SVP and Head of Design, The Wall Street Journal
About The Episode
Note: after we interviewed Che, and prior to this episode airing, he left The Wall Street Journal to take on a new role at Booking.com as their VP of Design.
Che Douglas led the transformation of the design team at The Wall Street Journal, from a service-based organization to a strategic component of an embedded Engineering, Product and Design (EPD) structure. We chat with Che, who is now VP of Design at Booking.com, about how he got the right people involved to transform their design organization and spread design throughout the company. Che discusses the use of design sprints and how he showed the value of design to the organization through some of the key initiatives his teams worked on.
- How the design team can best collaborate with key partners
- Showing the value of design with a direct impact on the bottom line
- Getting beyond defensiveness and being open to critique
Che Douglas is now VP of Design at Booking.com. He previously led the teams that are responsible for the user experience and user interfaces of the The Wall Street Journal apps, websites, publishing tools, newsletters and voice products. He was the founder of BTP Design, an award winning Australian branding and digital product design agency. Che is also a speaker and panelist on the power of design.
The Wall Street Journal’s Che Douglas: Leading a transformation
The following is a complete transcript of this episode of the Design Better podcast. Enjoy the episode!
Che Douglas: We need to think about everyone, every single person on this planet all the time. That might sound really overwhelming but it’s actually a really, really good way of looking at it.
Narrator: This is the Design Better Podcast where we share lessons and insights from today’s foremost design leaders. We hope the conversations and stories you hear help you transform your design practice and build remarkable products.
In our third season we’re exploring the connected workflow, how designers work more effectively and efficiently with their engineering and product counterparts. We’ll talk about how building key partnerships throughout an organization can help you ship better products faster.
This podcast is hosted by Aarron Walter and Eli Woolery, and is brought to you by InVision, the digital product design platform powering the world’s best experiences.
The Wall Street Journal understands business, but it didn’t always understand the business value of design. When Che Douglas, now senior vice president and head of design came to the Journal, design was treated as a service organization and not a strategic pillar of a well run business.
We chat with Che about how he went about getting the right people involved to transform their design organization and spread designs throughout the company using tools like design spreads and how he showed the value of design to the organization through a direct impact on their bottom line.
Grab a copy of the Journal and sit down for our chat with Che. Thanks for listening.
Aarron Walter: Hey there. Aarron Walter, co-host of the Design Better podcast right here. I want to give you a little tip. Did you know that the Design Better podcast can be listened to directly on your Amazon Echo or Dot? Try simply saying, “Alexa, play the Design Better podcast on TuneIn,” and voila, you will be listening to our latest episode. It’s magic. Thanks for listening to the show. Now, let’s get started.
AW: So, Che you talked about using personas in your team to try to understand your customer base and design products that work really well for them.
Sometimes personas don’t quite work out because when you talk to real people you discover that personas are often about demographics or just trying to understand behaviors and sometimes those behaviors are hard to pinpoint.
I’m curious if you … Do you use other mechanisms like jobs-to-be-done as a more stable way to understand your customer base?
Che Douglas: Yeah. I think I might just give you a couple of examples rather than talk about the tool straight away, if that’s okay. I think to unpack it right now if we look at our audience base, it’s super diverse. Our site is up to 300 million page views in a month, that’s just WSJ.com.
So if you’re thinking about trying to slice that out and break it up into segments, that’s something that we’ve always wanted to do and we work with another team within our organization called customer intelligence. They look at a lot of our customer data to figure out how they might segment things into certain groups.
I think from that, we’d kind of a couple of years ago boiled things down into six personas, things like mobile movement to CEO, et cetera. I think while that was useful at the start of kickstarting ideas and things like that, what it wasn’t really useful for was when we had these products that have been living and existing for a really long time, like our site that might be decades old and with a huge audience base of very diverse needs.
