Out of the Office

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Ratios and Reality

What’s the optimum ratio of designers to engineers?

I started working on this question last year in an effort to analyze whether we had enough designers working with one of our divisions. The first conundrum is who do you count…just designers? all engineers? does QA count? what about backend projects?

We looked externally at what our colleagues told us they had at other companies. This varied from 1:10 to 1:6.

Internally we saw 1:4 on mobile projects and 1:8 on web and desktop.

What ended up being most useful however, was to look at the ratio of designers to scrum teams. When we took that look, we decided that the best practice would be 1:1 or 1:2 max. Beyond two scrum teams, it becomes impossible for the designer to participate in the necessary meetings and keep track of the work and progress.

For backend projects, with little customer facing UI, we think the ratio could be closer to 1:20 (designer: engineers).

What about non-designers? We aim to have 1:5 researcher: designers and 1:5 UI writer: designers. More or less — could be 4 or 6. For research, it depends on how new the customer base is to us. For writing, it depends on how content rich the apps are. Management-wise 1:8 manager: designers.

Other thoughts?


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UX Strategies Summit 2014 Recap

In June I spoke at UXSS in San Francisco. It was a nice, small and intimate conference where you could really engage with the speakers and the audience.

Ran into some old friends (Leah Buley, author of UX Team of One), Suzane Currie who just joined GE’s Lab,  my colleague Mathew Varghese and former colleague Jake Hercules and, of course, Nathan Shedroff from CCA.

Made some new connections with the crew from Vitamin T (here’s their hilarious interviewing video) as well as folks from Autodesk, and Boeing.


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What do people do?

My favorite book as a kid was Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? Here’s the description from Good Reads:

An illustrated panorama of the animals of Busytown at work, describing the occupations and activities of many of her citizens through detailed drawings with labels indicating processes and equipment used as they perform their jobs.

Doing user research is just like reading a page about Busytown and looking at a cross-section of one of Richard Scary’s buildlngs. What do people do? With what tools? Who do they work with? And so on… Just minus Lowly Worm popping up everywhere. 

This week at UX Strategies Summit San Francisco, I’ll get to share what I do (yah, what do I do?) in my presentation on building a UX team. I complied my 10+ years of advice, tips and resources from growing teams, building systems and evangelizing design.

l’ll update this post with the slides after the talk.

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Soft Spot for Support

My very first “real” job out of college was as the admin for the director of customer service at the digital type foundry Bitstream.

One day, I had to deliver a job requisition for a new tech support agent down to the HR department. As I was walking down the hall reading it, I though “I could do this job!” so I turned around and asked my boss, Jan Hames, if I could apply.

And that’s how I ended up with a phone glued to my ear for two years, and I loved it.

Turns out, I had a knack for troubleshooting computers (still do, thanks mom and dad for all the phone calls!). And I like to help people solve problems, so it was a good fit.

I also became a software junkie. The fonts we sold worked with every program on the market, so I had to learn how fonts and printing worked in every product – from design to spreadsheets on Windows and Mac.

A good day was when a customer would send a letter to know we’d actually helped them. Sentimentally, I have saved these all these years! Here were my faves:


Best Envelope Ever!


(Louise and I are still friends after all those years!)


Back in the day, Wordperfect was the most popular program!

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Rwandan Trip Retrospective

I recently returned from Rwanda as part of a delegation of Tech Women from Silicon Valley.

Why Rwanda?

The purpose of the trip was to both inspire girls and women to pursue education and careers in STEM and to learn about efforts in Rwanda to educate and empower girls and women.

As always on these trips, it’s a two-way street. We learned a lot that can help us empower girls and women in the US.

History and a way forward

Tina Shankor, one of my travel mates, wrote a great post about our visit to the Genocide memorial where we learned the history of the events leading up to the tragedy — how it destroyed lives, displaced people and left the country as a potential failed state. (In fact, our hotel was the actual hotel where the events depicted in the movie Hotel Rwanda took place).

Yet, and this is what you’d find most surprising by visiting Rwanda, the people found a way forward. They’ve been rebuilding, socially and economically, since 1996 on a breakneck pace to try to become the Singapore of Africa according to President Kagame (read more).

