Chapter 4 of "Designing a Design Team"
This chapter outlines the design process this author used to answer his research questions. From a methodology perspective, the Double Diamond, which is “a simple visual map of the design process” (British Design Council, 2015) was used as the main framework for this project. In order to shed light on the design process, this author applied the Double Diamond from an experience design point of view. As defined by Don Norman (2013) experience design is “the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments with a focus placed on the quality and enjoyment of the total experience.” Before describing the design process in more details, however, it is crucial to recap the research questions by reflecting on what has been learned from the Literature Review.
4.1 Recap of the research questions
“How might fast-growing companies build and scale a design team?”
Fast-growing companies, particularly those in an early stage (seed stage), are focused on achieving product-market fit. By definition, achieving product-market fit means that (i) customers are willing to pay for what the company is selling (be it a service or a product), (ii) acquiring new customers is economically viable, and (iii) the market is large enough to sustain the business (Thoring and Mueller, 2012). As outlined in the Literature Review, fast-growing companies do not always have the need for a design team in the early days. As the business matures, however, design becomes not only a competitive advantage, but also the driving force for innovative solutions.
Building and scaling a design team is not trivial. First and foremost, “a design team needs to be in charge of its own destiny, and this requires focused leadership with autonomy and executive access” (Skinner and Merholz, 2016). “Focused leadership”, by the standards of this research, means having one or two people who are responsible for nurturing the design team from a management point of view. Although a design manager must be experienced with designing services and products, that is not what is going to define whether he or she will be a successful leader. Skinner and Merholz (2016) explain that “the skills that made someone a great designer or creative director are almost wholly unrelated to the skills that make them a great manager and team leader. Instead, this design leader’s primary responsibilities will prove organizational, working with other executives to clear the path for design, and serving as a manager, mentor, team builder, and operator for the team itself, creating both a figurative and literal space where design can thrive.”
Second, the management team (C-Level executives) must understand the value of design for (and its impact on) the organization. If such executives do not support design-based initiatives, it is likely that the design team will fail. In that regard, being able to “sell” the value of design within the organization is also a major task of the design leader.
Finally, hiring is one of the biggest challenges faced by fast-growing companies. Attracting design talent is becoming more and more complicated for a few reasons: (i) as the world shifts to a primarily digital economy, many companies are looking to hire designers as a way to improve their digital offerings, which, in turn, increases the competition to finding the right candidate, (ii) hard skills and work experience are not enough to hire someone — designer or not — since companies are more cautious about what is usually referred to as “cultural fit”, which means being aligned with the company’s values and mission. and (iii) there is a shortage of design talent worldwide, which is driven by the phenomenon described in (i).
“How might team development activities help a design team to be more effective?”
Referring back to the Literature Review, a successful and effective team has a solid shared sense of purpose, which helps to establish the identity and impact that the team hopes to have within a company. However, having such shared sense of purpose can be considered the foundation — or “the first step” — in which a team is built on and, therefore, more “steps” are necessary for a team to be fully successful and effective.
A successful and effective team is also a healthy one. And a healthy team is, more than anything, built on trust and respect. Team development activities, in that regard, support team members to not only better know themselves, but also their colleagues. For instance, being open to feedback — understanding it as a “gift”, provided by others with the intent of helping one to grow both personally and professionally, and not as a personal criticism — is essential. Similarly, people who reflect on their actions tend to be more aware of their weaknesses and thus are more keen to improve. At the same time, it is crucial to be transparent and honest with each other as a way to build trust and empathy, which is particularly important for designers. If one cannot have empathy towards their colleagues, how would they empathize with their end users?
From a broader spectrum, team development can also be understood “as the changes in team processes and emergent states that occur over time in a team” (Peralta et al., 2018). Hence, it is plausible to argue that a team is an ever-changing and ever-evolving entity, whose processes and routinely activities need to be adapted accordingly. Additionally, Peralta et al. (2018) go on to state that “over time, teams go through a series of stages as members seek to change their interaction and action pattern. Such states, therefore, can be viewed as configurations of team processes and emergent states that occur frequently and represent ‘attractors’ in complex dynamics of change over time. From this perspective, the term development does not necessarily imply improvement over time, although many teams do evolve toward more efficient processes as they mature.” To conclude, time alone should not be perceived as the deciding factor for team development, but the activities that the team go through together over time. To mature and grow as a team, every team member must consciously acknowledge that team development is an on-going process (with ups and downs) that is built on trust and respect.