I think what we talked about before that, before we hit record was the CEO council, which I was lucky enough to attend one of our conferences that we run and talk to some of the CEOs there who we would definitely draw them up as a very specific persona and put it on the wall of the design team. I’m proud of me even going to that.
I think what that unlocked for me was that talking to a range of them at this conference about their habits and behaviors and how they used our products in their daily lives and other news platforms in their daily lives to make decisions was really interesting.
Every one of them was very different from one person who would only open their iPhone app if they received a notification from one of the news apps that they’re subscribed to, to other people that would start towards the back of a print newspaper and read it backwards or rip out sections and fold it and do different things with it.
So, some people would just consume our content through newsletters and then clicking through for newsletters. So, all of these people that we would typically as a design product engineering team would look at from a persona level and kind of categorize them, had very different behaviors.
So, I think one of the things that we shifted at that point, it was more a different mindset than even a framework or a tool to thinking a lot more about habits and behaviors of people and then using some of the design principles that we use and methods that we use to improve our products for them in different ways.
I think what’s been interesting at the same time is in how you layering things like accessibility, performance in terms of page load or performance in the app in terms of speed, and into the designs and things that you’re creating and you’re making them for different types of people at different times and different use cases.
So it was very much kind of slipping everything from personas, which again, what I was going to say is that I think they’re really great for startups and smaller companies where you’re building a brand and a consumer base and you need a clear idea of who you’re going to be designing for. It’s a great reminder.
But I think we actually need to do the opposite. We need to think about everyone, every single person on this planet all the time. That might sound really overwhelming, but it’s actually a really, really good way of looking at it we’ve found because I think you end up simplifying a lot of the things that you do because digital products can be extremely complex, particularly in news, speaking from experience on that side.
I think that just allows you to make more rapid decisions rather than it gives you more constraints than less and that allows you to simplify the products.
I think a lot of what we’re looking at now is that we often are just constantly adding features to products because it’s a thing that people are asking for or it’s a great idea for the business strategy or the news strategy going forward.
But we’re actually thinking a lot about the idea of designed it and experienced a lot, which other people have talked about in industry recently too and how you actually remove things to make the core of what you really offer, in the value of that really come to the surface and be really, really obvious as well.
AW: Yeah, let’s talk more about the removal of things because that’s … I think designers get that inherently in their physical space of living simply or being very particular about the things that they chose to surround themselves with.
But when it comes to product design, there’s so many other factors and so many stakeholders. As you said, a lot of different personas who express these what seem like really critical needs, “We have to have this. I need this for it to be successful.”
So there’s this, I don’t know, perceived strong business case to not take things away. We over-index on preservation over having things. So I’m curious how you deal with the controversial conversations inside the company and also outside the company of, “Hey, you moved my cheese or you ate my cheese.”
CD: I ate it, exactly. Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack with that. I think what’s really, really interesting is the different stakeholders and the different languages they speak, not obviously different languages I mean by news speed because we have a newsroom, and they talk a very different language to our marketing team or to other stake, other business side.
So, I think one is really understanding where they’re coming from so that you can talk to them better. There is no utopia. It’s hard. You have to debate this stuff constantly. There’s no, you can constantly spend all your time trying to refine processes and talk about the best way of doing things.
But I think you really need a lot of messy conversations to build the trust that you need and also be really honest with not knowing a lot of the things that they’re talking about, so you can learn about their worlds as much as they need to learn about yours.
So, I think the things that I’ve seen success or where we’ve built really strong relationships particularly in the newsroom because everything that we do is build off that core product, which is content. That’s our number one asset. All the value that we extract comes from that. So we’re really building on top of that.
So, the conversation then, if you can change it in that way and you can connect with the newsroom in the way that you talk about content and what it means to readers, and consumers, our members, then they start understanding that and you can get to a point where you can say, “Well that thing doesn’t make sense really, does it?” If that’s the way that you’re using it and that’s the feedback we’re getting. And we’ve actually, we’ve made three options, three prototypes and we’ve put that in front of people and we’ve sent out some surveys and we’ve done some quantitative and qualitative research and it’s come back and this one we can actually throw out.
