You’re passionate about building teams and helping people realize their full potential. However, the waters of design management can be pretty choppy. Here are ways to approach these challenges!
Frame problems succinctly. Minimize the subjectivity of the work as much as possible using research, data, business requirements, etc. Work hard to solve the problems and achieve a high level of quality in everything you do. After delivering on a project, show how the key metrics are tracking positively. Do all this, and then say no to any lower priority projects that extend you past your ability to deliver on the above points. Show what a designer can do and it will eventually become clear what two can do.
Before I design anything in the traditional sense, I always first spend time framing the problem we're solving. Design happens in a Google Doc (or Dropbox Paper if that's your fancy) before it happens on a screen. Designers have the skills necessary to simplify and bring clarity to the problem at hand. Measure twice and cut once. It makes a big difference.... See more
To ensure you're covering your bases, go deep and understand everything you have access to that relates to the problem at hand. If you don't have researchers, data scientists, PMs, then develop your own hypothesis based on direction from the top and examples from competitors or people doing similar things. Prototype ideas and go out and get feedback with people in the target audience. Do whatever you can do to make design feel objective.... See more
Upon this mountain of objective information and focused approach, you can conquer the world! If you've brought your company along this far, and the above is complete and agreed upon... then the hard battle is already won. Designing on the screen becomes a joy once everyone is signed up for the mission and things are moving ahead. Go the distance and make not only the designs great, but also the packaging for when you share it with others. Communicate with excellence.... See more
After you deliver something - a homepage, a new on-boarding flow, a new mobile app – keep an eye on the metrics. When you see an uptick in any metric that was in the key performance indicators outlined in step one, raise the trumpet and declare the design a success (maybe not right away, but when it looks statistically significant).... See more
If you do the above, you're doing more than many designers in the industry. Give the company a taste of what design is supposed to look like, then do the really hard thing and say no to things that pull you away from your ability to provide meaningful work. This will feel awkward, but if you allow your company to stretch you too far beyond your limits, you won't do good work, they'll not understand the value of design, and they won't feel the need to hire more.... See more
Hiring should be dictated by need, rather than the selfish desires of a manager. If growing the design team truly is best for the company (and not out of selfishness), showing the value of design can help you justify hiring more designers. Every design team should be hosting weekly or monthly critique sessions and "show and tell" events. At these events, tie the design back to impact. Show what problems were identified and demonstrate how design approached those problems. By linking design solutions to success, the value of design is clearly associated with value and arguing for more resources is easier.
Designing for designers is a common mistake. Make sure your design is actually making an impact.
After you've established the problem, evaluate the design is solving the problem. Use data to back up your original assumptions for the solution.
Always preface your design with the problem before the design was introduced and how it addressed the problem.
Once management sees design is generating value for the company, it becomes easier to present a strong argument for growing a design team.
Senior design talent is one of the most in-demand roles in the entire tech industry and as such, you're going to have to invest a LOT of time and resources into finding and recruiting them. To start, you're going to have to think like a talent scout on the hunt for the next great music act, actress, comic, quarterback, or pitcher. That requires you to scour the Web, app stores, and elsewhere looking for products that you love and then mining sites like LinkedIn and Dribbble to figure out who designed them and how to contact them. In some cases you're going to have to track talent for years as you cultivate the relationship. It takes patience, persistence, and operational organization but it's also your best chance to find top talent.... See more
Once you've identified someone you want to go after, you need to figure out how to pitch them on joining your team. You'll need to craft a credible story about how their unique talents are a perfect fit for the problem space, corporate culture, and existing team. You need to not only have a clearly articulated job description but also convince them that THIS role at THIS company at THIS moment is tailor-made for them and is THE natural step forward in their career. In addition, you need to paint a picture so they can see themselves being challenged by the work and inspired by the team. They need to believe that the opportunity you're offering is the best possible opportunity for them to do their best work. And while not everybody needs to believe they're going to be the MVP, everyone still wants to be part of a team that is serious about winning a championship.... See more
Once you've identified someone and gotten them interested in joining your company, it's time to lead them through the interview process. Obviously you'll need to be sure you have a well-designed candidate experience since the interview process itself is far and away the best approximation of what it's like to work at your company. If the hiring process is disorganized, interviewers are unprepared, or the follow-up communication is sloppy, candidates are going to leave the interview thinking your company is a mess and by extension unable to make decisions in a timely or disciplined manner -- all signs that the organization is fundamentally incapable of producing great products. By contrast, if the interview experience is thoughtful, punctual, and has clearly communicated timelines and follow-ups, the candidate will walk away thinking your company is an environment where great design is at least possible.... See more
Finally, if you're the hiring manager and you've found some someone you really want on your team, then it's up to you to internally advocate for them and to shepherd them through the process. The candidate needs to know you are excited about their unique skills and talents and the other interviewers need to understand why you think they'd be a great addition. Senior designers have so many options in the current market that if you don't believe in them from the start, they're not going to care all that much about you or the opportunity. Recruiting senior designers is probably the single biggest challenge you'll face as a hiring manage but you'll greatly increase your chances of success by clearly communicating how they're a great fit with the existing team, what you see them contributing, the impact they'll have, and what they stand to learn.... See more
Experienced designers are seeking problems that are interesting to them, either building on deep experience/insight or allowing them to grow in some new way. Know what interesting problems they can help you solve. If you can match the right types of problems to the right designer at the right time, bingo!... See more
If a senior designer has no interest in becoming a manager, you better have a clear answer to the potential growth path for a maker/individual contributor. What does success look like? What skills are they expected to grow?
