Evelyn Huang

Building a snowball of momentum for design culture

We don’t typically think of financial institutions as the paragons of great design. But at Capital One, Delight keynote speaker Evelyn Huang and her team are not only working to create better products and services, but also transforming the culture.

Evelyn Huang is the VP of Design Thinking and Strategy at Capital One, which made big news when it acquired experience design pioneer Adaptive Path. In addition to focusing on future products and services, Evelyn and her team are teaching and building the design thinking mindset as a capability across the company.

In her Delight 2016 keynote, Design as Change, Evelyn will talk about the evolution of design at Capital One and how her team drove true commitment to design.

Catalyzing change

“We’ve evolved a ton over the last four years,” Evelyn says. “When we began at Capital One there was no design organization. And, in fact, my title when I first joined was under the business analyst category because design as a job function just didn’t exist.”

Prior to joining Capital One, Evelyn was teaching full-time at Stanford d.school. When Capital One came through the d.school, she had a lot of conversations with them and realized the whole organization, from the top down, was hungry for transformation. They recognized that Capital One is a digital company, and the competition is not other banks; it’s Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

“They wanted change,” Evelyn recalls. “And they would refer to things like bringing humanity back to banking, asking, ‘How do we recapture the roots of experimentation?’”

And that’s what prompted her to come on board at Capital One. She didn’t set out just to build a design team, but to lead a cultural transformation.

Building a snowball of momentum

Resistance is natural, Evelyn says. But rather than dwell on the resistors, she advises focusing on the cultural aspects of the organization that can help overcome inertia and build a “snowball of momentum.”

“When you’re starting out, it’s much more important to get it rolling than to make it perfect,” she says. “Remember that this is a long journey, and the change happens through the accumulation of a lot of snowflakes into a snowball. It’s about the accumulation of a lot of things over time. It’s not a sudden thing, because large organizations just have a ton of inertia. And you can’t fight inertia without building momentum.”

“They’ve got set ways of working, and I’m not even talking about formalized stuff. I’m talking about informal norms, behaviors, cultures. I constantly think about momentum. I even evaluate myself on momentum. I measure our team on momentum. That’s all because, when you’re trying to catalyze change, you go through this arc of first getting over that hump of getting somebody interested, getting a team interested, getting a company interested, and then you can move forward to having them be invested, committed, engaged. But those are down the road, and you have to get them interested first.”

Design thinking is a mindset, not just a skill set

You don’t have to be a designer to be a design thinker. Evelyn says it’s a mindset that you can embody—regardless of your function or your title. Design thinking is a process, and there are fundamental principles underlying that process that everyone can embody in not just in how they work but in how they live: Being human-centered. Open exploration. Cooperation. Visual sense-making.

“It doesn’t matter what level you are in your organization, whether you’re entering from college, or whether you’re the president of a business. It doesn’t matter what function you are,” Evelyn says. “You could be a product manager, a developer, an analyst, a data scientist—and you can still approach your work with these kinds of mindsets. And that actually is what I call design thinking.”

Investing in service design with Adaptive Path

One thing a lot of people are curious about is how Adaptive Path, which Capital One acquired in 2014, has influenced the culture and design practice there. Evelyn says that one of the most valuable impacts has been the focus on service design and expertise that Adaptive Path brings.

“Service design focuses on connecting the dots—making sure that you’re designing the whole end-to-end experience, not just individual touch points,” Evelyn says. “Adaptive Path, I think, has been a beacon of that, and even the language and the understanding of design in a service mindset we all learn immensely from. Now that we have this talent, it is all of our jobs to create the right environment for them to also learn, so let’s do that next.”

Building a culture of learning

Looking ahead, that kind of learning—and learning culture—is what Evelyn is most excited about for Capital One.

“I really think about how we create a learning organization,” she says. “And it draws back to mindset. Because any time you’re trying to make a change in your organization, whether it’s as small as making a new product or as large as a change in the vision and strategy, you need all of your people to acquire knowledge, to create new knowledge—and then also to create the right behaviors to adopt that new knowledge and help it along.”

You can’t actually make people do that directly, Evelyn says. You have to create the environment for that to happen.

“This is not the sexy stuff. This is actually the plumbing, the infrastructure, the processes, the organization’s heart, how budgeting works, your performance management—all of those things that significantly impact culture and how learning occurs and how people can naturally collide in this environment of learning.”

About Evelyn Huang

Evelyn Huang catalyzes organizational change by bringing human-centered design into the DNA of business and creativity into the heart of company culture. Her team engages in strategic projects across organizations, connecting the dots to create experiences customers love, designing scalable learning experiences to empower all employees to use design thinking mindsets in daily work. After beginning her career in private equity and later running a microfinance nonprofit program for immigrants and refugees, she now brings a hybrid approach to Change Banking for Good at Capital One. “Creativity and analytics go hand in hand,” she says. “Let’s work to bring them together.”