It’s time to fully grasp the true consequences of our work and the responsibilities we bear. As we honestly admitted and realized the influence of our design work, we decided to consciously channel our knowledge and creativity in the direction of positive impact.
This is the story of our awakening from the comfy and cool world of UX design, and standing up for what we believe is right.
We were comfortable in our bubble until 2020 burst it
At UX Studio we offer product design and user research services to clients worldwide. In the past 8 years we have partnered with more than 250 companies to solve design problems and create enjoyable experiences for people.
When the company started in 2013, our mission was to design the right way. The guiding principle behind this was to never design without user research and testing – something that wasn’t a general sentiment for many companies at that time (and for some, it still isn’t). For us, promoting the value of research was and still is an essential part of our work.
Fortunately, since then, research has become increasingly valued and appreciated. Our mantra reached its destiny and it became widely accepted among the companies we’ve worked with. That is why, right now, we have one of the biggest research teams in any agency in Central and Eastern Europe.
Things were going pretty well, but then 2020 happened. Like many others during the pandemic and home office, we also struggled with motivation. What’s more, we felt forced to take a long hard look at ourselves and reflect on where we’re heading. We were still doing research on every project, but we felt that something was keeping us from moving forward.
As leaders, we realized that what we needed was a new mission to rally the whole team around. One that would also give us a renewed sense of direction. We wanted to get our groove back, to get that mojo back that set our company apart from others. And we wanted to restore that invisible fabric that holds our group together and makes it vibrate with passion, creativity, and grit.
Setting the stage. How we set our new mission.
Inside the studio, we talk a lot about how we do things on bigger or smaller scales. So, when we felt our mission doesn’t suit us anymore, we knew we needed to reach a common understanding of what’s important for us and what to focus on next. To get there, we held a series of workshops and Q&A sessions during the first weeks of January 2021.
But facilitating a conversation with 30+ people within a reasonable time frame while also ensuring that we have deep discussions and reach a conclusion is no small task.
Thankfully, the solution for a challenge like this is deeply embedded in our DNA. Over the years, we’ve had many joint workshops (at some point on a weekly or bi-weekly basis) with 20+ participants. So we had a pretty good idea about how to do this and how much time it would take. Also, we knew that we needed to have a strict time limit to keep the conversation focused. Thus, we agreed to have four 1-hour sessions during a two-week-long period.
The four sessions were designed to allow space for conversations within the team and also for us team leaders to give feedback and make decisions.
We built up the mission through these sessions:
- First ideation round: small group discussions to come up with ideas
- Leadership team Q&A to reflect on the ideas and give feedback
- Second ideation round: small groups to select and polish ideas
- Decision and Q&A to finalize the mission statement
We wanted to hear every voice and every idea in the room in this process. It was essential to involve the whole team and have these sessions as open and transparent as possible, so eventually, everyone could feel the mission statement their own.
For the first ideation session, we all split into six 5-person groups where we could have more intimate discussions. Each group had 1 hour to discuss and come up with one mission statement. All the ideas were collected in a shared Miro board, where there were also a few guiding questions for the groups:
- Who should our clients be?
- What do we want to do for them?
- What do we want to become during the next 3-5 years?
- What do we want to achieve?
Each group started by writing down their ideas and discussing them. After that, they looked from the common threads among the ideas and agreed on one to move forward with. Last, they summarized that idea in a concise, clear sentence.
For all of us, it was an intense 60 minutes, and we felt that the pressure was on. When the time was up, each group shared their mission statement suggestion in our Slack channel.
The 2nd session was leadership feedback and Q&A for every mission statement suggestion. We – David, the CEO, Dan, the studio lead and Zita, the business team lead – shared our opinions about these and answered questions from the team.
The third session was similar to the first one, but we shuffled the original small groups. The goal was the same as in the first round: discuss and write a concise statement by the end of the 60-minute session.
It’s no surprise that after seeing the ideas from the first ideation round and hearing leadership feedback, people understood better what the interesting and meaningful topics were for them and for the others. And it worked! Recurring topics emerged, and we could clearly see patterns in the ideas. Some topics and keywords resonated with the team and we were already aligning with our new mission. The invisible fabric was starting to show itself.
The fourth and final session was to discuss and decide on the new mission. Before this, we had a vote to see which of the new mission statements gets the most traction inside the team. Then, the three of us in the leadership positions discussed all the ideas in front of everyone, answered questions, and finally decided on a mission statement that we all agreed with. We decided on: Design for impact: Improve businesses and people’s lives through smart design.
What does ‘design for impact’ actually mean for us?
