Over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some awesome startups. Companies ranging in size from 5 to 300. Each one had their own take on the way they would build and define themselves. But one thing they all had in common was their ability to center the company culture around product and design. From this, I’ve learned many valuable takeaways and lessons for how to create a design driven culture.
Why Design Driven Culture is Important
Every company has a ton of projects happening in parallel. With so much going on, it’s important to regularly take a step back and focus the team on your core mission. Having a design driven culture is vital for companies of all shapes and sizes because being in sync with your purpose will help prioritize design and product decisions.
Creating a space for interdisciplinary teams to meet and understand the problems they are solving is a key part of the design process. Create a culture that allows everyone to be open and voice their opinion. This ‘friction’ creates an engine for teams to deliver amazing products.
While it is critical to create an open forum for opinions, it’s also important to embrace a culture of quality driven critiques. This helps shape constructive feedback that can be put into action. Here are a few guidelines I go by to give an effective critique:
Be honest with your feedback. This will solidify an open feedback culture during critiques. With that being said, try to steer away from feedback like “that sucks” or “I like it,” but instead use thoughtful words such as ‘that’s an interesting approach’ or “I’m not sure that will work with our current system.”
Back it up
If you’re giving feedback, make sure you’re able to back it up and give a reason for what you’re saying. Saying you like something is one thing, but being able to justify your reaction is much more actionable.
Stay focussed on the goals you have set for your team and project. Make sure the feedback you’re giving is directly related to what your team is trying to accomplish.
Focus on problems first, then solutions
It might be tempting at first to jump to a solution. Instead, focus on the problems that you see. These problems will eventually turn into solutions when you keep asking yourself ‘why.’
Suggestions, not demands
Even the littlest bit of advice can sometimes sound like a demand to a designer. Be thoughtful about how you approach suggestions. State why your suggestion could work. This will create a fluid back and forth collaboration.
Affirm what’s working
This might seem like an obvious one but it’s greatly overlooked. Too many times designers get feedback about what’s not working and not what is working. This often leads to changes or omissions in the second design iteration and during the next feedback loop everyone asks “What happened to x? I liked that.” Make sure you let the designer know what’s working and why it’s working.
Consistency is Key
It’s not easy to maintain a consistent look and tone across all product and brand materials as a company grows. While it seems daunting at first, if you stay on point it will make everyone’s life much easier in the long run. For example, the marketing team won’t have to rely on design teams to create display ads and the sales team can create presentations and collateral. Have a set of brand guidelines, even if it’s as basic as colors and fonts, that is easily accessible to the team.
Embracing the opportunities and constraints of rapid product development is what builds an open design culture. It’s easy to believe that having any kind of constraint will limit your creativity, but this isn’t the case. Your creativity needs a focus, which is found by setting limits. Restricting yourself and giving yourself goals will set a clear focus on and increase productivity across the whole team.
Build a central system to capture internal and external feedback along every step of the way. This will improve the product experience of customers and employees by allowing everyone to be open and honest.