“How might designers more effectively collaborate with engineers and other designers?”
Designers and engineers, especially frontend engineers, must work well together. If this author is allowed to use a metaphor to explain the designer-frontend engineer relationship (or partnership), it would be a football one: the designer is the playmaker, the №10 midfielder, and the frontend engineer is the center-forward, the №9 striker. The designer, therefore, is the one making sure the ball gets to the frontend engineer in perfect conditions for them to score.
From a practical perspective, Liana Roxana Dumitru (2018) from Dropbox explains that working well with engineers means almost never hearing ‘No way am I able to implement that. Design something else!’. To avoid hearing such sentence, designers must be as inclusive as possible and involve engineers early on both for receiving feedback on the concept and for understanding possible technical constraints that might exist in the proposed solution. Ultimately, it is all about communicating the process and ideas to engineers to reduce misalignment. In such dynamic, engineers are not only “receivers”, but also active “givers” as contributors to the design process as they add unique technical expertise to it. Additionally, by encouraging and promoting their participation early on, engineers get invested in the project and excited about building it.
Being able to work well and collaboratively with other designers is equally important. Even though this is true for every company that has a design team, it is particularly vital for companies where the “Decentralized and Embedded” or the “Centralized Partnership” models, as detailed in the Literature Review, are implemented. In that context, product teams are running independently, which means that designers within such teams must be aligned, especially in terms of the company’s design language (e.g. “Design System”) and goals. Furthermore, the design team needs to ideally have regular “activities” not only to keep the team synchronized, but also to improve the way designers collaborate within the team, which culminates to designers helping one another to more effectively solve problems.
Milo Peter (2018), a designer at the award-winning digital design agency Hinderling Volkart, detailed in a Medium post how their design team is managed from a team culture and collaboration perspective. Basically, their design team has a few planned activities (with varying frequency), as explained below:
- Daily Exchange via Slack: designers share any sort of inspiration, tool or general advice in a specified Slack channel.
- Weekly Design Exchange: a short show and tell gathering to talk about current projects or challenges one is working on. It lasts for 30 minutes every Wednesday before lunch and designers move from workstation to workstation to look at work-in-progress files on the screen.
- Weekly Design Update: at the end of each week, designers get reminded to post their latest design outcome to a specified Slack channel. They simply set up a Slack reminder, and every designer is supposed to submit their latest exported PNGs.
- Monthly Design Forum: it is held every couple of weeks over an extended lunch. It usually lasts for two to three hours. This is when members of the team present some of their expertise, learnings from projects and general design or team related topics get discussed.
- Yearly Design Trip: once a year the design team goes on a fun and inspirational design trip. These trips are dedicated to having a deeper exchange about experiences and challenges in projects, the sharpening of their vision or simply having a good time together.
- Frequent Design Team Events: smaller design team events to collectively visit exhibitions, talks or have fun together.
4.2 Using the Double Diamond to understand and narrow down the original research questions as well as to test hypotheses derived from the process
As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, this project has been guided by the Double Diamond, a design process framework that consists of four phases, which are divided in “divergent” (two phases) and “convergent” (two phases):
- Discover (DIVERGENT PHASE): focuses on exploring insights into the problem. The designer (or design team) dives deep into research (primary and secondary) and, from it, extracts as much data as possible without any sort of prioritization.
- Define (CONVERGENT PHASE): after the “Discover” phase is concluded, the designer is left with a considerable pile of unstructured, raw data. It is on this phase that the designer synthesizes all bits of information obtained during the research phase.
- Develop (DIVERGENT PHASE): in this phase, the designer works on potential solutions or concepts. One could argue that the “Develop” phase is key to the success of any given project since the value proposition is usually defined at this stage.
- Deliver (CONVERGENT PHASE): this last phase narrows down all ideas and concepts. The strongest ones will move forward, being prototyped, subjected to regular user testing sessions and refined (iterated on) whereas the weak ones are dropped. Dan Nessler (2016) argues that on this phase one should “aim for MVPs — minimum viable products/prototypes, that offer enough tangibility to find out whether they solve the initial problem or answers the initial question.”