To put it very simply, it means that we believe that we can help people through design.
Even more so, we feel it’s our obligation to help them and not to cause harm. We are part of a generation who wants to contribute to the social and environmental wellbeing of people. What’s more, we think that this can be done by creating good design solutions.
We also understand that smart design solutions translate to positive impact for businesses as well. So as a second layer to our mission, we can foresee the correlation between happy, empowered people and good business results.
And on a deeper level, actually seeing that our work makes a positive difference in someone’s life and in a business brings a wonderful sense of professional and personal fulfillment. That means more than any industry award or invitations to design events.
Considering all three layers of our mission statement, it might seem super ambitious. Yet, we want to strive for finding the perfect intersection of creating smart design solutions that bring positive impact for people, then translate that to good business. We also want to feel empowered and fulfilled in our everyday job while doing that.
The feeling of a fresh start
It’s no surprise that we are proud of our new mission and of the way we came up with it: together. It represents how we think and what we want to achieve in the future. It’s something that many of us felt, and now we are happy to tackle it openly.
That’s because since the company was founded, we came to understand that we, as product designers and researchers, have significant power to shape the world we live in. We felt that people working in the industry have neither fully understood the true consequences of their decisions nor truly tried to use their power to drive a positive impact in the world. If Aza Raskin knew that inventing the infinite scroll would turn people into junkies addicted to apps, would he have discarded it? Of course, in some cases, it’s really a long shot to predict what ramifications your decisions would have, but giving them a hard thought before going forward with them could help avoid unwanted consequences.
Some of our previous work was already pointing out in that direction. Last year, we worked on a new product that helped people reduce their credit card debt. Also, we have been working with one of the biggest non-profit organizations, helping them achieve their mission of ending hunger and ensuring food security. In the meantime, we were also collaborating with a large bank. When we started to work with them, they already had solid processes and it was hard to introduce user research and the design process. But after months of adapting and understanding each other, they started to see the value. Today, they are setting up their own design and research team within the organization.
However, with this new mission, we decided to embrace this power which we previously overlooked, and be more conscious and intentional about creating a positive impact in people’s lives through design.
What’s going to change? The guiding principles of the new mission
You might wonder how the new mission is different from what we were already doing and what will change. Good question.
Well, it’s not like we weren’t trying to improve businesses and people’s lives through our work up until now. We believe we were trying our best to do so. However, two elements were missing: being conscious of the true magnitude and the reach of our impact and being intentional about using our influence to bring about positive change.
For us, being conscious means understanding that even a seemingly small design decision can have a huge impact on the world around us, from people’s lives to businesses or the environment. Of course, in some cases, it’s really a long shot to predict what ramifications some decisions have. But giving these decisions a hard thought before going forward with them can help avoid unwanted consequences.
Also, being conscious is only the first step. The second one is being intentional about using our power to create positive change. This means that when we design we should intentionally try to improve more than the immediate spheres of our influence, like the user’s experience or the product’s conversion rate. For example, why not come up with an alternative business model for a product, which besides providing a seamless user experience, also reduces the negative impact on the environment? Is this really none of our business, or we don’t want to admit that it is?
Sharing the mission with our clients
We love to work with the many different people who reach out to us with various challenges and ideas. Also, we work with companies from all over the world and we meet even more to talk about how we do things here. Last but not least, we want to make sure that our passion and grit for design are visible from far away, and we want to meet partners whose needs and desires align with our principles, old and new.
To get there, we have to make sure that our message is loud and clear. We also need to make sure that when we talk with people, we dig deep to find out what the actual challenges are and how the biggest impact could be reached.
We are confident that we have the right skill set to deliver positively impactful designs. We’ve shared some of our knowledge and experience in our case studies. What’s more, we’re always happy to talk in depth about our work, so reach out for a chat!
It takes a great team to do good things
We understand well that to work towards an ambitious goal like ours, we need to surround ourselves with like-minded people.
For this, we are super thorough and conscious when it comes to hiring. We are interested in the person rather than their resume. We value enthusiasm over experience, and we allow them to be independent because we trust them to do what is right for all of us.
We believe that grit, responsibility, creativity, and hard work are the essential skills from someone who wants to join our mission. If you feel you possess these qualities, don’t wait – we would love to hear from you.
Time to walk the talk
Now that we set our new mission, you might wonder what’s next. Well, one thing is for sure: we need to start walking the talk.
Next, we’ll have a lot of discussions about how to implement this new mission on different levels, from client work to strategic goals.
One thing we know for sure: that setting this new mission already had a positive effect on us. We are excited for the times ahead and we are looking forward to what will come.
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