Co-founder at Candid Co.
Host of High Resolution Podcast, co-founder of Candid Co, prev. Head of Design and Growth WeWork. Serial learn-it-all. Raised in the streets of Bombay.
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
What kind of design are we referencing here? John Maeda's Design In Tech Report 2016 made a strong case for 3 kinds of design- classical design (graphic design, industrial design), computational design (apps) and design thinking (strategy design). I'll assume this is referencing computational design. I have a simple moniker for computational design, N.E.R.D or Nothing's Ever Really Done. Here are a few forcing functions you can use to force completion on a project.
Using time as a forcing function to complete work is a strong way to get your project to the finish line. The Google Design Sprint is fantastic example of this, they force outcomes on a design within one week. It isn't about getting it \right\ it's about moving quickly to make informed decisions the team can learn from.... See more
One way to force yourself to get a project done is to establish the criteria for completion up-front. So, put a scope of features and flows together with the product and engineering team. You'll know you are done when the scope requirements have been met, that's when it is time to ship.... See more
No matter how many times you ship something, if you're open and objective about it you will always have room to improve the design. The beauty of computational design is that we can release, test, learn, re-release, re-test and re-learn infinitely with billions of people. More important than it being perfect is to create constraints around yourself that force you to ship. If along with that you have the discipline and openness to walk into the process with a learning mindset, you'll do two things; you'll be more inclined to get it \righter\ than the competition and you will evolve your gut and intuition.... See more
The single best thing designers and design managers can do to elevate the perception of design is to prioritize profits over pixels. It might sound crass and I know it isn't the fluff that's generally sold to designers, but it's the truth. There's a lot design teams can do but profit-over-pixels trumps all of it. If you can correlate good design to profits, you will win. The business will increase your budget, the right people will give you more operational room and everyone will see design as a strategic cross-company initiative.
This one gets overlooked a lot. Get away from your desk and talk to people in marketing, sales, support, data, engineers, HR etc. Get to know people personally and professionally, make it about more than work. This simple act will gain you quite a few allies. Allies are important if you are trying to be a change agent. People are more likely to change or try experiments with people they know, like and respect.... See more
I teach my design teams to pitch ideas with this simple template- What problem does your idea solve? How do you know? Why should we solve this now? What is the user benefit? What is the business benefit?
Non-designers need to understand how you work, this understanding builds a lot of up-front trust and buy in. Take a slide deck, draw a step by step process on it that's easy to understand and socialize it to people in the business. Teach non-designers what your process is so the next time you say a flow will take a week, the process isn't a mystery box.... See more
Include business people and engineers in design decisions. Other than the obvious \togetherness\ factor, they're very helpful in offering diverse sets of insights that will enable you to be more informed with your design decisions.
Designers tend to focus on craft whenever they're cornered into explaining design decisions. They're better at responding with \here's why the design looks this way\ but business people really just want to hear \here's how we expect this design to convert\ and \here's how we know.\ The other side to this is designers need to make a strong effort in understanding how the business works, how many lines of business there are and how their work impacts each line of business.... See more
Simple steps you can take here are to use a products like Invision and Wake to make your work available for business leaders and engineers to review on their own time in a comment-able format. I'd also recommend buying large foam-core boards and pin your work up on there for people walking by to see. Leave post-it notes next to the board so they can leave comments for you asynchronously.... See more
Put out work that you're proud of, that's thought through, that's rooted in a clear problem that the business agrees is a problem, that's build-able, that's considerate of the user, and that included insights from stakeholders (aka not you designing alone like a rockstar designer).... See more
Our \data friends,\ as Rochelle King from Spotify puts it, are powerful allies to designers. If they can help you make informed product decisions, you're always going to walk into a room with anyone and make a defensible, logical and thorough case for your design work.... See more
A lot of your presentation might come down to stuff that might not be in your control, like, the quality of opinions in the room, the ground rules for critiques, the quality of the screen you are presenting on, how much time you have to present, and why you are presenting in the first place (yes, sometimes even this won't be in your control). We'll get into the stuff you can control in a second, but it is worth noting that the fact that you are doing critiques is a very good thing.
