Driving Quality and Consistency at Scale

Ken Skistimas
Dec 17, 2019 · 4 min read
Illustration: Ximena Cuenca

This post is part of an ongoing series about design at scale. Read “Doing Design at Scale” by Lucinda Burtt, “Modern Design Tools” by Daniel Eden and “Creating Stable Design Systems at Scale” by Sean Blanton.

I’ve designed user experiences for business and enterprise software for most of my career, including at big brands like Salesforce and GE Digital. Yet when Facebook approached me in early 2018 about helping to design and build its ad and business tools, I was surprised.

Like most people, I associated Facebook design with products like the newsfeed and Instagram. But over the past year, I’ve discovered that the expansive suite of tools that support ads and business products presents a tremendously exciting opportunity to tackle some hearty and intriguing design problems at an immense scale.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs, designers and makers. We all enjoy finding creative and clever solutions to hard problems. It also happens that several of my family members own small businesses that rely on Facebook ads to drive awareness and promotions. In designing for Facebook’s ads and business tools, I’m in my element. I understand the value of a well-crafted mechanism that gets the job done efficiently — and I appreciate how important our tools are for growing businesses.

The challenge and responsibility of building software that millions of people depend on for their livelihoods really speaks to me.

Consistent answers to complex questions

We focus on designing and building elements that are shared among at least a dozen Facebook ad and business tools. This includes designing the look and feel, as well as the functionality, of thousands of individual components, such as buttons, input elements and data visualizations. It means creating and sharing best practices among not just products and processes, but also subproducts and subprocesses.

Illustration: Facebook’s IPB4B Team

Systematic change at scale

Achieving our goals of improved consistency, upleveling the craft and boosting the overall quality of our products would be challenging at any big company, and it is certainly true at a global company like Facebook.

But along the way, the experiences across the tools started to diverge and become inconsistent: This workflow changed; that feature merged with another. Just as often, pieces and parts were teased apart as industry standards evolved.

We realized that the people who advertise on Facebook faced potential confusion and decreased efficiency. Actions people were used to taking weren’t in the same place from tool to tool, or the same task had a different workflow.

Achieving our goals of improved consistency, upleveling the craft and boosting the overall quality of our products would be challenging at any big company, and it is certainly true at a global company like Facebook.

First, Facebook is a company that prides itself on always shipping. It can be quite difficult to get multiple teams to stop what they’re working on and align around a consistent treatment of a similar workflow or interaction pattern.

Second, we always keep at the top of our minds those 7 million advertisers I mentioned. As you might imagine, such a large number of people means we have to support a wide variety of use cases, from small businesses in rural areas to Madison Avenue advertising agencies that support hundreds of blue-chip clients.

Beyond that, most users come to the consumer-facing Facebook on their mobile devices. However, a majority of our business customers are on desktop or laptop computers. And they do dramatically different things in comparison: Instead of consuming videos or large, colorful status updates, they’re typically inputting data or studying charts.

Only after each design is thoroughly validated do we implement changes to the full suite of business products.

Finally, it would be impractical, not to mention incredibly disruptive, to do a sweeping update to all of our products at once. Instead, we prioritize updates that encompass the most common tasks and workflows. This gives us early feedback that tells us what’s working and what needs further refinement. Only after each design is thoroughly validated do we implement changes to the full suite of business products.

Improvement by design

Ultimately, our goal is to provide a better, more predictable experience for advertisers while increasing their efficiency by making our products more consistent. The process is time-consuming, but we know that it pays to be careful and deliberate when you’re working with tools that people depend on for their living. As a coworker of mine often says, good design is good business.

Facebook Design: Business Tools

Stories from like-minded product designers, UX researchers…

Facebook Design: Business Tools

Stories from like-minded product designers, user experience researchers, and content designers who are passionate about improving the world through the creation of well-crafted business tools.

Ken Skistimas

Written by

Product Design @ Facebook

Facebook Design: Business Tools

Stories from like-minded product designers, user experience researchers, and content designers who are passionate about improving the world through the creation of well-crafted business tools.