Most folks fail to tell a compelling narrative about their product and team that differentiates them from the next company (or the 100 recruiting emails in any senior designers' inbox). Like any important communication, know your audience and the key message. Ping pong tables, VC rounds, and the latest launches aren't going to cut it. Where are you headed? What change are you creating? What's the role of design in all of it? And, be sure the answer the next two sections:... See more
The most successful recruiting tactic (for senior talent) is building authentic relationships. It's about getting to know what works for them, letting them get to know you... and the big secret: being around when they're ready to take the next step. You'd be surprised how those relationships follow you throughout your career. It's a long-term investment for anyone on the management track.... See more
Communication is key — you've got to transfer a lot of institutional knowledge, and give the new designer the tools to start contributing quickly. This is especially important when growing from a design team of one, since you may be codifying parts of your process for the first time.
Design research, customer interviews, process outlines — all this should be collected in Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, or something similarly accessible. If your team is very small, a lot of this information may not be documented consistently. Get it all down in writing, so new team members can catch up quickly.... See more
Explain each step of your process, detailing both the *what* and the *why*. Describe which parts are set in stone and which are flexible, and ideally have your new teammate shadow an existing designer as they go through the process on a real task.... See more
Give your teammate the tools to start contributing quickly, so they feel like a valuable member of the team and not just "dead weight" until they're fully onboarded. Give them some smaller design tasks that they can help with right away, and help walk them through the team's design process if they get stuck.... See more
Introduce them to all the stakeholders and points-of-contact they'll be working with throughout the organization. This ensures that (a) they'll be familiar with the people they'll be talking to, and (b) makes them more approachable to sales, engineering, customer success, and other teams throughout the company.... See more
The new designer gains a dependable point of contact, building confidence and competence more quickly. Additionally, the more tenured designer has the opportunity to develop mentorship skills.
Everyone on your team needs the same context in order to properly evaluate folks. If you don't have one, it can be as simple as just a set of bullet points for each role's responsibilities at different skill levels. Regardless, make sure that it's actually representative of the work people do day-to-day, and that the people you assign to interviews have read over those bullets.... See more
Every interview should have a purpose behind it! Every interviewer should be attempting to gather data that's different than what's being gathered by other interviewers. Have people focus on different areas, rather than performing general-purpose interviews in order to allow people to go deep on specific topics and get a clear picture. Additionally, help interviewers come up with questions that get you, the hiring manager, the information you need to make a good decision.... See more
If you think about it, each interviewer only has a sliver of the information you need to make a decision about whether to hire a candidate or not. If you have 5 different interviewers, each only has 20% of the overall picture from the interview, so having people "evaluate" a candidate based on their one interview is at best misleading as an indicator. Instead, ask interviewers to document where candidates are clearly strong, and where they may need professional development. Take all that data and compare it to the shape of the role you're hiring for. Do the strengths and growth-areas make sense for that role, level, team, part of the org, etc.? Do they make sense in another role you have open? You as the hiring manager are the one with the holistic perspective and understanding of what the role entails and what strengths and growth areas are dealbreakers.... See more
Building out a design organization can be thought of as building out a spectrum (or rainbow gradient). Each type of designer, whether visual, UI, UX, or research, brings a unique skill to the table. Each of those skills fill out a different “zone” in your gradient.
Understanding what you want your team to be accomplishing is the first step in determining what roles you will need to hire for.
Under each design practice falls a set of processes. For instance, UX design requires understanding the problem space, wire framing, and designing.
Each designer on your team brings skills to the table. By understanding your weakest points of the design process, you will have a better understanding of your team’s weaknesses. Hiring for the areas you are weakest is often a good strategy for building our your team’s spectrum. (I.e. Your team may be strong in UX but weak in research. Hiring a Design Researcher may help your team improve its research capabilities.)... See more
When candidates receive reach-outs from multiple people across a company, it can come across as disorganized and less personal. To avoid this, assign a single person to reach out and follow up with a specific candidate. It's not only a better experience, but also leads to better long-term relationships and thus greater potential for converting candidates to employees. Recruiting is often a long game!... See more
Quiet pauses in a conversation are great times to think. Avoid filling the silence immediately.
Know your schedule. End your previous meeting 5-minutes early so you can be fully present when the 1:1 begins.
Try to take the first step of your action items within 24-hours and share an update afterwards. If you can't follow through or will be delayed, set that expectation.
Don't bring your laptop, put your phone on do not disturb, and try to listen actively.
Long 1-on-1s can get into the weeds, and cover too much ground to be actionable. I like to keep mine around 15 minutes.
Regular cadence is important. Don't let the other person skip, either — reschedule if needed.
The value of a good one-on-one is nearly immeasurable: it's a time to sync on things in a format you can't get any other time or in any other medium. I believe a really great one-on-one is where your best work gets done. To make your one-on-one's effective: define and agree upon their purpose together, be clear about the schedule, use the time to sync on things you can't anywhere else, and work to keep things casual.
