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Chris Avore (Video) — Prototypes, Process & Play 2015

Chris Avore presented at the 2015 Prototypes, Process & Play conference and shares how he and his team worked hard to show their leadership team the value of design without disrupting the existing work balance that was in place (too much).

We hope you enjoy Chris’ presentation, “Advancing Strategic Design Without Going Against the Current” and don’t forget to get your tickets for Prototypes, Process & Play on August 11th and 12th!

Chris Avore

Design Leader, Nasdaq

Chris leads the product design efforts at Nasdaq, where his team designs the vision of a more elegant, useful, and profitable portfolio of software products for the global stock exchange.

In less than four years he has successfully positioned design and its methods as the primary competitive differentiator to Nasdaq’s customers, colleagues and partners, and the executive team.

His distributed team of generalists and specialists build what they design after they’ve researched the viability, desirability, and usefulness of a feature or product. Prior to Nasdaq Chris was an independent design practitioner for startups, agencies, enterprise customers, and the federal government for over 10 years.

For more, keep up with Chris on Twitter as @erova.

Advancing Strategic Design Without Going Against the Current

Enable your organization to embrace and profit from the benefits of a design-led work culture.

Culture change is often perceived as long and slow-but that doesn’t mean there aren’t approaches familiar to designers of all experience levels that can be the catalyst for evolving your current workplace culture into one that invites exploration, collaboration, and accountability.

Audiences will learn the techniques they can immediately use to show management the benefits of design to the organization, how design should influence product strategy, and how to help other departments and teams grow their own design expertise, in some cases without even hiring more designers.

Learn how to write concise, communicable vision statements that set the organization’s sights high, how to share research with executives who may not fully understand it, and the methods to scale design’s influence across different teams and into the C-suite.

Presentation Transcript


Chris Avore:

All right, thanks Russ and thanks everyone for coming out. Unfortunately I don’t have any stories about the six‑time NBA championship Chicago Bulls. My repertoire is I’m going to stick with a bunch of stories of what we do at NASDAQ instead. Lucky you guys. We’re going into the break after me, so I want to make sure we have a lot of time to cover this. What we’re going to talk about is the current state of design teams in the larger organization, how we can start to enable culture change, where culture change is needed and what you can actually start doing. Not tomorrow because it’s Saturday, but what you might be able to start doing on Monday instead.

Just a quick three‑bullet bio about what I’ve been up to so we can move on. I started at NASDAQ as a single designer. And in the last four years I’ve grown the team to 26. Again, where we do all our product design and research throughout the products and services side of the organization. So usually what we’re working on are designing mobile and desktop products for our corporate customers and then I’m basically just trying to do the, you know trying to find new opportunities that we can compete and build new products to meet latent customer problems. But anyway, what we’ve really been seeing though over the last really two or three years is that people are largely, you know thinking, talking, and writing a lot about culture in the larger design community. You know we’ve seen things such as the defining elements of the winning culture all the way to a winning culture keeps score. How to engender a performance culture. And that’s just from one magazine.

I’ve also seen a lot of talks going through the Adaptive Path UX conferences. This has been a prevalent topic and sitting in the audience for the last day and even with some of the keynote you’re hearing a lot of these undercurrents of where things need to change and why. Because really that’s what we need to start figuring out. Why are these conversations coming to the table now? Basically what we’re seeing is business is a very competitive environment now. They have to reduce costs while still improving the quality of products and services, identifying new opportunities for growth, and increasing productivity of the things that they are doing. What we’re also seeing is businesses are also suffering from incremental or little or no innovation all the way down to finding fundamental problems in the things that they’re doing too late. Or they’re just relying on narrow job description to pigeonhole the talent that they do have. And what you find are these cultures of hoarding instead of sharing. You’re not trying to help your colleagues and partners, but you’re trying to make sure you have enough information to look better yourself.

They like to say that they were design driven because they have designers on the staff. The project manager said here’s what we’re going to do within those constraints, and then they gave it to the designers and said make it pretty before it ships. Which means they might as well say anything else on here, because I’ve heard it all too, especially coming off of Braden’s talk yesterday. Delivering the planned thing instead of the right thing. In that culture, you’re seeing a design avers culture is going to lead to lower morale. Design teams may be perceived as decorators, when they’re brought in to apply that can of paint. And then that loss of credibility in good design, and then of course higher churn. Turnover. People not able to feel like they’re making a difference, not able to learn or gain new skills, so they want to find somewhere where they can.

