A talk with Nicky Fuganjananon, a junior design strategist at PwC.
Welcome to the [Design Strategy Talks] series. Here, you’ll find different perspectives and insights from my colleagues around the world. The goal? To learn and improve on your design process!
Let’s jump right into it with our guest this time, Nicky Fuganjananon.
Who is Nicky Fuganjananon?
Nicky started her career as a Technology Consultant at PwC in 2015. Despite having no design background with the exception of taking a few art classes, her time at PwC gave her the opportunity to develop and refine her design and UX research skills.
Moving on from consultancy, she became a UX Researcher at PwC New Ventures incubator and after multiple successful product launches, she was promoted to Senior Product Designer. Nicky’s passion for design and technology, combined with her excellent organizational abilities, led her to her current role as Junior Design Strategist.
Nicky’s pioneering HR tool, which merges analytics into a real-time feedback system, was presented at the World Economic Forum 2017 and also featured in the Wall Street Journal.
Use feedback to re-evaluate or affirm your strategy
Nicky views design strategy as an application of user-centric design principles and thinking to product development.
Design strategy should always address the user’s pain points and empathize with them. Therefore, design strategy should always start with some kind of research or interview with our target customers and users. We need to identify what they value the most and which jobs need to be done.
Only then can strategists begin reviewing the features that are most important for users. But even once the initial research is complete, the strategy is not set in stone.
We must always keep in mind that our design strategy can change throughout the development life cycle. We must always get feedback from our users to re-evaluate or affirm our strategy. After all, a successful strategy solves the user’s problems and causes the least friction (if any) while completing its job
Knowing your users’ pain points is one of the key driving forces of design and product creation. Another major motivator, which may come as a bit of a surprise, is constraints.
Constraints = Creativity
Nicky perceives the relationship between design strategy and creativity to be quite complex yet mutually beneficial.
In the first instance, having a design strategy in place doesn’t result in more creative solutions.
I would say that design strategy mostly results in a targeted solution. Ironically, the most creative solutions that my team and I have come up with resulted from the constraints we had from our business teams
These constraints can be linked to budget or time, and they can often prompt designers and developers to be more creative and imaginative in seeking the right solutions for your customers.
A great example is Toyota’s success, which is built around various constraints. In post-war Japan, Toyota was hampered by resource shortages. Its physical infrastructure was still severely damaged and skilled labour was desperately scarce – all of this on an island that had to import most of its key industrial resources. Such conditions made operations almost impossible for a typical mass-production car factory. Constraints forced experiments towards a radically different approach, which focused largely on reducing waste at every stage. It was from this that the idea of ‘lean methodology’ was born, which went on to become one of the driving forces behind twentieth century innovations.
That’s why Nicky is a firm believer in Jeff Bezos’ principle:
Frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do.
Designers should be the voice of the customer
Nicky thinks that design should help businesses make the best possible decisions with their customers in mind, without compromising basic design principles. Design should ensure that a product solves real customer problems. Otherwise, no one will buy it.
Companies are often fixated on their ‘original idea’ and believe that they ‘understand their customers best’. This is most likely wrong, as individuals who are not the real users are often biased and sometimes make unrealistic assumptions about their customers. Sometimes, businesses are too eager to push out a new product without doing extensive research or interviews. They rush their design process and forget the most important design principles. These products usually do not pass the Nielsen Norman heuristics analysis – meaning that the design is not easy to use.
That’s why real design departments – ones that truly value design principles – will always put their users first.
In Nicky’s opinion, designers should act as the voice of the customer. Designers will usually study their users without being too embedded in the business process. In this way, they can (and should) use their time to find creative solutions to their customer’s problems. This is innovation.
Again, if the product solves the customer’s problems and resonates with them, it is more likely to be successful.
Involve other departments in your research
In order to maximize a product’s chances of success, it’s crucial that everyone working on it is on the same page. Nicky has an interesting and effective way of forming connections with other teams and departments.
I make sure to always set quick research or interview summary meetings to ensure that everyone knows what research is going on and why I am pushing back on some design decisions. I also connect with the off-shore engineering team by sending them slide decks of our research summary, and jump on a call with them once in a while to update them on what we are doing on the research side
“Usually, they’ll have some questions that they want to communicate to our users and test participants, and I make sure to incorporate them.”
This last part is so important. It’s a simple step to ensure that aspects which might otherwise have been missed are tested. At the same time, it encourages internal buy-in by making engineers feel involved in the research process and helping them to find more meaning behind the insights.
Research and data can also play another important role…
We are often questioned on our design decisions and pushed back on feature requests. However, if you have strong research and analysis skills, you can always prove your point with data. Data is key.
Open and honest communication is crucial
Nicky leads her team in a way that involves them in the process, and she makes sure to get input from every member of her crew.
I often ask for feedback from my team and make sure that all of their questions or assumptions are tested during our interview sessions. I believe that the best management style is to listen and trust your team members.
Nicky’s philosophy also shines through when she’s describing an effective design organization. She considers this to be a company without too much hierarchy, where open and honest communication can take place without the fear of saying something just because someone is a level above you.
“Bouncing ideas off your co-workers freely often results in more creative solutions,” says Nicky.
One of her go-to metrics is NPS (Net Promoter Score), which measures the likelihood of someone recommending your company or product to someone else on a scale of 1-10.
The 3-bullet recap
Nicky, thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge and tips with us. It’s been a blast!
I hope you’ve learned something new from this interview. As always, we’ll finish with a 3-bullet recap to remind you of the most important points.
- Re-evaluate your design strategy every time you receive meaningful feedback.
- Don’t assume that you understand your users – research them.
- Involve other departments in user research and keep them in the loop.