as opposed to how basically, is there less friction for you to introduce these kind of concepts as the outside consultant versus when you were in house? Yeah, I mean, number one, the framing of it was all about at the point of, like, standing up a user experience consulting group, you stop framing it within the context of, well, how do we support our business analysts and how do we support our technologists?

We really got deep and focused on research, operations, design operations, and what does it take to marshal something from the planning through the execution, the strategy, etcetera. And so I think it gave us space to get concrete and I think very pragmatic about ux stuff, take it out of conversations about branding, color and look and feel and really into well, how do we execute this stuff and how do we do it well. And so when other trends started happening like design systems and things like that, we were already kind of prepared for it because we wanted to look at design as something that’s repeatable, scalable. We’re going into different organizations and having to start from square one every time. And you don’t want to, you don’t want to belabor and spend too much time in the ramp.

You want to get to, well, how do we execute and how do we execute at scale? So we were always looking for what was it we’re doing in user experience that was repeatable, scalable, and looking for those efficiencies. So everything kind of made sense. When we got to UI frameworks and libraries and design systems. It all just sort of naturally was supporting that mindset.

Yeah. And that’s where those confluence of things are coming together. Because from a business standpoint, economic standpoint, everything’s sort of progressively becoming more digital. They’re looking for how can we do this sort of with more efficiency, more scale, more repeatability. That’s kind of an economic impact, right.

Demanded by shareholders of organizations that are increasingly digital. And technologies are growing now to a point where they’re supporting that end to end. So it’s not just a design library, but it’s also integrated with your source code through storybook and react frameworks and things. So like everything at the point is like starting to converge on supporting better operations and better user experience execution. Yeah.

How you ended that was like a perfect segue to just point blank ask the question then. I mean, design ops, research ops, I think maybe it’s a reasonable place to start by asking what exactly are those things when we talk about it? Because there are definitely companies that aren’t actively doing that now. They wouldn’t use those terms and the key is they’re probably doing it, but they don’t call it that. Uh, so let’s maybe start there.

When you talk about like design ops and research ops, that repeatability and, and setting up these systems, I mean when. People use those terms, it’s if you think about like any business and you have a chief operating officer, you look at like what are the things they’re concerned right with, right. Like how can we drive efficiency and how we’re executing things, but also what’s our hiring strategy? Like what are the skill sets we need, what are the roles that support that thing? And then getting playbooks together and anything that supports repeatable processes, shoring up your tooling, what’s your infrastructure?

All those things. Well, when you dial that into like a research ops or a design ops role, you’re doing the same exact thing, but you’re locked into, okay, let’s get tactical on how we’re going to support research end to end, from planning all the way through insight management and all the tooling skills and processes to support that. It’s the same for design. And I think that the reason that’s a thing these days is during. Well, I would say this predates the pandemic, but the pandemic really put the heat on for organizations to go digital, like hardcore.

But even running up until the pandemic, I mean, organizations were starting to recognize the need to sense and respondents scale. When I say that, I mean, if you’re going digital the moment you have a piece of software or something on the Internet, it’s a two way street, right? So people are engaging with your organization, your interfaces, and if you’re being strategic about this, you’re listening, you’re monitoring. You want to know what, how your digital products and services are hitting in the marketplace and what are, what our customers and end users experiences? Are they being satisfied or frustrated by your digital presence?

Right. So the real game is, well, how do you sense and respond? So that’s your research and design arm of your organization. And how do you do that at scale? And if you’re a large enterprise organization and you need to organize a bunch of researchers around, you know, whatever it is, your digital products and services, and how do you keep a continuous listening ear to the ground?

And then how do you do sense making of that? So what are your insights you’re getting? How do those insights shape the products and services delivering? Or how does it actually become a strategic business innovation opportunity based on what you’re hearing? That just all depends at the altitude at which you’re allowing researchers to impact, right?