Now we’re going to be doing a number of summaries of a culture that embraces and enables what good design is. But what we can start with is a respectful, multi-team collaborative working environment where designers are empowered to solve business problems and using iteration and validation. I would go back and say where teams are empowered. Let’s get design out of there. What we’re going to see, the theme in this undercurrent of this presentation, we’re not necessarily trying to do a land grab here and get our seat at the table, we’re trying to improve the collaborative nature of building things together and it’s a by‑product then of designers having more of that say.

Because ultimately what we’re really trying to do here right is we’re really trying to solve better problems, design better products, get the right people into the right room asking the right questions naturally at the right time, as well. For my one sports analogies Bill Parcell said right before he quit the Patriots, if they want you to cook the dinner they should let you buy some of the groceries. That’s what the designers are trying to do. We need to ask the right types of questions to change what may happen instead of trying to clean something up at the end.

Leah Buley, she’s at Forester now. UX in your firm. She talked about 100 companies. What barriers were preventing UX from having a greater impact. A lot of these things are things that we’re used to seeing. Ranging from partial implementation to something like lack of leadership, overall lack of understanding sales and politics and things like that.

So when we start to see these things, you can start to see that it turns into a perception problem. Right? Also it turns into an influence problem both on the part of designers and the people who are not being influenced by those designers. It’s also a visibility problem. But then at the same time, we have to look in the mirror too. Part of the problem that I have with the way that that question is phrased is it looks like we’re getting a little whiney. It looks like we’re saying “Why aren’t we able to do the things we’re supposed to do?” What you don’t want to do is finding yourselves falling into some of these traps of not embracing the wider goals, or you have a different measure of success than stakeholders and other partners. And also frankly assuming that non‑designers don’t understand or don’t get design. That’s an easy problem to fall into when we climb into our ivory tower and think we’re the ones blessed with the gifts to all these important problems.

Ultimately what that turns into is exactly the change management problem. The good news is if that’s the change management problem is that there are a ton of resources about how to handle change management. There’s a lot of things in that language, in that kind of cannon of understanding that we can start to draw from and use kind of the approaches and the methods that we as designers can use to apply to, again, effecting more of that culture change. Of course we had to set that understanding of what we’re trying to march towards. So what are those attributes of an organization that enables a good design process, good strategy, and good delivery?

I kind of left off intentionally the place where good design is understood. This is riffing off of Leah’s model, but what we’re trying to get to here is moving from that progressing to tactical to strategic side. What we’re trying on the right column on the strategic level, opportunity and innovation, where we’re addressing problems first and not necessarily taking a laundry list of solutions that they need, as a project manager or other person needs us to fix. Establishing the patterns and priorities of how we’re going to confront business problems.

And the research side, which is arguably one of the more important things we’ll be talking about is that it’s getting beyond screens or tactical usability testing, right? It’s hypothesis based. It’s that discovery process of asking and garnering that more nuanced or latent understanding of who is going to be using these things that we’re going to be building so we’re not just taking a lot of the assumptions that we may have or that stakeholders may have and actually getting customers to kind of show us hopefully what those problems are.

And of course it has that mix of quantitative and qualitative research, right? Where you’re able to use quantitative analysis to show where things are today and then use that qualitative understanding to really get at you know the opinions and the thoughts and the emotional connection of what things are, either failing or successful right now.

So really you know what you’re seeing is these mature design teams or modern design teams are able to and have the ability and the trust to explore those unknown possibilities, right? To create elements of value and differentiation that don’t exist today. Moving that through getting from the current understanding of what is and trying to get to that questioning of what if. Right? So you know, but at the same time, though, let’s all be real here. It’s not just warm and fuzzy stuff here, right? I mean this is still like delivery.


