This article includes key takeaways from Malthe Sigurdsson’s talk on how to scale design. Check out the full video on Youtube or get the…
6 key best practices
Best practice #1: Meetings are… useful!
Meetings are an incredibly useful tool for two main reasons. First, for getting work done — that’s the idea behind any meeting (or it should be). And second, for forming a bond between members — the first step of building a team. Malthe’s team start the week with a kick off to review work in progress, milestones, and upcoming launches. Malthe also set up design reviews to allow team members to share their work and explain their progress. Occasionally the team participate in design critiques, dedicating 30 minutes to an in-depth review of a single piece of work. Lastly, Malthe also holds regular one-on-one meetings with the team — and encourages them to do so between teammates as well.
Best practice #2: Make your processes predictable
Creating a simple process that guides your interactions with other teams — and sticking to it — can go a long way in smoothing cross-functional collaboration. As companies grow, it becomes important to effectively communicate how to work with your team and what to expect from them. For a growing amount of projects, your team will be interacting with new recruits that are discovering how to work with your team — making well-documented processes all the more valuable.
Note: Malthe advises hiring a producer early on. The functions of this creative project manager are both to allocate resources to ongoing projects as well as to stay on top of new projects in the company. This allows them to identify projects that could use the design team as well as to act as a filter for those that shouldn’t be.
Best practice #3: Let the team help run the team
One of the key best practices that Malthe introduced to the design function at Stripe, was to get their input on how the team should operate — whether it be soliciting their thoughts on team structure and recruitment, or discussing how best to run creative reviews and communicate design processes to the rest of the company. These “onsite-offsites”, as Malthe likes to call them, allow all members of team to have a voice and to craft processes that reflect their preferred ways of working together.
Note: For larger projects, Malthe suggests setting up virtual groups within the team. Dedicated to topics such as tools, design principles, onboarding new designers, these groups are run by a person on the team and call on different teammates to work together on defining processes and implementing them.
Best practice #4: Do yearly retrospectives
Malthe is a strong advocate for offsites. He recommends taking advantage of these team moments to turn back the clock on major projects delivered by the team during the past year and going through a few simple questions: what worked well? Why? What didn’t? Why? From there, the team can build up a list of what they should keep doing, what they should start doing, and what they should stop doing in the upcoming year.
Best practice #5: Build a recruiting machine
As the company scales, you’ll be doing A LOT more recruiting. To be more efficient, Malthe recommends mapping out the entire process: templating emails, listing interview questions for each stage, developing standardized rubrics to define what “good” looks like , and crafting a process optimized for swift and fair decision-making. The best way to create this recruiting machine, you guessed it: with the team.
Note: Malthe recommends splitting tasks between a dedicated recruiter and a member (or more) of the design team. The recruiter will act as the candidate’s point of contact and be in charge of selling them the company, the vision, and dealing with finance/admin questions. The member(s) of the design team will, on their end, explain what it’s like working on the team and assess the candidate’s skills for the role.
Best practice #6: Focus on career development
For Malthe, this is the single most difficult thing to do right in a design team. But it’s worth considering because designers that are learning new skills do better work and stay longer at the company. This also boosts your employer brand and makes it easier to hire top talent for your team.
Note: To make sure that these opportunities are available to all members of your team, it’s important to keep a low ratio of team members to managers. On this point, Malthe recommends that a single manager oversee no more than 8 people (designers and/or managers).
3 key mindsets
Mindset #1: Create a culture of sharing
Design is a team sport. Malthe advocates setting up processes that allow the team to trust each other, be vulnerable, request feedback, and ask for help. He also stresses the importance of sharing work within the design team and with the rest of the company at large. To do so, Malthe encourages his team to upload all of their work on a Pinterest-style board (called Wake) that anyone can view. He also prints out the team’s work and pins it on a wall in the office to let everyone check out the design team’s latest projects.
Mindset #2: Organize the team the way that feels right
There is no single way to setup a design team. Possible organizations range from creating an independent design studio within the company to embedding the design function within each department in the company (product, marketing, etc.) Malthe settled for a hybrid solution: creating a studio team that acts as an entry point and triage center for all design projects as well as a set of dedicated teams whose members each work on a single project, participating in meetings with those teams while spending most of their time with the design team. As stated in Mindset #1: design is a team sport. In a scaling environment, the risk of losing a common design language is high with an “embedded” model.
Mindset #3: Don’t forget about the work
Not everything is about processes, hiring, and org charts. It’s also about the work that is being produced by the team. Don’t let organization-frenzy get the better of you and your team’s output — use it instead to lay the foundation to comfortably grow your team up to 100 designers and more. Last but not least: don’t scale if you don’t absolutely need to. It’s simply not worth going through if it can be avoided!
About Malthe Sigurdsson:
Malthe leads design at Stripe, a technology company that builds economic infrastructure for the internet. In short, his team optimizes how all Stripe products look and feel. Prior to Stripe, Malthe directed creative teams at brands including Skype and Rdio. He has 20+ years of experience in strategic brand building and product development, and in managing teams focused on user experience, interaction and creative design around the world. Follow Malthe on Twitter.