And yeah, the same is for design. So your capacity to respond to what you’re learning and deliver that into your products, services, and maybe even some business innovation in R and D is how ready can you compile your insights into new patterns, new workflows, new interfaces to support those needs that have been surfaced and those insights, both of those things. If you’re really serious about winning in the marketplace, well, in the digital marketplace, then a sense of operations and operational efficiency and being able to do those things at scale should be a part of your roadmap. And so when I say research and design operations, that’s kind of what I’m talking about. Really, really well said and several points in there, like really sharp stuff, really, really, really good stuff that I want to definitely dig into as it relates to the topic.

I sort of reached out to you about how this stuff all relates to me. I’ll just kind of share my perspective off of what you said is there’s a lot of discussion right now about the ROI of UX, and we’ll just consider UX research as part of that. Okay. And there’s a lot of opinions on why last year was so tough and layoffs in the tech industry as well as UX feeling like it got hit pretty disproportionately, et cetera, et cetera. And I think that sparked this conversation of we need to do better in talking about the ROI of Ux, where a lot of what you just said in terms of design ops, research ops is really de risking that work.

And interestingly enough, I kind of consider those two things different sides of the same coin and why I say that specifically. A few things that you mentioned in there in terms of building in repeatability and reliability of the execution of that work, to me, sounds like what somebody in a business would call an operational risk. Yeah. On the other side of this is you mentioned, hey, we can launch something and it sucks. It could flop.

That is a strategic risk. And these are the lenses by which the people we work with and for, I’ve found, are looking through these things and certainly looking through these things in terms of where they should spend investment. I’m just going to stop there and ask for your reaction and see what. Yeah, I mean, the big thing there is that because it’s software, right. Because technology itself has unlocked like a ton of capacity, capability to do anything ungated by physics, that people can have this sense of this feeling they could just do it.

You know, agile teams are all about moving fast and breaking things, and it doesn’t matter because we can just fix it if it’s broken. I think that’s a mentality how you get to market fast, but I don’t think that’s a mentality how you win once you’re there. And what I mean by that is normally a user and a customer are pretty forgiving of your user experience. If you brought something novel and new to the, to the market, right, you’re a first mover. There’s no competition.

So no matter how bad the user experience is like everyone’s kind of a captive audience at this point because there’s no competition. But the moment you start getting competitors, like look at chat gdp, I don’t know that they need to be super worried because they’re so far ahead of the game, but there is now every other organization that has AI capability has been launching it. So you got Google, you got everyone just sort of adding their twinkle AI thing to their products. So these user experiences are now being in competition with each other. Like who’s got the better prompt and response model, who’s got the better machine learning capability?

And all these things, it’s starting to matter. So the first person who figures out, well, let’s pay attention to how people are using this, let’s figure out how we’re going to respond once we learn something new about what’s frustrating them or whatever, those are the people that are going to win. So yeah, it’s a de risking thing, but it’s also a competitive advantage mindset as well. The thing you’re always trying to do is narrow that cone of uncertainty. When I was saying earlier that nobody’s gated by physics and software is because you can build and do anything, and it just doesn’t mean you should.

It should. You should be answering a problem that exists. You should be trying to solve something for somebody, either on the business side or on the, on the lifestyle side. You should be looking at human problems as it comes to needs and wants, things, people want to buy things, whatever it is, problems they’re trying to solve.

It’s really hard to just say, I’ve got a really good idea, I want to build this thing and then do it and then hope that people, it’s going to resonate. Like, you’re better off testing that assumption somehow, even on paper with a group of people with a survey before you go out and spend the time building it. And I think up until now, organizations have been pretty relaxed about what they let people get away with. Let’s just throw it in there and let’s a b test. And if it doesn’t do well and they don’t really think about all the costs there, they don’t measure that.

But the moment things turn south in the economy, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now, it’s like everything that you’re saying about disproportionate layoffs, I mean, I don’t know really on the math, if it’s disproportionate for researchers and designers, I see a lot of engineers also being impacted. So it’s hard to say if it’s disproportionate. But the, the bottom line is that people are getting laid off and it’s because we’re in economic hard times. I think money is not as cheap as it used to be. So people are tighter on the debt they’re willing to get into to support their organizations.

