On the surface, it makes sense to separate groups of experts into organisational verticals or silos. It’s an approach seen in many, if not most, large businesses. However, problems with silos can start when employees start focusing on department goals and problems, rather than that of the company and how the department fits into the bigger picture.
This siloed approach leaves customers with a disjointed experience and a product that doesn’t solve their problems. The business suffers from inefficiencies, friction between departments and a longer time to test and release a product.
How can organisations link up the verticals to create a seamless end-to-end experience and make UX design a team sport?
The silo mentality
Global giants and companies that have evolved from a back bedroom (or garage) into multinationals can be hampered by a silo mentality.
While working in functional, siloed teams makes sense in a startup, as the company grows, teams tend to test and research their own vertical without cross team collaboration. They might build new components or alter existing ones, change processes, remove codes or change suppliers. This leads to a negative user experience, inefficiencies, and longer product release timelines.
Take Spotify as an example of a scaling start-up. This business grew from 1 million subscribers in 2011 to 188 million in 2022. Their user journey works across multiple verticals – podcast team, onboarding team, finance team, playlists team, homepage team… etc. Working in silos allows departments to solve problems in their vertical and move products to market quickly, but growth means it is increasingly difficult to take a view across all departments.
Acquisitions in business can also cause inconsistencies in the product and communication problems across teams. In an effort to unite systems and processes used by the blended companies, it creates a visual system that looks unified and smooth. However, it isn’t this way underneath causing workarounds and slowing productivity, not to mention user issues.
We often see large companies bring a new componant into an old process, with it only being tested across a few adjacent verticals instead of the whole journey. Amalgamating systems in this way and trying to join them up horizontally makes each part feel disjointed.
Friction between departments
Whether a company grows significantly through acquisitions or funding, communication becomes more complex and there can be friction between verticals. It’s hard to say exactly when the size of a company starts to cause this, but there are theories of 150 employees which relates to Dunbar's number.
Larger companies may find working in verticals with structure desirable, but how do they ensure they keep a top-down view, unify teams, and keep everyone focusing on the same business goal?
Tried and tested practices to unify verticals
Companies may have tried to overcome silo mentality with a Head of UX. However, while a Head of UX sits across all verticals of the company, and technically has a horizontal view, they aren’t hands-on. They manage the UX workers in each vertical, but those workers don’t have the full picture either and can only share goals and problems in their own silo.
Some tools encourage cross team collaboration. However, it isn’t just about introducing a new bit of tech, it’s about changing the company culture and individual mindsets.
The future is horizontal UX design
The solution has to be a horizontal UX design to provide a complete view of the end-to-end journey.
A UX designer or a design team needs to piece everything together and validate all the parts of the journey. They need to take a detailed look at the journey and test the experience in a horizontal and joined-up way.
While we haven’t seen anyone solve this problem entirely, though some have made a start, we think that the introduction of horizontal design into companies and products is going to be widely adopted soon.
At The UX Agency we can embed talented UX designers and teams into your business, providing a holistic view of processes, identify issues and enhance communication, helping you to increase efficiencies and enhance the user experience.
You can end up with small differences in components as each silo does their own changes; and over time you end up with disconnects between components that can amplify, damage the product, and create negative user experiences.