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Academy Xi Blog

Pushing design forward

By Academy Xi

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We asked five design experts how they are progressing the design agenda within their e-commerce businesses. 

Key themes include: 

  • Steering clear of design jargon
  • Collaborative rituals
  • Team charters
  • Saying yes over no
  • Hiring for curiosity

James Ratsasane, Experience & Design Lead, Aesop.

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it? 

This is a great question, it’s also one of those jargon terms that has entered business vernacular, but for me design maturity is essentially an applied strategy. When I’m evaluating design maturity I look at three levels. The most basic is operational—designers are working on projects and creating deliverables for requirements. (Insert your favourite design thinking frameworks, artefacts and deliverables.)  It’s what would be considered base level expectation..The next level is tactical—the organisation is thinking about design practice as a function deeply integrated into product development. Good ways of working have been defined, tool kits and capability uplift activities are in place to ensure continuous improvement. Healthy collaborative rituals such as critiques and studios, playbacks showcase are bringing everyone in the organisation along on the journey.

Most organisations with a design team will have a handle on the first two, but I would argue that maturity goes beyond operational performance, the pinnacle is the strategic level where design influences decisions that impacts market differentiation. At this level, brands and companies have developed their own language of visual, interaction and service design that enables them to provide personalised and locally relevant experiences and ultimately extend their offering beyond the transactional. Their ecosystem is well thought out and seamless to their users. Eventually their products and services inform emerging trends and patterns and improve the lives of their customers.

Depending on the area organisations operate, whether its products and services, social good or government policy, their level of design maturity is underpinned by design ethics.
Practitioners at this level have an implicit understanding that design has consequences, both intended and unintended. Mature design is strategic because it considers a preferred future, and its impact on the next billion users.

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

I’ve seen a few things work well. Design teams should have a charter, a social contract on how they will lift each other up. Having a knowledge base and knowledge transfer is crucial for uplifting your teams. Structures such as chapters, guilds or communities of practice can really help grow a design culture. Similarly, rituals for removing blockers and creating systems to increase efficiencies so people can focus on the true nature of design. I also believe in encouraging designers to show work often and early. Work needs to be made visible to everyone in the organisation, no us and them, and no silos please. I also like to prioritise programmes and feedback loops that enable the organisation to really understand their customer’s unmet needs. The emphasis should be on equity and inclusion. Finally, we’ve got to all embrace failure. It’s an opportunity to improve the design of your product or service.

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

First, create a north star by working with your stakeholders and leadership to educate and define what good design is for your organisation. This alignment of principles will ensure standards and expectations, as well as make decisions easier. I recommend giving design a platform and ensuring that designers keep track of their UX outcomes, demonstrating how these cascade up to the team, portfolio and organisation objectives and key results (OKRs). Businesses need to empower their product teams to ideate wide, fail-fast, measure and learn often. The vision piece is key here. I always recommend hiring curious people with a growth and collaborative mindsets. The final piece is rewarding experimentation and continuous improvement. You need to nurture a design culture that is willing to innovate. This is how you get to market differentiation. Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive. It can happen with the smallest interventions.

Daniel Foulds, UX Design Lead, Kmart

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it? 

Let’s look at the various perspectives. Start by looking within your own team, then to the teams you regularly interact with and then the overall organisation. Within your immediate team, what does the UX practice look like? What are regular processes, activities and the rigour around them? For example, how are design critiques run, what’s the contribution like from individuals, what is the output like? What tools are available to UX’ers within their toolbox? How often are these tools used and referenced within cross functional teams? (e.g: journey maps, research tools, design system.) Zooming outwards, how does the practice work with these cross-functional teams? How are new teams/team members onboarded? How is the governance process of design run across teams? For these teams we partner with, how intune are they with what we do as a UX practice? What does collaboration look like? It’s got to be a partnership, we aren’t just a service. What is the broader adoption like of some of our tools? Do they see the value of building empathy via our personas? Are they adopting the qualitative and quantitative insights that we can support them with? Essentially, are we both pulling in the same direction? Zooming out again to the overall business. This often becomes a harder proposition. At this scale, there are a wide range of ingredients needed to embed a design culture. The key ingredients are persistence, coaching, unity, collaboration & time. 

