UX designers at 7-Eleven and ADP share how to grow a design thinking culture

Kindra Cooper

user-centered design

Companies traditionally viewed as non-glamorous or quote unquote non-innovative are pivoting towards a design thinking culture with user experience design at the forefront.

Even 7-Eleven has a team of 20 experience designers working on the next generation of digital products to offer click-and-collect, on-demand delivery and frictionless payment.

Location, location, location was once the mantra for retailers; today it’s customer experience. Major department stores like Nordstrom are experimenting with service concepts beyond retail - the pilot concept store, Nordstrom Local in West Hollywood, stocks zero clothing. Rather, it’s styled as a high-end pampering lounge where customers can consult a personal stylist, get a manicure, sip an espresso, and enjoy same-day, in-store pickup for online orders.

The savviest leaders recognize that user experience design is essential to customer centricity - you can’t be customer-oriented if you don’t consistently gather qualitative information about your customers, note their pain points and design new features and processes to reduce customer effort.

To do so effectively, your organization needs a design thinking culture that affords the latitude to propose new ideas, test them, tinker with them, and test them again. This is how startups are born, but many legacy enterprises are slow on the uptake. For technology companies, the onus is even higher to make software user-friendly and intuitive.

We spoke to three UX designers who will be presenting at Experience Design Week in February to learn about how their organizations embraced a design culture.


Despite its massive footprint of over 65,000 stores in 18 countries, 7-Eleven hired its first chief digital officer in 2017 to ensure it would stay relevant to the 55 million mobile-savvy customers it serves on a daily basis.

“If we want to be positioned to serve the customers of the future, we really have to focus on digital innovation,” said Benjamin Judy, group manager for user experience at 7-Eleven.

Its initial foray into mobile was the 7Rewards loyalty app, which offers rewards points for every purchase, and a free drink after seven beverage purchases. The app is integrated with 7-Eleven’s newer digital offshoots, the 7NOW! app, which offers on-demand delivery, as well as the Scan and Pay app which allows customers to circumvent checkout lines by scanning items on their smartphone and paying using Apple Pay, Google Pay, or a traditional debit or credit card. With this integration, customers earn rewards points across all 7-Eleven mobile apps, regardless of the point of sale.

“Part of our day-to-day work is to design the look and feel of these apps and test them with users to see how we can improve these experiences,” says Lily Bather, an interaction designer at 7-Eleven.

Back when its sole focus was selling snacks and drinks, 7-Eleven outsourced its design and marketing functions. UX design, on the other hand, is all about cohesion - it encapsulates the sum of all touchpoints a customer has with a brand, and strategy “needs to come from the inside.”

Hence, the hiring of an in-house UX design team marked a culture shift for the retailer, with design as an all-hands-on-deck effort.

“It’s a back and forth process of understanding the user,” says Bather, “and then presenting the user with our designs, getting feedback from them and trying to optimize.”

In order to remain innovative, a company can’t rely solely on the customer to tell it what to do. Apple designed the Mac in a fit of self-indulgence without any market research to validate the concept. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” Steve Jobs told Business Week in a 1997 interview.

Before testing the new Scan and Pay app, inspired by Amazon Go’s grab-and-go store concept, Judy and his team asked customers whether they liked the idea of using their phones for self-checkout and avoiding long lines. The response was lukewarm.

“They would say, ‘Maybe later,’ or ‘I’m not that interested’,” says Judy. But when customers experienced the app for themselves, they loved the seamlessness of it.

“Part of our user experience strategy needs to be to help customers directly experience and feel the emotional benefits of whatever your product or service is,” explains Judy. “That goes a lot farther than simply telling them about it.”


A seventy year old company offering cloud-based solutions for employers to manage payroll, HR and recruitment, ADP recognized the need to invest in UX to differentiate itself from other enterprise software solutions. ADP opened two innovation centers - one in Chelsea, New York in 2012 and another in Pasadena, California in 2015.

More than a real estate acquisition, it heralded a sea change in the company’s approach towards software design based on an intimate knowledge of the customer.

brand_strategist__ali_craig__2__2“The thinking behind it,” says Margot Dear, senior director of user experience design at ADP, “was to attract new types of skills into the organization that would start driving different thinking across the company when it comes to creating experiences, products and software with the end user in mind.”

The Pasadena outpost features a large collaborative space, numerous project areas, a stage for presentations and a user design lab where the company can observe how clients interact with the software products.

However, design thinking culture isn’t actualized overnight simply by investing in whiteboards and hiring seasoned UX professionals. Like customer centricity, it’s a philosophy that permeates the entire organization, roping in all teams and departments.

Dear says it’s especially important for UX to partner with the product management team. For companies new to UX design, it’s not uncommon for the product manager to contact designers days ahead of a major product launch or new feature rollout and ask them to “pretty things up” instead of working together from the get-go to design a product that’s rooted in user research.

“I think it’s really important that everyone on the team is open to continuing to listen to the user and then learn, adapt and pivot,” explains Dear.

She heads a team of UX designers and researchers supporting ADP’s Tax Operations, Money Movement and the ADP Smartcompliance Platform. Their job is to make the interfaces easy to use - reducing the number of steps required to complete an action, making frequently used icons or buttons more prominent, and simplifying workflows across different software features.

Given the iterative nature of design, designers constantly measure how a product performs against a baseline - and those metrics should be rooted in the outcomes that are most important to the user. For ADP’s software, that means measuring product satisfaction, time on task, perceived time on task, and ultimate system satisfaction, says Dear.

“Every time we make a major change we compare those product improvements against the original baseline.”