What’s the relationship between user experience design and change management? What can designers and change managers learn from each other? These are two questions which I have been trying to answer lately as a manager of design projects. In a series of posts, I will explore these topics and share my findings.

The design and change connection

Several trends and developments in the respective fields of UX design and change management make the connection between them more relevant than ever.

The need for structural design

Rapidly-changing customer demands and technology developments require ongoing design of online services. Ongoing design implies a structural organization of design (versus ad-hoc organization). Therefore, the business organization itself needs to change.

The need for structured design

The organization itself is an increasingly important critical success factor for design. The quality of a new service, site or product is more and more influenced by the organization of processes for design and governance. Organizational psychology and change management are necessary to orchestrate these processes.

The emergence of ecosystems

Customers are using services through various channels and devices. They expect that all of them are interrelated, or even better, working well together in a so-called ecosystem. When various corporate departments design and manage different parts of the ecosystem, it’s crucial they closely cooperate and even merge. To achieve this, the organization of companies must change.

The synergy between design and change

It’s interesting to see which “best practices” from the world of change management can contribute to succesful design, as well as vice-versa. In that way designers can become more successful and better meet the growing organizational requirements of their clients. And organizations will become capable to develop more successful services.

I try to translate best practices from the domain of change management to the design domain. And from the other side, I identify where change managers need designers to achieve their change goals. To put it more clearly, design is change and change is design.

The situation

Assume you’re a designer or design manager in the UX department of a large company, or you’re hired to do some design or design management work. In both situations, you can work towards the goal of having more people in the company stress the meaning and relevance of UX design and in which more people think and work in a user-centered way. In short, you’re “raising the design IQ of the organization”.

Some background information

The reason I became interested in this topic is because I read some (online) publications and I attended a course in change management.

The Heart Of Change: Real Life Stories Of How People Change Their Organizations
(John P. Kotter & Dan S. Cohen 2002).
In this book, the authors outline eight steps towards achieving organizational change. The starting point of the authors is that persistent change starts with seeing and feeling, not with thinking and analysing. The core of change is emotion.

User Experience Management: Essential Skills For Leading Effective Ux Teams
(Arnie Lund 2011)
The author has an extensive track record as UX manager for large companies, like Microsoft and Ameritech. He has experience in putting UX on the map and institutionalizing it in large technology companies. He considers “raising the design IQ of an organization” as his mission. Lund is one of the few having written down his experiences from an organizational angle, instead of from a design angle.

Using a Change-Management Approach to Promote Customer-Centered Design (.pdf)
(Stephen Sato and Andrew Panton)
This paper was written by two managers from Hewlett Packard on their “Total Customer Experience” program based upon the eight steps of Kotter et al. With this program, they tried to redesign every new service from the user’s perspective.

Learning to Change: A guide for organization change agents
(Léon de Caluwé and Hans Vermaak 2003)
This publication is a reference work on change management, especially known for its color coding of change processes.

A series of posts

I will publish this series of posts according to the steps of Kotter et al.

There are a few things to notice.

Change is done in steps. The sequence of these steps is not fixed. Some steps can be re-iterated when necessary. The steps are very concrete. They offer a structure to review your own process of change critically.

Change takes time. More than designers, change agents are focused on long term goals. And that’s immediately something designers can learn from. In Kotter’s vision, first you do things consciously, and later unconsciously. The final step is anchoring all previous steps in the corporate culture.

The following posts of my series will refer to these insights regularly.

Designers are change agents

An important consideration that Kotter makes is that people change through what they see and feel and not by what they think or analyse. He says, “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

Visualisation, making things visible, so people get a feeling and are changed by it, is essential for every step in the change process. This has much more impact than the next analysis, statistics, policy plan or ROI.

“ROI justification is not persuasive enough,” says Arnie Lund, in his book cited above.

Visualising is a special skill of designers. They create sketches, journeys, visuals, video clips, and prototypes. They know how to get everybody “on the same page” and that everybody will comment. Or, they sense resistance: “This is now becoming very concrete.”

Why? Because their work is relevant, has an impact, and touches people. Because designers are change agents.

If – as a designer – you feel that you need entirely different skills to become a change agent, don’t worry. You’re well prepared, and you’re on the right track.

Next post >

About the author

Gerjan Boer (@gerjanboer) has 15 years experience as a project manager of UX design teams. Working at Informaat, he currently focuses on the value of experience design for change management in organizations. Gerjan has an engineering degree from Delft University of Technology.