Ep. 187 – Audrey Crane, Author of What CEOs Need to Know About Design and Partner at Design Map

Ep. 187 – Audrey Crane, Author of What CEOs Need to Know About Design and Partner at Design Map

Audrey Crane is author of the new book, What CEOs Need to Know About Design: A business leader’s guide to working with designers and a partner at Design Map. Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Founder talks with Audrey about some of the trends in Design Thinking, how to hire better designers, and the differences she’s seeing in the Midwest versus the Silicon Valley design scene.

Interview Transcript

Audrey Crane, Author of What CEOs Need to Know About Design and Partner at Design MapBrian Ardinger: On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Audrey Crane. Audrey is a partner at Design Map and author of the new book, What CEOs need to know about design: A business leader’s guide to working with designers. We had a great conversation talking about some of the trends in Design Thinking, how to hire better designers, and what are some of the differences she’s seeing in the Midwest versus the Silicon Valley design scene. Now on with the show.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, founder of InsideOutside.IO, a provider of research events and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking, tools, tactics, and trends, and collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.

Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today with me is Audrey Crane. Audrey is a partner at Design Map and author of a new book called What CEOs need to know about design. Welcome to the show.

Audrey Crane: Thank you so much Brian

Audrey Crane, What CEOs Need to Know About DesignBrian Ardinger: I’m excited to have you on the show because you’ve been recommended by half the people that I know in this design and lean startup space as a person I should have on the show to talk about what’s going on. For folks who may not have heard of you, give us a little background on you and how you got into this design space and what’s keeping you busy right now.

Audrey Crane: My background goes back a while.  Actually I studied math and theater in college. I was in college when I saw the Mosaic browser for the first time and was using muds and old fashioned nerdy stuff like that. I had always worked in high tech. My father and my mother were both computer programmers and so my summer job was QA and stuff like that. I came out to California to act and got a day job at a little company called Netscape. So yeah, happily, most people have still heard of it. I’m still waiting for the day when some young person has not.

I was there and I met Hugh Deverly, who was a huge influence on my life, a really big deal. He’s not great at self-promoting, but a really big deal inside the design world, and he was a designer by trade and training and kind of showed me the world of design and marriage of right brain and left brain, really worked for me. It really resonated.

When he left to start Deverly design office, I went with him and was incredibly lucky to be the first employee there. Was there for quite a while. I left and went internal and ran my own design team and then left again and joined Design Map as a partner nine years ago now. I head up the research arm of Design Map. Many people with lots of experience and skills there, but I pitch in there where I can and then do show up in client engagements when I’m helpful and try to go away when I’m not. That’s my job.

Sense & Respond Press

Brian Ardinger: You just completed a new book. It’s on the Sense & Respond Press. Folks who’ve listened to the podcast and know Josh Seiden and the gang who runs Sense & Respond, they tend to find some really great authors out there, and you’ve got a new book called What CEOs need to know about design. Tell the audience a little bit about the book and what they can expect to find in it. 

Audrey Crane: Josh and Jeff really have some extraordinary authors, and a couple of years ago I pitched this idea to Josh. Actually, even before Sense & Respond came out, I was chatting with him and I mentioned at Design Map, the work we do. We’re consultants and we design software. We do a lot of strategic work for B to Bs, and our clients tend to really know what they’re doing. 

And I actually was just listening to your podcast with Jeff Gothelf and the conversations that you guys were having is mostly the world that I lived in. Jeff was saying that the language is ubiquitous, that everybody talks about Lean Startup and Design Thinking, things like that, but what was interesting is even in that little bubble that I was traveling in, from time to time, we would run across people who would say things like, when are we going to get the design map?

Design maps are not a thing. It’s the name of our company, although certainly there are lots of kinds of maps that we and other designers produced. Or my Mom is a business analyst now and I overheard her one day in a conference call with like eight other business analysts talking about whether something should be a radio button or a pull-down menu.