So all those things they’re tighter on how many staff do we need to support this thing?

But I don’t think it means that. And when we talk about the ROI of ux, I don’t think it means that making sure that our products and services are meaningful to people goes away.

If you forego all of that and you just want to support your product in the marketplace, you’re not going to try and innovate and move with the way culture is changing, technology is changing and the economy is changing, you’re not going to win. So it’ll always in my mind, and I could be wrong, AI might change all of this for everyone, but in my mind, if you want to win in the marketplace, you need to really think seriously about user experience work and customer experience work. Right. And that’s your gateway to strategic advantage. In my mind, yeah, I am clearly biased, but I would tend to agree with that part of the reason why this is such a, in my opinion, yes, of course, timely conversation, but very useful one even going forward because I don’t know what your impression is, but I feel like things are definitely there’s pressure release valves, things are getting better in 2024.

I am optimistic for sure for the end of the year. I think things will slowly trend to go back towards more the positive as the year goes on. But even beyond that, why this matters a lot is I think even when times were great, there was a lot of talk about the ROI of Ux. And I am of the mind that that may not be the right conversation to have to really demonstrate the value of ux. And a lot of, I mean, without even saying it directly, I feel like a lot of the points that you brought up are exactly for that reason.

So even when things are great, when I use the term de risking that from a business perspective, its almost more important now than ever because of the one point you made where people money is quote unquote less cheap than it was. And so people are a little less aggressive about the funding theyll throw towards experiments and new products and ideas and things like that. And its almost like it’s less about the return you’re going to get on that and more about what you’re going to avoid by making that investment in the first place. And I would go so far as to even add on top of that definitely goes back to the whole reference. You say which altitude you’re allowing researchers to operate at.

Depending on what that altitude may be, you very well may avoid spending any money. And again, what’s the ROI on that? Because basically what it is, it put a cork on something that could have been disastrous for you, either because of impression in the marketplace or direct monetary loss or both. Yep. Yeah.

A while back, I did a project with a large global pharma organization. They wanted to do an app that would help with their research studies. So basically drug research and allow patients to do self reporting. So if you’re familiar with drug discovery and research, a lot of it is done with the help of institutions, hospitals, that sort of recruit participants into these studies. And they have, as they take those experimental drugs, they do the reporting on it, the institutions do.

So they have controls and they have, it’s all that stuff.

When we spelled out the future, whether this app was in play, and patients of these drug discovery studies are self reporting and what it would mean to sort of recruit and distribute and manage and monitor all of it, they learned that operationalizing all of that was going to cost more than what they already had in place. So it became a strategic business direction for them to like, okay, let’s take all the great thinking that we put into what it would mean to do self reporting. What did that mean from a data infrastructure standpoint? What were the, the workflow improvements and all that? What could we bring and still utilize the framework we have in place and not do it from in house sort of self reporting.

So there was some gains, but it was a lot more of the risk mitigation that you’re talking about. They didn’t go down the road of building this thing only to have it cost them even a lot more money to implement. So, yeah, I mean, and there’s always two sides, because there’s that part that, like, what, what are the cost savings that are going to be at, at the learning or the insight, but also when you, when you end up executing, and this more on the operations side, but if you get repeatability and standardization of process practice and all that stuff in place, you’re, you’re getting those efficiency gains on the other side. So all of this, I think, is actually targeted towards a general maturity arc, too, that organizations are going through. This is something that we have to talk about because there are so many, like, depending on who you talk to, there are so many varying degrees of maturity out there.

Yeah. That, like when you say research or when you say user experience design to one person, it’s actually not apples to apples when you, when you’re having the same conversation somewhere else. And so a lot of that is driven by the fact that many organizations were brick and mortar and had paper processes and people direct relationship stuff with how they delivered their services that went digital. And they are the lagging behind because you also have all those digital first organizations, Airbnb, Uber, and you name it, all those services. We have disrupted everything.