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

Show the value. Take those you are working with on the journey. Business-centric staff can see things differently to a designer. Be respectful of that. Inclusion and partnership are so important. Talking the same language as a business is crucial. It often helps to speak about the size of the opportunity (dollars plus the customer impact) that relates to a UX improvement. For example, you may have a strong hypothesis as to why there is a cart abandonment at a particular part of the checkout. Do some leg work. Leverage the research tools you have and partner with other teams to get the necessary insight to support the hypothesis. Frame the opportunity in a way that helps them understand the value of the missed opportunity. For example, ‘based on our AOV (average order value), if we were able to remedy this abandonment by doing X,Y the return could be $Z…and we make customers much happier in the process.’

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

If the desire is there, that’s attitudinal and half the battle. Look to establish an approach that suits both parties and the goal of being more design-led. Partner up with key people. Get some supporters to help you drive this forward and focus on what can be done together. Can you set up an education series? What tools can you leverage – can you set up a Slack group or sharepoint for ease of visibility? How can parts of the business be included more regularly? Are there particular areas of interest that the business is more keen to understand eg: personalisation or AB testing for example? Capitalise on this interest initially.

Get to know Daniel and know what it’s like to become a mentor

Anthony Currenti, UX Lead, Catch.com.au

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it?

A lot of time is given to discussing design maturity in terms of methodologies, processes, design thinking, innovation etc. I believe that the key differentiator for businesses in achieving design maturity is when design informs rather than performing a function of a problem or product lifecycle. It is a matter of how operations are set up to drive a business in that direction. I also find those businesses that have a high level of design maturity prioritise iterative learning. The longer a business spends on a product, the longer they typically see it shift away from true customer wants and needs. Often it is better to get a product shipped and then improve it based on research and data iteratively.

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

As designers, we in fact spend a lot of time with non-designers. Our role is often to bring teams of experts together to identify and address a problem. I find it is often easier to break down barriers when you speak in a language that is accessible. It is about open language. At Catch.com.au we have moved away from design jargon. Instead of using terms like ‘ideate’ and ‘prototype’ we’ve moved to using statements such as ‘What are some ideas we can come up with?’ and ‘How are we going to test these with our customers?’ This is a way of democratising design and is a vital step towards organisational design maturity.

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

I would advise against automatically thinking that the only way to build a new product is to knock the old one down. Insead, I have often seen success when businesses use what they have as ‘scaffolding’ for their next project. The ‘holy grail’ of design is really in being able to give your work a currency that executive teams understand. For example, if we release a feature and need to hire a designer to bring it to life, we need metrics to show the value of the initiative. Say we then see a lift in customer ‘stickiness’, we then need to work out what that ‘stickiness’ translates to in terms of Gross Transaction Value or another key financial metric. If we can do that, we can then build a case around the value of design in language that makes sense to decision makers. This can be very challenging however as it requires you to have all of those metrics in place but I have seen it be successful if you can start to implement this over time.

Vida Asrina, Head of Experience Design, Endeavour X

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it?

Although it might seem counterintuitive, I think achieving ‘design maturity’ actually hinges on whether or not designers can unlearn design. It’s about showing empathy. When designers use complicated language, tools and methodology, they are actually creating an understanding barrier inside their organisation. What we have found works at Endeavour X is to avoid using typical design language. We have shifted the way we talk with other internal stakeholders so that we are focussed on outcomes rather than jargon. This works well because it allows us to invite those internal stakeholders into the world of design in a non-threatening way. Once we have built those relationships it allows us to take them on a design journey. This is an essential part of the process as, in order for an organisation to reach design maturity, the whole business needs to be along for the ride.

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

I have a favourite saying: ‘Relationship’ over ‘ship’. If you have a good relationship, you can ship anything. If you don’t have a good relationship, you won’t be able to see any of your initiatives through to organisational adoption. In terms of building these relationships, I have a mindset that I encourage my team to use when engaging with other internal teams. Instead of saying ‘no’ to ideas that others have, I ask them to say ‘yes’ and go on to explain the potential risk factors. The moment you say ‘no’ to an idea, you construct a barrier. People feel rejected. They feel as if they are not listened to. When you say ‘Yes, and…’, people feel heard and communication can begin to open up.

