Many years ago I became part of the Lemon Wallet team. Lemon Wallet (in those days just Lemon, and only a expense-tracking app to be, not a functional wallet) was a Silicon Valley and Argentinean workforce based startup eager to take the North-American market by allowing its users to keep track of how much they and their families were expending and where did their expenses go each time.
In that context, the only designer the company had, hired me to build a team of two. He took the lead and my responsibility was, basically, to translate the design from a taken decision to a UI deliverable status every time. There's something UI designers share with developers, they sit in the first row to see the monster-car show treatment that ideas receive when they are moved from the ideal to the real field. In that process, the most damage done is always due to the stubbornness or obsession with the form (solution, the how) as opposed to focus in the function (problem, the why). Lemon was stuck, in a way, on an obsessive effort to solve the wrong thing.
After months of comes and goes around an unilateral design workflow and tight to our self-restricted technical limitations of the product, I understood that our problem was just listening to the business side of the story as a design team.
In that context, I took my 20-mins-a-semester time of attention from all the team (we used to believe in offsite retirements as a healthy practice in those days...) to expose our failure and suggest the (not so) obvious thing: we should start listening Lemon users and see what happens when they use our product instead of assuming stuff.
Know what you don't know. Building a training opportunity by demonstrating losses on misshandled UX.
There was a teeny-tiny problem: I had no idea how, except from much reading and theory, of course. So after insisting a while, showing some first analysis like reviews vs. product priorities and guerrilla testing sessions to show how much we were missing of the picture (I was always very clear that we were not doing it properly), I convinced them to call Eduardo Mercovich to help us with some user-centric tasks and workshops to bootstrap a change in Lemon's mindset around product decision making processes. As part of a design team, the UX issues I could take on with the help of Eduardo were always UI and design related mainly, having still not much power to take on the real important ones as product and business decisions (those where still watertight from our efforts). Therefore, we focused our effort on usability issues. It was a good starting point to me though: the changes became much more clear to me over the design field, being this a safe space to me, when we introduced a user-centric focus to the workflow by doing in-lab, think-aloud moderated test sessions with paper prototypes, mocked and production-ready products.
Make some space on the design parking lot for the UX research van.
By that time, We've already got the green light to start working on a user-centric loop and the support of an awesome partner that really knew what he was doing. Still, we lacked of the official and reasonable time to work on the main training and workflow changes (given the workload of design never stopped and we didn't have any new resources for this). The most difficult thing was to sustain a high moral while doubling-down efforts to get not only everything done, but done accordingly to our own new standard, getting trained on user research, recovering quickly from errors to make it on time and make all this seamless (at least in appearance) for the team.
Part of pushing the design tasks to the bare minimum in a healthy way was systematizing our design efforts. We got to hire a freelance UI designer to help us build our own set of design tools and reduce the cost of each design requirement. So I took charge of the design system project. In that system I made sure to include every single learning that user research had provided us and also my beloved design good practices around modular design, design grid systems and typographic systems. We shut every "this or that, which you like?" question down to replace them with the "this or that, which fits our system the best?" type (in case you didn't notice, the first one is subjective and stochastic, the last one is objective and holistic). This did not only generate by its nature a more cohesive experience, but also allowed us to focus on the real important stuff –the function– and not the form.
Fake it till you make it! you are from now on, a (crappy) UX designer.
In order to get to all this, a whole research and validation set of tasks was added to my design requirements workload. My daily work changed from only a) delivering design proposals, b) producing assets and c) giving design support for its implementation to also d) questioning the requirements by doing research, e) gaining sustainability by pushing for a Pareto balance between short-term business priorities and users priorities according to our research results, f) validate with prototypes the efficiency and effectiveness of the ideated solutions and g) then trying quickly to impact the future backlog with the new knowledge we had.
Soon, this started to pay us (despite the first-try errors and extra time). We got some info of our issues and also found predictable behaviors and needs from our users. We were then able to refute some of the business theories. We slowly started to question some things and proving how cheaper it was to fail in the lab before failing live. There were a few inflection moments in my life when I had the possibility to rethink myself. Moments when I could hear a quiet voice whispering inside of me: is this what you want to keep doing?. Maybe too soon or maybe too late, but I changed my LinkedIn profile from Web designer to just UX. It was not about "sprinkling usability" on things when it was already too late.
If life gives you Lemon...
By the time I left Lemon Wallet (it was already a wallet then... though you couldn't pay with it in stores and Apple Pay had been already launched instantly acquiring millions of users and killing every other small wallet app) We got to a) test every single piece we had launched with users before or during the first iteration, b) we had designed and ran a user surveys program based on the user type and lifecycle and c) user journeys to understand the needs and issues behind our drop-off in usage. We also d) had done user interviews and feedback loops on social media and we e) had the Design and Customer Support teams connected on weekly touch-base sessions. Also, all the products were developed around the Lemon Design System.