So those are like demonstrations of really high maturity and people who really get what’s going on digital and then people who are sort of following behind and trying to figure that game out. And so as practitioners, people who are helping define research and design in digital products and services, I think we need to be helping the game of what is the general maturity arc for this practice. And it’s okay now that we’re talking about research operations and design operations, and we’re talking about them discreetly. But the real overall context for this is that organizations in general, I don’t think any one organization out there should be avoiding going digital. There’s some that won’t make sense, like performance art and things like that will take place live and in person.

There may be digital aspects, but I don’t think it makes sense for them to get a digital strategic game going. But I’m just talking about digital products and service organizations that should be, most businesses today should be thinking about establishing research and design operations. But broader than that, what is our digital operations framework like? How do we just front to back, operationalize, bringing things to the market, monitoring them, refactoring them, and innovating on them? It should be holistic and very cross functional.

And I think at the point we’re at right now, because things got tight budget wise, we saw design leads and research leads, product leads, engineering leads, starting to get competitive with each other for budget, for headcount, and things that, like, really brought more friction into the organization than this utopian, cohesive mindset around building end to end operations. And I think when you’re pointing more towards the end of 2024 and things looking more optimistic, I think we’ll get to a point where we’re starting to have that conversation better with each other. But people have their guard up right now is what it seems to me. Yeah, yeah, that’s very fair, especially at the time of recording this. We’re looking at the tail end of March 2024.

And like I said, I personally see, I’m sure you do as well. You’re very active in the community. A lot of positive signs, early, early signs of life and things moving in a much more positive direction for the remainder of the year. But you’re right, there still is a lot of that right now, and emotions are running high for a lot of reasons. All justified.

I want to go back. I really, really appreciate that. In essence, what you said is design ops is great, research ops is great, operations is required at a company. Now, both of those things are part of that.

I’m biased on that because I, I am in overwhelming agreement with you. And I think it’s better for our practice and community as a whole to not aim to carve our own space out, but rather say we’re actually talking about operations because those are things that these businesses and the companies we work in already understand, already have a very defined, well understood need for. And we say, well, there’s just a flavor of that you’re missing. So if you want to do operations, well, you need to add this part to that. Yeah.

Yeah. I mean, it’s almost like, well, I actually go back to Jeff Gothoff on this. I mean, because he wrote sense and respond, and that’s a book that’s really resonated with me. And I think at the very top of the book, he just says, basically, if you put a piece of software into the marketplace as a part of your business, you should be like, that’s the second you need to be listening and you need to be paying attention. And so, like, his whole premise for that book was, how do you do that?

And, you know, how do you learn as fast as possible and how do you gear your team, you know, product engineering, design or otherwise, to respond to what you’re learning? And it’s a very ops foundational book in my mind. Like, and it’s, it’s really in defense of research and design, but it. And, and positioning it as a, like, a business strategic tool. So that’s like, one of the things that, like, it’s just a part of my core beliefs when you hear me talking.

That’s why I use terms like sensory respond. But, um, yeah, I think we’re past now. I think the recognition that, like, customer experience, user experience, work is necessity.

I think I was surprised that there’s still conversations about the Roi of Ux still happening. I mean, you got, if you’re on the outside or even in the inside, you’re watching like budgets getting cut or you’re a contractor and you’re not getting the gigs you used to, that might be a signal that there’s not enough investment or respect for the practice. I don’t think that’s true, actually. I think that’s more of a sign of just economic times so that we’re in.

I think there is a lot more respect and affinity for what research and design can do for digital organizations. And yeah, I think with that recognition, it’s getting past the tensions that exist. So the things that I’ve been witnessing, and I think you were on last week’s conversation about product discovery versus deep research taking place as a practice. I found that an interesting thing because that’s setting up that tension for where are we as a cross functional set of practitioners trying to bring something larger than us in our role to the market? And then when it comes to responsibility for if we’re listening to customers, in which way are we doing it and what are the things we’re learning meaning and how do we act on that might be different to a product manager than, than it is to a user researcher.