Because hey, I mean like we could sing Kumbaya, and light up the campfire. But we want to talk about what we can do. There have been a number of instances with the number of presentations here where I’ve been nodding my head and seeing there are so many recurring themes and patterns in the presentations that have been underway here today and yesterday, which have been awesome. What we’re seeing is you can tackle a problem such as this many, many different ways. There’s a ton of thinking and perspectives going around this stuff. As we just heard yesterday and just a couple minutes ago. Finding an advocate, or as we referred to earlier, an am ambassador. Someone who can champion your cause who might not be on your team who can help to craft who can be helping you.

Selecting the right challenge is also paying attention to who else cares about it. We can start to see who else can start to be concerned about these things that we’re trying to fix. You can find yourself barking up a tree that no one knows is there anymore if you’re trying to identify problems that may or may not be there. You’re probably starting to default to expertise if you’re trying to build or if you’re trying to get authorization to build a mobile product. Who knows mobile best. That may not the be the best approach. What you may have to be looking for is people who have control over resources. Naturally your time. A recurring theme. The budget, the people, and the expenses that are going along with that. If you’re working on something new, you’re not working on something existing. Start that conversation as part of the advocate‑finding process. You would prefer to build a coalition of advocates. You don’t necessarily want to just have one because that person will be compromised.

Establishing a sense of urgency is also huge when you’re trying to get executives or stakeholders to recognize that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. You know, what you’re really going to start to see is people quickly often saying it’s not their problem or things are actually really good and you need to challenge that assumption that things are, because you know naturally people may either have their head in the sand or the proverbial emperor sans clothes and they’re clueless that the world is crumbling around them. The way they get that way is too much past success, lack of visible crises, low performance standards. You’re never not meeting the expectations because the expectations are set so low. And feedback from external resources, and trusted resources. You don’t want a yahoo leaving a bad comment on Twitter that your thing sucks. That can usually be brushed off. But for people who you care, that can be a problem.

Relying on external data. If you can find it. Talking to unhappy customers or former customers, and showing how particularly a good idea is unattainable based on the way you’re currently approaching a lot of the things. We’ve been doing a pretty good job at NASDAQ at trying to apply the sense of urgency by talking to a lot of unhappy customers. Oftentimes when we first started and trying to introduce design research into the process, there was a tendency to want to put our head in the sand and say don’t talk to them. We tried to change that thinking. We should be the first person on the front lines. We could always play the card that it wasn’t our terrible software, but we’re also the agents of change. We can say listen, we are the ones who can make this better. We’re the first people you can be talking to. That’s finally started to make some headway too. Also showing how things aren’t possible. Again, we’ve used that a lot, too. We should be doing this, but based on you know, the current allocations, based on the current funding, based on the types of things that people are working on instead, we’re never going to be able to get to this point. And I think that’s finally starting to make people sit up and take notice.

It’s also helpful to craft a vision and a story for who you are and what you’re trying to do. This is particularly useful inside the organization. You don’t want to be just thought of as the designers. We heard a lot of about you know how these design teams are built. You want to have that identity for who your teams are regardless of if you’re distributed or working on a significant number of different projects and you’re not always doing the same number of things together just so that way people can start to understand who are these people who are doing these things and we can start to understand more about what they’re doing.

What we’ll usually say is that vision should be of course something that is going to be focused, jargon free, you know flexible enough that you’re not painting yourself into too narrow of a corner about what you’re trying to do with the organization, and your story of course is going to reference that vision, but it’s almost going to be your elevator pitch of who you are in the organization if you found yourself talking to a big boss in the elevator and you say what do you do, how big is your team, who are they. All of those simple questions are really important to getting that understanding. All of this kind of tactical business speak. But it’s actually really critical to people understanding who you are and how then they can work with you if that need arises. This jerk also published, you know has been doing a lot of talk about benefits of a team charter. I don’t agree with any of this, so we’ll just move on.


That’s not entirely true. I’ll put it back up. So yeah, this is where again trying to establish that identity of what your team is and this is actually kind of like a top‑down approach within the design level of who you are. You know, articulating, you know, what you’re actually going to work on. The things that you don’t work on. You know, providing that kind of unified understanding of who everyone actually is and what they’re doing. You know, we’ve seen this, you know, where again Intuit here is trying to get at that stronger vision. Designing great products is a team sport. Moving away from thinking that designers hold that key to solving the world’s problem all on their own.