This is a small detail that makes a big difference. Assign someone (another designer) to facilitate the session. They'll be focused on keeping time, making sure the questions being asked are relevant to what the presenter is looking for feedback on, and taking notes for the presenter on the whiteboard.... See more
I've found that the best rooms to do design critiques are rooms that have people sitting closer together, with good lighting, a clear projector or display, and a surface (whiteboard) to write on. Here's what a threatening room looks like- they're big, people sit far apart, everyone is seated to face-forward toward the presenter like a classroom, the presenter needs to stand up and walk in front of a room, no one keeps time, there is no surface to write on and worst of all, the room is cold. Don't be this room.... See more
I've found it most useful to make \room rules\ clear to everyone before they go in for a design critique. My first rule, my most important rule is that only one screen is allowed to be on at a time- the presenter's. People are WAY too easily distracted and generally for good reason; they've got a flurry of emails to attend to, they have other teammates bugging them for something, they're trying to wrap up something else for a different deadline. NO SCREENS. Presenting is really hard for some people and it is up to the everyone in the room to be respectful of the presenter and attend to them fully. You can have other rules if you'd like. Here are a few others I had- stay on topic, stay within your time, only provide feedback where the person specifically is asking for it, if you're going to say something make sure you're adding value, if you run out of time and still have something to say, followup with the presenter after the meeting. There were a few more but you get the point.... See more
Your job as a presenter is three-fold, walk in prepared with your assets in a presentation format (and don't bumble around in your sketch file), make sure you are clear with the room on what part of the process you're on, and finally be clear with the room where you're looking for feedback. This requires some up front work on your part that you owe to yourself and the room.... See more
When you present, be mindful of how much time you have on the clock. A good anecdotal measure of how to split your time is to use 30% of your time on presenting your work and allow 70% for feedback and questions. So if you have 15 minutes to present, allow 5 minutes to present your work and 10 minutes for discussion. Of course, it goes without saying, general presentation skills are a prerequisite and is a post for another time.... See more
First, lets acknowledge that not everyone has the leisure of using personal time to do side projects. In my experience though I will say that most people I know personally DO have the time, they just lack the initiative and make convenient excuses not to learn new skills or take on a side project. If you fall into the latter group, the action steps below will help, if not, I don't think they will help much. The truth is, the entire answer can be summed up in one word... "commit."
This is the most important and most obvious step. Make a decision to commit to your new project and make it just one thing, one project, one skill. This is a binding commitment with yourself. if your time and output is within your control and you still don't followthrough, that's indicative of a potential character flaw that you need to address separately.... See more
I use this trick to help me followthrough on projects I commit to. I tell everyone about them. I get excited about it, I share details about the project, why I am doing it, what I expect to do, when I expect to show progress, what outcomes I am hoping for etc. Worse than letting yourself down is letting everyone else around you down. It works for me but it might not be for everyone.... See more
I always give my projects a deadline. I do not have open-ended timelines and generally impose tough, short timelines on projects I commit to. When I started working on High Resolution, the design podcast http://highresolution.design I committed to 3 months to launch. I'd never done a podcast before, let alone a video podcast, I had no control over my guests' time and had no way of knowing whether they could make the time commitment I needed them to make but I said \screw it\ and did it anyway. Jared and I shipped the podcast on time and we were meticulous about our process and communication from start to finish. We treated this project like we would've a startup.... See more
Scott Belsky writes about the project plateau a lot, that part of the project where the initial excitement dies down, people stop caring about your fun new initiative and you're basically just stuck in a grind. Everyone needs to find something to ignite the fire along the way to keep the project afloat. For High Resolution, every time we signed a guest we wanted, or scripted good questions, or did the logo, or signed on a partner, Jared and I celebrated.... See more
If this is a side hustle or a hobby it probably doesn't take priority over more important things like family time, paying work, taking care of your health. It does take priority over your favorite TV show and perhaps even spending all your time out hanging out with friends. There are only so many hours in the day.... See more
Use your nights and weekends to be productive. If you care enough about what you're working on, honestly this is easier than it sounds. If you have other commitments and can't seem to make time for this new endeavor, ask yourself if the other stuff is more important, if it is, that is your new side project. If it isn't, cut away the fat from your schedule and be ruthless with your time. Coming home to a side project after a day's work is hard so find rituals to help get you in the zone. I make myself a pot of coffee and I start playing music in the background. I've trained myself to get in the zone this way. Give yourself a breather between work and side-work, try and get some time outdoors, go to the gym, or spend time with a significant other but DON'T go out to drink, it will dull your ability to do any work when you get home.... 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
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