And I said, so you guys have designers. To do this stuff, and they didn’t have a single designer on staff. And then what really sparked it for me is the CEO of a small company, about 200 people called up and he said, you guys have been highly recommended to me. And I’ll tell you what, I’m a developer. I understand technology, I’ve learned about marketing, I’ve learned about HR, finance, and operations. And I know that design is important, but I don’t know how to use it in my company. I don’t know how to leverage design. What should I do?

He doesn’t want to learn Photoshop or he doesn’t want to walk through a case study with me. Like he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what a wireframe is. He doesn’t know the difference between a wire frame and a comp or what design thinking is necessarily other than reading about an HBR, and yet he really wants to bring this to bear.

There’s really no on-ramp, as we as designers and practitioners get in some more and more rarefied air talking about the details and find points of dual track agile and things like that. For somebody who doesn’t know what sketches or why sketches. That’s a big change from Photoshop and illustrator or who doesn’t feel comfortable getting feedback in a design critique. Like there’s really just no on-ramp for this CEO to learn about design. You either are talking at a PhD level or nothing.  It’s a fonts and colors conversation.

What CEOs need to know about design

Brian Ardinger: And it seems to be like it’s something that’s finally risen to that level. Design has finally got the importance level that it’s moved beyond make it pretty to it’s a core component of how we develop products or services and the experiences around it.  That’s a good thing, but like you said, there’s not a real roadmap to help people understand what that is without starting from scratch. Tell me a little bit more about what are those core traits or what should CEOs be doing when they’re thinking about this? 

Audrey Crane: To start with, what the book covers is the real return on investment in design, and it’s astonishing to me, we have no idea how many companies are out there, and I’ll bet you 75 or 80% that produce software and that the CEO or the business leader is paying a developer to do design work. They don’t have any designers on staff. They think that there isn’t any, in some way, folks will say, Oh, well there’s not any user experience design. The engineers are just showing on the screen what the software that they built is doing. 

Even if you’ve set aside the myriad of reports that are coming up. Forrester and IBM one, when is most recent? Super sexy one, the 300% ROI on IBM’s investment.  But even if you throw that away and just look at the average company and how much they’re paying developers to do design work, when they could be paying designers with roughly commensurate salaries to do the thing that they’re experts in and leave the engineers to do the things that they’re experts in.

But instead, what happens is they make this huge investment in some probably really super great software that’s really powerful and really feature rich, and then it gets obfuscated under this layer of user-experience design that gets stored, and misrepresents the value of the software that they’ve invested in building. That’s sort of astonishing. 

Sponsor: Nerdery

Brian Ardinger: Hey, listeners, I wanted to pause this episode with a word from our sponsor this week Nerdery. Nerdery is a digital business consultancy partnering with Fortune 100 and 500 companies to create new digital products and modernize their current technology. One of their clients is Google Cloud.

Google Cloud wanted to create a seamless and connected digital experience at its biggest event of the year, Google Next. They turned to Nerdery to design and develop the event app. That would power this Google experience for 35,000 event attendance. Bridging strategy to execution, Nerdery creates digital solutions that accelerate ambitions businesses learn more at Nerdery.com (https://www.nerdery.com).


Brian Ardinger:  What is the environment that you’re seeing out there for hiring talented designers? Is it as tight as it is for developers, or what’s that first step if I’m a business leader trying to figure out, well, how do I find a designer versus a developer and what’s that process look like? 

Audrey Crane: I don’t hire any developers, but what I hear from my friends who do is, first of all, the salaries are about the same. The biggest difference often is that you have an engineer on staff who can vet the quality of engineer that you’re hiring, but you may or may not have a designer on staff to help you vet the quality designer that you’re hiring. So that’s a big difference. Just honestly get help. Certainly, you can ask the interview questions that are standard across anybody in terms of their willingness to collaborate or be a team player. But then, and your personal assessment of their portfolio matters. 

I’m just helping a team right now actually hire a VP of Design, and I said. But part of his interview process, why don’t we ask them to walk through a project with us? And that was a surprising idea for them. And it’s not to say that they’re not really great talented people, at what to do. They just, what they do is not hire designers.  I think the first step is to get somebody to help you assess designers. 

