There has to be a real reason and purpose behind design

Simone Anne Slaviero featured photo

A talk with Simone Anne Slaviero, a service designer and project manager at Jayway by Devoteam and a human-centred design strategist at heart.

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 your design process!

We have another value-packed interview ahead of us. Grab a cup of hot beverage, make yourself comfortable and enjoy this insightful chat with Simone Anne Slaviero!

Who is Simone Anne Slaviero?

Simone grew up in Melbourne, Australia, but now lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. It was always her dream to one day live and work somewhere in Europe. One of the main reasons she moved to Sweden was that she was looking for a place with values centred around progressiveness, sustainability, and innovation. Scandinavian countries definitely made their way to the top of her list after that brainstorming session.

She initially studied engineering and computer science, but soon transferred to Digital Media at the College of Fine Arts (UNSW). It was a wonderful experience and opened her eyes to both the digital world as well as providing a foundation in things like art history, drawing and typography.

Her career started back in Brisbane, Australia when she got selected for one of three places on a business analyst fast track program at the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC). A lot of what she was being taught and eventually practised was in the fields of strategy, user research and service design.

Since then, she has worked in the IT department at H&M’s head office in Stockholm before jumping into the consulting world for the last year and a bit. As a consultant she got to play around wearing different hats, which has given her a chance to really understand users through different perspectives. Anything related to service design, especially design strategy, is always one of her favourite things to be involved in and right now she’s a project manager and service designer at Jayway design and development studio.

On design strategy

A northern star that aligns anyone working towards the same goals

Simone believes there has to be a real reason and purpose behind design. A lot of people don’t consider something as ‘design’ until they see the pretty surface. But what got you there? What’s under the hood? What’s the driving force behind it all?

“If done right, a design strategy connects business ambitions to an actionable design plan that guides and justifies design related decisions and tasks towards desired project outcomes“. says Simone

Simone

A successful strategy is one that supports your team in achieving alignment on the design front, based on that mutual understanding and commitment to support and realise business, as well as tech goals, together.

Simone considers design strategy to be a northern star that helps align not only design teams but anyone working towards the same project goals, including external clients and stakeholders.

A little documentation goes a long way

At the bare minimum, it’s a good idea to discuss some kind of design strategy within a team. Of course, it’s perhaps a little bit harder if you’re the sole designer on a project.

Simone

You might wonder why you even need it, especially if everything is all in your head ready to go. However, as I mentioned before, the design strategy isn’t just for designers only – it’s for the whole team working on the project.

Even in agile or resource-poor teams, a little documentation goes a long way. Consider the Benjamin Franklin quote: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

It, therefore, pays off to at least discuss, if not document, some key points for alignment. Here’s Simone’s list of some of these key points:

  • What problem(s) are you aiming to resolve, and for whom?
  • What is the vision and associated goals? Both on a business and design level?
  • What technology will you likely be working with?
  • What challenges, risks, and opportunities will your design vision need to consider, especially regarding business and technological goals?
  • Key stakeholders, users, project members, including their challenges and successes.
  • Competitors, trends and outlook.
  • Design principles, methods, tools, criteria, activities.
  • Success metrics and testing methods before, during and after.

Of course, having a verbal or documented design strategy doesn’t guarantee success or creativity. And the same goes with not having one, either.

Simone

But from what I’ve experienced, those who take care of at least discussing the above points have a clearer idea of what to expect along the way. And perhaps by having some structure and even ‘constraints’, the ‘more is less’ philosophy can thrive and support ideas that a paradox of choice might otherwise stifle.

Without metrics how do we really know we’re creating something of value?

Simone sees metrics and testing methods as one of the crucial aspects of a good design strategy.

Simone

Success metrics and testing methods often seem to fall by the wayside, unfortunately. It can be hard to justify decisions and product/service fit without some form of qualitative and quantitative data, as well as some criteria to define what success actually looks like.

