Designing a Design Team

How we’ve challenged the “agency” status quo through our culture.

This is a transcript of my slides as a guest of Insitum’s series of talks, INSITUM Loop ♾, November 8, 2018.

First of all, thanks for having us, let me introduce myself.

My name is Luis López, but everybody calls me ‘Lulo’.

These are the pages of a children’s book that incidentally describe me: I’m an entrepreneur, a designer, a manager — and a drummer during my free time. Funny coincidence!

Almost 4 years ago I started a design studio named 23.

At the moment we are 22 of us in the team, and we can’t wait to cross the 23 mark.

We describe ourselves as an international strategic design studio. Our team is a mix of designers, entrepreneurs, strategist and specialists in product, brand design, visual design and copywriting.

We help companies with their toughest business challenges using human-centered design strategies.

_

From the early days of the company, we’ve strived to create a place for growth. A place where our interest in design and our pursuit of becoming the best version of ourselves, live together.

This has become our purpose, the reason why we come to work every day and the basis of our culture.

In terms of our work, we have three primary goals:

Now, when we got invited to come do this talk, I thought it’d be boring to give “another design talk”, so I decided to focus on a side of 23 that’s more meaningful to us instead of just lecturing you with the usual tools, portfolio, approach talk.

Let’s talk about Culture.

Culture looks different in every company.

At 23, we have three main pillars for ours.

Each one of these pillars has a set of ideals and actionable principles we use in our everyday life. They are:

Studio Culture

The first and — probably — most important principle in our studio culture is:

This ideal can be sometimes painful but has proven to be the right approach for a growth driven team. When we started, we made A LOT of mistakes but we never fired anyone for them. Instead, we focused on the learnings and asked ourselves how to fix them. This approach also takes a hard hit on short term profitability but creates a stronger team in the long term.

The next one is about transparency:

And about sharing.

Every 23 of the month, we gather and present everyone our past mont’s achievements, we have a collective ego, but never an individual one.

And finally, about our relationships with clients:

Design Culture

Not everyone sees design the same way.

When we started 23, there were advertising agencies, development shops and brand identity boutiques in the mexican market, the gap we wanted to fill was “Design as a business strategy”.

This has shaped the way we see and use design.

We believe design is the combination of a Mindset and a Toolset (or toolkit)

We use Notion to document and create our Toolkit

And that solutions must put humans at the center, not designers.

We also believe that it is our responsibility to iterate and create new tools we can use in solving problems more effectively.

Just like chefs, we start by following the recipe and with practice, experimentation and trial and error, we come up with our own recipes.

An example of that is how we’ve mixed GV’s Design Sprint to come up with our own version of a Design Workshop.

Our Brand Strategy for Startups Workbook, a photo of the shoot the first Human Centered Design online class in Spanish for Domestika, our General Assembly Class on Design Thinking for Startups, our talk about Designing for Diversity at Tumblr’s HQ in NYC and the presentation of our framework: Design Fo(u)r at Google’s World Usability Day event.

Then we share these ideas openly

In the photos: Our Brand Strategy for Startups Workbook, a photo of the shoot the first Human Centered Design online class in Spanish for Domestika, our General Assembly Class on Design Thinking for Startups, our talk about Designing for Diversity at Tumblr’s HQ in NYC and the presentation of our framework: Design Fo(u)r at Google’s World Usability Day event.

Design is not a concept.

Design has to impact humans, that’s why we put all our energy into launching our designs into the hands of users.

Launching things is sometimes risky but it’s sometimes the only way we can learn.

It’s common to see brilliant projects die in a drawer. Simplifying and focusing on business impact has helped us reduce time-to-market.

Our clients appreciate it.

Three. 23's Growth Culture

Probably one of our most controversial ideas, but a fundamental one too:

And since our purpose is to become better versions of ourselves, we invest that money into better salaries, workspaces, benefits, mentors, education, even better coffee.

We also question the direction of the company collectively.

During our last offsite retreat we opened 5 discussions around growth. We commemorated it with a t-shirt.

Lastly, we deeply believe that 23 will grow only if the team grows, that’s why we’ve designed the organization to allow interns to become partners of the company:

Ray Dalio has been a great inspiration in the shaping of our culture.

Culture is what makes a group of people who they are. It’s how they see the world, their purpose, values and behaviors; and this is who we are.

We’re happy to meet other cultures and share our views on design.

Thanks for having us today.

Questions?