First-and-foremost, you'll want to set a clear agenda or purpose for the meeting. The agenda can be high-level (e.g. "Catch up on everything that happened over the last week in our lives.") or more focused (e.g. "Discuss a decision I need to make tomorrow around Project X.") The key thing is to have a clear purpose or agenda both parties understand before meeting. What do you each want to get out of the time? What would a successful sync look like? What is most valuable to the relationship? Even if the time is spent just catching each other up, that's immensely important time for teammates to have.... See more
It's not enough to agree on the purpose of the one-on-one, both people should know in-advance just how much time will be dedicated to the meeting and how often they will occur. Some people use 1:1s as a way of getting updated on work, others use it as a chance to just chat and get to know the other person, in either case the amount of time required will play a key part. Discuss and agree on how much time you'll need to fulfill the purpose of the sync, and how often you should be meeting. Consider how close your relationship is to the person: if you work very closely, weekly is a good cadence. If more casually, as far out as once a month can suffice. It will vary for every person you meet with.... See more
Email, group posts, chats in Stride or Slack, these are all good ways to stay in-sync with your peers about ongoing work. What you may not have the ability to do through these mediums is sync on more personal or pressing matters; things you can't say in the other formats or things which may not be suited for those channels. Focusing on the individual, the working relationship, or things which may impact others but need to be figured-out in advance. Consider the value of any one-on-one is being able to discuss these important subjects on a micro level, without interference or the ears of a larger audience.... See more
This is my personal preference, but I think it's worth noting: one of the best parts of a one-on-one is that they're done in real-time, usually face-to-face, with the other person. Meaning: you can see the person, you can better understand what they're saying or how they're listening, and you can interject the conversation with questions or ideas on-the-fly. Keeping the conversation casual and friendly builds the working relationship and enables you (as a team) to better tackle work subjects.... See more
You become cynical about the work, the project outcomes, the clients and your own team. Your fear of failure has been replaced with the dull ache of apathy. You are unable to find meaning in the work you do. You put off work until the last minute. You have several crying spots in strategic places such as stairwells, bathroom stalls and in your car after work.
Not only are the symptoms similar in burnout, but you may also be experiencing legitimate imbalance in your mental health and should try to figure out if the source of your burnout is bigger than just your job.
Without your health, you have nothing. Identify the source of toxicity and then explore the various options, including reexamining if you are in the right environment to begin with. Freelancing in particular can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle where all structure and safety nets are out the window.... See more
If possible, see what kind of time off you can arrange as soon as possible. This could mean a mental health day, spending a long weekend camping without access to the internet, or A Real Vacation.
Remind yourself why you went down the path of XYZ in the first place. Look at your old drawings from high school (Yes, your DeviantArt account is still out there on the internet, I promise), revisit a record you haven't heard in 10 years and let it transport you back to a time when all you had was the drive and a dream to get to where you are now. Volunteer or mentor young people who are just starting out, and let their infectious passion and curiosity override your cynicism.... See more
I've been dealing with this topic myself for about 3 years now. Some signs you're starting to burnout: It takes longer than normal to get started on a task at work (or personal project). If it feels like progress is comparable to pushing a huge boulder up a huge mountain, daily. You stop caring about it. Could be work or a hobby. You have no interest in a decision to be made or the final result. I wrote more on the topic here: https://medium.com/@patrickbjohnson/what-is-burnout-e1eaa32a291
Use apps like Headspace or Calm to get started
We're all different, so the signs will be different. Learn what makes you tick, and measure those things on a monthly basis. If you're not constantly getting fed and challenged, you'll burnout.
You hear it all of the time, but it's true. Eat right, and exercise weekly. It's good for managing stress.
If you haven't learned anything new in awhile, that will burn you out. Take a year and focus on a new soft skill, or meet some interesting people.
Better understanding your desired career trajectory and holding yourself accountable for growth is a worthy investment that I'd recommend to anyone in any field. By following a structured process, which only takes about an hour, it will become that much easier to create successful career outcomes for yourself. By the end of this process, you should have a thorough yet concise document that you can refer to on a regular basis.
Setting goals is an important first step in being able to track and measure your growth. Write around 3-5 goals you have for the next six months and then do the same for the next couple years.
This exercise is even more helpful when it's done with your manager, as they have a unique lens on how you may be perceived. If not a manager, ask trusted co-workers. You're trying to seek honesty here, so lean in to both the good and bad.
The goal here is to define things that positively impact your company, team, product, and self.
Now that you have a better understanding of how your co-workers perceive you and how you want them to, you'll have a better sense of where to focus your efforts. You may even find that certain gaps in perception end up being similar to your goals.... See more
Ask for feedback that relates to your goals and perception gaps. Make sure to document the highlights and who they came from.
Recognizing your progress is the only way to measure it. Reward yourself when you either accomplish a goal or change perception in a positive way!
Most of us spend more time with our coworkers than we do with our partners or children. You weather the stress of building and launching together. You often share long hours, late nights, lows, and highs, for years on end. That’s a lot of shared experience. This creates a unique tension between professional reserve and emotional intimacy, but at the end of the day, remember that you’re dealing with people, not titles or roles.
Your teammate might not want help, or help from you. What you appreciate when you’re upset isn’t necessarily what they would, either. If you come across a colleague who's visibly upset but they seem to be avoiding attention, perhaps it's not the best time to offer support. One thing you could do is send a message later (if your coworker doesn’t want to discuss the issue, they don't have to respond). Depending on your established relationship, your message could be as simple as “Hey! Want to grab a coffee and catch up?” Then you can feel things out in person, make it known that you’re available to listen. The choice would be up to your coworker on what and how much to share, if they want to share at all. Sometimes they may appreciate company but not want to talk about what is upsetting them.... See more
When we see someone experiencing hardship we’re often eager to offer solutions. This can be well-meant but unsolicited advice isn’t always welcome. It can even come across as pushy, patronizing, or presumptuous. I myself have resented the “helpful” barrage of suggestions when I’m upset. Sometimes the person just wants to vent and already knows what they need to do to address the issue. Sometimes the issue can’t be “addressed” except with time (e.g., a death in the family). The safest thing is to listen. If your presence is welcome but the coworker isn’t saying much, be patient and get comfortable with silence. And when they finally begin to share, please don’t interrupt or offer advice unless they ask.... See more
If you feel your colleague wants to share but doesn’t know how to begin, you can say things like “Want to tell me about it? It’s OK if you don’t. I’m happy to just be here.” Or "Take as much time as you need.” If they express appreciation for your support, and you’re so inclined, check in with them again at a later time too.... See more
If there’s something concrete you can do, such as pick up the slack on a project (transparency and communication are super important here, obviously), do so.