It’s also really critical to be communicating that future state of where you want things to go. You can’t be just telling them at happy hour about how you have this grand plan. You actually have to be publishing that plan and doing things so they can be aware of how things could be. Oftentimes it’s still in that spirit of the vision even if it may not be other things. You want to use multiple visions and forums. You don’t want to just nail 99 theses to the door of the suite. You want to use your own blogs, your own Twitter, your own intranet, whatever, you want to use multiple varieties of communication methods because you’re not sure who is going to be hearing that story. Creating a dialogue that is consistent so those messages aren’t going to be crossed and left for significant interpretation.

Celebrating short‑term wins is also critical for culture change. You need to be showing that what you’re doing is successful. It’s also a little difficult to say how is culture change coming. What can you tie that to? That’s usually what we’re going to make sure of. That they’re visible to the outsiders. You also want to make sure it’s unambiguous. You want to be able to have concrete — that’s awesome — wow. All right. Whether unambiguous and tied directly to that change effort. You want to make sure you’re not saying that the usability test was awesome, but you want to show how the discovery research is important. You want to make sure it’s a cohesive argument that’s tying back to that vision. You want to provide evidence that you’re on the right track and continue that buy‑in. It’s going to help you show that that vision is on the path to success. And most importantly it’s going to keep bosses and advocates on your side. It’s going to establish that credibility that things are working.

You know also this is something that, you know, we’ve, I’ve been trying to fight continuing for, you know to feature designers and products at corporate‑wide events. So you’re seeing again the fruits of kind of that labor. We were saying can you be presenting at annual sales kickoffs, demonstrating your work or your people at town halls or all‑hands type meetings so you’re taking the design team away from being that last stop on the product development cycle and instead pulling them into that entire discussion of what you’re making and why.

Attending trade shows formerly only attended by others is fun. But going to more of those trade things that are a huge departure from the types of design conferences that a lot of us are familiar with really does get you more of that understanding of what vendors are trying to sell, and the way they’re positioning a lot of their work so you can start to see and of course listen in on some of those seminars of where that industry is so you can be better prepared to discuss those opportunities for capitalizing on that new understanding that you may not have had.

And really the corporate communications can also be a boring, but really effective channel of changing that. So you know in the fabulously exciting corporate solutions news e‑mail here, every time I think of that I think of 1984 and it’s like the Ministry of Truth. But one of the things that was quoted in my career at both Thompson Reuters and NASDAQ have I seen a solution as clear as this one.

Someone who doesn’t work for me, say what you think is the most important in this whole bubble here.

Solid? Anything else? Well done. Exactly. “us.” Taking a shared ownership of what the team is doing. It’s not just the designers did this. It’s not just that the product team did this. It’s a cohesive team. We all pulled this together. Frankly you’re trying to get more folks to feel like they’re participating in it. And loot of these things are going to lead you there.

So speaking of that, though, you still have to deliver the goods there. You can’t just be a bag of hot air and throw your beret on and your bag around your shoulder and say this is the way the world should be. Trust me that doesn’t work. Steven Turbek from Fidelity when he was doing a lot of work about design team to become that trusted partner there is no substitute for demonstrated confidence.

How can you do that? How can you be speaking successful cause and effect between your work and the work that you’re trying to do. Quickly you can share usability clips. Even if you’re kind of cherrypicking clips of things that you’re going to share, but clearly nothing is going to be better than audio or video over a transcript, but a transcript is going to help show that things are getting said about what you’re doing. Even a perception of pace is key. Even if you’re going right along the schedule of doing the things that you’re going to do, not falling behind, at least showing a cadence of delivery is going to help show that reputation of the team of people doing what they said they’re going to be doing.

Naturally performance metrics are going to help. We’ll talk about that in a bit.

And other stakeholder validation. What are other bosses in the company saying about the things that your team is doing? Again what you’re trying to do is show that maybe you can be helping them, as well. You can get out of the rote day‑to‑day things that you’re doing and maybe you can start to extend that throughout the organization.

Also having additional KPIs that you can be measuring can also help. But again instead of having more, it’s more important that they’re tied directly to the things that you’re trying to do. Just doing a shotgun blast of data is probably not going to advance that story as closely as having a few good key metrics that are going to speak to the larger company or the product vision.