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

I would recommend finding a practice that works in terms of getting funding or design ‘buy-in’ more broadly. This is how momentum builds. Find an advocate internally who agrees to a short-term design commitment. For example, this could be hiring a Service Designer for a 3-month contract or funding a short-term design project. This initial buy-in allows you to show the value of design. Then things snowball. One design project becomes two. One service designer then becomes a team of service designers. You need to really find that first initial internal client that is willing to try a different design-led approach.

Gowri Penkar, Service Design Lead, carsales.com.au

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it?

I see ‘design maturity’ and the role of a designer as having the ability to bring down the walls between design and the rest of the business. It is about being human centred to our customers but also our stakeholders who are tasked with hard-to-achieve targets. Designers working closely with product owners, technologists and multi disciplinary teams to change mindsets all with the goal of turning customer insights into tangible solutions to business challenges.

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

Most businesses that I’ve worked for, know and understand that they have challenges. They often have legacy systems that create an extra layer of complexity. Some (designers) see this as an opportunity to introduce something entirely new and shiny. However, this is bound to have an opposite effect on stakeholders who are painfully aware of all the reasons why that cannot go ahead.  Good design is about helping our stakeholders achieve their goals and in the process subtly changing mindsets. It is encouraging people to look through different lens than they are used to. It is working within the constraints of the business while helping our stakeholders understand customer behaviour to better understand their needs and solve for them. In my experience, successful designers are the ones who are able to find the middle ground between what supports the overarching business’ objectives and what will make for a great customer experience. Organisations that have design teams that are able to strike this balance will be further down the path towards achieving ‘design maturity’ by virtue of the way they are able to communicate with the wider business.

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

Having a customer/user/ member-first approach is the way for businesses to be design-led. The task of designers within these organisations is much deeper, though. They need to be a design leader by speaking the language of the business to communicate the value of design. They need to take the time to stand in the shoes of some of their stakeholders. They need to ask themselves – What is the organisation’s objective, goals and what do they want to achieve, and how can I help them, rather than just building something because they’ve been asked to or because it’s the latest / greatest new thing. They’ll need to inculcate in our stakeholders the values of design instead of spewing them with design jargon that makes little sense to someone who isn’t a designer. Good designers influence others in the team to think like them and bring everyone on a journey. By doing this, designers play the role of the sherpa to support stakeholders along their journey to a more design-led way of working.

Get to know more of Gowri and her design journey

Want your business to use good design to better solve problems? Arrange a 1-2 day training session to build foundational design capability in your team. Need something more bespoke? Our Signature Programs include project-based design training, customer-centric transformations and more.

Academy Xi Blog

Behind the scenes: how Academy Xi drives student success

By Academy Xi

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Businesses want to be customer-centric, but few come close. How do we put our students front and centre, and deliver the best-in-class training in the digital space? Let’s take a look behind the scenes. 

Continuous learning is not just another fad: for many, it’s now a part of life. Learners from all backgrounds are flocking to short, skills-focussed training more than ever before. Motivations vary wildly – from kickstarting careers to reclaiming confidence, from helping businesses soar to simply learning for enjoyment. 

Check how we at Academy Xi, Make it Happen, for you and your future. 

So what does Academy Xi do differently to deliver the best experience and outcomes for our students? 

Sounds cheesy, but it really is a team effort, weaving human-centred design principles into everything we do. We chat to our leadership to learn more. 

Product Development 

Tiffany McHugh, Head of Product (Learning), explains Academy Xi’s approach to delivering highly engaging content for online learning. 

The Product Team at Academy Xi is made up of highly experienced, technically skilled learning designers who are using Human Centred Design principles to create world class online learning – essentially practising what we preach! With backgrounds from instructional design, teaching, education management, and multimedia design & production, the team uses a mix of learning theory and digital practices to design experiences, not just course content. 

At the heart of it, we aim to demystify technology in a rapidly changing industry. Our job is to explain complex ideas in simple terms, using plain friendly language, supported by plenty of real world examples and industry stories. No lofty jargon, no unexplained terminology, no intimidating concepts – we aim to make our courses as accessible as humanly possible. 

Our courses are particularly unique in that we create our own learning frameworks; these are deeply researched, co-designed with industry experts, and delicately balanced sets of design, business and technical skills that employers in digital industries want. These frameworks underpin all course material we create in-house, ensuring we deliver the learning outcomes students need for their careers now, and into the future. 