A lot of them when you’re validating things with people as well or you show them stuff they like all of them. So then it comes back to the business in the newsroom. We have these two big stakeholders, I always talk about them like that, is the newsroom and the business side, which I think most companies just have the business.
But the newsroom is just obviously creating the content. So it’s our core stakeholder and that has to be our biggest friend and the one that we understand the best to be able to take that and turn it into something that makes sense in the real world to people.
Just so you can connect all those things together and you can talk about them in different ways and in ways that makes sense to those different stakeholders and it becomes easier. It’s never easy, that’s the thing. I don’t think design in the sense that we like to simplify and move clutter and all that kind of stuff is ever easy because so many people just go back to what they know, which is like deadlines and adding features, right? We all know that.
You can change a leader somewhere here or there and all those things come back again, you have to go through it full circle.
EW: When we first spoke to you, you mentioned that you helped bring about a pretty big change at the design team, which was originally treated more like a service organization.
So maybe we could back up a little bit and you could tell us a story of what brought you to The Wall Street Journal and then maybe some of the challenges that you faced in making that transformation in the design team.
CD: My journey really started with, I’m Australian, you can probably hear it in my accent. But I started in design. I studied communication design at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
From there found it really hard to get a job out of university. I actually specialized in my final year in typography and photography. A lot of things that I was like I felt were very foundational to the visual side of design, which I think is a really … the thing that we always look at as being the obvious thing that people speak to when they talk about design.
But I think you do need to be able to … you really know once you go in that kind of area the craft as well even though if that’s how we get perceived by the general public.
So I did all that. I eventually after a year of freelancing, really just being unemployed, I got a job at Australian Football League. A friend of mine from university already had a job there so he was lucky to invite me in. I ended up for three years working there doing a lot of layout in the print publishing area.
But I was much more interested in brand identities and designing logos, apps and identity systems at that time, and then the digital side of that, all the touch points that came out of it on the digital side. So I helped win them some work and I really enjoyed doing that side of it, which was kind of selling ideas and winning business.
From there I decided to quit and start my own business, which was pretty crazy idea looking back. Definitely crazy idea. I had some help from my parents early on because I had run their own business, and that’s a whole nother story. But just that kind of motivated me to think that it was an option that was available. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have even thought about doing it.
Definitely the struggle was real for the first few years. And then after about four or five, I was able to start picking and choosing clients a bit more, not all the time because I needed to pay all of my staff and keep the lights on. But we really focused on doing branding and digital work for anyone and everyone. As long as they were good people and their motives and interests was real and they were inquisitive about what we could help them with and what we could offer, we generally ended up working with them.
After about four or five years I realized that there was a lot of upfront work that we could do and charge for before we actually did any tangible design work, per se. So, we’d usually spend a week or two weeks depending on how meaty the size of the business, number of stakeholders and staff were. We’d bring them into our studio and we’d, I guess you’d probably call it a design thinking workshop, maybe. We called them branding workshops at the time.
We’d just ask them a lot of big questions like why are you here? What are you doing? What do you do? Who’s your customer base? What are the big problems you’re trying to solve? What are some potential unmet needs out in the marketplace that you can leverage based on your core capabilities and your strengths?
We’d do that from a one person band right out to companies with 10,000 people. So in any industry, and we really enjoyed that and it would give us a chance to reframe the work and the scope of work back to them. So I really enjoyed that side of design as well. It’s like this unexpected thing. They’re like, “Why is a designer talking to me about business? Then why are they telling me that I don’t need brochures and a website, that I actually need a loyalty program and an app and a bunch of … and a storefront redesign?” I don’t know.