She likes to think about what types of user scenarios we’re designing for and the experiences we’re aiming to deliver. How would we like to measure these?

She learned recently about the hypothesis-driven design canvas which is a nice way to capture and measure metrics. Google’s heart metrics are great for measuring things like happiness and engagement. And other methods like usability testing, Google Analytics, heat mapping, and accessibility guidelines can help us measure and monitor design across different facets.

Simone

Without putting some tools and methods in place to define and measure success metrics, how would we really know that we’re creating something of value to the users and stakeholders?

An opportunity for clarity and transparency

Simone also sees design strategy as an opportunity for discussion leading to clarity and alignment. Ideally, a strategy is flexible enough to accommodate changes along the way, as is so often experienced by businesses and their respective projects.

Simone

I truly believe that strategy is relevant for everyone, from those working on an operational level to those who are more traditionally working with it, such as a CEO. Transparency is a great motivator for teams to understand the ‘why’ behind a project and decisions being made. Even better if you consult and openly seek feedback from everyone about it too.

On design strategists

It’s crucial to develop and nurture good relationships

When one is a design strategist, design and business go hand in hand. It helps to have good awareness and understanding of different design practices and methodologies. Especially design thinking and the double diamond process. Studies and/or work in a design-related field could enhance knowledge and experience too.

Competencies in business are super helpful and relevant as well, especially for the strategy side of things. Being comfortable with facilitation, workshopping, and understanding different design and business canvases can also prove helpful.

Since a design strategist often traverses different fields, it helps to understand what’s important for different groups of people. Lingo, trends and ‘best practices’ are always evolving.

Simone

While it’s great to keep on top of these as much as possible, it doesn’t replace good communication with people. It’s crucial to be able to develop and nurture good relationships with people from different areas of a business, as well as the design team. You want to be able to establish a good level of trust where people support each other and are doing things because they believe in the collaborative vision.

On design and innovation

Permission to see from a different perspective

Simone believes carving out time for ‘design’ gives permission, whether real or subconscious, to look and think about issues from a different perspective.

Some people thrive from a more relaxed state of mind, whereas others need some pressure to perform their best. It’s interesting to see how both approaches can influence our creativity. It can help to eliminate the pressure to be ‘innovative’ and instead just say we’re here to ‘spitball’ ideas, or something similar.

Simone

Returning to design basics, like using pencil, paper, scissors and glue, can really help avoid the trap of trying to ‘refine’ too early on and instead help us to focus only on crucial elements.

Make things fun and add some interactive design activities, like lego play or role-playing. Spur on perspectives from other fields by also throwing in some ‘non-design’ related exercises. Flip ideas, reverse them, stretch them, constrain them. Design can really inspire and influence us to work in innovative ways that may organically evolve towards ‘innovation’.

On design teams and management

Design Ops help to maintain a connection between design and business

When you mention ‘connection’ between the design team and the rest of the organization Simone’s mind starts thinking of ‘Design Ops’. Especially when scaling design in larger organisations.

Simone

It’s much easier for designers working at smaller organisations to connect with others, especially where the culture is quite flat. Often it can be as simple as walking directly over to a developer and talking together about some designs. However, as a company increases in size, silos can often pop up. Design may no longer be seen as an ‘equal’ and relevant component. Rather, it may begin to exist only as a side thought or a ‘factory’ style production role that only lives to serve rather than inspire and guide.

Design Ops helps teams and projects to understand the value of design and its impact on other business areas. It helps one to set a level playing field and provide effective support structures from which true collaboration evolves.

Anyone’s perspective can be important and is worth hearing

Simone thinks it’s great to have a mix of senior, mid-level and juniors in a team if possible. And interns especially are great at bringing fresh perspectives to the team!

Simone

We can all learn so much from each other from our collective experiences. Sometimes it’s the designer who’s a few years out of college who really has their finger on the pulse and can share their findings on the best tools. And other times it’ll be someone else who has come from a completely different industry who can offer refreshing ways of working and alternate thought processes.

