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Design treadmills, strategy spectrums, and 100 free retro templates

Published about 1 year ago • 3 min read

Dear Reader,

Sometimes design can feel like being on a treadmill.

You're going really fast, but you have no direction.

When you're on the Design Treadmill, it feels like the only way to advance is to go faster.

Here are some other signs:

  • You never get to version 2
  • Speed and output are celebrated
  • Nobody measures impact
  • Leadership chooses solutions arbitrarily
  • You have to design for multiple internal agendas
  • Directions on the "what," not the "why"
  • You're always designing shiny new objects

All your boss tells you is how fast the treadmill should go, and it's too fast. The pace is unsustainable.

While it's tempting to blame yourself. This is not a personal problem. It's a company problem.

That treadmill is part of a longer assembly line. You're stuck in this thing called a feature factory.

Even if you found some time for research, adapting feature ideas to the customer's needs won't get you off the treadmill. A bloated user-centered product is still a bloated product.

If you stay on the treadmill, the best you can hope for is to be a high performer at the feature factory.

You need to get off the treadmill and determine where all those features are coming from.

At the start of every treadmill, there is a strategy.

A strategy is a decision-making framework that guides your everyday work towards some goal. It should help you prioritize what to design.

You need the strategy to figure out what's in front of your design treadmill because strategy is the only thing that will allow you to say, "No!"

Scenario 1: There is a strategy somewhere

Most designers don't realize that a strategy already exists.

If there is already a strategy somewhere in your company, that's the best place to start. It's the strategy that should be dictating your work rather than output goals & endless roadmaps.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Find the strategy: start researching your company and see if you can extricate the high-level plan that dictates the features.
  • Align with the strategy: make sure everything you do is working toward the strategy.
  • Be the strategy: embody the strategy, visualize the strategy, remind everyone of the strategy.
  • De-bug the strategy: find ways to feed customer insights into the strategy and test the strategy as if it's a theory.

In our strategy course, we use the Strategy Spectrum to figure out how to identify and align with existing strategy:

Scenario 2: There is no strategy

If you can't find a strategy anywhere, there are probably several personal strategies with no unifying strategy. The best you can do is make a personal strategy and seek feedback from leadership.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Research your strategy: start researching competitors in addition to customers and find a lever for design to be a competitive advantage.
  • Visualize your research: even before it's a strategy, visualize something that represents the challenge involved.
  • Define your strategy: create some principles that can guide you in saying no to things that don't help the business.
  • De-bug your strategy: explain why you're saying no and use the feedback to form new insights about your company.

Hopefully, you can see how the skills of design are perfect for a strategy project. Researching, visualizing, and communicating are excellent skills for any strategist. If you can also facilitate, you can lead others to strategy, and they will think it's their idea.

Through all this, you can get off the Design Treadmill.

If you want more, I'm giving a talk on March 29th with more details.

I'm going to give practical scenarios, methods, and examples of how designers can lead with strategy and get off the treadmill.

RSVP here (free)

How to Lead with Strategy
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Learn practical ways to lead organizations with strategy
Reserve a seat 400 designers attending!

Defining UX Strategy
April 17-May 8, 2023
Learn how to build a winning UX or product strategy that aligns design with business.
Reserve a seat Only 9 left!

Facilitating Workshops
May 15-Jun. 5, 2023
Learn how to design creative working sessions and lead collaborative work.
Reserve a seat Only 14 left!

🗺 100 Free Retro Templates
Download fun retro templates like the Gremlins Retro
shared by Hana Burianová
Learn more

💩 The "Enshittification" of TikTok
How, exactly, platforms die
shared by Joshua Stehr
Learn more

✍️ Great Landing Page Copy
Get better than Chat GPT with examples and teardowns of good writing
shared by Teddy Prosser
Learn more

Apply to join the Guild of Working Designers here.

Source, shared by Yann Picard de Muller in the Guild

Until next week!

Jeff Humble
Designer & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute is an independent online school that teaches advanced UX & product skills.

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