The result is a suite of online courses that give students the perfect mix of skills, practice and knowledge they need to confidently advance their careers, or even start a new career

The courses are easy to progress through, using a combination of multimedia content, plenty of interactivity, lots of social engagement opportunities and regular learning support from the mentors and student experience teams. Our learning platform is specifically selected for the best user experience possible, and feedback confirms this to be true – our students love it! 

Learning is a two-way conversation, so we design-in plenty of opportunities for learners to check their growing capability, get feedback and test ideas with others.

We also update our course content regularly to make sure what we teach is as current and fresh as you will find anywhere in the world. 

I was blown away by how the course was put together and loved the fortnightly catch ups with my group. The course structure and delivery kept us all engaged with the topics we were covering each week and a lot of the resources were very comprehensive and super helpful. I liked the mixture of mediums used for course instruction – video content, written and live tutorials – it worked well. I also really enjoyed the quizzes and having break out rooms to discuss concepts with my classmates.” – Imogen Abandowitz, Digital Marketing Elevate graduate

Student Experience

Chris Veness (Head of Design & Business Portfolio)  and Renju Phillip (Head of Technology Portfolio) chat to us about how the student experience is shaped by mentors and the student support team. 

The Academy Xi Student Experience team has a combined 30 years of expertise in delivering online education and building digital capability. The team’s commitment to delivering a first-class learning experience for our students really sets us apart.

Our learning model empowers students to not only absorb new (and sometimes complex) concepts, but also put what they learn into practice right away. 

We do this by engaging some of the world’s best industry practitioners as our ‘Mentors’. With backgrounds ranging from Customer Experience to UX Design and Data Analytics to Software Engineering, these qualified professionals know what first-class looks like and are very passionate about sharing their knowledge.  

Every person who chooses to study our courses achieves the highest level of commitment and support from our team to ensure they succeed – in the course, and beyond graduation.

We pride ourselves on our small class sizes, which allow students to participate more fully in discussions and get to know each other more intimately.

Academy Xi online training was completely different. I made so many new connections and I felt a sense of community that I didn’t with university training. The class sizes were small, so we actually got to know each other – it was way more engaging.” – Oshi Paranavitane, UX UI Design Transform graduate

Our live sessions are run by Mentors who provide far more than just training –  they supply our students with operational perspectives from their current industry practices, using client scenarios and real case studies to bring the learning to life.

“There’s always this question in your mind of whether I could have learned it on YouTube. You see a lot of stories around software developers or engineers self learning on Udemy. But where this course distinguishes itself is the real people – a supportive peer to peer network. Making use of the unlimited mentoring sessions was critical. [My mentor] Albert did a great job and I didn’t know initially that you could book time with him everyday, but then, after a few weeks when I did that, and started accelerating – it made all the difference.” 

– Barry Nguyen, Software Engineering Transform graduate

Our courses are all designed such that our students learn by doing, and walk away with immediately applicable practical skills. Projects are therefore an important cornerstone of each course. Depending on the course, these may be real-world client projects, or personal projects. 

Live client projects are a unique feature of our Transform courses, which really take learning to the next level. Students work on real business problems and deliver their solutions using learned skills. Our students graduate with real world experience and exposure to relevant industry practices… and have the portfolio or github profile to showcase these projects. 

Our unique training and delivery model ensures the highest level of success to best prepare our graduates for any interview.

“I went in with high expectations, which were all met. I totally understand why people recommend this course, and in particular, Hayden… [the training and project] absolutely enabled me to get the job with Westpac.” –  Yuka Mochizuki, UX UI Transform graduate

Career Support 

Will Phillips, Head of Career Support & Talent Services, explains the different tools used to empower our Transform graduates to secure jobs in their field of choosing.

Everyone’s journey is different when it comes to their career path, and here at Academy Xi we provide our graduates with the tools, support and guidance to help them take that first step towards achieving their individual goals and landing that dream job. During their Transform course students have access to our digital Career Toolkit which establishes the foundations needed to be job market ready, covering topics such as resumé writing, crafting the perfect cover letter, building a personal brand and harnessing the power of LinkedIn for your job search. 

