Book Review: Org Design for Design Orgs

Org Design for Design Orgs


Peter Merholz, Kristin Skinner

My Rating

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"An enlightening journey into the strategic side of UX design"

I was recently watching a recording of Peter Merholz talking at Mind the Product Conference and his insights startled me into action. He made me realise how the design of organisations neglects the needs of designers - we focus on product and engineering and just fit designers in around them.

Peter made the case that in a services world, there is a better way. He argues, if we want to create joined up experiences for customers across the various interfaces of our services have (web, mobile, wearable devices etc.) we have to put more emphasis on design, and more energy designing organisations conducive to allowing designers to flourish.

His revealing insights and compelling call to action were enough to make buy his book, which turned out to be a lot more than I bargained for.

Strategic UX Design Deep-Dive

Accurately, the subtitle of this book is "Building and Managing in-house design teams". And that's exactly what I discovered inside. This book touches on not just the structure of design teams and their place in the wider organisation, but clarifies the different roles, career paths, hiring, design culture, integration with other parts of the organisation.

Even though I have no plans to become a designer, I found all of these topics enlightening and engaging. It helped me to understand better the way designers think, the various skill sets different designers have, and ultimately how I can best work with designers to create joined up services with a cohesive and convenient user experience.

I was actually hooked from the very first chapter which set out to explain the role of user experience design in a modern services world. In my experience, service design thinking is a heavily neglected aspect of modern product development. Many organisations are still comprised of silos - teams may sit next to each to each other, but they aren't truly focused on the user experience across their whole services. So this first few chapters alone are great reading for just about everybody.

The Centralised Partnership Organisation Design Pattern

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this book, certainly the biggest bombshell, is the authors' desire for a new way of building teams in organisations. The authors argue neither the old way - one big design team, or the new way - designers embedded in engineering teams, are optimal in a service design world. They propose a new model called the Centralized Partnership.

The primary rationale for the Centralized Partnership is ensuring that a dedicated team of designers is focused on an entire user journey. In the book, they use an eBay example - one design team would focus on the buyer user journey and another design team would focus on the seller journey. Each design team would, therefore, partner with multiple engineering teams who build specific product capabilities (search, product pages, etc).

In general, the idea makes sense. Unfortunately, the authors did not spend much time explaining the dynamics of the organisation if this model was adopted. What would the workflow look like in the new world? How could we avoid design teams becoming a bottleneck?  

So that's my big disappoint with this book. It does a fantastic job of going wide across almost every management topic, but it doesn't go deep enough into the biggest new idea it puts forward. At just 170 pages, there was plenty of opportunity to. 

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