Design Leadership

Asking forgiveness, not permission

December 1, 2016

Politics. ‘Priorities’. Bureaucracy. Red tape.

Coming from a background of much smaller proportions, there’s nothing that quite prepares you for that first daunting step you take into the enterprise design & UX space.

You begin with wide, innocent eyes, believing that if you do your best work, and advocate endlessly for the user, that you’ll make excellent products.

This naive perspective though, can only exist if the organisation around you is heading in the right direction, and has a progressive attitude towards design & technology. As soon as an enterprise gets bogged down in politics, its’ wheels start to spin, and progress tends to slow.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The power of unsanctioned initiatives

During my time in the Digital Experience team for Flight Centre, the best work & most sizeable changes that we produced didn’t come through the conventional channels, and they weren’t initiatives that were driven by the management above. As passionate designers & developers, we took matters in our own hands to improve things for everybody.

Through these unsanctioned projects we made leaps & bounds towards style guide driven development, site speed / page size improvements (from 10mb pages to 1mb), cleaner navigation, and shrinking the site mascot to more palatable sizes.

Find the people who will go to bat for you

They’re out there. They’ll help you champion your cause every step of the way. Recruit supporters through your unwavering passion for positive change, and people will rally behind you.

Tenacity & persistence are your greatest tools

Sometimes it feels as if an organisation is a giant ship, and that it’s impossible to turn it around. Keep trying. If you hold fast long enough, you’ll eventually feel the rudder kick in & the winds of change start whistling.

Gather data & case studies that support your cause

If you can, find reputable companies (Google, NASA, AirBnb, or anyone intimidatingly good at everything) that have prioritised similar initiatives, and use them as shining beacons of ‘how the big guys do it’. For us it was the classic statistic that Amazon increased revenue by 1% for every 100ms of improvement. If that’s not compelling to upper-management, I don’t know what is.

Your ‘side project’ will give people a sense of purpose & ownership

Your little rag-tag gang of passionate change-makers will feel empowered, masters of their own destiny. It was amazing how sometimes our side projects kept us going when we were so fatigued from our real projects. The group also bonded & collaborated so well over a shared goal and passion that we formed an impressively tight knit team.

I’ll leave you with one final quote that I didn’t fully understand at the time, but has stuck with me for the last year:

“Don’t wait for an invitation to do the work you want.” — Samantha Warren at SmashingConference LA