5 Tips for Maximizing Your Design Overhaul

Maximizing design overhaul

Tackling a big refresh on a product that’s been around for ages is a huge undertaking. In addition to the redesign work, there’s usually a drawn-out diplomacy effort in getting buy-in, organizing the project, and socializing the change. And while most redesigns have popular support or they wouldn’t get the go-ahead, it doesn’t mean that a project won’t have detractors, skeptics, or folks displeased by  the disruptions it generates. Navigating all this requires significant attention and communication, the upshot being that the work — as is often the case with these large-scale efforts — goes far beyond the work itself. 

At Grand Studio, we’ve had the privilege of working with many clients as they tackle big redesigns. Because we know how much legwork it takes, we’re always looking for ways to help our clients economize their efforts and generate bonus benefits from the work  they’re already doing. If you’re on the brink of a big redesign, read on for a few tips on getting more bang for your buck. 

Strategy 1: Leverage the redesign to boost or repair reputation

Many teams, often through no fault of their own, are tasked with managing old tools and products that — to put it delicately — are a little suboptimal on the usability front. This can generate significant reputational damage for the team at the helm. Of course, no one enjoys being on the receiving end of negativity, but this bad reputation also represents a degradation of trust that makes it tangibly harder to get things done within the organization. A product refresh can be a great opportunity to mitigate this reputational harm and put a better foot forward.

For instance, we recently worked with a large medical technology client to refresh an internal purchasing tool that had been causing strain on thousands of employees for years. As part of the redesign, we reached out directly to those most adversely impacted by the tool’s shortcomings. In addition to providing a wealth of information about improvement opportunities, we used these conversations to validate frustrations, provide context on the barriers that had prevented earlier improvements, and demonstrate expertise and commitment to work towards something better. This kind of work helps us to understand how to improve the product while demonstrating a commitment to making our users’ lives better.  

Strategy 2: Be proactive about change management

Even if the redesign ultimately makes everyone’s life easier, change can nonetheless be tricky. This is especially true if your process involves temporary product outages, significant process changes, or a steep learning curve. As such, it can be extremely helpful to communicate proactively and robustly with teams who will be impacted by the redesign, bringing them along with you in the redesign versus simply sending out an FYI when the switch-over happens. 

As in the prior strategy, taking the time to understand a redesign’s implications on various teams and workflows positions you to strengthen the product and build trust and goodwill. Some clients we’ve worked with tell us that the positive communication streams established during a redesign have provided lasting benefits to their organization, impacting projects far beyond the initial collaboration. As designers/researchers, we’re also on the lookout for data communication streams that should stay open past the initial engagement. For example, any metrics we look into for the purpose of the research will likely be incredibly useful mechanisms to measure how a project is doing on an ongoing basis.

Strategy 3: Evaluate the cost/benefits of bringing features in house 

Especially when your organization is just starting off in a new domain, it can really kick-start things to partner with third parties on technology. Instead of taking months to build something in-house, you buy something ready-made and take it for a spin. However, if this third-party tool winds up becoming a big part of your business, there may come a time when it makes more sense to bring it in-house. While the up-front cost of doing so will usually be large, it can de-risk your business from relying too much on third parties, allow you the flexibility to custom-build the product to your exact specifications, and often save you money in the long run.

If your organization has green-lit a design overhaul, it usually means there’s popular support for the product’s utility as a core part of your business. Accordingly, it can be a good time to assess the business case for bringing any related third-party tools in-house. 

Strategy 4: Incorporate forward-thinking process changes

Sometimes, the best time to throw in change is right on top of more change. While it may seem like a terrible idea to incorporate large-scale process changes into a massive redesign, we’ve found that, in most circumstances, the opposite is true.

During a redesign, people’s mindsets are often more expansive, and their ideas are more malleable. As such, it can actually be a prime opportunity to shake up stagnant processes and try out a new way of doing things. Chalk it up to redesign the procedure and test out the new processes you’ve been meaning to socialize, whether it’s a prototyping workshop, a new stream of meetings, or a feedback touchpoint you’ve always thought should exist.

This is particularly likely to be successful if part of your work involves consultants or outside teams — people expect an even higher degree of change when there are newcomers around, especially those acting in a consultative capacity. Loop your consultants into any process changes you feel need to happen so they can support you in advocating for them.

Strategy 5: Take a broad view of KPIs

While you’ll keep your eye on the primary KPIs driving the redesign, there are often secondary or tertiary ways the redesign will have an advantageous effect on the organization. Getting a handle on what these are can add positive internal PR to your project, yielding increased buy-in for this effort and anything else that comes out of your team in the future. 

For example, we once helped a client redesign a tool that was massively confusing users, leading to errors that needed to be found and corrected downstream. Rectifying this user confusion was the primary goal of the project. However, as we got to know the space better, we saw many confused users call an internal support line for help, which cost the client resources.

