Going Under the Hood at Penske: UX Design Collaboration in the Era of COVID-19
Penske is commonly known as a truck rental company — you know the one, just look for those big yellow trucks on the road with the unmissable Penske logo. But the company also provides connected fleet technologies to truck fleet operators: collecting real-time vehicle data, and creating solutions for customers with that information. In other words, a veritable gold mine of design opportunity, especially now. Penske is also deemed an essential service in parts of the world, ensuring food, groceries, and medical supplies are able to be delivered.
Ozzie Gundy has been manager of user experience design for this “connected fleet” at Penske for a year now, after having spent many years at the company in other roles. He projects an air of efficiency and joviality even through a webcam, which is the first indication of how he has facilitated healthy remote design collaboration in the era of COVID-19 (and its effects on workplaces across the world). The story of UX design at Penske, however, started five years ago.
In the early days of design at Penske, design collaboration was about as IRL as one can get while still using technology. “We would have two monitors, two keyboards, two mice, hooked up to one computer,” Ozzie said. “And you would take turns ping-ponging ideas back and forth.”
From there, the design setup has expanded into an open-concept office, with a different product team situated around each island of tables. It is an atmosphere where face-to-face communication and collaboration are at the heart of everything. Penske has adjusted this in-office culture to fit with the challenging times we’re living in, and leverages Adobe XD to make it possible for the design team to keep collaborating, coworking, and pushing each other’s creativity at a distance.
Networking and collaborating from home
“The first week of all of this, this working remote thing, was kind of cool. It felt like, ‘Oh fun, a little time working from home, not going to the office.’ And then by the second week, the reality and severity of everything started to set in,” Ozzie said.
Working from home means that designers are connected to their home Wi-Fi networks, enabling them to freely use their design technology of choice without limitation. For them, that is Adobe XD. All of Penske’s experiences are designed and prototyped collectively in XD, with collaboration features being used to share designs with stakeholders, who themselves are all working from home.
Penske has been using Adobe XD since its infancy when it was called Project Comet, and the team’s feedback has helped Adobe develop the software into what it is today. Specifically, the Coediting feature in Adobe XD has provided product teams with a sense of connectedness and the capability for deep collaboration, even prior to the pandemic.
Some designers and team leaders at Penske have used the Coediting feature to mentor newer designers, to circumvent the time suck of email exchanges, and to facilitate handoffs, when in-person contact was not possible. When they found out that they would need to continue to work remotely, those who were familiar with Adobe XD took the lead to demonstrate how it could be leveraged to translate their in-person design practices to online.
“In many ways [doing our design crit in Adobe XD] actually worked better than being in the room,” said Ozzie, referencing Penske’s experience moving weekly design critique sessions online. “Everyone can take their time, and have that screen real estate and freedom around that space. It actually worked very, very well. So I have a feeling we’re going to continue doing that in the office from time to time.”
Adjusting to remote work life
A substantial challenge for Ozzie and Penske’s design team has also been figuring out how to maintain a sense of humanity and connectedness with each other, even though everyone has been suddenly thrust into an all-digital environment. To do this, the UX team has initiated digital happy hours, where co-workers can see each other’s faces and reconnect outside of the context of work. This has really helped boost morale and ease communication.
Ozzie sees himself as a designer for his team’s experience. “We just need to make sure they don’t get stuck in their own heads,” he said. “They need the freedom to be able to explore different technologies, to be able to help them be a little bit more effective.”
Becoming a better designer while keeping the “pair design” culture alive
Pair design has been a big part of Penske’s design practice from the beginning, and the company’s design team has seen the benefits of it. As soon as Coediting became available in Adobe XD, it became clear that it was the best tool for this kind of collaboration.
Design pairing, when two designers work together to bounce design ideas and tweak off each other on the same design, connects someone to their design partner in an almost incomparable way. “One of my previous design pairs and I haven’t actually been designing together for probably well over a year, but we still end up finishing each other’s sentences,” Ozzie said. “And you’re just so in tune and every time it happens, when we’re doing something together and we say the same thing or to do the same thing, we just look at each other and one of us always says, ‘And that’s why we pair.’” The ability to continue this practice, at this challenging time, has been invaluable.
There is still a significant amount of work for product teams to do during these shelter-in-place orders, including building applications that solve customer problems and those for internal stakeholders. Fortunately, Penske designers have been able to continue to design in pairs remotely using live Coediting. Ozzie has seen that personal and professional growth doesn’t have to stop in the era of COVID-19.
“You could almost say that the live Coediting and the design pairing not only makes us better designers, but it kind of makes us better people in a way. And that’s a great feeling.”