How UX Works with Product Teams at Lucid

One of the first questions I hear from candidates who apply to Lucid is, “How are your teams structured?” While every organization structures teams differently, I wanted to share what has worked (and what hasn’t) at Lucid.

Benefits of sitting together as a UX team

The first member of the UX team, Matt, was hired at Lucid in 2014. As the team grew, each designer pulled up a chair and a plastic IKEA desk next to Matt. Soon, six designers (including myself) sat together in the western wing of our office. Because we sat together, we could see each other’s screens. We frequently shared and reviewed each other’s work. We chatted about our weekends. We spontaneously went to lunch.

Designers weren’t actually working toward the same goals, however. Each of us worked with a different scrum team (more on that later), and each was assigned to work on different features and products. Designers weren’t able to communicate with the team as quickly and efficiently as Product Management and QA, who sat next to engineers. As UX was continually challenged to move faster and solve more complicated problems, frequent communication with other members of a scrum team became a high priority.

We needed those benefits and eventually (in summer of 2017) we proposed moving to sit embedded within scrum teams too. But how could we maintain our team culture? How could we continue to critique over each other’s shoulders, talk about our weekends, and support each other as designers?

Maintaining design culture as a distributed team

Fast forward to 2018. Designers sit in a bullpen with other cross-functional team members. Communication about customers, projects, and business needs happen naturally. Frequent, impromptu whiteboard sessions help the team innovate as ideas flow freely. Teams are firing on all cylinders.

Now that designers no longer sit together, however, we make extra effort to stick together as a team. We’ve tried many different ideas and activities that have varied over time depending on the size of our team and how busy our workload is, including:

  • Daily or weekly design stand-ups
  • Monthly design syncs
  • Frequent team lunches and activities
  • Slack channels devoted to different team topics (critique, hiring, random)
  • Attending industry events together
  • Readings books and blogs for team discussion

A distributed design team has to exert a more planned, calculated effort to keep the team unified and inspired. Keeping the team in close contact has several benefits beyond friendship and movie suggestions, however: the team begins to develop a unified visual style, implements and maintains the design system more effectively, more efficiently collaborates on similar projects, and supports and sympathizes with each other during challenging projects.

The benefits of a distributed, integrated UX team are obvious, however. At Lucid, we’re committed to helping designers be as successful as possible on their scrum teams while also having meaningful interactions with the other designers on the team.

How scrum teams are organized

Scrum teams are the lifeblood of product and engineering at Lucid. Each scrum team is organized around a central theme, feature, or goal, and then given the autonomy and power to go accomplish that goal. For example, at the time of writing some of our teams include: Data Viz (making cool visualizations from data), Sales Persona (solving the needs of a Sales team within Lucidchart), and Integrations (making Lucidchart a contender in top ecosystems).

Each scrum team has all the people and skills necessary to accomplish their goal, as seen in this diagram.

While the team collaborates heavily with other departments (Product Marketing, Sales, Customer Success, Customer Support, etc) these individuals are empowered to do everything they can to improve the experiences under their ownership. Likewise, a UX designer has access to all the resources and people they need to be successful.

How UX works with Product Managers

A UX designer arguably works more closely with their Product Manager (PM) than with anyone else in the company. With an overlap in skill set, a UX designer and PM are in touch through almost every phase of a project. While Product Managers own the roadmap and the backlog, they plan and maintain those with the input and feedback from a UX designer. Designers use their specializations in user research and UI design to design high impact additions and improvements to the project, balanced with user feedback and business needs.

Most UX/PM communication at Lucid happens at the whiteboard level. As the designer moves forward ideating, iterating, and creating final designs, they check in with their Product Manager along the way to maintain alignment and scope. These discussions are frequent and spontaneous between Slack, in-person, emails, and scheduled meetings. A typical design process looks something like this:

The usual project timeline is a couple of weeks (not including research and discovery efforts). As projects start and finish, UX designers usually work closely with PMs to review analytics reports and A/B test outcomes.

The best UX/PM pairs have a give-and-take relationship. They rely on each other for feedback but know when to push for what’s most important.

How UX works with Engineers

UX designers at Lucid work to bring engineers along every step of the design process. Engineers help a designer scope the size of a project with an early kickoff, and then continue to give technical feedback about realistic implementation details. While not present at all user interviews and usability tests, they’re always invited and designers work to share transcripts and user insights across the team.

Designers export their designs to Zeplin for to handoff UI specs. While these are mainly used for size, color, and placement, designers also hand off a “Bill of Materials” prescribing which components from the design system should be used in the implementation.

Some designers get creative beyond the UI and add lines and annotations to describe flows and logic (seen below). As designers explore new ways to convey their ideas and collaborate with engineering, they share those ideas in our monthly design sync. This usually results in designers borrowing each other ideas and finding new ways to hand off their work.

Engineers and designers work together more formally during key check-in points in our 2 weeks sprints. These check-ins include Sprint Planning, Estimation, and Sprint Review.

When engineers near the end of development, they call a UX designer over to their desk for a “pair test.” The UX designer and engineer compare the functional product to the mock ups and let the UX designer test it out. Usually quick CSS changes and improvements are made on the fly before the code is ever submitted to quality assurance (QA).

By working together, designers and engineers are empowered to create high-quality solutions together. Designers begin to develop empathy for issues like technical debt, code quality, and backwards compatibility. Engineers support ideas like customer research, delight, and visual consistency. The design and engineering teams form a strong, interconnected relationship throughout the product development process.

How UX works with QA

Quality Assurance (QA) specialists can be some of the strongest advocates for good design. They rigorously test every piece of the product before it’s released each week. When appropriately dialed into a project, they can help identify edge cases and pitfalls. They’re also a great resource for usability feedback. It’s not surprising that someone who spends several hours every week clicking through your designs may discover points of pain and confusion.

The closer a QA specialist is to a project, the more they can defend design. I’ve even seen QA members on my team with the browser console open inspecting HEX codes, margin, spacing, and font sizes. Working closely with QA is often the secret sauce to maintaining high quality design within a product.

How UX works with managers and mentors

All UX designers and interns work with a manager or mentor within the UX team. This allows for frequent and constant discussion about workload, career advancement, and team involvement. Look for future posts posts about internships and management roles at Lucid.

UX design is well supported at Lucid. Every team at Lucid wants a UX designer, and the UX team is regarded as experts on customer research and UI design. Designers have a strong influence on the roadmap and strategy as they stay close to their PM and to customers.

Any designer that works at Lucid develops a strong portfolio of features with high customer impact. They’ll work frequently with cross-functional teams and designers alike. They’ll be familiar with A/B testing and analytics, customer research and usability testing, and creating highly-used interfaces with a robust design system.

(This is a post from the UX design team at Lucid. We make collaborative visualization and brand templating tools: Lucidchart and Lucidpress, and we’re currently hiring designers!)