At Logixboard I was hired at the same time as the CTO and served as the completion of the product triumvirate of product, development and design. I was around the 10th person to be hired on the team and was familiar to the world of early-stage startups. I knew the work that I was doing would be integral to setting LXB up to scale in the coming months and years.
For most of my first year at Logixboard, I was doing IC work on the actual product and the product design work was heavy. I established the design system and made updates to logos, chose fonts and color palettes for the UI and the brand, started setting foundations for a brand platform, and generally moving fast with design with an eye on being able to scale all of it as well and set up the proper rationale not just for the tangible design philosophy but also for the intangibles for the culture of the team and the org at large.
The tangibles meant eventually having more robust design system and a design-led initiative to implement Storybook, Figma, and Chromatic to keep the component library and design systems in sync. And intangibles like values for the company.
In early stage design work, you tend to move much faster than your development counter-parts, with good reason, wireframes, mockups, prototypes—I spent a lot of time talking to customers and showing them ideas and iterating on that then working with development team to quickly build and get it in place. As the design work amassed I could create space between what we wanted to do and what we could plausibly do in our current sprint/cycle sessions. I worked closely with Head of Product to hone our process of diverging and converging on problems and solutions, then quickly turned to scaling the team.
- Interview Process: Started with mostly what I’d done before, but with the pandemic, things quickly changed about what you could and couldn’t do. Additionally, I really wanted to make ag great candidate experience so did a deep-dive into what worked and what didn’t for design (take-home assignments vs. white boarding vs. behavioral questioning). Philosophy around the way to hire really changed over the year and adapted to what the team could do well.
- Design Team Tenets: Empathy, curiosity, inclusivity, humility, and urgency
- Performance Profiles for Hiring: A hyper-specific job sheet to find out exactly what you’re looking for in a hire and the ability to look into the future to see exactly what it is you want from that hire in the next year. Helps to level-set—The way that I look at growing teams is typically, and the luxury of this is if you have time, to do the job that you’re looking to hire for so that you understand what the needs are. As the first design hire, you’re doing everything, so this is relatively easy, but as you get bigger, the specificity increases.
- Onboarding: After hiring, I wanted to make sure folks had everything they needed to succeed, and also to continue to take stock of what was going on in the company overall and how we could make improvements. There were some things that I couldn’t control (tool proliferation was hard), but setting context was most important, not just for product, but for ways of working overall. With that, I’d set a rough timeline and goal sets for new hires that lasted into their first 3 months, then after that got a better idea of what that hire was looking for career-wise (should have a notion of that at the beginning) and how to achieve those goals. Worked to document that in Culture Amp and really check in on it throughout the year to make sure they were getting traction on those goals.
- For example, one of my reports was a Brand Designer who’d never worked for another designer before—He was clearly talented and also clearly motivated, yet he never had the time to stop and think about how to move from tactical work to strategic work. One of his goals was to learn how to do that, so we set goals for him to 1) Learn more about brand work—This looked like reading and talking, bringing things to crits so that he could get feedback, and 2) Communicating brand to a larger audience. This culminated with him doing a presentation on a revamped brand platform deck to the entire company.
As the team grew, needs grew with regard to cohesion and communication. There were times where our designers were so heads-down on work and working directly with product and development that they didn’t get a lot of time to get feedback from other designers on their work. The team was so entrenched in their own areas of the product that silos began to form and it was apparent—The Design System could only do so much to keep it all together.
This meant increasing process enough to get people on the same page, so we started doing a few things. I’d looked at different models of setting up communication, especially with remote-first mentality and trying to remain asynchronous as possible at the same time as being able to have enough touchpoints to keep people in sync.
- Weekly Warm-up: Ran every Monday morning—See the agenda—the most important part about this was the weekly goals. Importance of this: setting a culture of goal-setting was important not just to keep everyone on the same page of what was going on, but also to normalize not reaching a goal every week. You want your weekly goals to be ambitious, and taking a guess at what you can get done every week sharpens your intuition as to what you can actually accomplish. Of course this also lets everyone feel human at the end of the week: “I didn’t get XYZ done because my kid got sick and I lost a day to that.”
- Weekly Wrap-up: Along with Weekly Goal reviews, once a month we had time to do something fun and celebrate a co-worker. We did this on a one year anniversary where we got everyone together to make mini-lava cakes.
- Play - Games 1/4
- Learn - Someone brings something 1/4
- Craft - Make something 1/4
- Discuss - Talk about something big, sometimes this would be concerns with ways of working, or culture, or whatnot
- Design Crits: The last thing I’ll mention is that we had Design grits. Something that we do every week, multiple times a week. Helps make everyone’s design better and also helps folks outside the design org get a glimpse into how we work and how we can better collaborate
The last thing that I’m going to cover here is about how I looked at nurturing growth for the team. Every 1:1 I had was concerned with either career progression, unblocking work, or collaboration issues. The latter was always the hardest to solve; I will get into that later. The first two were easier.
- 1:1s: every week, never cancel. Don’t be about status updates. Talk about things other than work. Build trust and rapport. Make folks feel seen, heard, and supported. Always stick up for your team. Give hard feedback when they need to hear it. Be direct. Even more direct than you think you are. These are things that I learned.
- Career Progression: End up building ladders for Product, Brand, and User Research Positions, and it help set the direction with which everyone needed to go. It was a useful not just for the folks in those positions, but especially for others to understand what is going on with the position and what to expect. This is especially helpful when folks haven’t worked with dedicated product designers or user researchers.
Product Design Initiatives were something I wish I’d focused more on. At LXB people became very fixated on what it looks like, and that to a certain extent became what people thought design did, even from a product side. I had to figure out a way to get more collaboration and understanding that the real value was within design thinking and strategic work the designers do. This is important not just for the growth of the company but also growth of the individual designers—They were always looking for more ways to contribute, and putting them on a production treadmill was not the way forward and was unsustainable. Saying No!
What to do about brand/marketing collaboration? Get brand in on conversations early. Build more rapport with those marketing teams. Check-ins and 1:1s with team leads is essential for communication, but even more so with people you don’t frequently work with. I tend to cancel meetings that I don’t have an agenda for, which is probably the right thing, but rather than cancel, it’s probably better to over-communicate things that aren’t going as you expected, and there is usually always something that is being left unsaid. Rather than let it fester, keep the meeting and keep giving feedback about what you think could go better so that you can continually hone the processes. This doesn’t happen enough across marketing/design. This last part is most important, because as a company that is largely driven by sales and marketing orgs, there is no seat at the table unless you invite yourself; especially with regard to these aspects of the company.
User Research Framework: Same lessons—As above, growth was mostly focused inwards, and Planning, Recruitment and execution of Research Interviews (See different types of research levels below)
- Data Collection (Conducting Interviews)
- Data Analysis (Coding interviews)
- Insight Communication
- Informing Strategic Direction