If you’re also overwhelmed or having a tough time, it’s OK if you can’t put someone else first right then. Do what you can without adding more stress to your life (a kind word, a hug, a cookie!) as appropriate in the context of your relationship and circumstance. In extreme cases, you may need to involve someone more appropriate to handle the situation (this can be sensitive, tread carefully).... See more
Life and loss happen. And they doesn't care about your launch date. Some people need extra encouragement to take time off. Help your teammate put themselves first and work second.
In Sheryl Sandburg’s book Option B, she shares the story about the sudden death of her husband. She share “how are you” feels like a ridiculous, unanswerable question. But “how are you today?” or “how are you feeling right now?” is a much easier question to answer. Find a quiet, private space for a one-on-one conversation.... See more
Hardship is personal. Find out if your teammate wishes their news to be kept private or shared. It's possible you can also help your teammate by taking on the burden of making the hard news known to the team (especially if they'll be out of the office) or if they needed a confidant at work they can trust. Either way, get consent.... See more
Not necessarily the one-on-ones, but pair activities like hiring, thought leading, facilitating, running critiques, etc. Start by doing tasks together and eventually delegate the tasks fully. That will make a promotion easy.
New managers can bring a fresh perspective to old problems. Share some team challenges you have that need solving and give your individual contributor the time, space, and trust to explore a creative solution.
Partner your managers-to-be with other individual contributors hungry for mentorship. Both will grow exponentially.
Transitioning from an IC to a manager should usually feel like a natural, or at least logical step rather than a forced occurrence.
Some of the strongest IC’s who have developed in-depth knowledge of the company they work at or the practice they work within often become the strongest influencers on others. In these cases, transitioning from IC to manager is very natural because in many ways, they are “managing” already.... See more
As a product scales so will the team. In this instance, transitioning from IC to manager might be needed to help the company continue to grow.
Delivering bad news is never easy but, when it's unforeseen (firings, downsizings, PR nightmare, etc.) it's best to be quick, direct and not shoot from the hip.
It's best to get your thoughts laid out ahead of time. This is a poor time to try and wing it. Make sure you cover: what happened, how the news impacts your team and how it impacts the employee directly. (details are key here). Framing and verbiage are huge! "Julie is no longer with us. Julie couldn't hack it. Julie realized she wasn't passionate about her role anymore" All the same outcome, completely different perception.... See more
When news happens, don't allow others to twist the truth or create rumors. Address it head on as soon as possible. Yes, these are hard conversation but, the longer you let it fester the more false expectations you have to address.
Find a location outside of your typical flow. You'd be surprised how honest people are outside of the "company walls". Other ideas are grabbing a coffee, lunch, or finding a room in your office that's warm and friendly to discuss the news.
Put yourself in their shoes - when's the best time to talk about this? Set them up to digest the information accordingly. Example: Dumping bad news on someone before a client pitch, a weekend or a big deadline they're under is not ideal. If it has to happen under this scenario, let them know you're there to help with their workload if they need time to deal with the situation.... See more
Not everyone deals with change or bad news the same. Following-up after your initial conversation allows you to see how they're dealing with the situation. Key in on changes in behavior from their normal traits and see if they need some time away from the office if they're handling it very poorly.... See more
Bad news is relative. Are you letting someone go (DEFCON 1)? Or did they let you down somehow and need to be corrected (DEFCON 2)? Perhaps they've unknowingly wasted a few weeks on a project that's been shutdown without their knowledge (DEFCON 3). Any of these could be perceived as bad news and they each have their own level of severity. I'd treat them all a bit differently.
Ooof, these are the moments that tear people up. "DEFCON 1" bad news tends to be deeply personal, painful, many times it catches people off guard, and people get the most defensive about this kind of news. You have two things you need to pay attention to here. First, make sure you've done everything possible to help this person before delivering this news. Second, remember that in this moment they aren't your direct report, they are human. Tread softly, listen intently, and speak deliberately. Any hesitation in tone or delivery will yield a "do they know what they are doing?" in the other person's mind and that's a really bad place to end up after delivering the news. No one wants a plane to go down with an amateur pilot at the helm. Sully!! Finish by finding ways to be helpful and keep only the other person's best intentions at heart. No matter if you don't like them, in business karma bites back twice as hard. Do not burn any bridges.... See more
Great managers deliver this kind of news early and often. When done well it helps grow the other person. Bad managers let this kind of news linger, they take no action, and they surprise the other person when this situation reaches "DEFCON 1." In many ways you were put in charge to manage these situations out of the team. No one needs to be "managed" when things are easy and breezy. You're going to get better at this type of news with experience, don't expect to be great out the gate. The best you can do early on is identify that there is a problem, synthesize it to a point where you can make the problem clear, think about how to deliver it so that it sticks (no yelling, use simple words, to the point, use examples), deliver it candidly, and offer guidance on how to fix this going forward.... See more
Again, immediacy is the key. This is the type of bad news that is non-threatening and team members will want this news early. I think the best thing you can do is show the person that you're willing to communicate with them clearly and honestly, that you have their back, that you're there to help them navigate the issue, and that as a strong member of the team they're expected to pull out of a nosedive. DEFCON 3 is normal, it happens on every job, most people tend to make a big deal out of it because misery loves company but in the grand scheme of things, it's just another Wednesday.... See more
Think about how you like to receive negative news, and try to give that experience to others.
When you're giving bad news, be as direct as you can. Don't put so much lipstick on whatever your pig is that the recipient struggles to understand what you're telling them. Think about how you'd want to hear negative news and give others that same respect.... See more
By the time you are delivering bad news to someone, the topic shouldn't be completely fresh. If it is, start by apologizing for that, and make sure you do better next time. But then go ahead and deliver the news clearly and directly.