And then another really important thing is to understand the difference between different kinds of designers. And I hate to get into any kind of argument about what designers’ titles should be. I think that that happens on Twitter once a quarter. Often if someone is hiring the first designer, they’ll say. Oh, well, we need you to redsign our logo and all of our business cards and our website.

And then also we have this B2B digital product that we need to design, and often an app and not understanding that it’s very rare to find a person who’s going to be great at all those things. And that’s really going to want to do all those things. Understanding that there’s a little distinction is important. And if you get help hiring a designer, then the person who’s helping you, can help you write a job description that’s reasonable and that doesn’t show off that you really don’t know how to hire a designer, even in your job posting. 

Hiring Designers

Brian Ardinger: One of the things I hear is pushback from some business leaders is like, well we don’t want to hire designer because we don’t have enough work for them. We definitely know we need software developers and we have worked for them, but designers come in at certain points and we don’t have the design need as much as like a developer need. How do you push back against that and help business leaders understand that there’s more than just the initial UX UI component of it that goes into the top designers work or thought? 

Audrey Crane: Honestly, I would go out to that organization or ask the business leader, ask your developers, your product managers, your business analysts, if you have them, how much time those people are spending doing design work, and let’s define design a little bit carefully. Anything that affects what a user sees or experiences within the product. And as soon as you asked that, you figure out that, Oh, you know, five or eight or 10 people are spending 10% of their time doing that. It’s really easy to see that, that you have enough work here. 

And again, the question is, let’s say that the world comes to screeching halt and you literally don’t have anything for the designer to do. Isn’t that still better than paying a developer? Probably overtaxed. To do design work that they’re not qualified and may not even be interested in doing. Certainly, there are some developers who are talented at design and enjoy doing it, but there are a lot who at least when we show up, they’re really relieved. They’re like, Oh, thank you. I just want to write code. That’s what I’m trained to do and it’s what I’m good at doing. I have mastered that and I enjoy it, and if you could do it then, that would be great if you could just let me do what I’m good at.

Trends in the Design Space

Brian Ardinger: What are some of the biggest trends that you’re seeing in the design space?  I’m on a big kick here talking a lot about this no-code movement and all the new tools and that that are out there that are democratizing innovation and a lot of different ways, but what are some of the trends, or what are your thoughts on how the world of design has changed 

Audrey Crane: The virtual reality, mixed reality, augmented reality, all of that stuff, we definitely have our clients saying to us, a lot, we don’t know how this is going to impact us, but can you help us do that? And I do think Design Thinking has a bias towards action, and certainly all the trends are towards moving quickly. But at the same time, something that I’m seeing is companies who are willing to invest in taking the time to really think three and four years out.

I don’t know that I’ve read anybody writing about this, but I have seen our clients saying, somebody’s going to eat our lunch, if we don’t take a minute here and really think about what the future might hold for us. It doesn’t have to be a big investment. We don’t have to spend a year doing it. You don’t have to spend $5 million on it.

But let’s just, while we are incrementally improving things with Agile, and even maybe seeing some innovation happen with that, we also want to think really long term, which in software, is maybe three to five years, with the outside about what the future, might hold for us, and that’s been kind of interesting too. I guess I’m a little surprised that people are asking about that given the focus on design sprints and velocity and Lean and all of that. I am seeing people ask for it. 

Creating a Design Conversation

Brian Ardinger: Yeah. More and more exploration. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that the number of different technologies that are converging at the same time. People are bound to know that they’re going to have big impacts in the business, but not necessarily sure how. everything from voice to augmented reality in that are fundamentally going to change the way consumers and people interact with technology. It will be interesting times that we’re entering into. 

Do you have any thoughts on some of the new tools in that? Back in the day when Photoshop was the thing out there, you had to be an expert to use it and wield it. Now you’ve got things like Canva and other things that are trying to provide some aspect of design to the layman, so to speak. Is that good? Is that bad? What are your thoughts on some of the new tools that are making it easier for folks to pretty up things or get access to design that they didn’t have access to before?