Problem definition is the most critical step in the design process. On this subject, the research questions were defined early on as well as challenged as the project evolved over time. In order to explore the topic at hand, this author applied primary (field) and secondary (desk) research methods.
Exploring the problem through research, as opposed to rushing to a solution, was the goal of the “Discover” phase. It is important to note, however, that finding a solution to a problem is not a linear experience and even though research is mainly done on the initial stages of the design process, it is commonly present in all phases of the project as the researcher will generally refer back to it multiple times. The goal is to make sure that the researcher does not deviate from the project’s purpose, which is to answer their research questions, validating — or not — the hypotheses/assumptions that arise from them. From a practical perspective in regard to (primary) research, the +Acumen Workshop (2014) states that “human-centered design is built upon deeply empathetic research”, which can be understood as “spending quality time with people to gain insight about and inspiration from the people you are designing for”.
Desk — secondary — research has been conducted in order to support this author to more thoroughly comprehend the subjects related to the research questions. Various sources, from online publications to books to peer-reviewed articles, have been critically analyzed and the main findings have been highlighted in the Literature Review of the present work.
Field — primary — research, on the other hand, has been conducted in order to collect insights from industry experts. Additionally, primary research has been used to better understand the context in which design teams are built and organized in the companies that the interviewees work for. As mentioned in the Introduction of this thesis, five people were interviewed in-depth and even though having a discussion guide was important, every interview was different, as one can expect. Therefore, this author was aware of the need to adapt to each interviewee pace and personal characteristics as the interviews evolved. At its essence, interviewing people is about building empathy, challenging your own biases and being able to lead the session as if you were having a cup of tea with a friend. Or, as Dan Nessler (2018) has put it, the secret to conducting a good user interview is not interviewing, but having a conversation. In a similar fashion, Travers (2013) argues that “the best interviews find their own flow, and your questions need to go with it”.
Out of the five interviews, four happened via Skype and one was in-person. As a personal reflection, this author learned that even though technology has considerably evolved over the past few years, in-person interviews can be more productive/effective as it is easier to generate a more empathetic connection with the interviewee (same context, same experience, no distractions).
The approach used by this author to get started with the interviews was to usually give an overview of the research’s goals and then ask interviewees to either briefly talk about their careers or describe their current roles and how their companies were structured from a team point of view (e.g. “are there multiple product teams in the company?”, “how many people each team has?”, “is there a design team in your company?”). As mentioned above, every interview is different, but this author tried to keep the conversation focused on understanding the importance of design for each company as well as how design teams operated within their organizations (activities, culture, tools used, collaboration principles, etc) and the challenges faced by the companies/design managers. In parallel, the interviews were used as a “validation touchpoint” in regard to the Literature Review, meaning that connections between what interviewees said and what has been learned through secondary research were drawn. Highlighting these connections, therefore, allowed this author to further challenge his initial research questions.
In general, the interviews confirmed and supported the Literature Review. In regard to how fast-growing companies are structuring their product and design teams, for instance, interviewees had similar opinions on and experience with it. However, as highlighted in the Literature Review, there is no “right or wrong way” of doing it. Christian Hertlein (2018), Head of Design at n26, described the company’s approach to design as follows: “Design needs to be integrated into different product teams to ensure that all three components (business, technology and design) are considered in the process. We have several product verticals and different product teams in those verticals and product designers are embedded into those teams.” Similarly, Jessica Chen (2018), Head of Product at Earnin, told this author that the “company is organized in autonomous pods and these pods are responsible for specific components of the product. There is a pod responsible for new user onboarding. There is a pod for the core cash-out experience, for risk, for the backend bank connection. (…) Each team has all the functions and resources it needs to move its goals. In order to do this, each team has its own product manager, designer, mobile and backend developers, etc.” Using a different approach due to the nature and context of the business, Dan Nessler (2018), Head of UX at Hinderling Volkart, explained that the company, which is a digital design agency, and therefore more of a service provider, has a more traditional team setup. It is composed of around ten people, from user experience researchers to visual designers, in a single creative team, which works together with external clients.