And then of course one of the things that will always get noticed is when you’re moving the needle of the stock price. We even got to the point where Wall Street analysts are covering the things that we’re doing at NASDAQ, which is fascinated. I’ve never seen this before. When my team would leave doing a usability test. And we were passing Barclay’s. Is it really that good? And the customers were saying yeah, it’s legit. It’s external validation. When they’re saying buy more stock because it’s good, that usually makes people sit up and notice. Then you have to start wearing a suit to events, though. So tread carefully.

So let’s dig into the silos and politics thing, though, because this is something that is absolutely a big deal here. And something that we have heard mentioned in these hallowed halls.

So the silos of course, in some cases they’re things that we just have to deal with. So let’s dig into them a little bit. Oftentimes the reason why they are viewed negatively of course is they’re never aligned. They’re going to share different priorities. There’s a lack of information flow. You know, it’s that groupthink that we were just hearing about. There’s also oftentimes that confirmation bias that we also just heard about. Where you’re always convincing yourselves of reality that you perceive is inside your silo and that may or may not be the case. And there’s no knowledge sharing. There’s no leave behind. There’s no ability to say we’re being successful here and maybe we can help you or vice versa.

So if you imagine that we have the two groups, you know I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss Mark Grenaver for the strength of weak ties. He did an economics report it’s almost 30 years old. It’s one of the most cited scholarly journals around. He was basically saying if you’re trying to get out of this groupthink, you need to identify the weak ties. Not the people you know well, but the people who can bring different ways of thinking into your teams.

What we’re looking for here is where can you create these bridges between two small teams that aren’t necessarily talking to each other. And as designers, we’re naturally kind of equipped to do some of these things. Build those bridges using design techniques, collaborative workshops and also promoting and publishing the things that you’re doing. And what you’ll start to find there is you’re getting more people in. If your design team is siloed by product to product, get more of those designers, start small. Get a designer who is working on something else into a design studio to work alongside you. If a product manager has expertise that you’re not able to access, get them involved in some of the prioritization. Or even some of the game stormer or innovation games types of exercises. Designing the box or magazine cover. Real low barrier to entry type of techniques that are all over the internet. And you’ll start to find those silos slowly collapsing.

And really for the managers in the room, you know you have another special role here because you have kind of that access to be able to change you know the way things are going or at least to start that. So you know facilitating those introductions and those conversations. That’s also a pretty reliable step to break down those silos. You should be talking to this person or this person should be talking to this group here.

Keep in mind, too, that the best evangelists may not be the best actual practicing designer. We also talked about this a little bit yesterday. Oftentimes great designers get promoted into management. Same thing here. Your best evangelist may not necessarily be the sharpest Photoshop user. Sorry, I don’t use PhotoShop stuff anymore. I only put people’s heads on bodies and then send them to guys. [Laughter] What you’re really looking for is who is going to be making those connections.

Milissa mentioned yesterday there is no B team. If you’re developing a skunkworks project, make sure you have the right people who are working on that. You need the right people building these things out of dev and product and design and marketing or research or whatever. Make sure you don’t just give it to people who have the free time. Allocate the other way.

And don’t overspecialize. Support and enable generalists not only for growth, but also exposure. Don’t just say because this person is an I.A., I can’t have this person doing research. Or just because they’re an interaction designer, I can’t have them informing the discovery process. There are other important things. Get out there. And talk more sooner. And then of course don’t pull the ladder up from your own team. Really make sure that you’re establishing the support network for your team to get, to continue to get better. To continue to get the types of connections, the types of understanding that they would not be able to have without your support. Without putting them in a position to succeed. It can be sometimes difficult if you’re trying to maintain your own job and your own responsibilities, but make sure you’re always looking out for the folks who are working for you to continue to march toward that vision.

So we can basically do here is kind of line up these table stakes for change. Invite the weak ties, not necessarily the weak links to design events. Share their participation with their leadership. Make sure if you’re bringing in other folks from those other siloed folks, orgs, teams, make sure you tell their boss. We had her in here, she was great, participative, engaged. That will make a bigger difference, as well. And publishing and promoting the research and deliverables is another thing that we’re going to be discussing a lot of. And if you’re going to go the skunkworks route, make sure it’s connecting to your organization’s goals. How can you tie it back. You’ll start to see that the Skunks Work projects won’t have to be under this cloud of secrecy. You can get the whole team rallied around it and excited about it.

