Create a People-First Organizational Culture to Inspire Successful Design, Justin Dauer Tells User Experience Professionals Association

By Josephine Giaimo

When it comes to design and organizational culture, if we choose to put people first, what do we find? What difference does it make? Justin Dauer, author of “Creative Culture: Human-Centered Interaction, Design, & Inspiration,” sketched out his broad vision for what is possible on January 14. He spoke at the free virtual monthly meeting of the User Experience Professionals Association’s New Jersey chapter via Zoom.

Dauer believes that a happy and well-supported employee is an inspired creator. And when employers focus on the human beings behind the projects, creatives can do their best work, which leads to a successful company.

Drawing upon his international experiences as a designer, Dauer asserts that if we are describing ourselves as “people-first” designers, then perhaps our organizations need to embody a “people-first” culture. Designers may be focusing on such values as empathy, while neglecting the real needs of their employees for support, he said. For example, organizational cultures structured around calendars and schedules might not support employees as much as they could, perhaps even neglecting such basic human needs as lunch breaks, and more.

Dauer pointed to the intersection of people-first design and people-first culture as a “benefit with and for” all those involved. Looking at the first day of work and the onboarding experience, he calls for a “new Day One.” Dauer pointed out that some organizations don’t include an “acclimation conversation” between new employees and their coworkers. He asked why. Does your organization stop at taking you out to lunch on the first day, or do they go deeper? One client Dauer consulted for arranged for new hires go with their teammates to places that held a personal meaning for them, such as a place where they could see the Chicago skyline. Actions like these can reflect organizational, business and people-related values, with impacts on retention and equity, and on marketing and productivity.

Citing his experiences as a consultant in Sweden, Dauer reflected on the contractual agreements that allowed employees to enjoy what the Swedes call “Fika,” a mandatory pause during the work day to simply slow down. Slowing down not only reflects basic human decency, but also the value organizations place on people, as well as on business. By putting people first, Dauer said, we build relationships and connections within the company, not just with our clients and the people we design for. The Swedish custom of Fika, pausing with intent, allows employees to share stories that support not just relationships between coworkers, but also organizational marketing efforts and increased productivity.

Dauer said that organizations can think of “clicks” in two different ways—clicks (“cliques”) of people, and clicks of a mouse. He asked us to reflect on how both types of clicks can support productivity in organizations, and encouraged designers to pause after they commute to work (if they commute), before they start creating. That creative pause matters. He also encouraged us to spend more time observing and reflecting, before deciding what the takeaway is. He maintained that the work of designers is both a responsibility and a privilege. By fostering a people-first organizational culture, we can implement new ways of working that embody both synergy and connection. Dauer suggested that these are vital — both for successful design and for successful organizations.

Learn more about Dauer on his website:

Josephine Giaimo is a New Jersey-based data scientist, user-experience (UX) researcher and math coach and is lead UX researcher at ChaiOne. She is an organizer of the User Experience Professionals Association’s New Jersey chapter.

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