From a team building/development perspective, Nessler (2018) shared: “we do team canvas for our projects and during the course of projects we do feedback and reflection sessions both within our team and with clients.” Going further, Hertlein (2018) said that the design team at n26 has a document that details its purpose (mindset, values, etc), the team’s design journey (principles, collaboration, etc) as well as how the team is structured, what are the roles, etc. He argued that “the document is very helpful because you have this one place where everybody can go to, but that also serves for onboarding purposes.” And added that the document, from a team development perspective, also establishes that “every six months there is a 360-degree feedback sessions and based on that we define the goals for the employees. (…) We also have 1-to-1’s on a very regular basis to understand what is going on both on a personal and professional level.” Although all interviewees stressed out the importance of team building/development, Porfirio López (2018), Co-founder at Serious Business, stood out in that matter. During our in-person interview, he shared details on how seriously he and his co-founders take this topic. Before starting the company — or even knowing what the company would do — they went to a cabin outside of Stockholm to spend time together. He mentioned that they were dancing, cooking dinner together, having feedback, reflecting, setting expectations, sharing stories from their pasts and only after that they started thinking about their business model and what they wanted to do as a company. As he puts it, “at first, we did not have the why or the what, but the who” (López, 2018).
Regarding team activities, Nessler (2018) explained that the company and the design team have multiple activities. “When we start the week, we do a kick-off meeting with the entire company. The management provides an update (standup-style) of the previous week and an outlook of the upcoming week. We have an inspirational bit, which is held by a designer by the team. We do a weekly energizer. We have design kick-offs, which is kind of a weekly standup meeting. We do daily updates via Slack. (…) We have a design forum. (…) We have a yearly design trip.” Hertlein (2018) said that they also start the week with a design standup, which in words is “a quick round where people talk about what they are going to work on in the upcoming week”. Furthermore, Hertlein shared that they have what they call as “drumbeats”, one for brand, one for research and one for product. On the product drumbeat, they train designers for design critiques, for instance. And on Friday they do a retrospective to share what the team has achieved and learned in the week. Additionally, they also rate the mood of the team, which is tracked on a mood curve.”
Team and cross-team collaboration was also a topic that arose during the interviews. Arthur Castro (2018), Product Lead at Yellow, emphasized the importance of learning how to work with different people. He mentioned that it is not only about creating design specs and handing them over to engineers, but also about making sure they understand why they are doing what they are doing as well as organizing the workflow between designers, engineers and product managers. On that subject, Hertlein (2018) says that n26 works in an agile mode and that designers are fully integrated into scrum activities. Furthermore, he says that “at the same time, what designers also do is working ahead of the engineering team, which means that it is reflected on the general process, but obviously it is not like the whole team is moving on the same direction (…) there are different speeds inside of the team. We also have design open hours, which allows people from other departments to join us, ask questions and work together with us”.
In terms of challenges, even though all interviewees shared thoughts from different perspectives, Jessica Chen (2018) summarized what is commonly referred to as the biggest challenge for fast-growing companies: “Hiring. One of the things that I have noticed in my time in trying to hire the right person for a role is that (a) you can make compromises, but at the same time (b) there just are not that many people who fit the role. So the process takes a long time, we have to have a lot of patience, talk to a lot of people”.
More than making sense of unstructured data, the “Define” phase is used to organize, manipulate, prune and filter such data into a cohesive structure for information building (Kolko, 2007). Ultimately, the goal is to challenge and narrow down the research questions in light of the combined findings from primary and secondary research.
With such a goal in mind, the insights and quotes from the interview were clustered into five main topics:
- Team structure;
- Team building/development;
- Team activities;
- (Cross) team collaboration;
- Main challenges.
By synthesizing the clustered research findings, it was possible to generate the following insights:
- Building and structuring a design team should not be a top-down initiative. It is rather a collaborative process that ideally involves all team members.
- Every design team is different. Processes, activities, and challenges can be similar, but each team has its own way of operating and, ultimately, of creating value for its customers.
- Building trust among team members is essential to nurturing a supportive, productive and healthy work environment.
- Well-structured and planned out regular activities keep team members engaged and aware of what is being designed throughout the organization (by promoting and encouraging transparency and accountability).
- Effective (cross) team collaboration is key to innovate and to ensure transparency across departments.
- Hiring is one of the main challenges: how does a (fast-growing) company attract and retain talents? Once hired, how are these talents onboarded as in more smoothly incorporated to the team’s routine (activities, tools that the team uses, collaboration principles, goals, mission, values, etc).