And there was a lot of merit to taking argument up from a deep research practitioner standpoint. And from a product standpoint, I didn’t see a need to sort of start getting confrontational on that front. I really was hoping for a lot more solution oriented conversations to take place. Well, yeah, so, like, if you are concerned about quality of research, what are you going to do about that? How do you, how are you going to operationalize and set up the guardrails and have that conversation?

Plus, I think people were really concerned that, like, hey, if you’re just doing research that’s discreet around products, you’re not really paying attention to insights that might yield at the strategic innovation level. All of that’s true. And what it spelled for me was this really the need for us to be having broader conversations about what integrated ops looks like, what integrated digital operations means and how do we participate in that discovery, but also like the solution side of where are the tensions, how do we sort of address them? And I think the really, like, the thing that’s locked up all of this is that culture runs deep in every organization. So many of them have been business and technology led organizations for a long time and sort of slowly inviting research and design into how things are getting done.

And it’s going to take a little bit of a culture shift to give ground to researchers to say, hey, if we’re going to do this and take it seriously, let’s set up this maturity framework for ourselves. And the same on the design side. If we’re going to go through a digital design maturity arc, let the designer sort of spell out what that vision looks like and then figure out where the cross functional hooks are so everybody can get the flow going. I don’t think culturally that teams are always ready to do that. And like I said before, like, there’s competition for budget, but there’s also competition for influence in organizations, products.

You know, want to sort of take it, take lead on the destiny of their product lines. But I think if, you know, if we’re really serious about, you know, doing everything with excellence, it’s about figuring out where you’re giving ground in the name of, you know, just end to end success.

And I think that’s really the thing that’s holding us all back. When I, when I was witnessing the panel discussion and monitoring the discussion thread for that event, I just didn’t feel the readiness for everyone to be looking more for solutions that are, that are geared towards cross functional ops. Just didn’t sound like it to me. Yeah. So this, really appreciate you addressing that and I appreciate your honesty on it because I feel that as well.

And for those listening, just for reference wise, John is referring to a panel discussion that was about essentially research ops, who owns it, the practice of research and discovering customer needs and all these things. And, yeah, the long and short of it is, I think a lot of folks are still focused on people and teams and not the goal of even using one that you’re really fond of sensing and responding. We all have that shared goal. We can talk about the fidelity at which those things should happen. We can talk about, as you know, the one point you brought up, the quality of the research that’s happening.

But we have the shared goal. We all have the shared goal. And interestingly, another guest we had on Audrey Green, not too far, not too far ago, was talking about some research that her and her team did for a very, very different topic, where they were actually talking with folks like product managers about product managers doing design, doing low fidelity mockups and prototypes and stuff, and in some cases even doing, obviously, customer research. And one of the things that she said is she was very surprised at how many of these people were like, I don’t even want to be doing this work. So I almost feel like there’s this perceived tension that somebody’s trying to take something away that another group wants.

And the reality is everybody wants to benefit from greater intelligence. Everybody wants to come to a place that is making more informed decisions because as a result, all of our work gets better. So to me, I just really appreciate that you call that out. And when you say you didn’t feel like the readiness is there, I have to ask you, you certainly have opinions on how we get to that readiness. I’m curious what thoughts you have to share on that.

Yeah, I mean, one of the books I love also is called a. What’s it called?

Sorry. It’s a culture of Safety by Ala Weinberg. And so basically, we’re animals as well as we are intelligent beings. We have a, you know, we have prehistoric animal brain that’s still evolving that responds chemically to external stimulus. And sometimes that’s in our favor.

Sometimes it works against us. But generally, in a business context, if you have a great idea and you bring it and somebody kind of tamps you down a little bit, you start. That gets your adrenaline up. You’re either in a fight or flight mode at that point, and it has a lot more to do with your chemical makeup and your response to that kind of stimulus than it does any rational thinking. So knowing that when you get into a conversation where somebody is like, well, this is, and I think somebody brought it up on the panel, that people operate from a point of scarcity.

Like, if I don’t have this, then, you know, what else am I going to do? Type of thing.

