How Can Joytunes Have 7 Heads of Design?

The key is in our unique culture, which values empowerment and ownership over hierarchy.

Danielle Ratzabi
Aug 24, 2021 · 5 min read
Image: Shutterstock. An instruction coming from the department head such as “Here’s the Wireframe, prettify it” may ring a bell. Here we do things differently.

A year and a half ago I joined JoyTunes as a senior designer, and I could immediately see that things work differently around here.

As a designer, I am used to traditional organizations where there’s a design department, a marketing department, etc, with rigid hierarchies that go top to bottom. The lower you are in this structure, the less context you have, keeping most designers as executors.

An instruction coming from the department head such as “Here’s the Wireframe, prettify it” may ring a bell. Here we do things differently. Our work culture is all about ownership, zero hierarchy, and a “whatever it takes” mentality, making each of us the head of our profession.

Let me explain.

How does it work?

First, a bit about us. JoyTunes is a music learning start-up building the “Netflix of music learning and playing”, bringing music to homes around the world as we reshape the way families spend their active time together. Millions of families around the world are already bonding over their time playing music together.

The company is divided into small teams which we call “pods”. Every pod has a defined business goal and the relevant professions to carry out its missions accordingly.

When I first joined JoyTunes, I was assigned to a pod focusing on a shared playing experience, allowing family members to play together with different instruments. Apart from myself, our pod included a product manager, two developers, a data scientist, and a marketer. Other pods may have entirely different professions, according to their specific goals.

In our pod system, we preserve the way a very small start-up works. We’re a small team that has full context and autonomy working towards a common goal. We see ourselves as co-builders of the product, in every respect, sharing the responsibilities of both the successes and the failures.

This high degree of ownership encourages us to work fast and be creative problem solvers. We avoid unnecessary processes and we don’t waste time answering to a chain of command.
Unlike hierarchical organizations, at JoyTunes, it’s up to us to not only identify the challenges but to also find the answers ourselves.

So in fact, when every pod is a start-up, it makes all of us designers the “head of design” in each of our pods. And every member of my pod is the “head” of their profession. As a team, each of us has to use our “superpowers” to make it work. So yeah, we’re like the Avengers (only without the dumb outfits).

What does it mean to be Head of design in a pod?

As the designer in a pod, I am solely responsible for our design missions and executions, and that’s no small task. My responsibilities span from research and ideation to design and implementation throughout the entire product lifecycle. No one “approves” my designs or tells me what to do. Each of us has full ownership in our field, giving us a TON of freedom and every opportunity to shine.
Sounds magical, right? Well, as 27 different Spiderman movies have told me again and again: “With great power, comes great responsibility”.

When my pod and I were faced with the challenges of shared playing, we had to create our own roadmap to success. I, for instance, initiated and conducted user interviews, studied our quantitative data, and learned its metrics. After a joint exploration period in which each member conducted their own research, we eventually came up with a solid plan to execute together.

This amount of ownership can be a lot. Even though we get the full support of the whole company no matter what we decide to do, we are always aware that every choice we make has a direct impact on every aspect, not only on the product we’re working on but on JoyTunes itself.

So when I say “head of design”, I’m talking about an independent team player who is capable of seeing the big picture but can remain focused on the bottom line, all while being completely hands-on in every respect.

You’re probably asking yourself, do designers work with other designers? (We all work on the same products after all…)

Great question, give yourself a high-five!

Working in different pods, separated from one another can be a challenge. We want to make sure we’re aligned, communicating our decisions, maintaining the same visual style while improving as individuals and as a design force in the company. That’s why we have…. (Imagine me performing a dramatic drum roll….) The Design guild!

We have weekly gatherings in which we share our sprintly efforts, case studies, our day-to-day challenges, and we even throw a “plug-in party” once in a while! (I’m referring to a meeting where we swap useful plug-ins we found. Yeah, it’s the geekiest party ever).

Being in the loop and familiar with each other’s work allows us to pick each others’ brains and ask for feedback more often and easily. It helps us learn from each other’s strengths and knowledge, make mutual decisions, and most of all, it gives us a safe space to share our insecurities. After all, we are designers, and therefore we are constantly crippled by the bottomless pit of self-doubt we all share.

On a final note… (Music pun intended)

Usually when we say “Head of design” we imagine a hierarchical system of a boss and his team of subordinates. At JoyTunes we reject that premise.
Our special working culture which revolves around small task forces, a flat hierarchy, and an impact-driven attitude is what makes it all possible.

As a designer in a pod, you’re functioning as the head of your mission. You have the full context, responsibility, and autonomy to achieve your goal in whatever way you and your team see fit.

Our responsibility as designers at JoyTunes is huge. Every decision we make impacts millions of learners around the world and if we decide to do something, no one will tell us otherwise, so we have to be extremely focused and constantly aware.

Personally, knowing that I have JoyTunes’ full trust and support makes me want to prove them right by being the best I could possibly be and build the best products possible. You see, when my job is passionate about me, it makes me so much more passionate about my job!

Wanna work in the pod next to me? We’re looking for talented senior product designers to join our fast-growing team. Apply here

JoyTunes

Sharing some inner workings from JoyTunes' journey to…

JoyTunes

Sharing some inner workings from JoyTunes' journey to create the biggest music learning service: iOS & Android development, deep learning, machine learning infrastructure, subscription dynamics, startup culture and more

Danielle Ratzabi

Written by

Senior Product Designer @ JoyTunes

JoyTunes

Sharing some inner workings from JoyTunes' journey to create the biggest music learning service: iOS & Android development, deep learning, machine learning infrastructure, subscription dynamics, startup culture and more