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UX Design and Certified B Corps: A Happy Combo

UX and B Corps are like peas and carrots. B Corps got their chocolate in my UX peanut butter. The Ingage business model is the macaroni to my UX cheese. (I could go on. I’m old and have lots of pop references stashed in my white-haired noggin..!)

In the fall of 2019, it was my good fortune to be hired by a certified B Corporation. I must admit, somewhat sheepishly, that I had been unaware of that particular business structure up until then. In the time since, I have come to admire it greatly. March is B Corp month, and so I’ve been thinking even more than usual about how lucky I am — a sentiment strengthened, no doubt, by the grim circumstances we’ve all had to bear in the past year. I’ve come to see that the warm, fuzzy feeling I have inside when I think of my career is two-fold: not only do I get to work for a B Corp but I’m a UX Designer, to boot. And that is an especially harmonious, especially gratifying combination.

Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay – Sallust

Here’s my thinking on why the marriage of UX and B Corps is such a great match.

At its core, User Experience Design seeks to advocate for the end users of a given product, service, or workflow. That may seem like a mild case of stating the obvious, but it’s easy to forget how much that idea shook up the previous status quo of design. Because I was a print designer long before I became a web designer, and had been a web designer for a few years before being introduced to the principles of User Experience Design, I got to live through those growing pains first hand.

Designers used to be the experts who answered for all things aesthetic. Companies relied on their experience and “eye” for color, layout, font choice, etc. When the internet steamrolled over everyone and web design began to become the new normal, designers had to face an uncomfortable truth: sometimes they got it wrong. A website may have an exquisite palette of colors, it may have the most elegant of type treatments, its buttons might glow like lost gems of priceless treasure…but if the user can’t do what she needs to get done, she’ll leave and look for an alternative solution. Because web pages rapidly went from things we primarily looked at and became places where we got things done. More and more things. (Until, ultimately, all the things..!)

Enter usability testing: we designers discovered that we could put folks in front of our designs and simply ask them to test our ideas. Try to buy this item; enter this data; find this information. They’d give it their best shot, and even let us watch and take notes. While they could, and often did, confirm the broadest of our expectations, they often highlighted snags, pain points, or even outright blunders that we designers had completely missed. We simply couldn’t anticipate everything. Humans are complicated, messy creatures, and our objectives are subject to an ever-changing sea of influences (our mood, our hunger level, our self-esteem, the ambient light and noise in the room…the list goes on and on.) When mobile devices became a thing at the end of the first decade of the 2000s, we began conducting business anytime and anywhere we had access to our phone and a good internet connection. The focus of concern for UX expanded like one of those colorful little pills that turn into a sponge dinosaur when you drop it into the bath. (Have you ever shopped/checked your email/read an article during a long soak? That’s just one narrow example of the sort of context I’m talking about. How do we go about anticipating all those scenarios?)

To become a UX designer is to admit that you don’t have all the answers. It is to say, if I really want to do right by my users, I need to get to know them as best I can. I need to walk a mile in their shoes, see things as they see them, follow workflows as they would follow them. And when I identify how something can be improved in their favor, I need to commit myself to making that change within my project — I must take seriously my responsibility to advocate for those who are directly impacted by my design, even though they aren’t present at the project table.

Similarly, B Corps recognize a different flavor of the same truth. For-profit companies have a lot of clout in our society, and they are capable of providing good outcomes for many folks within the system. But a B Corp expands its area of focus to include not just its shareholders but its community, as well. It makes a formal pledge to devote a percentage of its profits to furthering worthwhile local causes that might just need a boost to get up to speed in the market. B Corps acknowledge that the profiteers might not always get it right. By nurturing a willingness to actively seek out what is important to their employees and to their fellow community members, they create a way to provide direct support to those efforts that could otherwise fall through the cracks.

What I’m talking about here, if you haven’t picked up what I’m laying down already, is generosity. There is a generosity of spirit in the person who says, I have the best of intentions but I am also human and fallible. If I find, due to my own ignorance or over-confidence, that my actions can be altered in a way that improves the outcome of what I’ve set out to do, then I’ll alter them. I’ll sacrifice my ego in service of the greater good, because my ultimate intention is to make things better.

Human history is replete with examples of well-intentioned folks “bestowing” gifts of terrible destruction and mayhem simply because they refused or were unable to consider the perspective of those on the receiving end. As a UX Designer, I like that I get to test out my design ideas with real folks who are willing to kick the tires and discover weaknesses or flaws. As an employee, I love that my company has dedicated a percentage of their profits to helping support local charitable and small-business efforts. I’m gratified that I am in a position to help foster that kind of change in the world.

If you’d like to learn more about B Corps, check out the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence; or search your local area for B Corps that you can support.

To learn more about UX Design, check out this great introduction over on Careerfoundry.com.

Finally, this Simon Sinek video helped me realize what is meant when people talk about having a good fit with their company’s culture—it helped me see how lucky and grateful I am to work for a company with a just cause. After the year we’ve all been through, just having a job is reason enough for gratitude, but I feel especially fortunate to be able to work with a certified B Corporation.

Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style. – Rebecca Solnit

cloud

Intro to the Cloud

What is the Cloud?

The concept of cloud computing is growing quickly, but many that are not directly involved with technology on a day to day basis may still be wondering what this ‘cloud’ thing is. The simplest answer to this question is: “Other people’s computers”, but it’s so much more than that. Here are some examples of cloud computing.

A very simple example of using the cloud is the way in which many of us manage all of the photos on an iPhone. We take so many pictures and we don’t want to lose any of them. ( Where is that photo of me next to the Elvis impersonator? )  To protect against this catastrophe you might get an Apple iCloud subscription to store and backup your photos. Now when you lose, submerge, destroy or upgrade your phone, the photos are safe from harm. 

Another simple way to use the cloud is a subscription to an application such as an office tool like Office 365. The user pays a monthly subscription fee and has access to the software for the agreed upon time period. This is commonly referred to as Software As A Service or SaaS. In most cases the user may never need to install the software on their own computer. They can conveniently login to a website to use the application that is completely maintained by the software vendor.

A common small business example is the website. Almost every business has a website but very few small businesses want to deal with a computer to host it on or the additional IT nerds in the office to maintain it. The solution to this problem is to use a web hosting service (think GoDaddy) and effectively outsource the maintenance of a web server. Now the small business can just focus on the messaging and content for the website instead of the complicated technical details. This type of cloud implementation is known as Platform As a Service or PaaS. The vendor (like Godaddy) maintains some tools for serving web pages and the user subscribes to this platform and just uploads the files necessary for the website. No need to know the ugly details of the web server.

A more sophisticated example of computing in the cloud is when a company has all of their servers, networking infrastructure, databases and file storage managed within the cloud. In the old days a company would have a server room with special air conditioning, raised floors, and backup  power units with rows of computers with lots of cool blinky lights. Or a small business with fewer resources might have the server in their basement or behind the couch at their house. Yikes! With the maturity of modern cloud computing platforms a small business or even a single entrepreneur  can provision and start a server ( or lots of servers) with a few mouse clicks in the cloud vendors web portal. No need for  a dedicated server room, or even the servers in your location. You don’t get the cool blinky lights but the advantages (see the next section) more than make up for this. This type of solution is known as Infrastructure As A Service or IaaS. The subscriber can configure the infrastructure to suit their needs but there is no hassle of having the hardware in the office(or in a basement, or behind the couch). You probably need some of those pesky IT nerds in your office to help with this setup, but not too many.

Why use the cloud?

Let’s now take a look at the major advantages of using a cloud computing platform. They fall into three major categories: cost, convenience and flexibility & scalability. Let’s use your hypothetical small business to demonstrate these advantages

Cost 

Your small business needs some servers and a network and some internet security appliances. Your budget is low and you can’t afford the big multi thousand dollar expense of a new server. Enter the cloud computing advantage. For a small amount of money (a few dollars a day depending on the size) you can login to your favorite cloud provider and provision your server and access it from anywhere. The pricing model can be based on multiple factors including the amount of CPU and memory, the guaranteed uptime, and sometimes the actual compute power that you consume. If you have multiple servers you can network them to communicate with each other. You can create firewalls to protect your servers from unwanted intrusions. You have done this all for a fraction of the costs of purchasing and you have done it without needing direct access to any physical hardware.

Convenience

Congratulations on getting your small business off the ground with the help of cloud computing. Your business is doing so well that you have another service offering that you are rolling out. If your business was tied to physical computing hardware, you would need to get more space to house the new servers for the new offering. But since you are computing in the cloud, you just provision some new server hardware from your home office (or the beach) and roll out your new service offering to a slew of happy new customers. 

Flexibility & Scalability

Great job getting that second service offering out so quickly. Orders are rolling in on your website but you are really going to see a huge wave of new customers when that Groundhog Day promotion you announced hits. Luckily you are using cloud computing and you have set up rules to scale up your web server for greater capacity if the traffic starts to get too high.  When the sale is over and the demand goes back down your web server will scale back to its original size. You have protected yourself from an outage, and only paid for the extra server capacity when it was needed. Great business sense!

Which Cloud Platform is the right one?

The major players in the cloud computing game are Microsoft with their Azure offering, Amazon which offers their suite of Amazon Web Services(AWS) and Google which has the Google Cloud Platform(GCP). In general they all have similar tools to offer but it is certainly worth some time and due diligence when making your selection. Each provider makes it easy to take it for a test drive with some form of initial free access to their platform.  You may also want to look at items within each platform like their published uptimes, security, support  and costs for the specific services that you know you will be using. Each vendor has an online calculator that helps to see what your monthly bill might be based on the resources used.

Maybe you are ready to jump in with both feet and use a bunch of IaaS (you know what this is now) offerings to start that new business. Maybe you want to tiptoe into the cloud with a SaaS offering like Office365. In either case the cloud should make your work life a little bit easier and let your business grow with speed that was not possible only a few years ago.

Happy clouding!