It’s just a lot of irrational fear that comes out of our chemistry, and that needs to be addressed a little bit. So, like, when I say cultural readiness or culture work, I think our emotional intelligence is fairly low when it comes to working with each other, especially in points of tension, and then our protocols for working through that with each other. So, like, how do you resolve misunderstanding, miscommunication, or bring someone to a point of understanding where we can then start working forward? I think we’re not great at doing that. That’s why sometimes meetings really suck.

And, yeah, we all want to operate from a place of understanding, knowing, and intelligence, but it takes us a lot to get there. Just as people, we’re not always willing to listen to each other the way you and I are right now and be sort of focused together on some potential future that might be better for everyone. I mean, those moments, I find, are more rare than not. And that’s why that whole panel discussion came to place in the beginning, because, you know, that book was written about continuous discovery habits, and do we even need researchers? Sort of became the freakout moment.

And I don’t know that that was the most rational response. I think it’s okay for teams that are building digital products to develop discovery habits. I actually do feel like that’s okay. I think it needs to be done responsibly, as was said in the panel. But when it comes, like, those are just the signals to me when I say we’re not culturally ready, I think there’s a lot of resistance to people thinking about operating in new ways.

Like, change in general is one of those things that brings anxiety. It throws adrenaline. People get sort of really angsty about it. Allah’s book gives a lot of good tools to just sort of frame yourself around how chemistry is playing out in those moments. And how can you just sort of step back and listen to yourself, but also listen to others and then work with each other to come to a place of common understanding?

Those are the types of, it’s so fundamental and basic, but those little moments are the ones that sort of get us on board to sort of want to row together and find a future together. And I think until we’re really willing to do that in earnest. Right. So, like, pragmatically, for the sake of everybody being excellent at their jobs and enhancing, you know, the strengths and weaknesses of others so that we can all be great collaborators, I just think that takes more intentionality. Like, we have to lean in on that one together.

And sometimes that means admitting you don’t know everything. That’s fine. I also feel like environments need to be make that okay.

There was a big startup mantra around failing fast and failing often, and that’s how we learn. But sometimes in organizations, people are unwilling to be vulnerable like that and to expose themselves. And maybe they think that it’ll be a hit on their performance review or whatever, because the framing isn’t there to say, this is all in service of us getting better at doing this as a collective. I think if you framed it that way, there’d be a lot more willingness to be vulnerable. Yeah, I love that.

Really, really well said, very elegant and well thought out responses to that that you have. And I appreciate the thought that you put into that. I’m going to go all the way back to kind of where you started, and I love that you mentioned this, that people sort of operate from a place of scarcity. And the reason I want to do that is because I’m sort of, you know, as part of my job on the host this time is kind of summarizing everything we’ve got and talking about how it comes back up to that main theme. Right.

Where talking about, is it a discussion around the ROI of Ux or is it about de risking? And interestingly enough, knowing that people operate from a place of scarcity actually helps us communicate that better, in my opinion. Because if you already go in saying, well, look, people, and this is true, I mean, it’s very well documented, it’s very well researched, no pun intended, that people operate from a place of scarcity. They are more willing to act on something to avoid loss, then they would be motivated to achieve gain. And I think we can use that.

I mean, I don’t think that it’s unethical to essentially, quote unquote, hack that cognitive loop to say, okay, if we talk about it from this point, we’re all going to lose because if we don’t do this well together, none of us are actually going to get to do this work, at least certainly not at this organization because somebody else will probably do it. One of our competitors, to your point earlier, are going to do that better than we will. Yeah, I mean, I’m trying to think that one of the remits for design operation managers is to quantify, you know, if we’re hiring a designer or for starting a feature iteration, how much does that cost? What’s the time, expenditure, all those things. Right now, a lot of that is a black box.

Like, you know, people, from an engineering perspective, if you look at like what’s happening, research and design, all you feel like is it’s a bottleneck to me, building and deploying my thing. But there is actual, you know, cost expenditure and quantifying, you know, if we’re sending researchers out in the field and we’re learning something, how many features is that impacting? There’s ways of tying that back. And we don’t really have a lot of systems in place. Like part of our problem, I think in user experience is quantifying to your point about like, is there an opportunity cost or is there, you know, a potential gain that we’re not seeing is because there isn’t a lot of data infrastructure for research and design information.

