Every six months or so, our design team settles into the Austin Central Library for a themed campfire to get us thinking about where we’ve been and where we’re going. They are often great for bonding, vulnerability, and historically, a good way to get aligned internally.
Following a period of transition at Creative Director, designer Stephanie and I wanted to use our campfire to better grasp the team’s disposition before we began interviewing director candidates. It was important we understood our collective values and goals, so we could all move forward in the same direction.
First, we had to define ourselves
Everyone came to the oasis-themed campfire with their test results from 16personalities, a free, twelve-minute assessment based on two prominent psychological models — the Myers-Briggs acronym format and the Big Five personality traits. Our results plotted each of us on a spectrum from Introverted to Extraverted (Mind), Observant to Intuitive (Energy), Thinking to Feeling (Nature), Judging to Prospecting (Tactics), and Assertive to Turbulent (Identity), though you can read much, much more about the theory here.
We found ourselves in a strategic position to begin growing our design team this year, but we knew we would need to build our boat before we sailed it overseas (as our founder would say). We needed to start by acknowledging our team’s strengths and weaknesses, so we could not only communicate more effectively, but better understand the best path forward and the types of candidates that could help us get there.
We spent time drafting island-themed interpretations of our 16personalities results to share with the team — after all, we’re visual thinkers. While our team’s approach to this activity varied from more photographic renderings of themselves in spaces to pirate-like sanctuary maps, we found out that — to no one’s surprise — we’re a bunch of introverts with feelings. ✨
Little ego, big heart
We had a lot of overlap in our small team: two Advocates, two Defenders, a Mediator, and a Logician. We had assumed there would be, but if the name of the game was better understanding each other, we needed to see how these came to life.
Stephanie conducted what we called our Cardinal Directions activity. We posed two phrases at a time and everyone plotted themselves on a scale of agreement. For example, a lighthearted prompt had our team place themselves on a scale from 0px rounded corners to 15px rounded corners, whereas our more vulnerable axes plotted us from I support others with hard work to I support others by providing acceptance. The goal was to put our personal processes and emotions out for others to see and start a conversation about our individual and shared perspectives. We came to some interesting conclusions: for example, while Senior Designer Laura and Stephanie were almost identical in personality type, their answers more often opposed one another.
Adding up our results, all together
In addition to learning about our individual traits, we took some time to synthesize and understand our collective results.
- As a team, we’re really good at relating to and valuing one other. We spend a lot of time collaborating closely, critiquing work, Slacking articles about color systems, and eating family style at Pluckers.
- We work hard. We’re an agency. We’re here because we like a challenge and a fast pace. Our team syncs our shortcut keys to be the same across Keynote, Sketch, and Figma and we’re quick to share plugins that will improve our workflow and help maintain that precious work-life balance.
- We reflect frequently. We value our campfires, sprint review start-stop-continue exercises, and project retrospectives. It’s not only about our process and outcomes, but about our emotions.
- When it comes down to solving the nitty gritty, we may need the space and time to think it out. Think: project ramp-ups and discovery phases, detailed meeting invites, heads-down time, and stress sensitivity.
- We want to dot our i’s and cross our t’s, but we can’t do it without proper communication. We like clear deliverables, requirements, and problem statements when possible.
- We want to leverage and grow from past projects, using processes, outcomes, research, and the team’s individual experiences. When we’re looking for design candidates, we’re always keen to understand their processes and tool belts.
- As a team, we want to feel free to find our own approaches and refine our ideas —having the autonomy to explore with the ability to collaborate frequently gets to the best work.
- We need to accommodate our individual needs to find the most success in our team. This means feedback, personal career growth, and team recognition. We love that our Program Director, Lani, starts each Monday with props for the team.
- Good work takes time, and we only want to be doing good work. We will work hard to stick to deadlines and follow through on promises.
- We have feelings, too! We learned we can be sensitive to personal criticism and conflict, so we try our best to both give and receive feedback gracefully and with each other’s best interest in mind. Though we always push ourselves to be constructive and honest with each other, we’re also sure to give our teammates congratulations when they’ve done a great job.
Long story short: we’re constant improvers and dedicated to our craft — taking time to make sure pixels are round and users are accounted for. Our collective team disposition lands us anywhere between Mediator and Advocate.
Defining our areas for growth
A Creative Director ✨
(We’re hiring!) We recently ran a workshop to help identify the qualities of our dream director to better define our interview process. Alongside the more obvious desires for product experience and career development, we found we were seeking someone who would be a team advocate across disciplines and projects, would find ways to bring other team members into our process, and could push experimentation and new ways of thinking, among others. We wanted our future Creative Director to be democratic, empathetic, inclusive, and challenge us to iterate and dig deeper, while giving us the freedom to explore and fail along the way. All this to say, while we’re leaning a little Personal (see Fig. B), we see value in actively working toward that Strategic perspective.
Like I said, we’re a team of introverts. Many of us were forced to take public speaking in school, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t challenging ourselves — SXSW talks, open critiques, and presentations are all in our repertoire. We always strive to be thought leaders and look for ways to push the boundaries.
We love the work we do, we’re just not the type to beat our chests and rally a crowd. We want everyone to be as jazzed about OH no Type Company or Figma as we are on the inside, so we hold Design Days and Figma Fridays to build company-wide excitement around our processes in a more comfortable space.
As much as we love honing our personal craft, we can admit sometimes that we make a precious design artifact out of something that could have been a quick email or rough sketch. We just love making things hot! We are always incorporating more fast-paced activities and concepts into our workflow to help pull us away from the need to always (key word: always) have everything pixel-perfect.
What’s to come
We presented these outcomes to our extended team to give better insight into how we can better support and understand each other. The strongest feedback we heard was the desire for more actionable ways the studio could improve communication knowing what we know now — what does stress sensitivity look like for us, and should we intervene when we can hear Taylor Swift’s 1989 album coming from your headphones, or let you ride out that wave how you know best?
Before the day was over, everyone at thirteen23 had voluntarily taken the same assessment and posted their results in Slack! In Part II, we’ll explore our company’s results as a whole and how we’ve leveraged this information to grow our team. Stay tuned…
Morgan Gerber is an ISFJ and Senior Designer at thirteen23, creating experiences, software, and products for clients such as Bose, Visa, HP, and Dell. After hours, you can commission her to paint a tiny portrait of your dog or ask her about the best carrot variety in Zone 8.