Equinix (Case Study)

Lessons learned from failing to build a design org

Overview

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.

All the companies you associate with cloud and data — AWS, Google Cloud, Rackspace, Akamai — host their data in Equinix facilities. Along with all the major companies like Apple, Uber, Airbnb, and anyone else with serious data demands.

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

My Role

  • Coordinating with recruiters to interview candidates, doing screening calls, leading in-person interviews
  • Mentoring junior designers
  • Defining product strategy
  • Conducting user research
  • Socializing design and educating stakeholders on the importance of design
  • Keeping the holistic design vision on course across all touchpoints and all new initiatives
  • Making the design process as efficient as possible by finding and choosing the right tools for our team
  • And of course creating wireframes, visuals, user journeys, etc

The Problem:

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.

The Solution:

  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:

This project was a mixed bag. In the first 9 months, we had some significant successes:

Created a new tool that enabled customers to search for available cloud services at a particular location

This tool got some of the highest engagement in website history from customers, it got recognized by the executive leadership as one of our best launches, and stakeholders who were previously critical of my process, became my biggest allies.

Installed quantitative tracking tools to gather user research

We installed Hotjar (couldn’t get the budget for Fullstory) and started making use of Google Analytics to tell stories around user behavior in order to get buy-in from stakeholders and senior leadership. 

Began to change the culture around design

Along with what we did through quantitative research, our efforts led to all of our stakeholders slowly coming around and beginning to think in a more user-centered manner. Before, they had the mindset of “let’s put this print brochure on the website”, but after 6 months of me repeating the message and showing results of this user-centered process, everyone was asking “is this good for the user” and “what data do we have”.

Redesigned The Data Center Product Pages

Original
Redesign

Began Work On A Holistic Styleguide and Design System

Redesigned The Homepage

Original
Redesign

We had most of these successes because I was allowed to operate in a way that I know to be most effective: By gathering research, collaborating closely and directly with stakeholders, and iterating quickly on prototypes.

After months of one small success after another, we received a mandate and budget to hire on a team and redesign the entire site from scratch.

We had a grand vision of building out a permanent design practice at Equinix and creating a design system that would be the envy of the world. I even had registered www.equinix.design.

And that’s when things started to go wrong.

This is a tough topic to tackle without coming off as a complainer or as if I’m throwing people under the bus.

If I had to summarize what went wrong I would say it was three things:

  • Poor hiring decisions
  • Poor communication & delegation
  • Too many cooks

Poor hiring decisions

Due to my direct efforts, we were able to hire on 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 where I sold the grand vision.

In all of my hiring efforts, I made sure that the candidate met every team member that he or she would be working with on a daily basis.

Some of the other hiring efforts did not follow this process. The first day we met these people was after they got hired. This led to serious friction.

Poor communication & delegation

Some of the leadership had never worked on a redesign project of this scope before. They were very skilled at the technical aspects of the job, but they were not managers. Thus, they did a poor job of communicating to the team what was going on and were terrible at delegating work. They were also visibly nervous at the pressure of having to handle a multimillion dollar global redesign with so much executive attention. I tried consulting them, but I failed to get them to adjust their behavior.

Too many cooks

Towards the end of the project, it seemed like we had to do at least 3 meetings and get sign-off from a Vice President for even the tiniest of adjustments on the site. The reasoning was that we wanted to “build consensus”. Of course, that doesn’t work, because VPs don’t have a whole lot of time and they shouldn’t be involved at that level. This put the entire team in a bad spot because we were unable to build momentum. 

Final Thoughts

I tried to do what I could within the sphere of influence that I had, but I couldn’t figure out a way to either extend my sphere of influence, or somehow manage to fix the broader organizational problems.

Since my departure from the project in July 2018, they have shipped one single page, with embarrassing typos they still haven’t discovered months after launch. The people I hired have left, and most of the team has moved on. The equinix.design domain expired and no one renewed it. There is now one bad review after another on Glassdoor about how toxic the marketing group is.

I learned some great lessons on how to hire great talent, and proved once more that my process for getting results is extremely effective. But ultimately we fell far short of what could have been.

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