Creating an environment where design thrives

These are some of the principles that I think foster a healthy environment where design can be both efficient and enjoyable. This is based on my experience as a product designer collaborating across departments, as someone leading small teams and as someone who has had the good fortune to report to some great managers.

Let them solve problems

Most designers enjoy coming up with the solution, not just designing it. That means getting them involved early on by telling them…

  • what problem we’re trying to solve
  • who we’re trying to solve it for
  • what the desired outcome is

…and then let them come up with possible solutions.

Set them up for success

There is a minimum level of preparation that needs to occur before somebody can focus on the fun part of actually designing. You can set your designer up for success by encouraging them to have a checklist of requirements in place before they start designing. It might look something like this:

  • The ‘Opportunity Assessment’ or problem statement mentioned above.
  • A product/feature specification.
  • A date for the first feedback session.
  • A point person (or various people) in the organisation that they can count on if they have questions about the requirements.
  • Latest version of any relevant assets or content.

Design should be fun

Design can’t always be fun, there are parts of an application that some people just don’t feel inspired by, but design should definitely be fun some of the time. Find out if your designers have any particular skills they want to learn or parts of the application they want to redesign and try and schedule time for it.

Regular one-on-ones

One-on-ones are a great way to gauge how somebody is feeling generally about life at work and can help you catch potential issues early. Set up a repeating event and stick to it. It’s temping to say things like “we chatted recently and I think you’re all set, we can skip this week’s check-in”. If you don’t have much to say to each other that’s fine, you can just end the meeting early.

Get good at giving feedback

Be honest but not brutal and learn to separate subjective from objective feedback. Help your colleagues in other departments get better at giving design feedback as well.

Designers need to talk to customers

Are your designers getting to talk to customers or is it a shuttered process where feedback is getting passed down by client managers and product managers? Learning to conduct user testing sessions and soliciting realtime feedback is an invaluable skill for designers to acquire, make sure they’re getting that opportunity.

More articles…