We thought it would be interesting to share some insights about the state of design in other industries. So, throughout September, we are interviewing creative professionals from a variety of companies—we’re calling it our Practitioner Series, and this is just the beginning. From experience design practitioners like Saul Gurdus here—the VP of Experience Design at Citrix—to curators and product developers, we will dive into the many facets of design and emerging trends from those in-the-know.

We’re excited to hear what you think and if you have suggestions for more folks you’d like us to interview, we’d love to hear from you.

I’d like to start off the interview with diving into some of the insights you presented in your piece featured in UX Mag, which caught our eye and precipitated this entire series. You wrote: “Over-rotating on cost cutting and offshoring caused a backlash and consumers are demanding better experiences.”

Q: Have you noted any IT-focused businesses that are indeed adopting user-focused strategies? If so, are they succeeding or struggling to activate this strategy?

A lot of IT-focused businesses are adopting, but they’re later to the game, that’s for sure. At Citrix, we are an obvious example of one of those companies that are making user-focused decisions. For an example of struggling, this is what we will find: So, Citrix is a technology company, so our customers are IT groups. Most of our consulting is traditional: Assess. Design. Deploy. The problem is, people are employing tech that’s not really thinking about their users. For instance, the healthcare industry. IT that serves the health industry isn’t taking into consideration how a doctor bounces from room-to-room, for example, and aren’t designing solutions in-line with that behavior. Being really intimate with your users is huge. There are different things you can do to optimize that, but if you don’t take the time to understand how they interact before and after they interact with the tech, you can’t be successful.

Here, we run all design in-house and now we’re teaching our customers how to frame the experience looking at a user’s journey map by offering workshops to them. Not all IT groups are there yet. We’re still early in the curve. More forward-looking CEOs are picking it up, though. Lately you’ll see “experience” embedded within more job titles, like “end-user experience” job titles. To activate user-focused strategies, you have to do more than just surveying and listening…

Q: In terms of your personal career trajectory in a more modern enterprise, what are some challenges you’ve faced in having the “Old School” face of enterprise understand and accept these ideas about Experience Design? How do you remedy your challenges? Do you have any stories that you could share?

It’s a cultural transformation to get a company to be more user-centric. It’s tricky. We’ve learned that it’s not a methodology that you can teach. More specifically, individually, what I’ve found is that there’s a maturity model. We created the IT journey alongside the Design School at Stanford. There’s a stage in the early or awakening phase of understanding user centricity. People think, “Hmm, maybe I’d like to learn more…” Or they learned more about experience design at a talk, or a conference, and then they’re like: “Yes! I want to apply to this to my work.” They’re cautiously optimistic. So, they try it out and then engrain it in their team after succeeding.

What we’ve found is that there’s different tools and modules to help nurture this experience journey. New hires here at Citrix get a 90-minute workshop on design. It’s self-selecting. But we create the opportunities and then they can become masters. This isn’t digital design, this is design-thinking; lean approach; etc.—things like that. If you engage out of order, you’re not there with us. You need the right tool for the right point in time.

Q: Could you tell us a bit more about your partnership with the Design School at Stanford? This sounds like a really unique opportunity for new hires and a very unique way to bring your employees “into the fold,” as they say.

Sure, Citrix works very closely with the “D” School at Stanford. They’ve got a really great executive boot camp. It’s not cheap, but it’s amazing. That’s what sparked it for us six years ago to see the value of adding user-centric design thinking to our onboarding.

Practitioner Series View Reading List

Our CEO was a designer by trade. He brought in Catherine Courage who started the whole movement. That was when we started our product design competency. We wanted to start changing how our users experienced us at every stage. We wanted to embed user design into everything we do. The “D” School program was one component of that. We’ve sent almost 60 executives over the years. It’s expensive but an amazing investment. It’s been our tool to convert senior staff.

Q: Could you share some stories about this process for Citrix? What struggles did you all run into as you implemented this into your culture?

We had issues engaging (new hires and existing hires) before getting them to Step One. Over the years, this has helped us better frame this journey. You have to be there for every step of the evolution. In the early years, we did what other companies did: We would train them for a few days and then put them back in and hope it stuck. Well, it doesn’t—and we’re not alone. We discovered that it’s really, really hard to bring the “D” School learnings back with them.

So, we wondered, how do you get it to stick? We made a lot of pivots along the way. Lesson: You can’t train everyone. Once it’s over, they go back to work and post-it some interesting things on their desk, and then they forget about it.

Lesson: Targeted at this issue, we implemented longer-term incubators, like SparkPark. SparkPark is a full, 12-week program that a person who attends brings a real work issue to solve. We use lean- and design-thinking to solve their very-real problem. We create urgency and timelines that are aggressive. It’s a very customer-centric program. More importantly, they start building their muscle memory. They don’t revert. When we put in more time with fewer people, we’re going to get good business decisions from them. We pull a whole team sometimes, and after doing this, they really can’t go back to the old way they were doing and thinking. It’s muscle memory! They’ve had to work this way for 12 weeks to solve a real problem they were facing.

This isn’t just for managers or directors—can be for two-, three- or four-person teams. We may do a boot camp or workshop here-and-there for everyone, but its function is just to help move them from Stage 0 to 1. You’re not going to work differently by just attending a one-day workshop, or a boot camp. It takes reps.

Q: What are some misconceptions people or companies have, do you feel, about delivering these types of user experiences for consumers?

I hear this a lot: “I can’t be a designer because I’m not creative. That’s not me.” We believe that design doesn’t mean that. There’s uppercase “D” and lowercase “d.” You can learn to solve problems in a user centric way without being a designer.

Another thing I see a lot. People think that if you buy a lean start-up book, that you can understand it. But in practice—truly applying it—isn’t the same. The misconception is that you can read a book and do it. It takes a lot of reps—it really does.

A lot of companies say: “It’s too hard to find right people with the right skills.” It’s hard and that’s why companies are buying up these design firms—like Capital One did with Adaptive Path. It’s really hard to keep good talent, and find it.