It’s part of our problem. So making the invisible visible and saying, okay, because we designed this, x, y and z happened. And that was like a new revenue stream for the organization. Doesn’t always compute because we haven’t really built the infrastructure to tell that story. And so part of design Ops managers is to be able to better quantify if we’re investing in building this feature or hiring this role.

This is the impact it’s going to have is to tell that data story. So that actually, I think, plays into the hand of that scarcity feeling. If you’re unable to quantify what your losses and gains might be regarding any design action, whether it’s hiring or feature iteration or whatever it is, you can’t really pull those triggers and say, yes, we’re going to do this confidently and we know this is going to happen because, and it has a lot. That’s been one of my biggest beefs in the industry is why is nobody making tools to help organizations to do this better? And I do see a lot of in house tooling.

So Netflix is a really good organization. They’ve built a lot of tools using third party things like airtable and zapier zaps to help their research operations, from planning to execution and reporting. That’s left up to people who are practitioners and senior practitioners in there, in the organization to say, hey, we need better infrastructure. And they’re doing it themselves with low code and no code tooling. But it really spells out, like, why is nobody in the industry recognized that need and doing something to better support research and design from infrastructure?

I mean, when DevOps came online and everybody was like, hey, we need ticketing and management to run our agile cycles, it was like literally moments later and we had every ticketing system under the sun there and ready for those teams. I think engineers take care of themselves a little better than user experience and research people do. I think we’re willing to, like, sit back and be like, when will it come? When will it come? And actually, it’s not going to happen.

So, yeah, I mean, that was a little bit of a meander, but I, but I feel like it goes like, scarcity is a thing that happens when you, when there are unknown unknowns, right? When you don’t know what actions are going to have, what consequences. So the better we are as practitioners to spell that out, to connect the dots and really do the storytelling around. Well, research is going to yield this, design is going to yield this, the better our collaborators are going to be about, okay, we have safety, we can make these decisions confidently. And I think part of our problem is we don’t really have a good information architecture around the work we do and what its outcomes are.

Talk a little bit more about that last piece, specifically about the outcomes. We don’t have good information architecture to talk about the outcomes. Yeah. So when you do research, planning, just as an example.

So generally it’s a bit of a decision tree. So what are we trying to learn? Who are we trying to learn? This from what are the research methods we can employ? Because there is a huge variety of protocols to doing various types of research.

All of that is like a matrix of decisions you need to make, and then that’s just on the planning side. How many participants do we need to recruit? You know, are we looking for statistical significance here? Is this a longitudinal study? Do we need to have repeatable sets of checkpoints with the same group of participants?

Or can we randomize with a smaller set? Whatever it is, there’s all these like factors and components we don’t really have. When I’m saying information architecture, I think researchers don’t really, if go to anyone, there’s no map or decision tree around what I just told you. You can look it up. There’s some little charts that people have drawn up.

If you’re doing this, then use a survey tool. Some of those things exist, but it’s not down to the nth degree where if you handed it to someone, it’d be an operating model. It just doesn’t exist. That’s one, two. Once you have your research inputs, so you’ve done all your interviews, or you’ve done your study and you have all your participant data, then roll those up into insights.

So that’s like an insight repo. Take that insight and then generate a bunch of project requirements or product, whatever it is, your sprint objectives. Those become design plans. So what workflows are we going to impact? What screens are going to be involved in that?

What’s the content necessary, the components and the business objects? And how are these things all coming together? Execute that design and then test it, but be able to go back all the way to the original insight to say, here’s the conditions in which we learn this thing. Now let’s test this thing we just built using the same conditions. I don’t think a system exists to support that workflow in place, and it’s an information problem, but it’s like you have to build the traceability from the moment you set up your research plan to the moment you’re going back to validate everything that was done to know whether you achieved the outcome.