That’s why when she’s managing a team she definitely wants everyone to feel that their voice is heard and that they feel safe to express themselves. She likes to support everyone to be the best version of themselves.

“I really feel that we achieve our best work when we open up and collaborate together,” says Simone.

Remote teams work if they are proactive and if people help each other

Simone thinks that remote teams and remote working are absolutely possible as we’ve seen during the Covid-19 times. it’s just a matter of finding how we can make it work best.

The most important thing is taking care of people and committing to help each other out. What may work well for one may not be the case for someone else. It definitely involves some trial and error and being open to trying out different tools and methods. Simone believes it’s all about being proactive, thinking outside the box and coming together to be able to achieve a common purpose.

It helps to have shared platforms of some sort where design teams can come together to share ideas, work in progress, as well as give feedback and vent too.

Simone

I am really grateful at the moment to be part of a daily design meetup to start the day, as well as multiple design channels and hangouts to connect and learn from other designers across the whole company. We also share what’s working for different teams or projects so we can constantly improve our remote way of working

On advice and mistakes

Business canvases aren’t be-all, end-all

Canvases can be great but they’re not the be-all, end-all. Sometimes someone might push you to use a certain canvas because it seems like the latest and greatest. Certainly give it a try, and if it works, great! But if you try it and it really feels like you’re trying to get water out of stone, then don’t be afraid to cut your losses and try something else.

You shouldn’t need x years of experience to do something

Simone doesn’t think people need ‘x’ years of experience to perform a role. Or a certain qualification.

Simone

I say let people show you what they can do. Give them an assignment to prove their worth. Talk to them and see what type of person they are, whether they’d fit in culturally and what they’re actually looking for. See if it works both ways

It seems a shame to discount someone based on limited years of experience or not fitting into a ‘cookie-cutter’ mould. Do we really think that’s what it takes to be a good designer?

Don’t do it by the book if it doesn’t work

The most common rookie mistake Simone sees is wanting to do everything by the book.

Simone

I have done this myself at times in the past! Sometimes this has actually worked when a more strict approach was required and/or expected. And other times it has completely fallen flat. And through those experiences I learned that you really need to be flexible and adapt where possible.

Apply what seems relevant at the time for the situation. If for whatever reason something that was ‘tried and true’ one time doesn’t work another, pivot and try something else from your toolbox! Be willing to also ask others for their advice and feedback early on rather than waiting until the end. And don’t limit that to designers only; there are many others who can peer review through a new set of eyes and point out something from a completely different perspective. As we scale our design maturity, we deliver more strategic and valuable results for the business.

Simone’s favourite sources of knowledge

Simone consumes a lot of information on Medium as well as Instagram accounts and podcasts. Not only focused on design and strategy, but also business, coaching, agile, psychology, and health and wellbeing.

Simone

I think it’s important to get a cross-section of what’s happening in the world today to really examine and question any field (such as design strategy) from different perspectives.

With that being said, some of her favourite authors, agencies, blogs etc., centred more around design include the following:

Some books coming up on her reading list:

📘 Game storming

📘 The power of moments

📘 Good strategy, bad strategy

📘 Team human

📘 Workshopper

The 3-bullet recap

Pheew, that was a fantastic one! Thank you so much for your time and wisdom, Simone!

Alright, let’s try and do our usual 3-bullet recap:

  1. Plan and document your design strategy, because it’s there to guide and align the whole team, company and stakeholders, not just designers.
  2. It helps to have a good understanding of business and design, but nothing can replace good communication with people.
  3. Try established methods like business canvases and working by the book, but if they don’t work don’t be afraid to try something else and ask for feedback along the way.

If you haven’t had your fill of design knowledge quite yet and want more, more, more, sign up for my free design strategy email course. It’s been made with curious folks like you in mind.

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