Wednesday 9 Jun 2021
Sponsor profile: D2L fosters a culture of learning
It seems natural that a software platform focused on making better learning experiences would sponsor Fluxible, where the UX community comes together to learn about their craft in new and interesting ways. D2L has been a Fluxible sponsor since 2014. And this year they kept that tradition alive, sponsoring the 2021 edition of Fluxible TV.
We spoke to Kate Wilhelm, senior manager of product design at D2L, and Bob Duncan, a senior product design team lead at D2L, about their company culture and how they foster a culture of learning.
D2L has been sponsoring Fluxible for quite some time. Why is that an important part of your culture?
Kate: We like to give to the local UX community and Fluxible is such a remarkable conference. In terms of the user experience of a conference it's like a masterclass. Being an active part of the community and the sponsorship gives us an opportunity under more normal circumstances to put together some sessions where we can host people and give talks. A lot of the people in our organization, we got to know them through events like Fluxible or some of the local UX meetups. In fact, we have an amazing UX researcher and I met her after I hosted one of the Fluxible dinners. Eventually she joined us as a contractor and then about a year ago as a full-time UX researcher.
Bob: We've been hiring designers for a while. We have one designer who started a couple of months ago who, the reason he heard of us and was interested in working for D2L was because he attended a presentation that one of our designers gave at Fluxible. And we had another situation where we're actively recruiting and someone was only responsive because they also saw that presentation at Fluxible.
Kate, you mentioned that Fluxible is a masterclass in UX. How do you bake learning into the work that you do?
Kate: I think we foster learning even before people join us at D2L by being mentors in the community. And we have a robust practice at D2L that we don't hire unicorns and we don't hire rockstars. We want people to go deep in a number of areas and be curious about other areas, and then we get to learn from each other. Bob's been helping assemble some material that helps people learn about what it means to practice product design at D2L because not everyone does the early generative research or some of the design explorations that we get to do at D2L.
We very recently updated the scorecard that we use for hiring so that we better balance practice skills with transferable skills. We look for people with a sense of curiosity, people who are self‑aware and are seeking to learn and improve all the time because then we're confident that they can learn new skills on the job. We do that by pairing people or we have tools that help people reflect on where they are as practitioners. So, you know, ‘I'm skilled here. I'm deeply skilled here. I would like to gain more skill in these areas’. And then we look for ways to make that happen on the job.
What prompted you to update the scorecard?
Kate: We've been beefing up our hiring over time. One of those things was the job ad didn't feel like it reflected our culture and what we were looking for. We wanted to lead with what people would gain by joining us. We're scaling up and we want to hire for diversity across a number of dimensions, including diversity of experience and diversity of thought. And so myself and Aleks (Gligoric, director of product design at D2L) were doing a lot of the hiring and when we tried to scale that beyond our immediate selves, we realized that in addition to the practice skills, we had internalized a set of transferable skills that we hadn’t captured formally that we hadn’t captured formally and that tended to correlate to diversity across other dimensions. So, we wanted to formalize that on the scorecard to make sure that everyone was using the same criteria so that we could continue to enjoy more diversity on the team.
Which UX skills do you think are really beneficial for the work that you do?
Kate: The starting point has to be an understanding of the broad discipline…. They should be aware of what they're not doing and mitigating it somehow, or finding ways to try to address it. But you have some people, I would say both organizations that hire UX practitioners and then sometimes the practitioners themselves, who think crafting a UI is UX, when UX is actually a broader set of activities that results in a UI.
We want to see people who understand the broad practice and can share their work using their process or approach to ground their narrative — even if there are gaps or even if they made it all the way to the end and then realized they probably should have done one or two things that they didn't do. As long as they're doing that reflection and they're recalibrating and taking that learning into the next thing and have a story about what they would do differently. Some people think that it's visual design and interaction design. Those are just the most visible layers of a much deeper and richer discipline.
How has the pandemic changed how you've approached your work?
Kate: We've always done a lot of remote user experience research, unless we're doing ethnographic research. So sometimes it would involve visiting with people in the context of their work. I think it's going to result in better experiences and collaboration for people who aren't at (D2L) headquarters. I think it made us be more creative about how we connect with each other. Through Slack you can get randomly connected with people. We connect with each other through coffee randomly. We also have a social committee who are quite wonderful…. Just being creative with how we stay connected. We have a dog friendly office and we have a lot of new dogs showing up on our dog Slack channel.
Is there anything new and exciting that D2L is working on that you can share?
Bob: I worked for D2L, I left, and I came back, so I feel it’s worth highlighting how designers are given the opportunity to practice design as part of a mature practice. It's one of those things where you don't know what you have until you lose it. So when I left and I went to another company that didn't have the same level of emphasis or maturity in UX, it was difficult to work that way. (At D2L) designers are given the opportunity to explore depending on the initiative that we're working on. When I was working on Wave (a cloud-based education platform for employees that D2L created), we were given opportunities to do strategic generative research to inform our solutions. And we weren't just handed down a set of user stories and features to build. We were a true partner in the conversation of what we were doing and why we were doing it. We think about problems that we solve and we understand those problems through research. It's not an Iron Chef competition where we're given features and we have to create a cohesive experience.