In What the Heck is EX Design Part 1 I started to share a little about what Employee Experience Design is all about. In this second part I want to share more about some of its philosophical underpinnings.
Before we get started though, I want to clarify that when we speak about the “philosophy” of EX design, we’re discussing the base framework of beliefs that shape and build EX Design.
Why does it even matter that we talk about the driving beliefs of our work?
In design, assumptions are the hidden boundaries of our imagination and creative power. By consciously considering what you believe to be true, you can uncover these boundaries and test their validity.
Naming and remaining awareness of these beliefs allows us to question and shape our own work, remaining congruent and maintaining the integrity of work.
In this article I want to focus on the framework of four core beliefs:
1) The first and overarching philosophical driver is the optimistic belief that things can be better and that we can make them better.
Whether as people, as services, as products, as experience and as ideas, we have not reached our final destination and we can do something about it. There is not only the potential for people, services, products, experiences and ideas to be improved, but through design we have the agency and capacity to improve them.
Best practice can be found in simple systems — where the circumstances, variables and inputs are predictable and the connection between cause and effect is self evident and obvious. Predictable, self evident, obvious — does this sound like any human system you know of? People are complex and complicated, and the human variable always adds uncertainty to the equation.
This means that we never really reach “best practice”. Things can be better and we can make them better — design is an excellent tool to work in complex and complicated systems.
2) The second core belief driving EX Design is that human beings have intrinsic value, agency and hold a leading role in the ecosystem we inhabit.
EX Design is human-centred. We design because it makes things better for people. We design to make things better — for things that people care about.
Historically HR has been viewed as treating people as objects or components in a machine — as human resources. Structures, work division and decisions were made viewing the people in the organisation as resources — this contributed to people doing repetitive tasks, disconnected from purpose and burned out.
Traditional attempts to improve engagement at work came from the perspective of doing things to or for employees, instead of with employees. The belief that people have value and agency is at the root of why Employee Experience Designers co-design with the people in an organisation. How employees are engaged impacts how they engage.
Finally this core belief is also important for ethical reasons. As our knowledge of behaviour and motivation increases, and technology improves, the risk and opportunity for manipulation also increases. Employee Experience Designers must navigate our work in a way that preserves the value of and dignity of people.
3) The third core belief is the importance and value of work and its connection to meaning and purpose.
Work matters to humans. The exertion of effort, the stretching of our capabilities to reach a greater goal is central to our sense of meaning in the world and wellbeing. We do our work because work matters.
The ability to reflect and express our creative selves, to connect with others and to serve a greater purpose are all key drivers of meaning at work. As EX Designers we look for ways to better connect and embed these drivers of meaning to work activities.
4) The last philosophical driver of EX Design is seek to understand first.
When we deal with Employee Experience, we’re dealing with elements and systems that are complex. Workplaces are complex, culture is complex, people are complex. Taking what has worked in one context and applying it elsewhere does not work (but that is often how HR has operated). Believing the myth that we have any of these areas “worked out” is not only counter-productive to creative design, but carries the risk of turning complex circumstances into chaos.
As EX Designers our attitude needs to be one of humility — we do not yet understand the client needs fully, we do not completely understand the experiences of people we are designing for, we do not yet understand the complexity of problems we are designing for. We must seek to understand first.
This affords EX Designers the mental and emotional room to discover, to question and to innovate. Creativity draws from the unknown. This also keeps our egos in check and helps us respect the process.