2.0 Introduction

Pedro Marques
Dec 24, 2018 · 6 min read

Chapter 2 of "Designing a Design Team"

As the world becomes more interconnected and interdependent, companies from different parts of the globe are competing for the same consumer. In a way, one could argue that the world has shrunk as the boundaries that once existed in the past are being continuously shattered by technology. Considering that context, Becker et al. (2016) state that a multitude of startups are founded and enter the market every year and, therefore, for established companies to survive they are forced to constantly (re)evaluate their strategies in order to fight off those companies that are entering the market, pushed by technology.

In such a new world, design has been growing in importance. It is no longer understood as an isolated discipline — or a standalone process — but as an essential part of the full product development cycle. It starts with design (research), it runs through design (conceptualization) and it finishes with design (testing sessions and regular product/concept validations). Design, in that sense, has now become a mindset, or more specifically, the process of turning intent into a palpable outcome. As a result, companies, especially fast-growing ones, are faced with the challenge of incorporating design into their organizational structures. And even though there is no “magic formula” on how to do so, a lot has been accomplished — analyzed and experimented — by design practitioners throughout the industry.

Having that in mind, this author explores the topic of design teams as organizational models, outlining the benefits and drawbacks of such models as a way of supporting fast-growing companies to design their design teams in the context of their businesses. Additionally, it is also taken into consideration how team building and development activities influence the effectiveness of a design team. Building on such activities, the author explains the idea of creating a “shared sense of purpose” — which helps to define a design team in its inception — and recommends team development activities that teams could include in their routines. At the same time, the importance of being mindful about personal and professional growth within a team is briefly discussed. Furthermore, this author emphasizes, and expands on, the significance of designing ethically aligned products and how essential it is for designers to properly collaborate with engineers and other designers within their organizations.

Finally, this author explores the field of experience design by introducing and applying the Double Diamond as the basis of his design process, from research (primary and secondary) to execution (prototyping and testing).

1.1 Research questions

“How might fast-growing companies build and scale a design team?”

“How might team development activities help a design team to be more effective?”

“How might designers more effectively collaborate with engineers and other designers?”

1.2 Research methodology

This project was conducted from July 17th (2018) to November 15th (2018) and all of the insights and findings have been gathered both from primary and secondary research. From an ethical perspective, this author explored both academic and non-academic sources as well as analyzed real cases of design decisions with ethical implications from a professional/industry perspective.

During the project, this author worked as a Product Designer at Personio, a fast-growing HR-tech company based in Munich (Germany) that has only recently started building its design team. Even though no actual testing of the prototype occurred within the company, it was used as a fertile and invaluable source of learning as the company scales and understands the value that design can create for its customers. It is worth it to note, however, that further testing and iteration of the prototype introduced in this project is planned to happen within the company in the foreseeable future.

Five in-depth interviews were conducted with senior level designers and design/product managers with years of product experience within the context of fast-growing companies that are building and scaling design teams. The interviews have been of utmost importance to the outcome of this project as the insights obtained from the conversations with such seasoned professionals — in combination with desk research — were used as the basis for prototyping a tool for design teams to build and scale their structures.

1.3 Interviews

Dan Nessler — Head of UX at Hinderling Volkart

Dan Nessler aims at finding the right problems to solve, creating meaningful experiences and providing scaffolds, others can build upon. He believes in constant development through learning and iterating. Collaboration, sharing, and feedback are at the core of this process.

Christian Hertlein — Head of Design at n26

Christian Hertlein has over 10 years experience in strategic design, UX and service design. In his current role, Christian Hertlein enables designers to create disruptive products from a holistic approach, incorporating strategies and frameworks from a design-minded perspective.

Jessica Chen — Head of Product at Earning

Jessica Chen has extensive experience in product, growth, and international expansion. Deep knowledge of fintech, payments, eCommerce, marketplaces, and consumer technology. Passionate about improving customer lives via tech-enabled products.

Arthur Castro — Head of Product and Design at Yellow

Arthur Castro helped startups to solve problems for millions of customers in different (and complicated) markets, connecting product, design and technology. In the past seven years, he led teams and mobile products from scratch, based on transparency, empowerment, testing and learning.

Porfirio López — Co-founder at Serious Business

Porfirio López is an entrepreneur with experience in Marketing, Social Media and Communications. He is passionate about creative processes and solutions with emerging technologies.

1.4 Limitations of the study

Before enrolling to Hyper Island’s MA in Digital Experience Design, this author has had no formal education in the field of design. Additionally, even though this author works with design for over 6 years, he still has not yet worked as a design manager, which limits his comprehension around building and scaling design teams.

Given the scope of this study and the time limitation of four months, it cannot be expected that this author will achieve a full and in-depth understanding of the topic as designing a design team is an on-going process that is subjected to unknown variables. Having that in mind, this researcher aims to continue the development of this project both by applying the newly acquired knowledge to his job and by testing and iterating the proposed prototype.

To conclude, it is vital to notice that every design team is different. They are composed of people with varying background and work experience. Similarly, the context and markets they are inserted into are distinct. Therefore, what works for — and on — a specific design team might not be applicable to another design team. As stated in this introductory section, there is no “magic formula” regarding building and scaling design team.

1.5 Terminology

  • Design: the process of translating ideas into reality, making abstract thoughts tangible and concrete (Design Council, n.d.)
  • Design team: a group of skilled individuals who are responsible for not only making things pretty or easy to use, but also for ensuring meaning and utility through empathy building.
  • Fast-growing company: an organization that, on average, grows 5% to 10% per week.
  • Culture: a shared way of doing something with passion (Chesky, 2014).
  • Shared sense of purpose: the values, principles and mindset of a team. It can be presented in different forms as it varies from team to team.
  • Team collaboration: finding new ways of working as a team, creating new ideas, fostering an innovative culture to achieve goals and objectives, and acquiring better solutions (Muslihat, 2018).


I’m a Product Designer based in Munich and working at Personio. If you’d like to see some of my recent work, you can find me on Dribbble. Want to chat or grab a coffee? Shoot me an email: marques.ph@gmail.com :)

“Designing a Design Team” is my Industry Research Project (Master’s thesis) for my MA in Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island.

Pedro Marques

Written by

Product designer and entrepreneur | Personal website: https://pedromarques.me/

Designing a Design Team

A study on building and scaling design teams in fast-growing companies

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