It was really interesting to be able to change that conversation and learn about a ton of different industries and different businesses and different life cycles. I think that gave me a really good grounding in running my own business, which I ran for nine years before I moved over here.
The transition for me was, a catalyst with my wife now, was basically we were ready to leave Melbourne. She was a bit over it. We had been there for a while and wanted to try a new city. So I was like, “Well, I’ll be stuck with the dog and my business. That’s fine. You go on and travel the world.”
What ended up happening is a really close friend of mine who was a [inaudible] all the time got tapped on the shoulder for a really big job to be interim CTO at Dow Jones. Dow Jones is about 4,000 people. So, it’s a pretty serious job. About 200 to 300 software engineers to run all the technology for Dow Jones.
He took the job. I then flew over not long after to help settle Emily into New York and he started putting me in touch with people. The first couple of people it was a guy called Himesh Patel and Edward Roussel, who now run our innovation department for Dow Jones.
So, when I came over, I met with them. I spend a lot of time just learning about them and the business and met some more people. And they made an offer and I stayed an extra couple of weeks longer than I thought I would just to really explore and entertain it. The offer was basically working with them, Ed, who’s the Chief Product Officer and Himesh was the Creative Director at the time, across Dow Jones, all the brands.
So I got to do that and then not long after they formed the innovation department and I got offered to look after design with a move into the newsroom, the commercial side for The Wall Street Journal. That was basically when I moved into the newsroom officially and took over the lanes.
That’s three and a half years ago now. So that’s the journey to that point since then. I think it’s been a really interesting ride through talking about the value of design but I think showing it in different pockets to really just trying to be a really good strong internal, external voice for design and what it means to be really patient with people, to educate them with different ways that it can be really valuable to the newsroom and to the business.
And I’ve formed some really great relationships and made some really great friends here as a result of being on my feet a lot of the time honestly talking to people. I’ve also been really lucky to hire a ton of talented people and convince them to come and work for a really big heretic institution like The Journal.
I think, yeah, it might seem strange but actually hiring people into a brand like Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal is hard because you’ve got players like The New York Times and things where their design is part of their DNA, The Guardian and et cetera.
But then out of the media institute, we’ve got all these big tech companies really just hiring all of the best people. So I have to really create a new network in New York and outside of America as well and pull in some good folks to do that. So that’s where we are today.
EW: Let’s talk a little bit more about building relationships. You talked about in running your business for nine years, seeing companies in a lot of different stages. We’ve actually been doing a lot of research on this particular topic seeing how design as a function matures inside of a company.
And we’d love to talk more about that transformation of that process and The Wall Street Journal. One of the things that we’ve found in our research is that developing the relationships between the different groups, the different factions, in your case you’ve got business stakeholders, you’ve got the people in the newsroom who have strong perspective and on the stories that are being delivered.
And to use your framework you were talking about with your clients when you were running your business, changing the conversation of you think you need brochures but you actually need all of these things. How have you gone about building those relationships inside of the organization? If you could maybe share some stories of where things don’t go so well and how does that affect the work that you do.
Then places where it does go well, how does that empower you to make better work?
CD: I’d start with where it doesn’t go so well because I think being someone that’s super passionate about the power of design for businesses and for all types of companies, I think you can wear that on your sleeve and I’ve been really guilty of that in the past where I’m defending my team’s work and there’s been cases where I think that’s really someone’s focused on the fact that you’re being defensive in a presentation than the fact that you may have needed to just close your laptop and have a conversation.
I’ve definitely made that mistake numerous times. And I think when you realize that you’re the one that’s able to create things in a business that’s not for engineers, really the others who can write code and build things, that it’s really important to bring others into that conversation.
It’s not just early, it’s just allowing them to ask questions. As soon as you’re protective of anything, I think the whole thing unravels. I’ve just seen that so many times. I think especially after design school where it should be built into every program and it usually is, but critiques are such a good way of building up thick skin for environments like these where you can get torn to shreds because you’re creating, it’s personal and we talk about that a lot of these designers. But I don’t think we’re honest about it enough about how important dealing with it is. It’s in different situations where you’re really putting everything you feel like on the line.
