A designer’s recipe for blueberry pie
Once a creative, always a baker.
One of the many amazing things I have learned at Zendesk is a recipe for blueberry pie. It’s scrumptious, easy to bake, doesn’t take too long and everyone loves the result. And the best part is that all of your colleagues can share a slice.
Now replace blueberry pie with small design fixes; modest improvements to your UX and UI to maintain a consistent brand experience. At Zendesk, we call them blueberries because they are low-maintenance fruits that pack a ton of zest. Just like design improvements.
So yes, this is a recipe for blueberry pie. The design team I work with has tried and tested this recipe for a year now, and we are stoked to share it with the world. Take this recipe, add your own special sauce, and share a slice with your colleagues.
Ready to crumble? Let’s dive in.
Step 1: Gather all the ingredients
Every good baker knows that preparation is key. Collect all the ingredients beforehand and keep them cold and near.
Our design team follows this analogy dearly. We regularly gather blueberries that we think are great ingredients for a flavourful experience in the long run. They can be inconsistent parts of our UI, functionalities that don’t use our design system, copy that needs to be refreshed, or workflows that need updating. They are small fixes with high design value that foster a unified brand experience.
We collect and store our blueberries in Miro’s pantry, a collaborative tool. It’s important to know the source of your ingredients as they can influence the taste and freshness of your pie. We categorize our blueberries based on four possible sources: Design initiated berries, leftovers from previous launches, research insights, and bugs.
Sources allow us to prioritize them better.
Step 2: Prepare the bottom crust
A good pie is all about the crust. And what makes a great crust? Butter, really good butter.
Knowing this is going to give your pie the heavenly foundation it needs. We evaluate our blueberries with a similar intention in mind. We ask if they are going to serve our product well and help in laying the groundwork for future projects. To do that, we look at the sources of all our ideas and prioritize them based on desirability and impact.
And just as the size and thickness of the crust are integral to the pie, our blueberries can retain their identity only if they are small and relatively easy to fix. Larger ideas may need to be tackled differently.
Now that our crust of prioritized ideas is ready, let’s bake on.
Step 3: Make the pie filling
Sugar, spice, and everything nice. This step is the core of the pie and the crux of our process.
We put our pastry-making hands to work and design solutions for our prioritized ideas. The secret here is to not overfill your pie with juicy filling as they can run onto the floor of your oven and make your pie too moist. Our design team knows this too well, and we make sure our solutions are not too earnest that they overrun the realm of UX improvements. Ambitious ideas are great, but they may well become big feature releases. The all-purpose here is to whisk away at minor, manageable fixes consistently.
When our solutions are ready, we taste test them through an internal team review and iterate on feedback where needed. We keep this process short and sweet as part of our existing team routine.
Step 4: Assemble and add the top crust
As we build on the pie, we also build on knowledge. With our solutions oven-ready, we run a fortnightly intimate session with Engineering to gauge effort and address any technical constraints. To facilitate the discussion, we use Miro’s pantry where our ideas and solutions are stored.
These may be simple improvements, but we embrace collaboration at Zendesk and love working with our Engineering friends. We also know that Zoom fatigue is real and only expect an Engineering representative to participate in these sessions.
Over the last year, our design team has workshopped this recipe a few times to keep things crusty. We invite product managers to our sessions so they can chime in and provide feedback. We like to keep our process transparent and collaborative to ensure a fair bake and batter, I mean, better baking experiences for everyone involved.
As bakers, we assemble the top crust of the pie by laying dough strips parallel and perpendicular to each other. As designers, we cross-reference all the feedback and insights and lay the final touches to the design if needed.
Step 5: Bake the pie
The pie, now complete, goes into the oven at around 200 degrees celsius. How do you know your pie is done? When it’s around the one-hour mark, your crust is golden, and all the juices in the filling are bubbling.
Similarly, we drop our solutions as tickets into the engineering team’s oven, their JIRA backlog. These are rife with all the required information such as background and solution descriptions, mock-ups, and Figma links. Our awesome Engineers pick these up as per capacity in every sprint.
Our Design team monitors the progress of our pie, supports our engineers where needed, and rejoices when the crust turns golden.
Step 6: Enjoy a slice of pie
After the pie has cooled, we enjoy the fruits of our labor with a delicious slice. And then it’s back to step one as the next batch of pie baking begins.
Why do we love this recipe? It’s easy and requires only a fraction of your time every sprint. The icing on the top is that this recipe yields some great results:
- Little things make a big difference in the long run. Small consistent improvements over time can lead to impactful UX wins and greatly reduce UX debt.
Our Design and Engineering teams have completed over 60 valuable blueberries in a year that sweetened our product experience. That’s around two blueberries per sprint. Go, team!
- We get to work on leftovers from feature releases promptly. As our senior designer, David O’Sullivan says, “It opens up opportunities to de-scope big features as we know we can tackle the smaller ideas as blueberries”. And our lead designer, Fionna Yao likes that this ritual keeps us accountable when we make UX compromises in big projects.
- It improves collaboration between designers and engineers as we work together more closely to solve problems. Feedback from our technical connoisseurs is that they value working on bugs and welcome being apprised of upcoming projects through these sessions.
- These small but sweet blueberries are great ways to introduce new hires to Zendesk. As a company, we’re always onboarding awesome new movers and bakers, and UX fixes make for a perfect first project that’s fun but not daunting.
Now, you can see why we hold our blueberries near and dear to our design process. We know that no recipe is perfect, so we reflect on the quality of our blueberry pie and the baking process from time to time to understand what we knead to do better. We hope this got your creative juices flowing. Bon Appetit, creatives.
Thanks to my awesome bakers cum colleagues, Behnaz Rostami, David O’Sullivan, FionnaYao, John Eggleston, and Emma Strybosch for their insights and enthusiasm when I told them I’d like to turn our ritual into an article.