The original, broader research questions were then narrowed down and converged to a single question, which was more aligned with the primary and secondary research findings. The new “How Might We” question was focused on helping design teams make sure their foundations are collaboratively set, their values, principles and mindset are transparent and properly communicated, and that every team member — both on an individual and team level — is accountable for, and part of, the team’s successes and failures:
“How might we support design teams to create a unique and transparent collective identity?
In light of this Industry Research Project, this author has been blessed with the opportunity of working as a Product Designer at Personio, a fast-growing Human Resources Management & Recruiting startup based in Munich, Germany. Personio is a company that illustrates the case presented in this Master’s thesis as its founders were first — and successfully — focused on achieving product-market fit and more recently started shifting the organization towards a more design-driven approach/model. On this subject, Personio started building its design team not long ago and, currently, there are four Product Designers, one UX Researchers and a Director of Design in the company.
Under the leadership of the Director of Design, Personio has been establishing the foundations of its design team. This context, therefore, has been of utmost importance for this author as a number of ideas were able to be generated through observation and practical experience as a member of the above mentioned as design team. The current state of Personio’s design team allows for not only generating potential ideas to answer the narrowed down “How Might We” question, but also for continuously — and iteratively — testing and refining them throughout the next months in collaboration with team members and other colleagues.
Based on both the findings of the primary and secondary research and practical work experience in the context of a fast-growing company building and scaling its design team, this author was able to create two hypotheses:
- Hypothesis one: creating a “team charter”, preferably early on, helps both the design leadership and other designers on the team not only to understand what is expected from them in the workplace, but also to provide transparency towards the team’s mission and purpose.
- Hypothesis two: team development activities are key to the effectiveness and long-term success of a design team.
From an ideation perspective, which is a process for groups to work creatively and collaboratively to generate creative ideas (HI Toolbox, n.d.), this author explored two main methods/tools: (i) Negative Brainstorming and (ii) Crazy 8’s. “Negative Brainstorming” was used as a way of thinking about the worst possible scenarios for Personio’s design team (e.g. disrespectful and arrogant attitudes within the team, individualism, lack of a structured feedback process), which were then “flipped” from worst-case scenarios to ideal ones, allowing the team to thrive. Crazy 8’s, which is a fast sketching exercise that challenges people to sketch 8 ideas in 8 minutes (Google, n.d.), was used to generate simple ideas that could potentially be part of the main idea. Finally, the combination of field and desk research, observation and practical work experience and ideation methods/tools allowed this author to generate the idea for a (Design) Team Canvas.
Once potential solutions — set of ideas — have been generated, it is time to evaluate the winning one and the way it needs to be implemented or executed (Nessler, 2016). That said, the idea for a “team charter” stood out. Such charter was then represented as what this author conceptualized as a “(Design) Team Canvas”, an adaptation of the “Team Canvas”, which is a strategic framework that helps team members to kick off projects and align on common vision. Following a similar approach, the (Design) Team Canvas is a tool that helps (design) teams to define their values, principles and mindset, or more generally their “shared sense of purpose”.
The Canvas can — and should — be used in multiple scenarios (different use cases), as exemplified below:
- When the team is being formed and it is crucial that its foundations are set.
- When the team does not have an open, clear and easy-to-digest document with collaboratively defined values, principles and mindset.
- When new members join the team and its foundations (“shared sense of purpose”) need to be communicated with transparency. At the same time and somewhat correlated to (iv), when new members join, it is also an opportunity to quickly revisit the Canvas as things might have changed since the last time it was iterated on.
- As the team grows and matures, it might need to adapt or adjust, for instance, its goals, activities and tools, so having planned sessions to revisit it periodically (e.g. every quarter) is recommended.
How to use the (Design) Team Canvas?
The (Design) Team Canvas is first and foremost a collaborative tool/exercise. Therefore, it should not be used with a top-down approach, which means that every team member needs to voice their thoughts, opinions and concerns. Similarly to the original “Team Canvas”, encourage people to write their answers on post-its and talk about them with the team. However, make sure that whatever ends up in the Canvas after each discussion (“block”) is the product of a consensus.
The duration of the session can vary depending on the stage, use case and size of the team, so anything between one hour and half day is acceptable (e.g. when forming a team the session can take a lot longer than when revisiting an existing Canvas). What is important, though, is that every discussion is time-boxed, so that people do not lose focus.