I think even when I was running my business sometimes we just take the kind of Paul Rand approach where you just present one idea and be like pay me for it. That would backfire too. People would … I’ve had people not pay me and they still haven’t. So if you’re listening, I’m going to keep sending that invoice.
But no, I think it’s just one of those things that I think it’s a really building up the ability to have real conversations with people and understand that they don’t, and this is what designers talk about a lot, is empathy. They’re like you have to think about it from their point of view. When you’re talking to certain people, change tact if you need to. If the room changes, if the dynamic changes, don’t make the aim of the presentation.
This is something that I’ve talked a lot about with my boss at the moment is let’s not make the aim of the meeting to get through the deck that we’re presenting. Let’s talk about another aim and if the aim is to win them over or get feedback, because a lot of the times there’s people that are being defensive around.
And I found this a lot too, if you can get past the defensiveness, some of the things they’re saying really make a lot of sense. If you take that on board, it’s up to you as well. That’s the other thing that people don’t say a lot is I think people always feel like they have to take feedback and do something with it and teams feel like that that’s a thing, that’s an action item now.
But I think just giving them the forum to give feedback and hear them out it’s often be all we need to do. That’s just really basic behavioral psychology but it’s really true. Over and over and over again, even those ideas and things that people bring to the table can be really, really useful.
And sometimes your purpose as a leader is to help even again in a different way reframe what that senior stakeholder has said back to the team in a positive way. It’s something that actually makes a lot of sense and not that it’s the senior stakeholder and that they get the senior stakeholder right to change something because they said so, but because it actually makes sense.
Through that I think you build up enough trust and solid relationships that when you do want to have a really hard debate about something, not even push back, I think that’s a strong way of saying it, but just have a good debate, you become an advisor and that changes the relationship hugely because then they trust you to advise them and give them counsel versus you’re really a service.
I think a lot of those things take time and my predecessor Himesh was really good at that because he knew really deeply, he came from a news background and knew really deeply about things and so could have really good arguments with people about it.
I think we’ve been able to scale that a lot more and imbed people around the business in that way too that it takes time and I think patience is another piece of it. But thinking about what you’re presenting and what the aim of what you’re presenting is and the purpose is actually really, really important and you shouldn’t just rush in because you think everything is sewn up and is brilliant.
EW: Earlier you spoke about not really talking about the value of design but rather showing the value of design. So I’m curious about that. But also some of the companies that we’ve been talking to in our research that are a little higher on the maturity scale. It’s not just usability or customer satisfaction, so the power of design.
But it extends to things like revenue and employee efficiency. Could you also talk about some key areas where design has really demonstrated impact to The Wall Street Journal?
CD: Yeah, absolutely. One that’s fairly recent is our iPhone redesign. We started that in, I think, March last year, so 2017. And setting it up was actually quite a process and it was getting the right roles and responsibilities and everything outlined because it’s such a high profile thing for us. It’s really one of our really core touch points with people and for loyal members too.
So, we structured it in a way that we set up where we had epics, which is pretty standard kind of agile process. But what we hadn’t done in the past is build-in usability studies, field research testing, et cetera, into those epics and give us enough time to iterate on that and keep building it in as we went.
Knowing that we were going to do a really significant release because it hadn’t been changed in such a long time. So that process in itself connected us really closely with our members and our customers. So that was a big change and through the power of co-creating with them and our new stakeholders we’re actually doing two things.
One, we’re able to 100% redesign the user experience to the app. But we’re also able to partner with the newsroom to build a new mobile editorial team that was curating content for the iPhone for the first time, which I’d never done before. It was this, whatever was curated for the WSJ.com desktop home page would just be passed down to the app in terms of hierarchy and content, sets and curation.