When you’re connecting it to the big picture, map your success to those goals. If customer service is mapped as a core value for your company, show how you’re reducing support goals by X‑percent. If you’re trying to show how increasing margin on the things that you’re building is a business goal, show that those new features are able to command higher rates. Talk to sales and say that more people want this now. Our retention numbers are up. Instead of, you know, just saying that everybody likes this design.

And then of course what’s also interesting is to help others help themselves. We talked a lot about how other teams or how non‑designers could be doing other things all for the betterment of the team and for the wider organization’s understanding of design. Show what your team has done. Make sure you have design patterns available for some of those non‑designers so they’re not necessarily starting from square one every time they have something they want done. Some of the easy stuff are the style guides, palettes. If marketing isn’t sharing that, point it to marketing. They’re probably going to come to marketing first. You want to show you may not be the keeper of the realm, but you can say here are other things that the organization is doing and has access to.

And be sharing other personas and research findings so we’re not starting from scratch. Frankly you personas should be general enough so they’re not tied directly to software. That should be something that is used or available to other people who aren’t necessarily the folks just building product.

Workshops are also an easy way to show your expertise and to be able to continue to bridge those silos. How to conduct a design studio or how to discuss design via critique. I was trying not to put a plug in for my coworker on Available now on A lot of you have seen user stories. As a product manager, I want the button to be read. Done, send, ship it. One of the things we’re trying to have my team do is have people who are aren’t necessarily on the hook now, but in the future. Nip that pain point in the bud. We’ll help you find the value. This is the problem that we’re trying to solve and it’s a really useful olive branch. Trying to get involved in kickoff meetings or the opposite, facilitating retros. Listen, I don’t have skin in this game, but we’re trying to get learning out of what we’ve been doing. You’re kind of looking at not only an olive branch, but you’re also a non‑active participant to be working with that. You’re not necessarily on the hook for the success or the failure of the product itself. You’re trying to suss out what was useful in the process there.

But you can’t stop there. The real risk there is other businesses or organizations are going to use their own budgets for hiring designers that won’t report to you. I’m not trying to get into scare tactics here. But if you’re not prepared to scale some of this work, some of these orgs may go and use their own dough to get designers who will be starting from square one. And if you work in agencies, you know you’re there for a defined period of time and then you’re gone. That organization isn’t going to have you to go back to unless they’re getting out your checkbook again to say what happened, what did you learn from that. Design will be the scapegoat. It’s your fault, naturally.

Projects are going to end. Priorities shift. Competitors evolve. They’re out there trying to hire us. Teammates quit. This isn’t something that stops. Right? So this is when you kind of start to look back at all of this. You see that building a culture of design, it’s that land grab. It’s not that I want NASDAQ to be design led or a design led company. What we’re looking at instead is can we use a culture of experimentation. Learning and quality. Not just build agriculture of design for our sake as designers to benefit from this.

Because really when you’re seeing this lens of quality, again we’re not getting into the Toyota and lean version of quality, we’re looking for the way the rest of the world uses quality here. When we’re talking about making decisions in highly ambiguous but critical areas and getting us closer to that deeper reflection and the risks and payoffs of those business decisions. That’s where we want to be doing. That’s the train they want to be on where we’re figuring out exactly what we should be doing. Not necessarily just what we’re being told to do. We don’t want to get in a situation of atrophy. Complacency is absolutely deadly to culture change. Persuasion is a process. It’s not an event. Delivery will always be your currency. Your credibility is going to be your social capital. And then your vision is going to be your access.

Thank you.


Do you have questions?


Up until recently I worked for a small startup company that was trading on penny stocks. Was penny‑stock traded, I should say. My question for you is for companies that are publicly traded and are driven by stock maneuvers. My experience was that design and development decisions were made by the stock movement. And trying to, you know, convince management that there’s a long‑term journey there that needs to happen. What does that conversation look like to you?