A lot of that game is held onto by very senior and astute researchers who are paying attention to designers, who are cued in on, like, what were the original research goals, and how are we playing a role in experimenting through that? And then on the execution side, like everybody paying attention to, well, did we learn the right thing or did we execute on that the wrong way?

Short of a bunch of Jira tickets that are all rolled up to the same epic or whatever. Like, we really don’t have an information management system for something like that that we can do any logical learning on and progressive, sort of like continuous integration, continuous design, continuous deployment. The thing that we’re all after, the infrastructure is not there to support it. I think everyone would have a whole lot of learning if that system was in place. I think product managers would be so much more satisfied and stoked about researchers if that system existed.

I think design managers and design ics would feel stoked because they’d be like, okay, now I know which business objects and components I need to pull onto the screen without having to have five meetings. And then, yeah, so that’s sort of the future that I feel like we should be moving towards. And my team has been building a lot of these tools for us internally at Limina using, like I said, low code node culture tooling. But I’m just surprised by now, like after I’ve been talking about it for about twelve years, like for like 2014 or whatever, I was like, why doesn’t this thing exist? And we ended up eventually just building it for our own team.

But it feels like that’s a big gap in the software development infrastructure world. And it sounds like what you’re talking about is almost just better integration to the existing software development lifecycle. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I feel like if we had something like that, it would be really important to have it tied into your Jira ticketing. It would be really important to have it integrated with your research repo, whatever it is.

It’d be important to have any of the downstream design stuff tied into your design systems stuff. But still, it’s stuff that lives outside of all those. Right? So these things are greater than and more important than discrete tickets. It’s greater and more important than discrete insights, and it’s greater and more important than just your design system.

It’s what stitches all of those collective efforts into something that is an overall learning for digital teams.

Like it. Yeah, I’ve been feeling you will be talking about that a lot more outside of the time that we even have here. And speaking of that, I realized that we’re coming up to the end of that with you. And so, you know, one of the things that we like to do as we wrap up episodes is, I usually say, you know, if I got temporary amnesia and somebody came to you and said, john, what was that podcast was is all about, how would you answer that for them? How would you summarize that for them?

Yeah. So we covered a lot of ground, I think, looking at what tensions exist between digital teams and research and design, whether or not it’s valuable to invest in it. So, like that, it’s answering the ROI of Ux and design. We talked about how doing really great research and design is a risk mitigative thing, both from, like, you know, building the right thing and designing it. Right.

Et cetera. And then we talked about, you know, possible futures in terms of resolving tensions between research, design and product and engineering, coming up with it more of a unified field theory for digital operations. And the thing about operating from scarcity, being driven by not having enough visibility into and transparency into what research and design impact can be. And I feel like that’s a good set of conversations to have. It’s something that I think if enough of us were having, we’d be collectively moving a little bit more towards a level of maturity for a better integrated set of research and design into the digital product and service space.

Way to put a fine point on that. Awesome. Awesome. Cool. Well, you know, before we.

Before we let you go here, I’m curious, is there anything else that you want to share with folks that we didn’t have a chance to talk about today?

No, I think we. I think we pretty much covered everything. Nothing left in the tank. Yeah. But it’s been a pleasure, and I love talking about this stuff.

I think there’s not enough people having these conversations, sharing their perspective on it. I hope that if anyone hears this, they get really excited and passionate about up leveling the game. I think I’ll always tell people when things get hard, it’s not a time to shut down. It’s actually a time to lean in and get loud. If you don’t feel like, you know enough, read other people’s stuff, listen to their podcasts, get yourself knowledgeable, and, yeah, I think looking for ways to move collectively together, I think.

And progress as a practice, not just as your specialized practice, but how it impacts and how you collaborate and become a true cross functional collaborator. That’s how you win. And I think the more people see that in you, the more valuable you’ll be to them. Yeah, that’s about it. Couldn’t agree more.

Couldn’t agree more. I think that those are valuable lessons and advice to take professionally and personally. Excellent, excellent advice from John. Really appreciate you coming on, taking the time to chat with me today. It’s been a pleasure, Zach.

All right, everybody, we’ll see you next time.