So we looked at all of that and we thought about it purely from an iPhone user experience point of view, content and design and that was a huge change because we were changing workflows as well as … That’s big when you’re in front a large amount of journalists around the world.
So the coordination around that effort was huge and we brought the customers into the process. We were able to do a lot of things that we talked a lot about and been chipping away up behind the scenes too from the design perspective which was bringing up newspaper typefaces which we had recap for digital, and that was a brilliant thing to partner with Tobias Frere-Jones and Type Network as well on doing that because one of the first tests that we did when we had visual designs and prototypes, is we got feedback from the customers saying this really feels like the journal and I think the hairs on the back of your neck stop a little bit. We’re like this is the first time I think we’ve heard that in some user testing.
I think a lot of the struggles of big news organization at the moment is around trust with readers and knowing where you are with all of the different platforms and experiences and aggregators of news content that exist.
So, that felt like a really good start and we could kind of build on top of that over time. Then eventually when we released to the public we’d had so much feedback there was really only majority of good feedback coming in. And the App store rating and reviews went from 2.3 stars to 4.5. Time spent in the main newsfeed went from 30 seconds to over two minutes. That was the metric we were trying to hit. We had an objective and K result and the K result was around time spent not click throughs to article from the main newsfeed. So we factored that up a lot.
So that was huge. We also introduced the ability to save up really basic functions that we knew people really wanted and brought them closer in terms of hierarchy and reduced friction. So that was really great.
Then I think winning the Webby Award for Best News App was another kind of reassuring affirmation as well around all of that. I think that was a really big step in helping the newsroom and the business embraced a lot of what we did and showed value in a slightly different way to pure revenue because there’s obviously revenue when time spent in the app is going up is advertising revenue and memberships and things like that attached to it.
So, that was tangible. The other big one that I think was really interesting was …not long after I started and took over the role of heading up design, our CEO actually gave us a project which was to really look at our subscription flow and when you’re in a business and you’re already a subscriber to the journal, you’re probably not looking at it very much but it was great to hearing that back, it was getting feedback from somewhere and taking that onboard.
It was really, really hard to subscribe on a mobile phone. If I gave you that experience now, you probably struggle to do it in five or six minutes and maybe not be able to do it at all.
So I think that was for us, it felt like design challenge. This would be a no-brainer, this would be super easy. So we redesigned everything. We removed 50% of the form fields. We made it super mobile friendly with proper validation. If you’re typing an email address it would bring up the keyboard with the domain, to taking a photo of your credit card and pre-populating content, to looking up Google maps and making sure that you can get the right address in.
But then what we found was and we were lucky because when we had our CEO sponsoring this, we were meeting with him I think maybe even twice a week at the time. He was like, “I want to do this quickly. Let’s just do it. If anyone gets in your way just bring them in here when you’re presenting.”
And so we ended up having to do that over and over again because there’s things that as we were going through it, it was like well we need this form filled for this compliance, for this, for addresses.
We don’t ship to Hawaii so we can’t do that. We’re like but we’re not sending print, we’re just … They were like but you can, you can buy a print and then you name it, a million edge cases came out of the wood works and we had to deal with every single one and try and nip it every single time.
And that really, that process really probably took us three months and we launched a new one, I think at that point it went from just over 2% conversion to over 22%.
So again, that was like proving to the business that we could really remove friction and have a direct impact on revenue, instant impact. So month to month I could look at the dollars coming in from subscriptions and know that that experience that we’ve built for subscribing on a mobile phones to the journal was a huge improvement, and that was easy in terms of speaking to the business. That was like speaking their language.
But it was also, it felt like the start of it was really easy and then the hard part was dealing with all of these crazy edge cases and the people connected to them would fight for them dearly because that was their job.
AW: Hey Che, if you were to estimate how much time and how the quality of the product was impacted by executive sponsorship, what was saved by having executive sponsorship there?