Most clouds have some silver lining. You don't want to tell something other than the truth, but look for legitimate positive side effects from the news and help explain those as well. Let's say you're letting a direct report know that their budget will be lower this year than last; contextualize the fact that this happens and (see point above) it was a risk we knew was possible, but that with the tighter budget we'll have a chance to focus the team and exercise more creativity than before.... See more
If appropriate, articulate the steps that this person can do to improve things in the future. For example, if you're delivering the news that you've decided not to promote someone, help them understand what they could change to be eligible for the promotion in the future.... See more
Getting alignment can be hard. I like to use a "Hopes and Dreams" exercise to have an open conversation. This can be run with a single person or a whole team. Below are a few key questions for all parties to write down alone and then get together to compare and talk through. There are no right answers. Change the questions/format to fit your needs. The goal is to build empathy for each other.
Defining your own roles from your perspective can help shed light on why a team member may be behaving in a certain way. This may be a good time to agree on the key characteristics of your respective roles.
What burdens are you carrying? Are they realistic?
Learn about the internal standards you have for yourself and how that changes your behavior.
What support are you expecting? What kind of communication style do you prefer?
Do you have the tools/environment/time/space that you need to be successful? You may not be able to change all of these. Calling them out will help build empathy with others.
Knowing what is important to you/others will give you awareness about how to navigate tricky ownership situations. Learn when to give and seek praise at the appropriate times.
This is your opportunity to connect with someone who has something to teach you or has the ability to support your learning. Commend each other on your drive to improve. Also good to be aware of too many/unrealistic learning goals. It is not wrong to be hungry, but you can ask yourself/each other questions about priority.... See more
Call out your fears. Be aware of how fear motivates you/others to act.
Personal, professional, problem space risks? What can you do to mitigate those risks together?
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Focus on creativity not design
Creativity is problem solving. Design is the visual expression of that problem solving.
If you just focus on design then the company will many see you as a commodity opposed to if you focus on creativity then that is something they will see as a critical asset.
I did a whole episode of my podcast dedicated to this subject that might also help. Check out episode 30 - https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-crazy-one/id1128248295?mt=2
Prove value through your actions and then become a broken record.
Most often, the role of a manager is to look at people problems not the technical ones as the people problems are typically the core issue behind a lot of technical blockages. The goal, then, is for the manager is build an accurate mental representation of the people involved, the organization, the way teams are structured, how each team works, and what the technical problems are. This can be done in a number of ways depending on your information gathering style (systematic or organic) but should be inclusive of all types of problems, not just the technical ones. This helps inform your next step.... See more
Often people expect that you are 'given' influence and that's the only time in which you have any, but this is simply not true. You can provide advice on how people can solve all types of problems in your organic conversations or your information-gathering meetings that will help build trust in who you are. This makes you a valuable member of the team and your discipline becomes a modifier as opposed to who you are.... See more
In your conversations with your team members about how certain design methodologies can help them with their problem. Note that I didn't say "try to solve their problem." For example, if the person you're speaking to is describing an issue with a roadmap, you can say, "Google runs these things called Design Sprints and it's helpful to find alignment amongst stakeholders, etc. etc. Do you think it would help you think through your problem if I facilitated this for you?"... See more
Aside from your organic conversations, you can write value-prop documents that describe how design can help their projects and provide business case studies for when certain methods have been successful before. Ensure that your entire design team is trained on these methods and ask that they become champions for the methodologies as well doing Step #3 alongside you as they participate in the company's conversations.... See more
Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk about what you're doing, what you want to do, how Design is helping other industries and teams, and what value Design can provide to a business. You must appeal to the bottom line or you're going to have a very hard time selling that Design is important. Whenever Design in the company has been used, successfully or not, talk people through the case study. Talk to them about why it worked, identify what didn't work, and provide feedback on what the team (collectively, not the Designers) can do better next time. Design is a viewpoint, not a deliverable, and your job is to teach this to your company.... See more
It's a gradual war, not an overnight battle. Gain credibility by continuing good work.
Initially, you're likely not going to do good design work, but that's okay. Instead, focus on bonding with the other teams and care about their problems. Winning their respect is the main objective here.
Don't set your expectations high, or you're just going to get frustrated. Don't stress out about things out of your control, just keep calm and keep doing good work.
Gaining trust and confidence of others in your team will happen over time. Once you have enough trust and credibility, you can get more resources to drive better design outcomes.
Don't spam design thinking workshops. Don't try to justify the importance of good design ALL the time. Don't believe that design is the most important thing in the company. Understand where you are in the ocean of things.
Shorter timeframes require people to think smaller and get more comfortable iterating and experimenting towards a longer-term objective. Long timeframes allow for the nursing of perfection, resulting in the guarding of ideas and concepts.
Designers may feel uncomfortable with transparency because there's no precedent and lots of unknowns. Find a safe opportunity to demonstrate the value of transparency by volunteering to open up your own work, process, plan, or experiences.
Transparency is about communication, and making design transparent requires you to over-communicate. Show your work and share your process. Get your non-design coworkers involved, and provide a venue for them to see your work before it's camera-ready.
Ask questions and get feedback from everyone, not just the other designers. By keeping outside stakeholders involved, your team will build a reputation for openness and transparency.
Make sure there's a consistent time and place to share your work — maybe it's a weekly design review open to everyone, or maybe it's a tool like Wake that lets anyone peek into a stream of work that designers are uploading.
Don't be afraid to showcase works-in-progress, wireframes, and even napkin sketches. Just make sure you make it clear whether you're looking for feedback yet, or just showing your work.
