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Equinix is a company you've probably never heard of, but if they disappeared tomorrow, the entire internet would collapse.

They own most of the facilities around the world that internet traffic goes through. Back in the day, companies would have their own servers and data centers. As the demands on big data grew, it no longer became sustainable to run it all yourself, so they offloaded it to an external provider. 

All the companies you associate with cloud and data -- AWS, Google Cloud, Rackspace, Akamai -- they all host their data in Equinix facilities.

So how can a company this large be completely under the radar?

Diagnosis

The big problem Equinix has is that they have trouble explaining what they do. Their online presence is becoming more and more important for communication and generating interest, but right now, it's not doing its job very well. The writing is convoluted and the content structures make no sense. It's a very classic enterprise problem: The company is mapping its internal structures and language onto an external site. In addition to this, Equinix has no prior experience in design thinking, or working with designers. 

Guiding Principles

  1. Rethink how Equinix communicates online.
  2. Spearhead the creation of a design practice at Equinix.
  3. Hire on new team members, mentor the current designers, institute new methods and practices to shift the thinking away from internal wants and needs towards our customers.

Outcome

We’ve formed an incredible design team at Equinix that’s more than capable of facing the challenges thrown at them.

We’ve changed the minds of stakeholders to see us not as a supplier that takes their orders, but as an equal partner that has expertise in its field and helps them achieve their goals.

We did a number of things to shift the processes and thinking at Equinix:

  • Gather detailed user data
  • Mentoring the current design team
  • Create a culture of testing
  • Forming new culture-habits
  • Co-creation with stakeholders
  • Building consensus in the organization
  • Expand the team
  • Switching to Agile

Gather detailed user data

A big part of shifting how an org thinks about design is by removing personal taste out of the equation. We don't want reviews of the designer's work to devolve into art critiques, where the loudest (or highest ranking) voice in the room gets what they want. To prevent this, you need accurate data about how customers are behaving.

We replaced the old user tracking software (CrazyEgg) with a better one (HotJar), that gives us much more in-depth information on how customers are behaving on the site. We had a wealth of data from Google Analytics that no one was using.

Armed with this information, it became much easier to guide conversations away from stakeholders' personal preference, and towards customer and business goals. 

Mentoring current design team

I started out with two other designers. One is a visual designer and relatively junior, the other is a design developer hybrid and definitely senior. With the way the office is laid out, we barely saw each other and every one of us was working on an island. So we instituted weekly design reviews every Wednesday and group design sessions every 2nd Monday, to review each other's work, push each other further, and sometimes just vent about what's frustrating at work this week.

A culture of testing

We instituted a policy of regularly A/B testing designs, especially when we discover two possible courses of action and can't tell which one will work better.

Major Mentoring Successes

Something I'm really proud of is when I first started out, I was tasked with a redesign of the homepage. The way this role is structured, I do almost no visual design (we have a visual designer for that), but the homepage, I wanted to demonstrate the value of design reviews and the type of feedback I was looking for. So I did a mockup of visual design for the homepage as well, and we critiqued it together. Based on that guidance, I encouraged my designer to explore and refine more options, until we ended up with something that was entirely hers, and much better than what I set forth.

Forming new culture-habits

A lot of this job is just saying the same things over and over again, until new habits form in the culture. So when stakeholders tell me something like "My director really wants this dropdown added", I'll politely remind people that we as a design team aren't working for the stakeholder, but instead the entire organization is working for the customers.

Being a true partner to stakeholders

Sometimes, when you are working with stakeholders, you need to listen past what they are asking you to do to understand what the real problem is and what's the best way to solve it. Very often, stakeholders will approach you with a solution they have in mind. Many designers will just start executing the solution the stakeholder presented to them. (I write more about this phenomenon in this blog post). 

I encountered this during the design process for the cloud provider availability tool. My stakeholders just wanted an excel spreadsheet posted on the website, with all of the providers. At that point, I had been with the company for just three or so months, so no one had any context or understanding of what I'm doing. Almost against their will, I dragged them through the design process, and we ended up with a solution that's easy to navigate, contains all of the information needed -- and looks kind of like a spreadsheet.

The end result was that this tool got some of the highest engagement numbers from customers, it got recognized by the executive leadership as one of our best launches, and those stakeholders who were previously critical of my process, are now my biggest allies.

Building consensus in the organization

Equinix has over 6000 employees globally. In an org of that size, you can’t just go off on your own and redesign their global online presence. There’s interdependencies across at least a dozen teams globally. Furthermore, we may be experts in design, but they are the subject matter experts that provide us with the information we draw from to rethink how Equinix communicates online. Without their help, we can’t do our job.

A big part of this job was continually meeting with the marketing teams from each region, as well as with other functional teams, to ensure that they know what we are doing and we know what they are doing. We spent a lot of time socializing the information architecture and using that as a primary tool for building consensus and spreading awareness of what we are doing.

Expand the team

I was directly involved in the hiring of additional designers, our head of content strategy, and a UX writer. I did the searching on LinkedIn, coordinated with recruiters, wrote job descriptions (for the design roles), did screening calls, reviewed design portfolios, and led the onsite interviews.

In addition to that, we also hired two project managers, 5 production designers, and an engineering lead. We really built out a great squad.

Switching to Agile

After we built out a team, and built consensus, the rest of the job is to “just” redesign the site, section by section. The website is of an informational posture, so there’s no crazy interaction design, no complex user flows, no funnels to optimize. The challenges going forward are primarily centered around content strategy and content creation. I helped hire very capable experts to handle that task and have full confidence in their ability to succeed.

Ready for the next step?

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