When design sprints aren’t an option

Haya Gaviola is a Sr. UX/UI Designer at a major online payment service provider. She spends her days creating and tweaking experiences that impact millions of people’s financial transactions.

Haya was generous enough to spend time sharing what she’s learned as a UX Designer inside a large corporation, challenges she’s faced implementing design sprints and how she’s worked around them. She also provides team tips for learning to work well together to create products & services your customers love using.

Interview: Haya & Jay

Jay: You started out as a visual designer — what led you to move deeper into experience design?

Haya: I had a deeper motivation to make experiences that helped people with their unmet needs rather than just making something visually appealing. I started to enjoy the psychology and research of design — learning what motivates users before and after they experience a situation.

Jay: You work within your team’s mobile division — what are some of the challenges your team routinely faces when designing solutions?

Haya: Technology constraints are a huge burden for large companies, especially those working with multiple data sources that impact their product experiences.

Analytics and data sharing only show a portion of a user’s actual end-to-end behavior. Additionally, if companies rely on partnerships and they’re unable to gain access to partners’ usage data, the team is forced to make decisions based on multiple layers of assumptions.

It then becomes exponentially more difficult to pinpoint why users drop-off, if users re-engage at a later time, and if a transaction was completed at the end of the flow.

Another challenge I’ve faced was starting a project where both designers and engineers start a new product or project without prior knowledge of platform constraints, or that the other person is also actively working on it. This means we are often doing parallel discovery without a good vehicle to surface or exchange our findings. This greatly increases miscommunication and misunderstandings during implementation.

Jay: What about the unique challenges your team faces as a financial platform?

Haya: Data visualizations — understanding what financial data users want to see is a challenge in itself. Couple that with fitting it all inside of small screens makes it much more troubling.

One mindset we always attempt to leverage is simplicity. However capturing key actions and digestible nuggets of information in tight spaces makes simplicity, hard.. If the “math” is incomplete, we risk users aborting the experience or misinterpreting their financial health.

Jay: You mentioned having issues implementing design sprints. Can you talk about those issues?

Haya: For us, the struggle with design sprints has primarily been getting all of the right people into the room to commit the time. However what’s also missing, which is critical for tools like a design sprint, is upfront research.

Instead, we jump directly into solution building mode. This makes it very difficult for product teams to empathize with the problem statement as well as estimate the amount of work it’ll take to complete something useful and meaningful.

The problem is that, often, the amount of information the team is able to share is limited or altogether missing. The designer is typically tasked with finding the right individuals to speak with. However that also creates a problem where team members are working in isolation, without an efficient vehicle to share findings and get feedback.

As a designer we have to understand the segmentation, technology constraints, stakeholder interests, customer pain points, current experiences, and legal regulations. But more importantly, the entire product team (not just the designer) needs to operate and make decisions together, under the same set of criteria.

We’ve heard that design sprints can bring the team together around these challenges but we’ve yet to have success introducing them at our company.

Jay: What has your team come up with to work around these issues?

Haya: Open communication is key. It took some time, but finding the right amount and cadence of communication creates a safe, curious environment to work within.

We have bi-weekly meetings for “aspirational” new idea gathering. This has been helpful to make sure everyone’s voice is heard on a regular basis. The floor is open to design, engineering and product to discuss observations, new technology, and new experiences.

Jay: What kind of advice would you offer to teams looking to get more out of their UX Design function?

Haya: UX is a broad field where each designer brings something to the table based on their experience, strengths, and thought process. My definition of UX is a customer champion or advocate who brings zero bias — they are only trying to do what’s best for the customer. A UX designer does not need to be a visual designer, but an understanding of best practices there is a must.

A good UX designer needs to have a curious mindset, with empathy for their users. UX designers should develop a willingness to solve user problems, first, and conceive solutions, second. They also need to understand the various constraints (tech, product, business, etc.) as well as have an appreciation for industry trends.

Wrapping Up

UX Design involves lots of moving parts. As a UX Designer, you’re typically operating under intense time pressure. You also need to deal with design by committee, in between considering customer needs, legal constraints, marketing guidelines, and engineering specifications.

For some teams, design sprints have shown to bring all stakeholders together to make informed, user-centered decisions based on customer-validated prototypes. For other teams like Haya’s where design sprints have not been adopted, they’ve shown that great communication and an open mindset can help get the job done.

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If your team is struggling with meeting unrealistic stakeholder demands, especially in situations where little research has been done, design sprints have been shown to drastically improve team-wide collaboration, timelines, and output.

We’ve helped teams like these via customized in-house training or by facilitating their design sprints.