Vision, principles, process, visual language. Having these things creates alignment and a shared understanding and removes subjectivity. These things will help you define what quality means for your team and how to achieve it as well as a shared understanding for how to create consistency without losing flexibility.
This is your north star. It should be big, bold, and unique to your team.
Every designer bring with them their own values of design. Design principles offer a ruler to measure work. They are the guard rails that keep you on the path to achieving your vision.
It’s difficult to improve the output of something if there is no expectation of how to arrive at an output. Simply having or following a design process does not ensure quality work, but it does set an expectation.
A visual language has three parts. The vocabulary is all the objects of your design like buttons, drop downs, icons, typography, etc. Syntax are the rules that define the structure, order, and assembly of those objects. And semantics are the meaning given to the objects and their behavior. If you can define each of these things, then you'll create a visual language that anyone can contribute to without it losing its consistency.... See more
In addition to design systems, you'll want to focus on fixing this problem at an organizational level.
Lot's of inconsistency problems can be traced back to poor communication. As a design org grows, so does the time it takes to get feedback on work. Make sure the team is getting constant critique time in. Encourage showing work very early and very often.... See more
Yes, designers need maker time, but we also need to be more collaborative with our counterparts in other functions. Hiring a team of great solo designers will only add to the consistency problem. Look for signals on how a designer works with other designers/PMs/engineers when you're interviewing them.... See more
It's hard to fix a problem unless you constantly see it. Do a regular audit of some of the major flows within your product (e.g. purchase flows or sharing flows). Post them to your #design Slack channel. The goal isn't to publicly shame, but the goal is to be transparent about the product we're designing together.... See more
There's a strong (and perhaps obvious) argument for design systems being the shield that design teams can wield against quality going down. However, i'd advocate that how we hire designers and the quality of the product team are more urgent precautions we should look to, to safeguard against poor design quality. To be clear, I am not looking at just the interface as the measure of design quality, but the entire experience.
Don't allow designers around you to lockdown and hide their work until they feel it is \ready.\ Share work early and often to make sure everyone is consistently aligned on what's being made, to fend off any shocks, and to make adjustments as you go.... See more
Strong designers with a track record understand the nuances, the ins-and-outs of bringing great products to market with or without a strong design system. They understand the role communication plays in getting everyone aligned and the teamwork required to make sure the product's brand and experience aren't compromised. Make your hiring process uncompromising and include a few non-designers in the interview circuit to ensure culture-fit.... See more
Weekly design reviews do well to stave off rockstar, renegade and rebel designers who think they can do it better if they're just left alone to execute. It's a great way to share what everyone is working on, course-correct poor design decisions that might be going astray and a fantastic place to share ideas on how to make the design system better.... See more
If a design team is scaling, it's probably because the product problems are scaling. As design teams scale, designers tend to get resourced in two ways. They are allocated for depth of a product (think newsfeed, messenger, pages on facebook) and they tend to get spread across multiple product lines. I've rarely seen design teams form around \experience problems.\ As products and their team structures get more complicated, managing product decisions deliberately and with a real strategy become increasingly important. When product decisions are made hastily on unrealistic timelines, it is almost impossible to design good experiences for any product no matter how good the designer or the design system.... See more
If you're on a design team that's at a truly unmanageable scale without a strong design system, then assign someone to make the design system a project they can focus on across the board with all designers and design teams. I'm generally not a fan of always having a design system. I only believe in them if I believe in the design components that are in place (I don't systematize designs we are going to tear away), or if we are committed to rethinking the components from the ground up and only if the team feels like they're at a point where they need it. In most cases a lightweight style guide works fine. Here's an amazing design system Nick Stamas and Andrew Couldwell put together for WeWork's business systems, https://medium.com/@andrewcouldwell/plasma-design-system-4d63fb6c1afc#.dvu5mz2jj Nick, who was already a lead on the business systems team had started the groundwork for the system on his own. I assigned the project to Andrew the moment the business systems team multiplied their product decisions to an unmanageable scale for the designers on the team. Meaning, we waited until the pain was strong and pulled the trigger on the project when we absolutely had to. It is now a fantatic system... See more
Not every good idea is important right now. Leaders could drive self sufficiency and autonomy by building the team's confidence in pursuing ideas that matter. I've found that this often comes down to understanding what business problems are the most burning and how that coincides with specific parts of the user journey. As an example, at Candid we've found that one of the most important things the team could be working on is getting people to return their diagnostic records in order to get them to the next step in the funnel. With this knowledge, designers and engineers are free to work on new ideas within the constraints of that problem area. Anything else will be backlogged for later.... See more
Confidence is built brick by brick. I personally have the most fun when I see designers push the needle in the right direction, no matter how big or small the move is. Nothing get's me happier at work than to sit down with them and show them how well their solution is working. Doing this every week builds their intuition, ownership and makes them want to contribute more, more often, and with a learning mindset in place. Ideas that don't move the needle suddenly become learning moments and science projects to take apart and do better the next time they try.... See more
An often overlooked piece of the puzzle is showing designers how to use data instrumentation to help form hypotheses' and to bring that thinking to meetings or into their decision process in their workflow. Data trumps opinions and a designer armed with data is more confident in their solutions. As an example, in a recent design sprint to build a checkout flow for Candid, a designer was prompted to design a single-page checkout. He looked through artifacts the company uses in sales calls and coincided that artifact with data on success rates for the sales calls; he was then able to use that as a data point to suggest a multi-step, higher friction and educational checkout process is actually better at qualifying the customer. He confidently proceeded to change the design without any instruction from the product or sales team and the flow was better for it (data on success rate here is still pending and is being tested.)... See more
"Bout That Action, Boss" Method
A great tool for this is Strength Finders 2.0
After you review the Strength Finders results, schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with each critical member of your team. For large team, assign roles to managers and/or directors. If you don't have a design process and/or design ethos then creating those should be step #1.... See more
Design Days are where you allow the process step owners to lead and go deep in their respective owners. At Jordan/Nike, I called this "The 5 areas of Distinction". Each of these areas were intended to create a distinct product offering vs. a differentiated product offering. DD's allow each process owner to have a sense of agency and autonomy in how they work. Your role as a leader is to provide support and advise, not to dictate. Once again, if you have a solid design process, you won't have to be in the weeds. Empower your team and watch them grow.... See more
Every idea, sketch, insight should be brought to life on the spot. Keep maker material in easy accessible and well organized areas. This creates a central hub where Designer's can grab creative materials and bring their ideas to life.