Women in Government

A key component of their way forward, is the education and empowerment of women. Their parliament has 64% women, one of the highest of any government in the world (we have 20% in the Senate and 18.5% in the House – if you are keeping score at home, women are still 50% of the US population). Maybe we can learn something….

 Why women and girls?

By the numbers:

One out of five girls in the developing world does not complete sixth grade
Increasing girls’ primary school enrollment rates leads to increased gross domestic product
With each year of secondary schooling a girl completes her wages increase by 15-25%
Educated girls are 6 times less likely to marry young, which in turn impacts child mortality, health and nutrition.
Educated women typically invest 90% of their income in their family, compared with 30-40% of a man’s income.  As a result the next generation lead better lives as well.

Put it together and you get the Girl Effect.

Women & Innovators of the future

We visited the Gashora Girls Academy, Akilah Institute and Girls Hub – three amazing institutions.

We visited k-Lab, an incubator where we met several women who were also enrolled at Carnegie-Mellon Rwanda (excellent blog by one of their professors on challenges they encounter). They pitched us their new product ideas!

The end of poverty?

Our trip ended with a visit to the Millennium Village which I head read about in A Thousand Hills to Heaven.

The Millennium Villages Project addresses the root causes of extreme poverty, taking a holistic, community-led approach to sustainable development.

Ericsson is one of the sponsors so our colleague Audrey Simpson arranged a tour of the village’s school, hospital, cassava processing plant and crafts center. It’s amazing to see a multifaceted approach to tackling poverty in action.

Last word: Umuganda

On my last day, another travel mate (Evelyn Teo of Salesforce) and I spent the day touring visiting sites in the country side with our guide Tarzan (yah, he knows the Jane jokes). We ended up in a conversation over lunch telling him about the homeless people in America. He couldn’t understand it. What about their families? (Not helping them, we explained). What about the community meetings? (Our towns don’t work like that, we explained).

Umuganda can be translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome

On the last Saturday of each month the adults in every Rwandan community work together on a public works progress. Can you imagine what we could achieve in the U.S. if we also did that?

Photos from Millennium village:

IMG_0947 IMG_0949 IMG_1014 IMG_1027 IMG_1028 IMG_1052 IMG_1059 IMG_1111 IMG_1079

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OOTO Rwanda

My OOTO for my upcoming trip….

I’m OOTO in Rwanda with some of my fellow mentors from the TechWomen program. We are on a trip organized by IIE to visit Rwanda to promote girls and women in STEM. We will learn about education, industry and government activities related to women and STEM as well as contribute through talks and workshops.

I’ll be running a design thinking workshop at the Gashora Girls Academy.

What would you do if you were not afraid?

Something big? Small? Change something at Citrix that you are passionate about?

Lets start a dialog. I’m back Feb 10th so find me that week at Citrix Santa Clara Connect in person or send me a note!


P.S. If you want to read an amazing story about an inspirational person, read Land of a Thousand Hills



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Accessible for One and All

What does a prescription medication and a spatula have in common?  Well, if one is from Target and the other from Oxo Good Grips then the answer is universal design.

Last week our Birds-of-a-Feather for Design Research hosted Whitney Quesenbery who spoke on design and research for accessibility.

Her main thesis is that by designing for people first, and not technology, and then the systems and tools end up simple, usable and often delightful. Two great examples are the Target pharmacy pill bottles (read the story) and Oxo Good Grips kitchen tools (their story). In both cases, they designed for what might be called extreme users – people who had been challenged by the existing solutions (small type, hard to open bottles or slippery handles) – and came up with solutions that not only met those users needs, but a broader audience as well.

A while ago, my colleague Brian Moose hopped in a wheel chair at SFO, went through security and onto a Jet Blue flight. He was participating in a thinking session with Jet Blue on disabled passengers. (Jet Blue’s design thinking story)

If you’re looking for a shortcut, Whitney’s new book A Web for Everyone provides a set of guidelines (nicely detailed so that you could use them for heuristic reviews, plus a ton of technical advice on coding practices for the web) and a terrific set of sharable design personas. These can be combined with your existing personas (for example: the same person with same goals, just happens to be blind).