Chris Avore:

So basically what we have tried to do as far as tying stock prices. I mean sometimes public companies report four times a year, right? Our release cycle isn’t tied to four times. It’s like look what a good boy I am. The stock price goes up, I get a high five or a kick in the ass if it goes down. What we’re trying to do with the types of things that we’re doing is educate Wall Street. This is when it’s coming, this is what it’s going to be, this is why it’s significant. What you’re discussing is kind of like a big, larger discussion of how are you informing your executive teams, such as like the CFO and the investor relations officer of what’s the story. Is the product going to move that needle? That should be part of the conversation. Hopefully what you’ll have is enough user research about how excited people are or the types of opportunities or the types of predictions that will be coming once the new thing is there to say this needs to be part of that story. Or in some cases you don’t want it to be part of the story because it’s not going to be ready yet. Or people are going to think if you discuss it in Q2, then it’s going to be ready in Q3. That’s going to set expectations up where you may be compromising your reputation if you’re promising things you can’t deliver.


Similar, but not as poignant of a question. In terms of taking credit for wins, and tying them back to the vision of the design team. Can you give concrete examples of what that looks like. Other people have said they tried to do that and it backfired. We did all these things and this usability test resulted in this feature change, which resulted in this. And people get lost in it. Or it seems like you’re overreaching. Talk more about that if you could.

Chris Avore:

You’re absolutely right. You can get into quick situations of causation versus correlation and trying to take too much success. Usually the things we do are more on the software side. Pulling usability clips or audio. And again we’re cherrypicking because the goal isn’t necessarily, I mean we’re already learning from these things ourselves. But part of cherrypicking the good stuff is to show management that we’re on the right track. So of course there’s a risk there that you talk to five people who love it and then actually the rest of the world is going to hate it. But hopefully what you’re doing a better job of is finding the patterns consistent across all of those usability tests that you can more confidently say that this is going to be good.

Again, even some of the more, like one of the more mundane things could be staying on budget or not necessarily having to poach designers from other projects to get across the finish line. Things like that are not all that sexy, but they’re things that people are going to understand.

One of the things that you were kind of mentioning that I think has been really useful is kind of showing a step‑by‑step cause and effect of research to design changes to validation to going out in production code where you’re saying we were positing this, and then we tested it and realized we have to change a little bit. And then it turned into this. They’re getting more of the full story of how the sausage gets made instead of saying exclusively ta‑da. That’s where you can get into the risk of having the rug pulled out from under you if things go sideways.

Oh boy. This should be easy.



This came up a little bit yesterday during Braden’s talk and I’m wondering how you think about the relationship between strategic design and product management. Where one ends, where the other begins, why aren’t strategic designers just becoming product managers, et cetera?

Chris Avore:

That’s awesome. And I’ll tell you what, I think the first thing I’m going to say is a cop out. And it’s totally organization centric. I think what companies are going to do. I know at NASDAQ as my five colleagues will attest to is we are very design strong and then the product management, like the people who were paid as product management have less comprehensive roles because the designers are doing a lot more of it. So that line really, really is blurred with us where really about the most significant thing that product management does that we don’t is be on phone calls at 7 a.m. with Bangalore talking through products. Thanks fellas. That is all you! [Laughter] But we have absolutely seen that. And the way my boss, my boss oversees product management and product design and so he’ll be the first to say what he usually wants out of product managers are a good domain understanding and then maybe like another attribute. Whether it’s good marketing and positioning to understand where this thing should be. If it is a very, you know, maybe you need more domain knowledge because something that you’re building is extremely complex or something like that. We have a lot of that.

But also have your designers, have an understanding of how to build and ship software that you’re not necessarily going to, that a lot of product managers may have. One thing that I really railed against usually is when people assume that you should be promoted out of user experience and design into product management as some type of career step. I think depending from organization to organization you could be shooting yourself in the foot there.

I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of these orgs just keep having responsibility heaped onto when we can do it regardless of what that title is going to be. If you have someone who can articulate a vision, unless they’re working with a product manager to make sure the stories are concise. We have to rewrite half the stories anyway. Can that be one practice, instead of throwing one thing over the wall from one team to another.

But again, that’s in the walls of our stuff.


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