Scaling a Design Team and Culture

Guilherme Neumann
Mar 18, 2019 · 5 min read

Collaboration defines what our team does and how we work. We have a group of good listeners ready to learn, co-create and have fun doing what they love.

Recently, several startups and design teams have reached out to talk about how to create a design culture with strong teams. We have been trying to build a great team since Nubank started, but this is an evolving challenge to which we certainly don’t have all the answers. What we do is try and do the best we can. If you’re starting from scratch or joining a company with an existing culture, the best way to chart a new direction is to begin by understanding your context and constraints as a design discipline — by researching your team and company. Thankfully, when your company values design and great experiences, like here at Nubank, building a great design culture is a little less complicated. But scaling one is still very challenging.

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Nubank HQ — co-creation space

Overall, there is nothing particularly different about Nubank’s design team: we want to retain the very best performers, give great critiques, share assertive and constructive feedback, and build a psychologically safe and trusting environment. These are all daily and exciting challenges. That being said, we are doing a few not so obvious things to reinforce our culture of collaboration and high performance, and we are happy to share what has worked for us so far.

Understand and develop our mission as a team

More than just a group of designers at a company, a Design Team should share the same vision. At Nubank we started by defining a clear vision and our core principles as a team that helps define how people are going to experience our products.

We have also reinforced our culture via the work we do, how we share it and where we do it: from a strong visual identity to fostering a sense of togetherness, to this blog to share our learnings, to our dedicated design space for weekly gatherings where we align and strengthen our vision: we want to build a great experience for Nubank designers in the same way we build it for our customers.

Knowing each other makes us work better as a group

When our team was still small but growing from 7 to around 11 designers (the team today has more than 25 people), we realized that knowing more about each other helped a lot when it came to having a great and efficient team. So we decided to create some rituals to build this personal connection.

With activities like design dinners (hosted by someone from the team), informal rooftop syncs (with music, drinks, and conversations), and a Monday morning meeting where people share random creative topics replacing a formal (and sometimes boring) status update meeting, we’ve reached a level where people know each other’s interests, hobbies, weaknesses, ambitions… It is surprising what will often come out of these informal gatherings: sometimes people discuss project issues more deeply, better understand constraints, and build stronger plans than in a regular structured meeting.

We believe the primary challenge here is to make sure you are building the right activity, with the right content and audience, for your team and context, to keep people engaged and seeing value on being together.

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Movie session, drinks workshop, ceramic workshop

Hiring with efficiency, not in a hurry

Hiring is probably one of the trickiest parts when growing a Design Team (and an entire company). Having the team involved sufficiently, creating a transparent process, and providing an experience for candidates that are as good as the one we build for users, has helped us become faster and more successful on hiring. We talk with prospective designers almost every week and deal with our internal needs as a team to avoid making any hiring decision based only on deadlines or roadmaps.

We look for people who love what they do; we look for commitment and great thinking, not only for craft skills. We value great listeners and humbleness. We also try to be aware of our biases: it is easy to connect with people that have the same profile we do — and this is a danger. After all, cultural fit is essential, but cultural addition that allows diversity and inclusion is even more relevant for a strong team.

Understand the impact of your work

Balancing functional and team needs in a fast-growing environment is a considerable challenge. When the company’s goals and priorities are clear, it is important to reinforce design’s role and our broader impact on the business. When designers talk about the impact of their work and not only about the design work itself, they showcase the real value of what they are building.

The Design chapter is accountable for making sure the experience is consistent across every product, from mobile applications to communication efforts, and on understanding for whom we will build our products. Creating an effective Design System, from UI Components to Brand Assets, and a clear understanding of our customer journeys becomes a priority to make sure we are building the right thing.

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An outdated team picture (we are bigger now)

We are still working hard on a well-defined Design system, on having better UX metrics, on a clear and improved Design Leveling, and a strong Design Leadership group. But if we can provide advice for those with small design teams is don’t get overly concerned with the size of your team, create a great culture that people want to be a part of, having the most amazing people working together and building meaningful things — having fun doing what they love –, this will spark a great design culture.

Designing Nubank

Design culture, technology, process, people, and learnings.

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