CD: I think doing it all, to be honest. I don’t think-
AW: So it’s like a … it’s a one or a zero, just the total binary.
CD: At that time yeah, I do. I think it would have been death by a thousand paper cuts to anyone who tried to do that even if they could make sense of it. I think they would have always had to go right up to the top. And if you’re going to do that every single time someone came out and said you can’t do this for these reasons, and they’re all good reasons.
I had nothing against the reasons, but there were creative solutions to each one but you had to work through it. But we needed the support for those people to open the door to even be willing to have a conversation about working through it.
I think just going back to the sheer number of conversations with different people about doing these things and making those changes, yeah, it probably is a zero and one proposition honestly, yeah.
EW: That’s awesome that you had the executive sponsorship and it worked out and you were able to create a dime for your business. Not everybody, not all companies have that sponsorship.
CD: We don’t have that for every project data, I might add.
I think that’s a rare one off and I don’t think that’s something you want. You don’t want to do it and I think while it worked for that and it was great, I think we all learn a lot about it. I think definitely not something you want to do every time.
EW: Let’s talk about the bigger picture because as I was saying you don’t always have the executive helping you out on things because a big part of it, coming in to The Wall Street Journal, I don’t know what the current culture was as you were coming in, it sounds like you had a predecessor where design was really important and certainly see that in the brand and so forth.
But I know that you’ve brought in Jake Knapp to bring in the Sprint process to the team and also you personally have advocated quite a bit for design thinking and bringing that in. These are really tools especially design thinking, John Maeda when we talked to him he described this as a bridging technology, thinking of it not as really a design process but a bridging technology to the rest of the organization to help them understand design, build those partnerships as we were discussing earlier.
Can you talk about that? When you came in was it a transformation? If so, how does design thinking, design sprints how does that empower that?
CD: No, I think that’s a really good question. I think one of the things that I try to free myself up a lot of the time to work on things like that. So, something like bringing Jake Knapp in probably took nine months to coordinate and again, kind of sponsor and organize.
What we did we actually had three day thing where he gave a talk to a select group of 40 people that we opened up through an email that we sent out to the entire company across Dow Jones to participate and put in a reason why you’d want to participate. He gave a talk at the start of the day for that. So that was opened up to the entire company.
Then the 40 participants got training for a whole day in how to facilitate design sprints. That’s been really successful. Unfortunately, I don’t have the number off the top of my head with how many we’ve run since with Jake’s methodology. But it’s significant when you think that it was a year before, obviously. With Jake’s methodology necessarily.
So, this was like a … it was big. Then he also, for towards the commercial side of the business and the newsroom ran two short sprints and facilitated them with us for a group of seven on each side or two ideas to kickstart. So that was fantastic but I think it was also the ability that, like I said before, try to do is free up my time to be able to think about things like that and have the energy to see them through.
You touched on another one, you just talked about John Maeda, I was lucky enough to have breakfast with him the other day. We have been trying to connect for a while. He had a really interesting point, I don’t know if he mentioned it to you, but the idea of talkers and makers and bridging the gap and I loved his analogy around that and why he did his MBA.
It’s kind of that point of why I’ve spent so much time listening to people in the newsroom and it’s just really learning how to speak their language so you can connect with them on a different level. I think a lot of design thinking is actually about that. It’s really learning about other people’s worlds and understanding them really, really deeply so that when you go and create some value or prototype or thing on top of the asset, if it’s content in our case, we’re creating prototypes on top of it then you’re kind of iterating and improving and then you’re in that cycle.
But how do you extract the value from that. I think you need to go pretty deep before you can figure out how to do that, when you need to reframe and unpack and reframe and unpack. And if you don’t understand their world and speak their language it’s quite tricky to do that. If you’re not interested in it, it’s also hard.
I think you have to be inquisitive, honestly. I’m happy to spend a day in a room talking to pretty much anyone about any topic. I just really enjoy learning and I think that’s a really key skill for designers to have is to have that inquisitive nature and willingness to learn.