Post-course our graduates can opt into our industry-leading Career Support Program where they have access to a Career Coach to help refine their job search strategy, in a one-on-one setting. As participants in the program, the graduates are in the driver’s seat and are accountable for their own job search, with the Academy Xi team on hand to help them navigate the employment market, providing insights, advice and guidance where necessary. Everything from interview preparation, networking tips and mindset coaching is available as part of the Career Support program, which is tailored to each participant’s needs through our personalised approach.

Our Talent Services team are focused on creating awareness within industry about the pipeline of graduates coming through our courses and tap into our extensive network of employers to seek out potential opportunities that might be the right fit for someone at the start of their new career.

As a team, what motivates us is seeing our graduates land that first role and transform their careers into something new and exciting. We are very proud that 9 out of 10 of our active participants in the Career Support Program land a role in under 180 days. In many ways this last phase is the toughest part of the whole course, it’s not easy to get your foot in the door and it takes a lot of drive and determination. A job search is challenging and there is no golden ticket or cheat sheet to achieve instant results. Everyone’s path is different and those graduates who put in the hard yards and stay motivated are the ones that make it happen.

“The practical up-to-the-minute advice from Dan and the Career Support team was absolutely outstanding. Being able to practice for mock interviews and talk through how to best approach my non-linear career journey, and compose my own narrative for the job market, was critical to land my new role shortly afterwards.” 

Alessio Somma, Service Design graduate

In the words of Matt Hill, Co-CEO, “It’s absolutely fantastic to hear these success stories – from both students and corporate clients –  as it reinforces that our approach to learning is delivering tangible individual and business outcomes. It’s so pleasing to see teams come together to deliver a fantastic result for our students and clients.” 

___ 

With Academy Xi, you can make it happen. 

For your business. For your career. For your team. For your future. 

To learn more about our courses for individuals and teams, contact us at [email protected] or 1300 098 165.

Academy Xi: Client Success Stories

Upskilling a team of product managers

By Academy Xi

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The challenge: Upskill a group of product managers from various divisions and seniority levels on digital knowledge and product management best practice.

The outcome: Through the delivery of a custom-built nine week course, this group of product managers are now aligned around a shared language and understanding of core product management processes as well as best-practice digital knowledge in adjacent areas.

The bank has a wide variety of staff with the title of product manager. Some operationalise digital project delivery, others are more strategy oriented, and some operate in the product marketing space. These product managers work across various departments such as retail banking, commercial lending etc. Academy Xi was brought in to design and deliver a custom solution that would offer key learnings for all participants, while creating a shared language.

After a co-design process with the bank’s organising team, Academy Xi created a nine week program comprising eight half-day courses and a full-day final session. The first four sessions focused on essential digital skills including UX and software development fundamentals. The program then switched instructors and direction to focus on core product management tools and mindsets. These sessions kicked off with an external case study ‘circuit breaker’ session, and culminated in a full day product management project simulation based on a real Westpac case study. 

Over the course of the program, the group formed a bond with the instructors and each other. Participants were able to contribute their expertise in subject areas they were passionate about, and learn from others in areas that were new to them. The final case study simulation acted as the culmination of the program, and was very well received. Gamified simulations have been found to be excellent embedding and engagement mechanisms. Post-course survey feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with participants citing various new skill sets they planned to apply in their jobs.

Key outputs:

  • Expanded knowledge of the product management roadmapping process
  • Understanding of how to produce and leverage documentation
  • Enhanced comprehension of the product life cycle
  • Ability to apply learnings based on case study and simulation sessions

Academy Xi Webinars

Design maturity: How to get there

By Academy Xi

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Join our panel of digital experts as we discuss tips on how you can lead your business towards becoming design-led.

Panellists:

  • Anthony Currenti – UX Lead, Catch.com.au
  • Gowri Penkar – Service Design Lead, Carsales
  • Vida Asrina – Head of Experience Design, Endeavour X (Endeavour Group Limited)

In this webinar you will learn:

  • Tips for leading design-led change
  • What common barriers stand in the way
  • What helps management to ‘buy-in’ to design-led projects, processes and change
  • Why, from a designers perspective, design maturity is often about unlearning what they know

Keen to join us? Register your interest now. 

Want to keep up to date with the latest webinars from Academy Xi? Follow us here on LinkedIn.