MX East Notes: Google’s Irene Au

I recently attended Adaptive Path’s MX East conference. One of the speakers was Irene Au, Director of User Experience at Google. Her presentation, “Stop Putting Lipstick on the Pig”, was about how to create a user experience discipline in a corporate culture that doesn’t necessarily value it. Prior to her current post at Google, Irene held similar roles at Yahoo and Netscape. In each case, user experience was not necessarily a core value, so a lot of her time went to change management and demonstrating the value of consumer centric design methods (to use a jargon-laden phrase.) Here are my raw notes. Bold section headers are Irene’s.

1) Build a world class multidisciplinary team

Google’s criteria: analytic ability, design accumen, emotional intelligence, communication, cultural fit (scrappy, nimble, agile)

2) Align with the powerful function (where the ideas start)

3) Find and use your “Trojan horse”

trojan horse: the tool which speaks in the language your audience understands (mockups, click-thrus, video demos, funtional prototypes)

4) Take infrastructure seriously

Styleguides and standards allow scale/speed. Operationalize issues that are not open to discussion or have been resolved.

5) Don’t be the UI police

This establishes an us/them dynamic. Motivates people to work around you, not work with you. (Besides, UI doesn’t typially have go/no-go authority.)

6) Let skeptics fail

Pick your battles; make it clear which projects incorporate Design and which do not. The difference will be stark and to your advantage.

7) Deliver excellence on a few projects

If you try to solve everything, you dilute the effect you can have on any one project. You only have so much staff, and thus, so much time. Triage requests into full support, partial support and self-service. Styleguides, toolkits and consultations facilitate self-service.

8) Change is certain

Can’t get attached to any one thing. Maturity is cyclical.

9) Be patient

Fundamental change takes years. Becoming customer-centered is a fundamental change to corporate DNA.