We talked to the support center to better understand the questions and complaints they received related to the tool, and the redesign subsequently decreased their call volume. Decreasing support call volume wasn’t a main KPI, but it was an extremely welcome bonus outcome that made the project team look better. The more of these side stories you can gather while working on the project, the more your positive PR will disperse, generating buy-in and trust for this project and your next.  

For all the work involved in a redesign, it’s worth the effort to get the maximum benefit possible. For many of those benefits, attending to the softer/more relational side of the work gets added benefits for years. 

As a design and strategy consultancy, Grand Studio specializes in projects that involve not just doing the work but collaborating with you on high-level strategic thinking that can spur positive change within your organization. We know how to use our position as outsiders to support you in diffusing tension, breaking through ossified processes, forming positive new relationships, and workshopping fresh perspectives on chronic problems. 

Have a project you’d like to work together on? We’d love to hear from you.

Effectively Managing Stakeholders Through Uncertain Times.

Facing ambiguity and building clarity with clients

One of the things at Grand Studio we love the most is a good problem to solve. The most exciting problems for us are the elusive, ambiguous, and complex problems packed with the most uncertainty. Indeed, the more challenging the problem, the more rewarding it becomes to solve.

Keeping our clients confident as we move through the rough and tumble of the uncertain problem space and delicately into the solution space in a way that brings delight is a part of what makes our jobs interesting as consultants.

Uncertainty can creep into a project anytime, like a heavy fog resting over a vast valley. Thankfully, we’ve found there are often some common questions that, once answered, can clear the fog and get us all seeing the path again.

What problem are we trying to solve?

Understanding project goals probably sounds obvious, but this becomes more important, especially as new stakeholders enter a project when there’s uncertainty about what we’re doing and why the purpose of a design engagement can become lost.

Something that works well at Grand Studio is a conceptual model that can morph through a project. A model that’s understandable enough for anyone to grasp with a little voice-over so it can bridge any information gaps related to goals and scope.

Another alignment exercise is going through the process of creating strategic principles for a project. These high-level principles are often used to help stakeholders and designers align on what a product should do to satisfy business and user needs. If you and your stakeholders can agree on these, you can reference them in the future to inform your design decisions.

Goals, scope, and principles might shift (hopefully not too dramatically), but at least you will have this tool in your back pocket to help communicate what they are and why.

What do we know or not know?

It’s good to identify early on in a project what information you have and what you need. A lack of information can lead to a situation where you have more questions or assumptions than answers; moments like these can feel overwhelming and can cause unnecessary uncertainty for everyone.

Set time with stakeholders to transfer knowledge and better understand the problem space, identify the questions you still have, and how you plan to answer them. Your stakeholders will likely have questions they wish to have answered as well.

Maintain an inventory of any lingering questions that you have. Over time, you can use these questions to keep a pulse on what you still need to learn. Document answers to those questions and any follow-up questions you might have. The more questions you can find answers to, the better.

Whom do we need to speak with?

Uncertainty runs rampant when we lack information (or worse, misinformation), and there is often a vault of knowledge that someone somewhere has in their heads or a document. Part of a design consultant’s role is facilitating the conversations that need to happen to make that information available.

Interviews with users, experts, or other stakeholders are great ways to gather information and answer questions. In some scenarios, a workshop can be an interactive way to tease out information. We’ve also found that some interviewees respond well to an email or survey with a generic list of questions. It depends on whom you are speaking to and the nature of the information you need.

Invite stakeholders for the ride when you seek information and give them space to ask questions. Giving them space to contribute to the final design of a project can help them feel valued and invested in a solution. If stakeholders cannot participate, regular share-out reports are great ways to keep folks informed about whom we have spoken with, what we have learned, and how these findings impact our designs.

When should we discuss ____ ?

Communication is the secret sauce that ties all this together~ too much of it might inhibit your team’s ability to make progress or annoy your stakeholders. More communication might make your stakeholders comfortable, uncertain, or out of the loop. Setting expectations and working relationships early on can help facilitate this balance.

Uncertainty can creep in fast when there’s a lack of communication or poor communication. No communication at all can be damaging to a relationship. A stakeholder might urgently want to discuss something- perhaps a significant change at their organization, a change in requirements, or a new strategic initiative- so opening space for those conversations is essential to ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Stay flexible, remain transparent about what communication styles are working or not, and tinker accordingly.

How should we deal with change?

At some point during a project, you might find that the goals have changed, you have new stakeholders, your requirements have changed, or your communication cadence needs to be fixed. Often, change becomes associated with uncertainty.

Things will change during a project, and being flexible enough to adapt to those changes with the right strategy is a big part of successful consulting. Be transparent with your stakeholders about changes affecting the project objectives and scope. Have fun with change and find ways to spin it into new opportunities.

Have fun!

Make your relationship with your client a partnership–keep it collaborative and interactive and ask questions. Make spending time with your team the highlight of their week!

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

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