Chapter 5 of “Designing a Design Team”
As shown throughout this project, design is at the core of innovation. As companies prove their product-market fit and start to grow fast, design plays a central role in defining what are the next steps and how the future of the company could look like. Therefore, companies can no longer afford to not include design as a strategic internal discipline. And as they embrace design, they realize it contains so much more potential than just making software easier to use. The challenge for designers, in that sense, is to embrace this window of opportunity, and to establish themselves as core to business (Skinner and Merholz, 2016).
Such a window of opportunity is what paves the way to fully integrating design to existing product development processes. Naturally, it does not come without its challenges, but thoughtful design leaders leverage the constraints and learn how to navigate them. At the end of the day, the goal is to make sure that the so-called valuable creative spark is always there, regardless of the difficulties (of varied nature) that the design team might encounter on its journey.
As a competency, design has been proven to be more than mere problem-solving. It is sine qua non to innovating, especially in times where companies are facing new competition at a faster pace than ever. And even though building a design team is arguably a complex task, it is one that it is worth it. On that subject, this project demonstrated that there is no right or wrong regarding building and scaling a design team. Although there are a few (organizational) models that could be used as a basis to do so, as introduced by this author, ultimately every company has a different approach to it. What matters the most, in that sense, is acknowledging that design is essential to a healthy business and getting started on transforming an ordinary company into a design-driven company.
This project has also explored ways of supporting design teams to unleash their full potential by providing them with a tool/framework that aims to allow them to create unique identities. Supported by the feedback of experienced design professionals, this author believes that the proposed (Design) Team Canvas has the potential to help mindful design teams to differentiate themselves from other teams. Having that said, the goal is to encourage a more collaborative approach to team formation as well as to its on-going development, by regularly referring back to the Canvas as the team matures.
5.1 Future actions
As previously mentioned, this researcher intends to continue testing, iterating and refining the (Design) Team Canvas, following the classic “feedback loop” mantra. As an immediate next step, the prototype will be brought into the discussions inside this author’s workplace as the timing for such a tool is ideal — Personio’s design team has grown from 2 to 5 designers in a couple of months and it is time the team set its foundations.
Additionally, in the following months, this author will design and code a fully fledged website where users will be able to download the (Design) Team Canvas as, initially, a PDF. However, the idea is not only to provide a copy of the Canvas to those interested in testing it, but also to explain how it works and the reasoning and motivations behind its application. Depending on the outcome of that experiment, an interactive version of the Canvas (e.g. virtual board with drag-and-drop post-its) could also be developed.
The project has provided me with valuable learnings and insights. As a member of a nascent design team in a fast-growing company, I was able to identify patterns — and problems — that occur in such a professional context and correlate them with what the theoretical literature outlines and delves into. As a result, I am more aware and mindful of my role and potential impact within Personio’s design team, other than just designing screens. Furthermore, by examining multiple organizational models in which design teams can be inserted, it gave me the confidence to challenge the status quo to recommend — in the near future — that our team experiment with different approaches to team formation and team development, which will ideally lead to a stronger and more solid culture overtime.
From a research perspective, I feel that the Literature Review was fundamental to helping me to have a better grasp of the main concepts around my project. Considering that the topic at hand focused not only on understanding what a design team is — and what makes it effective — but also on narrowing it down it to the context of fast-growing companies, primary research was also of utmost importance. In other words, it was not enough to explore design teams in isolation; it was needed to consider the context in which they are inserted. Therefore, interviewing seasoned design professionals demonstrated to be an invaluable source of both knowledge and inspiration. Reflecting on the value of the interviews to the outcome of the project, I realized that I should have interviewed even more design professionals as I am certain that every interview would have added something different since design teams vary considerably from one another.
From a design process perspective, I believe that following the Double Diamond was adequate. By initially opening up (diverging) as much as possible, I was able to delve into different aspects of a design team. By narrowing down (converging), I was able to regain focus and prototype a tool that has been proven valuable at an industry level. However, as a designer I feel that I could have better documented the process, which allows to more effectively illustrate the journey from start to finish. Moving forward, I will be more thoughtful about it as the process is as important as the outcome, if not more so.
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 :)