By constantly inviting your audience or consumer into your process you are encouraging visual communication over verbal communication. Who doesn't like show and tell?
This is not the only way to do things. This is a fluid process that can and should constantly evolve based on the composition and needs of your team. If you stay in motion, you encourage growth, discourse and discovery.
The team that plays together, stays together.
The most important things you can do to ensure a successful post-mortem (or a more positive name for this type of meeting, a debrief) is frame the meeting as an opportunity to learn, and engage a facilitator.
It’s helpful to wait a few days after the project, maybe a week or two, to provide people with some space and time to gather perspective. It shouldn’t be too long (no more than two weeks), or you’ll start to lose important information.
Summarize your key learnings into a single page or less, and share these with the larger organization. When you share your learnings, you model what a healthy debrief looks like, while also multiplying the value you’ve created.
By asking someone from the outside to run the process, the whole team can focus on the debriefing while the facilitator drives the structure, asks unbiased questions, and helps navigate tough conversations.
A debrief should be framed as an opportunity for learning. If the goal of the session is focused on finding areas for improvement, it shifts the conversation from finding problems and faults to identifying opportunities and successes. This does not mean ignoring things that went wrong along the way, but it does mean not blaming any single person for the outcome. To keep focus on the opportunities, you can structure the conversation into three parts: (1) identify what happened (fact), (2) consider areas for improvement and potential solutions, (3) extract key learnings and future actions.... See more
Beyond the debrief, consider scheduling more frequent check-ins throughout the duration of the project. This creates a moment for the team to make changes along the way, improving the chances of success. Furthermore, the debrief can shift from identifying faults that were long ignored to learnings from different approaches along the way.... See more
Doing a post-launch post-mortem is one of my favorite things to do as a designer because it's quickest and cheapest way to learn/grow. I've noticed a few post-mortem sessions become accusatory or just downright awkward because of the way in which they're conducted. They definitely don't have to be. A few things to keep in mind when discussing a project during a post-mortem: be direct & concise when providing feedback, focus on learnings rather than regrets, talk about the project & its attributes as opposed to individuals, i.e., don't make it personal.
Be sure to encourage the team to provide feedback that's clear, direct, and hopefully even actionable. A good way to get valuable feedback is to ask for 2-3 things that went really well and 2-3 things that can be improved on if the team were to work on the same project all over again. Make sure someone in the room (preferably the project owner) is taking notes. Also, try to draw themes from all the feedback that you’re hearing. This will be helpful when you’re summarizing relevant points at the end.... See more
Hindsight is 20/20. When looking back at a project, it's easy to get negative and defensive, which leads to finger-pointing. Make it clear in the beginning of the meeting that the post-mortem isn't about bringing up regrets or playing the blame game, it's about learning and growing together as a team. It's not worth the team's time discussing what the project could have been if only... It is, however, worth it to talk about how a certain situation can be handled differently in the future to ship a more successful project.... See more
One of the most important things to do in the beginning of the meeting is to clearly state that this post-mortem isn’t about accusing each other, it’s about learning and growing as a team. In other words, let’s not get personal. It’s a good idea to discuss goals related to the project as opposed to who did what and why. Shift the conversation from something like ‘who was responsible for the final decision and why wasn’t the email sent in time?’ to ‘how can we get ahead of this problem in the future?’ Make the discussion about the process instead of about individuals.... See more
Design execution is all about proper alignment. Align your team around the people whose problems you solve. Align your team on values and principles. Align your team on a shared design system and process. Align your team with business metrics and goals. Align other teams to with design. Like a finely-tuned engine, great execution happens when a team is working together efficiently and harmoniously.
Unless you're doing strictly philanthropic work, your company likely exists to grow and make money. Great design can make a huge impact on growth and revenue. Being able to speak in terms of business goals will get your team more buy-in from the rest of the organization. Find the link between the business needs and the impacts that your team can have on them. How will investing in a design system impact product velocity? How will a meticulously crafted icon set impact subscriber numbers?... See more
Have your team collectively write and agree upon a set of principles. Orient your crits around these principles. Make sure to revisit them occasionally as new members join or new insights come to light.
Find the common patterns and document them. If you don't have a design system, a good place to start is creating a shared definition of the language used to describe your product. Make a visual map of what a typical project looks like, and have your team help you find ways to streamline it.... See more
Great design execution cannot happen without PM's, Engineers, QA, Support, Leadership, and other functions in your company. Make the experience of working with designers a delightful one. Invite other functions into the creative process. Encourage your team to seek feedback early and often. Teach the format of critique so that feedback is constructive from all angles.... See more
Communication is key to building a remote culture. Intentionally choosing the right tools and routines can help create a culture that's more than just sharing GIFs in Slack.
