Design cohesion for varying team sensibilities

Mark Huser
Trade Me Blog
Published in
3 min readJan 24, 2018


We’re Dave & Mark: part of a team that’s been building the new-look Trade Me. Welcome to part 2 of an 8 part series where we break down how we’ve been doing this from a product designer’s perspective.

Trade Me does a lot. For millions of people in billions of ways.

Let’s look at how Trade Me’s internal structure works and how we bring our design teams together to best serve our members.

Our structure

Trade Me is split into 4 main business areas to serve their distinct challenges: Marketplace (new and used goods), Property, Jobs, and Motors. Supporting those 4, there’s also a wealth of underlying and supplementary business units and functional areas. This is not a new structure: TaMedia, Unilever and the BBC all divide themselves into core business areas to target the needs of their respectively unique users.

How we work

We work in an agile environment using scrum and kanban processes. Each business area has a number of squads working towards project outcomes to improve the lives of Trade Me’s members. Our design team is integrated in these squads, working tightly with Developers, Testers, Business Analysts, etc. This is what good design in agile looks like at Trade Me:

Product areas in Trade Me: containing one or more squads with one or more Designers, Developers, Testers, Business Analysts.

This deserves further writing, perhaps another post, but in short: Trade Me embeds design in every squad, aligning user needs with business goals and fostering better collaboration between product, design, dev, test and business analyst roles. This is an effective structure for the day to day process of agile within these business areas, but what about cross-project or cross-squad work? How do we ensure design cohesion throughout the organisation?

Our part in the process

Dave and I are in the Central Design team. We look after those aspects of Trade Me that apply to the entire business such as the homepage and ‘My Trade Me’ (the manage-the-things-I’m-selling-and-buying area). We also oversee brand, type, colour, and style consistency from a traditional design perspective. We’re fortunate to have a phenomenal living style guide in place to assist us in managing and implementing this consistency, and communicating it throughout the company (you’ll hear more about the evolution of Tangram in Part 3).

What matters is that our designers, our developers, our testers, our everybodys are spread throughout various areas of the business focused on improving pieces of Trade Me that make their areas great. They are the experts in these areas. But how can we effectively leverage this expertise to create one cohesive experience for Trade Me members? And what other things might we need to take into account? There are no end to tools, but one stood out in particular…

Seeing the whole and its parts

Kim Goodwin spoke about how to adapt design to various organisational sensibilities at Webstock 2017: how to assert yourself and best influence the matrix of organisational stature (pictured below) as a UX designer. Trade Me identified as a Clan; our central design team works best with the greater Trade Me, when heavily consulting on projects, bringing as many people together as possible, acknowledging input and in the end feeding back any and all design decisions made.

Matrix of Organisational Stature

But there’s an ‘And’. Throughout Trade Me each business area, team, squad, and even project has its own unique subculture. In the same way that our business areas identify their core users with personas, this matrix is helpful in assessing the structure and sensibilities of a team or project before we begin the actual work. As central facilitators or proponents of a project, we can best approach design problems by figuring out where that project or team may fit in this matrix.

Treat your internal project teams like your users.

Identify their needs, and how they operate. How do they think? How can you best resonate with their goals and methods of getting good work done?

Once you’ve got those fundamentals in place, you can effectively work together to design a cohesive experience in a way that, in turn, best serves your users.