AMA with Fred Beecher, Senior Manager of Experience Design Operations at Best Buy
Last week on our UX community Slack channel, we hosted a live AMA with Fred Beecher, Senior Manager of Experience Design Operations at Best Buy.
Fred has been working in user experience since 1998. In that time he’s seen UX mature from a field struggling to prove its value to one driving an explosion of innovation and economic growth.
To help feed the ever-increasing demand this explosion has sparked, Fred designed and implemented the UX apprenticeship program at The Nerdery in Minneapolis, eventually leading the 40+ person design team between 2015 and 2017. Fred also co-chaired the Interaction Design Education Summit in 2016 and 2017.
In 2007, Fred authored the first official Axure training program. He has also written and spoken extensively about prototyping, iterative design and UX career development.
For this hour-long chat, Fred fielded questions on everything from costing both a small and large scale UX project, to crafting multichannel experiences, to making the transition from UXer to leader.
Here are the highlights from Fred’s AMA. Please note, some edits have been made for clarity and spelling.
Often we don’t have the luxury of working for a large brand. I’m interested in understanding how you’d approach costing a UX project, to be flexible enough to provide value for small scale projects as well as a large scale piece? [Mark]
This luxury for me is only about three months old 🙂 The past 20 years I’ve spent in agencies/consultancies of one stripe or another, so I’m well acquainted with this particular pain. When I led the team at The Nerdery, one of my mantras was “Provide value within constraints,” because there are always constraints in design work.
The full value of UX comes from the human-centered design process, not from more obvious things like wireframes. The value of UXD is that we understand how to integrate PEOPLE into the design process.
So to make this easy for my team (and salespeople), I created what I call the ‘Buckets Model’ of UX. There are five buckets: Business Strategy, User Research, Content (which contains both IA and Content Strategy), Design (which includes Interaction Design and Visual Design) and Evaluation (evaluation should/can be done in all the other buckets, but making its own bucket ensures it doesn’t get left out).
The idea is is that we put at least a ‘drop’ of effort into each bucket, but more drops into buckets that will be more critical to solving the problem. Drops can roughly be be thought of as design methods. Some are low effort, some are high. Also, these buckets don’t have to be done in order. That’s up to the lead designer. This is a framework, not a process.
Working at a company that has both an online and an in-store presence, how do you create an experience that balances the needs of customers who travel across multiple channels (web, mobile, stores) and the business needs for each channel? [Craig]
That’s a great question! And that’s something that’s very new at Best Buy, and part of the reason that I’m here. We recently held our first ever Experience Design Summit, which got together all the teams directly involved in designing experiences… website, mobile app, store tools, digital content, services, store design, and customer experience. One of my goals is to help bring more unity to these teams, which means continuing the summits and facilitating communication between these teams.
But this is pretty challenging. For example, the store tools team uses Sharepoint to store all their stuff, whereas the website and app teams use JIRA and the rest of the Atlassian suite. So really it’s about creating personal relationships across multiple levels of the design teams. We’re just in the very very beginning phases of that now.
One of the challenges I face is the sales team digging their heels in and saying “but a customer wants this feature!” I’m trying to encourage colleagues to take a step back and think about the broader issues involved and whether what the customer wants is sensible for the product as a whole. Any advice would be appreciated! [Peter]
This is a tricky one. Because we WANT to train salesfolk to be responsive to customers! But we also need to make sure that we’re not just doing what customers say.
One of the great things at BBY is that we actually have multiple research teams. The Customer Experience team, which falls under the XD umbrella… forgot to mention that before… which is funny because technically that’s the team I’m on 🙂 Those teams spend a lot of time and effort understanding customers quantitatively and qualitatively. Before I got here, they used to have quarterly ‘teach-outs’ about what they recently learned about customers. Those are coming back. Customer-centricity is *extremely* important to our senior leadership, which is great for us!
We’re also doing relatively simple things like replacing outdated photography on walls with giant prints of personas and customer journeys. So our employees are constantly surrounded by knowledge of our customers.
Another way to deal with this is to thank them for that input and tell them that you’ll integrate it with everything else that you’re finding out about users. If your org is down with it, you could even have that salesperson put the customer in touch with the people who do research, so they could extract from the person what their PROBLEM is, rather than focusing on the solution.
What have been your biggest challenges working for Best Buy? [Maria]
My biggest challenge has been learning to deal with the high level of specialization. As I said in a previous thread, I’ve spent my previous 20 years in agencies doing all parts of the UX process and working mostly with other people who also did all parts of the UX process. But here, people are extremely tightly focused on very specific parts of the website or mobile app or specific types of research.
For example, we have a research team focused only on A/B testing, one focused on usability testing, one focused on qualitative research and one focused on getting insights from secondary research. And that doesn’t even count the Enterprise Research team!