Exploring the Canvas
- Team Statement: What is the team mission? What is it bound to? (e.g. We’re not here just to make it pretty or easy to use. Through empathy, we ensure meaning and utility. With craft, we elicit understanding and desire. We wrangle the complexity of our offering to deliver a clear, coherent, and satisfying experience from start to finish).
- Roles: What are the roles that exist within the team? Who is responsible for what? (e.g. “Product Designer”, responsible for refining the product, making it simple and applying to it new and appealing user experiences, “User Experience Researcher”, responsible for conducting independent research on multiple aspects of products and experiences).
- Purpose: Why are we doing what we are doing in the first place? What is the reason for the team’s existence? (e.g. make a product that people love).
- Activities: Which are the regular activities that the team does together? Such activities can be work-related or not (e.g. design critiques, daily standups, quarterly team event, feedback sessions, team reflection session, etc.).
- Personal & Professional Development: What do we need/want/plan to do, individually and/or as a team, to grow personally and professionally? (e.g. give more actionable feedback, learn to code).
- Values & Principles: What guides our team? What do we stand for? What is the essence of our team? What are the expected human behaviors within the team? What do we believe in? (e.g. trust, transparency, learning from failures, respect, creativity).
- Goals: What do we want to achieve as a team? What are our common objectives? (e.g. improve our product’s conversion rate by 5%, be recognized as the best design team in town).
- Every Day Tools: Which tools do we use to do our jobs? (e.g. Sketch, Slack, Framer, Marvel, Abstract).
- Strengths (soft, hard skills): What makes us stronger as a team? Which soft and hard skills the individuals of the team possess? What are we good at, individually and as a team? (e.g. collaboration, prototyping, user research, empathy building).
- Weaknesses (soft, hard skills): What makes us weaker as a team? Which soft and hard skills the individuals of the team lack? What are we bad at, individually and as a team? (e.g. lack of structured communication, no one can code).
- Career Path (progression): What does the career path look like in your team/company? What are the different roles within the design team, the different levels of seniority and the paths to get there? (e.g. this could take the form of a “timeline” with the different roles/positions and what is expected for each one of them).
Testing the Canvas
Even though this author is still analyzing how to effectively test (and iterate on) the canvas on a real-world context — within Personio’s design team — the (Design) Team Canvas was submitted to and discussed with a number of designers working across multiple industries and with different levels of seniority.
Designers’ first impressions
Henrik Hagedorn (2018), a Product Designer at n26, mentioned that what he liked best about the Canvas is that “the team setup is turned into a collaborative process that gets the whole design team involved. It is not just top-down from the design lead. That is great because it makes everyone reflect on their role and the wider mechanics of the team”. Similarly, Christian Hertlein (2018) said it is great for an initial setup. Thales Macedo (2018), Co-founder at Serious Business, mentioned that he found the Canvas interesting and that he would like to use it as an experiment in a project with clients and said that “it captures everything a team needs to keep everyone in the same page”. Renato Schneeberger (2018), a UX Designer based in Switzerland, said that what stood out the most to him was that “if a new member joins the team, you have the chance to rework it. I would even make it a rule, such as ‘every new member has to add something or reduce something’.”
Dan Nessler (2018) thinks that relevant points that have not been addressed in the original Team Canvas have been brought up by this author’s prototype in the regular team canvas. Karina Solari (2018), a UX Researcher based in Peru, expressed that her first reaction was that is was similar to the original Team Canvas, but that it looked like more thorough.
At a first glance, Amir Ferhatbegoic (2018), a UX Designer at UBS, argued that he found it a bit difficult to understand what would be the starting point of the Canvas as there are too many sections, which can be daunting. AJ Huxtable-Lee (2018), an Experience Designer based in the United Kingdom, made a related comment: “too much information is thrown at you at once. It needs to be shorter and more straightforward”.
Things to consider and improve
Nessler (2018) mentioned that even though he likes the ‘every day tools’ section, this author should be more specific in regard to what these tools could be and added that “design tools are one aspect of it, but communication tools could be another one.” Hagedorn (2018) agreed with Nessler in that regard as he said he was confused by what exactly ‘everyday tools’ was referring to — as in whether that section was related to design tools, such as Sketch, or process tools, such as Kanban or Google Design Sprints. On a different note, he mentioned that in his opinion “the canvas should not only be looking at the design team itself, but also at how designers interact with other disciplines or teams, such as engineering”.
