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Building a Design Organization

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A highly scaling start-up like Homeday has a growing demand for design competencies and headcount. When I joined the company, there was only a small team of 2 UX designers and one brand designer. I quickly found myself needing to hire additional talent to keep up with the workload and, subsequently requiring a structure to ensure sustainable growth of the design practice.

UX Spectrum

UX spectrum - many are focused on UI

The spectrum of UX design is vast. Many different tasks and skills go into making a great UX designer, so much so that only a very senior designer can cover the whole field. At the beginning of my work with Homeday, our UX designers, whom all had a background in visual design, had more strength in the delivery aspects of the UX field. While this isn’t uncommon for smaller design practices, we needed to widen the team’s capabilities to enable our product squads to deliver more customer focussed solutions. I decided to give each squad a dedicated testing budget and worked with each designer individually to broaden their skill set. Instead of jumping right into research, they could gradually grow into skills that built on what they were already comfortable with.

Building A Team

building a design team

Homedays began its journey with a distributed setup for design. All designers would formally report to the CMO, who wasn’t a designer by trade and had the entire marketing efforts to account for. Unfortunately, UX designers and visual designers, who worked mainly with marketing, had little to no touchpoints, and neither side knew what the other was working on or how they were setting standards. As a result, Homday neglected the growth of design as a practice and diminished its impact. To close the gap between marketing and product design, I introduced joined design critique sessions, team meetings, and team events. By bringing the two sides of design closer together, both personally and in work practices, all designers could learn from each other and communicate the requirements of their respective areas, making Homedays’ design more consistent across all channels.

Dedicated UX Research

turning into a cohesive leadership unit

Despite our best efforts, handling the entire UX spectrum would be too much for a single designer in a product squad in our complex business model and customer field. We needed to expand the team to ensure we would understand customers and their needs sufficiently. I considered adding a second designer to the team and splitting up the roles of UX and UI but concluded that our practice wasn’t yet mature enough. Adding another designer to the squad at this stage would have put the growth of the established designers at risk and included the danger of introducing an internal hierarchy in the squads. In addition, I wanted to ensure that UX research would not be compromised by stakeholder or product management requests and was able to build reach beyond the design organization. And so, I set up a separate UX research unit staffed with three researchers to set up research operations, support the product squads and run its own research projects to facilitate learning about our customers across all Homeday departments. The team quickly found its footing and was able to build a research database and contribute to the company strategy within the first six months.

United Leadership

Venn diagram product, UX and engineering

While a single people manager can manage a small team efficiently, a headcount above eight calls for split leadership. With more strategic responsibility due to my promotion to director and our success in becoming more customer focussed, I installed dedicated leadership positions for UX research and UX design. Together we formed the design leadership team, joining forces both in the professional development of our team members and the design practice at large. All team leads reported to me as their people manager.

Growing demands by brand and marketing called for an expansion of visual design capacity. Still, the two visual designers who worked almost solely for internal stakeholders reported directly to me as the Director of Design & UX. It was a stretch to my focus, just as it had been for the CMO. And with an increase in workload visual designers were steadily being pushed to produce quickly. This led to frustration; they felt they could contribute more and that it held their growth back. By making a case for consistent design and joined learning, I convinced leadership that the expansion capacity should sit within the design organization. I was able to recruit a very experience creative director from a marketing agency to join us as the team leader of the creative studio. This new unit that took on all aspects of visual communication, internal and external, also holds dedicated ownership over the Homedays’ visual identity.

The new team leader of the creative studio joined the design leadership team helping us guide all aspects of design with comprehensive measures.

Dedicated Ownership

dedicated ownership visual identity and design patterns

With the design system in zeroheight and our visual identity, we had two connected systems that defined how Homeday looks and feels. As the owner of the visual identity, the creative studio needs to continuously develop our brand communication's visual aspects. At the same time, UX builds and owns the design patterns used in our products. Bringing both parts together is essential for consistency. Thus, both teams partner in developing and upkeep our design guidelines in a joined zeroheight instance.