The rapid growth of technology-enabled products and services continues to alter the way we interact with the world.
Enterprise-level companies are facing the threat of disruption everyday—which is where Pivotal Labs comes in. Labs works with customers to discover the optimal processes for software design and development; they facilitate the cultural shifts necessary to build meaningful products that can be hosted on web services like Pivotal Cloud Foundry.
The external impression of Pivotal is often focused on the company’s innovative engineering work and cloud products and services. The company has over 200 designers in 22 offices around the world, but most people outside of Pivotal aren’t aware of how large their design practice is.
Clients are aware of Pivotal Labs’ extensive toolkit of design principles and methodologies, “but in the outside world when people think Pivotal Labs they think engineering and don’t always see the value of design.
There’s a big focus on the technology, and human aspect is easily forgotten. Every product ultimately serves people. You’re much better off organically building a product people want rather than quickly building something no one wants” explains Salomé Mortazavi, Product Design Manager at Pivotal Labs
I recently spoke with Salomé to learn more about Pivotal Labs’ unique approach, how she is advocating for design internally, and her passion: inclusive design. Her insights are gold mines for new and experienced designers alik
Designer or “Empathizer-in-Chief?”
Salomé leads a team of designers who pair with Fortune 500 companies and startups to grow and transform their design practices.
Each product team is comprised of a balanced team: that are cross-disciplinary, autonomous, product teams, that include product designers, product managers, developers, data scientists each paired with a client team member counterpart. This creates a shared understanding and product ownership which leads to the removal of handoff and lengthy documentation.
(Want to learn more about the inner workings of design teams? Read our report on the design industry, The New Design Frontier)
At Pivotal Labs, a designer’s role in a balanced team is referred to as “Empathizer-in-Chief.” They see their role as user advocate, and engage in continuous research at every part of the product life cycle.
“Our roles as designers shift to design facilitators who encourage the other disciplines to participate in the end-to-end design life cycle. We help everyone else understand their needs and see the world from their perspective.
We practice Lean UX and our product decisions are formed in user research and guided by business outcomes. Our teams also pair with stakeholders at these organizations to enable them to be able to understand the impact of managing these new teams.”
“At Pivotal Labs, a designer’s role in a balanced team is referred to as “Empathizer-in-Chief.” They see their role as user advocate.”
Collaborative designer/developer relationships
Collaboration and proactive communication are constant themes in Salomé’s conversation with me. Pivotal Labs has accomplished seamless collaboration across departments, particularly between developers and designers (an area where many other organizations struggle).
She credits developers being co-located with designers as an important aspect of their teamwork. With developers present for the entire process, from solution generation to group sketching sessions. Developers get to see how users are interacting and responding to solutions the group came up with together.
“Some of our best design decisions have come out of pairing with developers. Getting them involved early and often allows us to leverage their technical feasibility lense before we invest a ton of time going down the wrong path. This saves us time, builds better products and creates a really good experience within the team.”
Salomé also credits InVision in helping facilitate collaboration, not only between Pivotal Labs’ own developers and designers but also in the pairing of Pivotal Labs’ teams with their clients’ teams.
How InVision facilitates collaboration
“Our design approach is to be as lean as possible. This means we want to quickly validated our assumptions and find the most collaborative, and fastest way to build prototypes. InVision is a really helpful way for us to facilitate that back and forth, both internally and with client teams.”
InVision is key throughout the entire product lifecycle.
For example, Pivotal Labs uses InVision Inspect; rather than attaching a static image of the design with redlines, they include an InVision link to attach to the Pivotal Tracker story. InVision is also used to test their prototypes with users and collaborate between teams.
“Red-lines aren’t necessary. InVision provides the tools to design, prototype, provide the specs, and communicate with your team. It just makes everything a lot easier for everyone.”
InVision has helped Pivotal collaborate with and set up many clients for success.
Inclusive design: Reimagining accessibility for all
At its simplest, inclusive design is about creating products that are more usable to a larger audience. It’s an area of design Salomé is very passionate about.
She starts by explaining accessibility is the foundation that inclusive design is built on.
Inclusive design is thinking about all of the ways the product may be excluding other users. We see this in the world around us. There are augmentations made to our physical space that allow people to effectively and safely interact with their environment. The same considerations for inclusion need to be considered for products in the digital space.
“By thinking about your primary user, you’re already creating a very narrow lens. You’re not thinking about all the people that are not being considered at the beginning of the design phase. As a result, you can end up perpetuating stereotypes and creating limitations that are marginalizing users. However, if you could include users with a diversity of perspectives and abilities in your design process, then you don’t have to make expensive augmentations later. You’ll also expand your user reach and build better products.” explains Salomé.
Much of her current focus at Pivotal Labs involves inclusive design: “At Pivotal Labs, we are thinking about how to build inclusive cultures, teams and make products that are accessible.”
Salomé has been working closely with other designers to create a design field guide explaining Pivotal Labs’ core design principles, practices, methodologies. This will be shared publicly with the intention of creating value for designers facing similar challenges and looking to see how they can leverage design as a transformation tool to build a better and more inclusive future.