Designing Your Design Culture

Craig Roberts
Feb 15, 2018 · 8 min read

The design process isn’t only for creating digital products or creating experiences. The design process is intended to solve problems, whatever they are. You could use the design process to find the love of your life, then use it to resolve your arguments about where to eat every night.

At GoDaddy, I joined a UX team that is growing with new faces. My manager, Cheriana, transformed the San Francisco office from just her to a group of 6. I came into the position knowing that building the culture is going to be critical. With a bunch of new faces, how do we create a strong design culture?

Who are these people?

When everyone was new, we didn’t have past GoDaddy projects to talk about and relying on each other for information about the organization was pointless. While we were all great at smiling at each other, and laughing at jokes we barely heard the other person say, we weren’t talking about design. Perhaps it was because we were all new and were getting comfortable with each other. We weren’t showing how passionate we are. I trusted Cheriana hired people who are great at their craft and passionate. I wanted to find a way to bring that out to improve the design culture.

I thought back to my classes at Pratt, where great professors like Natalie Simms and Christina Latina would push us as a group of strangers to express ourselves about topics of our choice. Not only did it give everyone a chance to take center stage, but it also allowed everyone to deliver their perspective. No matter how much I thought I knew, someone always brought an experience or insight I could grow from.

How do I trick my co-workers to attend another design class? 🤔

Cheriana already organizes a weekly event called GOOB (Get Out Of the Building). Not only do we get to leave the building, but GOOB is also fun to say (I give GOOB extra points for that alone). During GOOB we go to a random coffee shop (which always takes like 10 minutes to agree on) and work from there for about 2 hours. That was the initial intent, but it started to evolve. We started talking about the projects we were working on, bombard Cheriana with questions because we were new, or random things we noticed. One day, one of my co-workers, Gahee, walked through a full presentation she prepared. Then it hit me.

This would be a great time to have discussions about design!

The hashtag is added to explain it will be a slack channel, and because it looks kind of cool.

#DesignTalks was born! The goal of this talk is to inspire passionate conversations relating to design. I created a presentation to share the idea with the team (because I make presentations for literally everything) and got their feedback.

The setup went like so:

At the beginning of the week, artifact(s) are placed in the channel by one of the members of the team. The artifacts can be articles, blog posts, videos, a MeetUp, you performing an interpretive dance, or anything that communicates a design related idea.

We would all interact with the artifacts and decide our initial point of view. We can post related pieces of information, anything that builds on the idea, questions the artifact invokes, or experiences at GoDaddy that relate.

At the end of the week, we all get together at a coffee shop during GOOB and discuss our impressions on the topic, why we lean toward a particular idea, personal experiences that may align, and talk about how it applies to the work we are doing.

I hoped each week we would end up with deep conversations that we all learned from, we learn more about everybody’s point of view, and we get more comfortable sharing ideas. All of these combined, resulting in an improved design culture.

So how’d it actually go?

Most of that point of view stuff doesn’t happen, or the posting of related content. It is hard enough for everyone to find time to read the article, adding additional materials was a lofty goal.

The team was on board with it and at our next GOOB following the meeting we gave it a shot. It was interesting. It’s pretty awkward to start off. Naturally, someone has to give the order to start the conversation, which is how all great natural discussions start right? A couple of people couldn’t make the first session, so it started out with only 3 of us. We expressed what we thought about the article, exchange some different points of view, ate avocado toast (I know, we’re fancy), and got back to work.

Side note: I’m morally against avocado toast. How do we justify spreading avocado on bread costing $15? Is it the labor cost?

The next week we tried the session, the group had more people. Everyone in SF who didn’t make the first one joined, and another member of our team in Germany, Sasha, who was visiting, joined us as well. This time it turned into a design incubator/rally. We started off talking about the article, then transitioned into how to improve GoDaddy as a whole, improve all of our processes, and ideas on how to create continuity across our products.

This conversation sparked an idea for me to spearhead the creation of design principles for our team.

Which failed but I learned a lot through the effort. More on that later.

The next weeks were always somewhere between those two extremes.

Some of the content we conversed about were:

This article by Gahee revealed how passionate she is about user research.

This article by Cheriana revealed how much she considered accessibility and how much she wanted us to focus on it as a team.

This article by Mika illuminated how meticulous she is about choosing the right words in her experiences.

This article by Ben highlighted how much he wanted us as designers to rely on principles, as much as data, to justify our design decisions.

My post showcases I like long articles and challenging the status quo of design.

Raise your hand if you’re enjoying this

Like any proper design process, you have to get feedback from your audience on your solution to know if it’s useful and to discover how you can iterate on it. I sent out a poll to get feedback on the talks after we had a few and these are some of the results I got.

Some improvements to make

The questionnaire gave me some great feedback. The main discoveries where:

  • People enjoyed #DesignTalks, which was really important to me
  • Only half of the team felt like they were learning. I knew since there were designers of different levels involved that someone would be less likely to learn something new, but 50% was definitely a number I wanted to improve on.
  • A 6.8/10 content rating was a number that could also be improved on
  • A weeks notice wasn’t enough time to for everyone to commit to reading the articles
  • Half the participants thought the format could be improved.
  • GOOB was a valued time to work in a different environment, and #DesignTalks was taking away that ability

Listening to opinions and experiences from those who have had a longer time in industry than myself is extremely valuable. Also, helps us all get on the same page as designers especially when articles surround design principles and best practices

This anonymous feedback was music to my ears. Gave me the satisfaction I needed to know that it was working and to keep iterating on it.

#DesignTalks Today

After taking in all the feedback, I made some changes. I’ve introduced a calendar that stretches further into the future so everyone can have more time to read the articles and a rating system for the materials. I will send out another survey and continue to iterate on #DesignTalks to ensure I’m solving the original problem, improving the design culture.

Over time, we’ve gone to happy hours and work events that have made us more comfortable as a team, but I feel that #DesignTalks has had an impact in helping us grow as a team and as designers. I have a better handle on the aspects of design people are intrigued by and know when and who to lean on for my areas of weakness. I see more spontaneous conversations in the office about design, and after our discussions about process, more wireframes and ideas are being shared, as opposed to just finished designs.

If your work environment isn’t the way, you’d like it to be, identify the problems, and use the Design process we all hold dear to our hearts to create solutions.

I’ll leave you with a quote from my StoicBot Messenger Chatbot.

Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today.

— Seneca

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