Audrey Crane: It’s an old problem. I certainly got mockups from product managers that were built in PowerPoint and Microsoft Word. I guess they had to really want to do it if they’re going to do it in Microsoft Word, but the question really is, if it’s a means of engaging in a conversation, then whatever the tool is, is great. If it’s a means of shortcutting a conversation, then it’s not good. 

I worked with a product manager, just fantastic, she really valued design. And sometimes when she would write things up, she would bend over backwards, not to provide any information that might suggest that she wanted the designer to put a button to, instead of saying like put about on the page that says you can go to the next page, there is probably some clickable object that may or may not be, you know, and I talked to her about it and she’s like, I just really want the designers to know that my job as a product manager is to bring the best they have to offer and I want to collaborate with them. I don’t want to dictate to them. 

And so, I said, you know Carolee, you can say button. You can even draw a picture for us because it’s really hard to back out of what’s in your head, what your intention is. As long as that’s part of the conversation that we’re having. So whatever form that pitch picks, whether it’s Canva or a sketch on a napkin or a sketch on the whiteboard, if it’s part of a conversation with a designer, fantastic. If it’s a way to say, here, do this. Obviously, I’m not a fan of that. It leaves a lot of value on the table. If you manage to hire a designer, I don’t know why you’d bother doing that. 

Brian Ardinger: You’ve had a lot of time in Silicon Valley, but recently you’ve moved back to the Midwest, so I want to get your insights and thoughts on differences or similarities, what you’re seeing in environments in the Valley versus Silicon Prairie. 

Audrey Crane: I wish that there wasn’t that phrase in Omaha, “We Don’t Coast.” 

Brian Ardinger: Oh yeah. Okay. 

Audrey Crane: It sets up an oppositional point of view, which I don’t ever experience when I’m working in Omaha.  We do have a number of clients in Omaha, and it’s absolutely a pleasure, and actually, in Nebraska and Lincoln as well, it’s absolutely a pleasure to work with those folks. We spent seven years working with Exact Target, which is Indianapolis based, and everybody loved working with that client because they were savvy, they were smart, they move quickly, but they were also just really pleasant to work with. Not that people in Silicon Valley can’t be pleasant to work with, but there was this Midwest effect that we really enjoy. I’m liking having more of that. 

I do find that I have to work a little harder to explain. Okay. Well, so we do design strategy and interaction design, and this is what I mean by interaction design, like I’m having to deal a little bit more explaining than I might in Silicon Valley, but I really don’t mind doing that. The great thing about it is that once people start to get their hands around it, there’s so much opportunity then to apply that 

Midwest Design

Brian Ardinger: Right. It seems to be less posing around it. It’s more like, Hey, I really don’t understand what you’re talking about. Can you help me educate me in this particular process versus some of the folks that I’ve seen in other places that talk the game, but don’t necessarily walk the game.

Audrey Crane: Yeah. The willingness to learn, be open to other people’s experiences and points of view is definitely an excellent point. 

Brian Ardinger: Well Audrey, thank you very much for being on Inside Outside Innovation. I really do appreciate your thoughts and insights around this particular topic. If people want to find out more about yourself, about design map, about your new book, what’s the best way to do that?

Audrey Crane: Designmap.com is the website. There’s a blog post up there about the book, about why I lay awake at night, worrying that my friends will read it and the book is available on Amazon. 

Brian Ardinger: Audrey, thank you very much for being on Inside Outside Innovation. Look forward to continuing the conversation. 

Audrey Crane: It’s such a pleasure. Thank you very much. Brian.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

For similar podcasts, check out: 

Ep. 164 – Josh Seiden, Author of Outcomes Over Outputs on Being Outcome Centric

Ep. 140 – Melissa Perri, Escaping the Build Trap Author and Produx Labs CEO

Ep. 90 – Teresa Torres w/ Product Talk



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