What has been the biggest or most notable change you’ve seen happen in UX roles from an agency perspective? [Jobert]
Well, the biggest thing of course is that UX was once something you had to explain to LITERALLY EVERBODY, but now ‘great UX’ is something that I’ve actually seen organizations advertise.
The biggest change this has produced is a rapid increase in the number of people who want to get into UX. For many years, it was really really hard. But in the past five years, tons of degree programs and bootcamp schools have sprung up, producing a bumper crop of people who know a decent amount about UX but don’t have a lot of experience actually crafting experiences.
How this impacts agencies is that, frankly, they have been unable to take advantage of this talent… to really see the value of newly minted designers… and as a result there’s a lot more turnover of senior designers.
And that’s the other big change… design has moved in-house. And, frankly, I feel like that’s where design can be more effective. It used to be that agencies did all the “cool” work, but you didn’t make as much money. But now, big companies have figured out how to do ‘cool work’ in a ‘cool way’ and still have the same deep pockets. So senior designers find themselves hotly pursued and can only hold out so long.
As a result, agencies tend to do a lot more overflow work, work that internal teams are too strapped to handle, than they have in the past.
How do you keep educating yourself? Any academic source you can share? [George]
Academic? No. But I spend a lot of time reading articles by people I trust on Medium. I used to get a lot of articles etc from Twitter, but that’s been a wasteland of self-promotion, anger and rage lately, so I’ve stayed mostly off. The other important source lately has been Harvard Business Review.
Some folks on Medium who usually have good stuff: Christina Wodtke, Cennydd Bowles, Gentry Underwood, Tomer Sharon, Josh Seiden, Leyla Acaroglu
What are the resources you always check to keep updated on the latest problems and statistics related to the UX? [Shiko]
Check my reply to George above. Those are my key sources. Things like statistics I don’t hold a lot of weight in, though. There’s one site out there that’s great for overall resolution trends, but that’s about it for statistics that I find useful.
Also, I’m lucky enough to have a secondary research team, who can tell me all sorts of stuff about retail trends, etc. based on reports from Gartner, L3, etc. And a great analytics team that tells me about what’s happening on our site/app. And that’s always the most relevant.
How was your transition from a regular UXer to a senior/leader? How did you find letting go of some of your responsibilities and have you got any tips on becoming a leader? [Mike]
I avoided management for my entire career. Until just before the first UX apprenticeship cohort started, when I realized that technically, I would be the apprentices’ manager. I won’t lie. I freaked out a little bit. But what I found through leading and managing three cohorts of apprentices (12 people in all) was that I really enjoyed helping other people be successful. To me, that is the foundation of great leadership. It’s unleashing the power of your team. It doesn’t mean that you’re the big boss man/woman who is so awesome because they get to make all the decisions.
Another tip: Listen to your team. At The Nerdery, my problem was that I had too many people that had too many good ideas. I couldn’t implement all of them. Nor could I immediately make the pains that people would come to me with go away.
What I could do was to set the expectation that I would always listen, and that even if the thing a particular designer wanted to happen didn’t happen, they would know that I considered their input.
It also means that you can’t just do what you want to do. For example, prototyping tools. I am a hard core Axure guy. I also have, um, strong feelings about InVision. But they’re, ahhhh… slightly different feelings than I have about Axure. But my team really, really wanted to use Sketch and InVision. So I had them put together a case for me. We piloted it on a couple of projects. And it met their expectations. And then I did something that was very, very difficult for me. I bought InVision for 43 people.
So if you want to become a leader, focus on making other people successful. To the extent you can, try to grow into a leadership position where you’re at. It’s hard to jump into a good leadership situation with NO formal leadership experience, but if you’ve got some you can use that to talk about your approach to leadership with other organizations.
How do you start a career in UX? [Pretty much everyone in the Slack group]
Well, now there actually ARE educational options for UX, so I’d suggest starting there. Masters degrees are great, but not for everyone. Bootcamp schools are great options too. I’m a big fan of CareerFoundry in particular due to their mentor-based approach.
After that, it might be tough to get a job. But don’t stop trying. Reach out to local UX folks who speak a lot. Most of them are nice and want to be helpful.
When you start applying, focus on bigger companies. A big company can make much better use of a new designer than an agency. Yes, you might just be making wireframes or just taking research notes or some other basic task for a little while, but that’s okay.
When you’re a new designer, it’s important to focus on your craft. That will get you where you want to go. Enjoy developing your craft and don’t focus so much on getting to senior super quickly. It will happen 🙂
Christopher is the Content Marketing Manager for EMEA, which basically means the skipper of the good ship ‘UserZoom blog’. So far his requests for changing its name to the ‘USS-erzoom Blog’ have been rightfully denied. In his spare time, Christopher is a filmmaker and the editor of wayward pop culture site Methods Unsound. He used to be the deputy editor of Econsultancy, editor of Search Engine Watch, staff writer for ClickZ and features editor of CMO.com.