Huxtable-Lee (2018) suggested clarifying the ‘Career path’ section. “I’m not entirely sure I would feel comfortable telling the whole team what my ambitions are. (…) It might also put bosses off from wanting to use it, as it could put pressure on them in a ‘public’ way to ensure they follow through on career progression plans.” Nessler (2018) said that “it could be helpful to sometimes distinguish between personal and team related topics such as the ‘career path’ section. If I were to apply this canvas for a project team I wouldn’t really be sure how to answer this one.” Similarly, Hertlein (2018) argued that the ‘career path’ section was not clear to him inside of the Canvas: “from a user perspective it will require a broader understanding, which could be done in a separate framework” and, on a different note, added that he would also work on “a way to involve the team members to manage expectations. It would be great to get a reality check and enable the teams to participate more”.
Macedo (2018) provided insightful comments regarding the overall applicability of the Canvas from the spectrum of this author’s narrowed down “How Might We” question by sharing that “for some of the questions (mission, purpose, values & principles), I think it’s really hard to create unique statements that really differentiate companies and its teams. Those are some questions that we tackle with our clients and there’s a tendency to have people coming up with the same values and mission statements that they won’t remember after a while. I would try to tweak these 3 sections with leading questions that force people to get more unique answers. Mostly trying to extract what is it that makes team X different from every other team?”.
Iterating on the Canvas
Based on the feedback mentioned above, this author iterated on the (Design) Team Canvas to make it more actionable and less confusing. Furthermore, the new Canvas iteration is more focused on helping teams to build unique identities by making the Canvas more straightforward. In addition to the feedback provided by testers, this author has also explored another framework, called “Purpose, Way & Impact” (Laqueur, 2017), which argues that mission, vision and values are dead/outdated. Laqueur (2017) uses a rocket metaphor to explain the framework as a three-stage process:
The new version of the (Design) Team Canvas, therefore, has incorporated the “Purpose, Way & Impact” framework — ignoring the rocket metaphor though — as a way of bringing more clarity to how teams (should) operate and define their identities while eliminating/reducing confusion around some of the previously proposed structure.
What is different?
On the second version, four sections were removed: “Team Statement (Mission)”, “Values & Principles”, “Personal & Professional Development”, “Career Path (Progression)”. However, there are three new ones: “The Team’s Way”, “The Team’s Impact” and “Team Members’ Expectations”. Additionally, the “Everyday tools” section was split into two: “Design Tools” and “Other Tools”.
“Team Statement (Mission)” was replaced by “Team’s Purpose” since both were overlapping on the first version. “Values & Principles” was replaced by “The Team’s Way” and “The Team’s Impact”, which are more straightforward and less vague. “The Team’s Way”, therefore, should be a statement that highlights selected ideas and behaviors that will guide the team’s decisions and operations. In other words, it is the unique way in which the team is making change happen. “The Team’s Impact” is the ultimate effect the team will have on the lives of others when it fulfills its purpose (Laqueur, 2017). The “Team Members’ Expectations” section refers to what Christian Hertlein (2018) mentioned about managing expectations in a manner that allows for a “reality check”, which enables team members to be more inclusive and participative. By expressing their expectations and consequently how they hope their team can support them, they are better prepared to achieve better results in the workplace.
“Personal & Professional Development” was removed due to the fact that it overlapped with “Strengths” and “Weaknesses”. In a way, when a team acknowledges its strong and weak areas its members are making public that they should be reinforced or improved. As for the “Career Path” section, the decision to remove it was based not on the fact that it is not important, but on the realization that a career path within a design team is not a collaborative process per se. In this case, it is more a matter of the structure a company wants to have, which does not mean that employees should not be heard in that regard; it is simply an organizational decision that, anyhow, should still be made transparent, but more from a human resources management perspective.
Finally, even though testers agreed that the “Everyday tools” section was needed, it could be more clear. Therefore, as mentioned above, it was split into two sections, the first (“Design tools”) is focused on the tools designers use to work from a technical point of view (e.g. Sketch, Framer, Abstract) and the second (“Other tools”) is more generic, as in tools that are not technically bound, but are still software-based (e.g. Slack, Jira, Dropbox).
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: firstname.lastname@example.org :)