The tools you use will set the cadence for communication and help determine your company's culture. A company using Slack is different than a company using Basecamp, etc. Intentionally choose the tools you use for communication, project management, sharing, and more.... See more
Some examples: Each week, call out coworkers who are doing great work; have a set time to discuss "wins for the week"; have a themed GIF competition each day; give kudos to achievements; have occasional workshops via video chat in which a teammate presents about something they're passionate about.... See more
Create space for non-work-related, "watercooler" communication. At my company, we have a video chat every Friday where anyone who's available stops in for 15-30 minutes to talk about anything except work. This helps build an understanding beyond just our professional relationships.... See more
Meeting your coworkers in-person can create a foundation to support your remote culture. Schedule company off-site meetups, or even just informal gatherings, on a predictable schedule. Make sure everyone knows when they'll next be seeing each other face-to-face. There's no better way to build company culture (and inside jokes!) than this.... See more
My team at Facebook, that’s focused on R&D, is experimenting with writing internal notes at the end of every project and share them in an internal Facebook Group. Each note describes the learning objective, what solutions we explored, the feedback we received (critique, reviews, UX research...), the prototypes we built, what we finally shipped, the data, a section on whether or not we learned what we were hoping to learn, and a post-mortem that explains what we could have done differently to learn faster/better.
If you are collaborating with other designers closely you should be using the same tools and formats to save time and headaches down the road. This isn't always easy to implement, but it is worth it. Bonus points if the tools can be utilized easily by your dev team such as Sketch, Adobe XD or prototyping tools.
Can you afford to buy licenses or subscriptions for your entire design team? What about the developers? On the other hand, if you put together an ideal list of tools your team wants to use, are you wasting money on duplicative feature sets? If there's an expensive piece of software that only one person will use for advanced prototyping, such as a lead designer, will anyone else need to access that file on a regular basis? In my mind it is worth just springing for the license if it means that the work will come out faster and free up your lead designer to move on to the next project.... See more
Some design tools aren't cross-platform compatible. (Looking at you, Sketch!) Beyond the scope of your own design team or company, keep in mind that most of the world still uses Windows. I had a series of international clients last year who requested the working files as part of the deliverables. Their internal design team all used Windows and assumed we were working in Photoshop. It took a lot of time and energy at the very end to convert all of the files from Sketch to PSD for the handoff session.... See more
Whatever your preferred product, you should absolutely have a system that is outlined very specifically when it comes to where your files and assets are living. If your team uses dropbox, there should be a strict expectation that everyone is putting their files in the team dropbox every single day. It is no fun trying to guess where something might be when you need it urgently, and it's even less fun to have to call every number on file to try and contact your junior designer who is out sick just to ask where her files are. Getting people to adhere to organizing their files and follow a coherent naming standard is a challenge, but well worth it. Think of your project folders as you would a shared house. Clean up your mess, fold your laundry and use actual version numbers instead of "Final1, Website V2, FinalDraft_3.0", you filthy animals.... See more
Currently in-market we have a variety of tools available at our fingertips, but they don't all play nicely together, even during an export process. You can pull vector elements into Sketch from Illustrator, but your Sketch symbols can't be exported and plugged into Illustrator (functionally, that is). If I have a VSCO mobile preset I apply to our product photos, the DNG files being processed in Lightroom can't use those same presets. Should you keep all of your branding assets in Lingo, a folder on dropbox, or in a Creative Cloud library? These are all things to consider. Choose wisely.... See more
Do it yourself first. This is a typical lead by example area IMHO. People are often hesitant because they aren't sure how it works. So show them. Show work that is early and clearly not done. Show them your thought process, especially when it's messy. Then, over time, they will open up. When they do, make sure to lead with the positive. Be encouraging.
Don't be afraid that you're the only one doing it. You may have to do this for a while before it catches on.
Right at that moment where you're pumped on the thing you're working on, share it. Pull people in and show them. This starts to get excitement going on the team and it eventually becomes contagious. And don't worry, if you end up not using your idea, it will only show how good you are at editing.... See more
When you're walking by and see something on their screen, don't be shy to say "That's super cool. What's that for?" It get's the conversation going.
Especially when you're starting to look at the work of other people, you kind of have to stroke their ego a bit. But this is a good rule always. We tend to look at what can be better but forget what's already working. Start with what's working. That's maybe most helpful early in the process anyway. It starts to build confidence—not only in the project, but in being able to show work early.... See more
Change is one of the hardest things that an organization can do, especially at scale. Because of this, there is no one answer to this question, but there are ways better your chances. Before you start pushing your process unto others, there are a lot of questions you need to ask yourself. For example, are you the right person to advocate for change? Have you built up enough trust in the organization by demonstrating value in the area you claim expertise? Are you willing to set aside your personal objectives for the benefit of the organization? If so, let’s get started.
You can probably personally articulate the need for change, but do the other stakeholders in your organization agree with you? A common mistake is to push for change without first agreeing on the root problems and vision. Down the road, it may cause sudden friction or impasses when everything seemed to be going well, stopping momentum in its tracks. There are many methods for teams to do this. A planning sprint with brainstorming exercises, for example, helps align goals as well as the vocabulary necessary to speak about the problem.... See more
If your team can’t agree about the goal it may cause progress to stall, or people to balk at the prospect of losing something that they have become comfortable with. Identify blind spots and pitfalls by diving deeper and get more specific by asking: In order to meet this goal, what has to be true? Imagine a future where instituting your new process failed. Why did it fail?... See more
You may have a process you are familiar with, or learned from an industry leader, but there is rarely a situation where one-size fits all. Embrace the wisdom of your colleagues and allow the team to collectively shape the process to something that uniquely fits your culture. Understand you can’t always have things your way, and that this is healthy. Even if you “fail,” take comfort in the progress that was made.... See more
See a glimmer of hope? Good! You’re not done yet. Champion improvements that are directly attributed to the new process and socialize the benefits of the new system to maintain momentum. Finally, acknowledge others who have brought the team to this new path.... See more