I think that also, back to the earlier point, allows you to deal with critique and things a lot better because you just genuinely interested in why someone would say that to that idea or something they don’t like.
There’s a couple of other things. So yeah, like tools and frameworks. So design thinking, design sprints I think the other really big thing that we’ve focused on in the last couple of years and Bonnie on my team has actually a good article on InVision Board about it.
But an interview with her is just really focusing on what the idea of bringing users in means and how to bring customers and then get closer to us when we’re doing products and get their feedback early and often. And that didn’t exist here.
So I think there are things that have really just, they have changed the conversation a lot. It feels repetitive to say that have we … Let’s user test this. Let’s do some usability studies. Let’s take this app to the real world. Let’s send out a survey.
But that has just like getting the tools, to be able to do that, getting the right people that know how to do it, all of that takes time as well and if you’re structured in a certain way, then you typically look at a headcount in a certain way, and I like to be creative about all of those things.
So I think I probably typically would have just kept hiring product designers and people. But I’ve started to open the team up to different people that want to coach others in human-centered design and design thinking, people and teachers at schools for design thinking so they can actually train other areas of the business on it and we can start leading that charge and really being, I guess, a strong voice in the business for it and ensuring that we have the right training programs around it doing that into our onboarding and recruiting and everything else.
It takes time and you need relationships in all those departments and areas of the business as well.
AW: That’s wonderful. So, one last question so we can get you out of here on time. And you probably see a lot of content come through in your current role but are there any books or articles or even authors that have stuck out to you and been helpful in your career?
CD: Can I flip it and say that, and this is a little bit embarrassing to say, but I don’t read a lot of books and it’s actually something that I’ve always personally put a strike against me that I do to myself. I do want to do a lot more of it.
So I’d kind of flip it right now and say that I think where I find my inspiration at the moment is reaching out to people and connecting with them. It’s been amazing over the last four years to be honest. The people that I’ve been able to meet in this job including people like yourselves is just the power of actually connecting and saying, “Hey, if you want to come and see The Wall Street Journal newsroom or meet the team, I’ve been a big fan of yours. I would love to chat.” Everyone seems to respond, which has just blown my mind.
I took a trip out to San Francisco when I was really thinking deeply about how I wanted to organize the team and was lucky enough to meet with Alex from head of design at Airbnb and people from Facebook and Google and IDEO. Everyone was just so welcoming.
Sorry, it’s not an article or a book but it’s one thing that’s actually got me a long way in my career. It’s just listening to people. It’s just in the stories they have to tell particularly designers, the ones that have been really successful in their careers seem to just be incredible story tellers. I think I’ve been really lucky to just tap into that sheer by having the 130 year old brand of the Journal behind me and a leadership role here too in design has just open doors really easily. I’ve been lucky to meet people John Maeda, Michael Beirut, obviously Jake Knapp and just so many other folks and folks from IDEO too.
So yeah, it’s a bit … The things that I’ve learned through that have just been so inspiring just to walk away from conversations with people like that with huge minds that are inquisitive too.
AW: Wonderful. Well that’s it. Great place to wrap and Che, Che Douglas thanks so much for being on the Design Better podcast.
CD: Thank you Aarron and Eli. I loved it.
Narrator: That concludes this episode of the Design Better podcast. Thanks so much for listening. If you’re hungry for more stories and lessons to continue to level up your design practice, visit InVisionapp.com/designbetter. You’ll find Ebooks, videos and articles on design that you and your team can use to learn more about design thinking, building work class operations, facilitating enterprise design sprints and so much more.
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With all of the immense challenges facing the world right now, in Season 5 of the Design Better Podcast we wanted to bring on guests who can share their wisdom—not only about how to build better products—but also how to navigate challenges in your career, and discover opportunities in the face of adversity.