How to Scale Your UX Design Process — Without Sacrificing Creative

Adam Calica
January 7, 2020
Updated: May 28, 2020
Adam Calica
January 7, 2020
Updated: May 28, 2020

When tasked with creating products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users, UX designers must consider usability and function, as well as design and branding. And the only way to check all those boxes is by getting as much input as possible from team members across the business.

“We ensure that our creative team remains truly cross-functional,” said Creative Director Daniel Braha of Colorado's Sovrn. “Designers, content strategists and marketers are involved in all of our projects.”

 This practice, Braha said, ensures a plentitude of fresh perspectives and enables the design team to iterate quickly. We spoke with Braha and eight other design leaders who shared tips for scaling their UX process while staying true to their creative vision. 

Advice For Scaling Your UX Design Process

  • Prioritize your hiring process, stack your team with great designers
  • Include other teams in ideation sessions
  • Keep a constant flow of communication and collaboration
  • Shift processes when it's needed, what works right now may not work a year from now
  • Always perform a final UX quality check
Conversant team working in their office
Conversant

Conversant

Conversant’s UX Director Molly Deutmeyer said her team at the digital media provider is comprised of a number of specialists with varied skill sets. Deutmeyer shared how each of their individual contributions within the design process increases the team’s overall productivity.

 

What processes or tools were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process?

At the core of our process is the understanding that a good user experience is comprised of more than just good UX design; that’s why our UX team is stacked equally with dedicated UX designers, UI designers, engineers and quality assurers. This allows us to deliver interfaces that are not only user-friendly but also interactive, visually engaging and coded to a level of fineness that is difficult to achieve with a more traditional UX approach. 

Designers save rework on wireframing concepts and crafting high fidelity designs that aren’t feasible. UX engineers code UI skins and also maintain our design system, which extends the reach of our work across apps and to our dev teams company-wide. Project engineers can then focus on app functionality, which lessens dependency on documentation and cross-team communication, shortens dev and QA cycles and eliminates post-dev pixel-pushing sessions.

A final UX quality check allows us to catch last-minute changes. The result is a streamlined UX process that delivers a better experience for end-users.

 

"Flexibility is a top consideration when building and expanding upon our design system.”

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things?

Having our UX engineers involved heavily in the design process ensures that design flexibility is a top consideration when building and expanding upon our design system. Most of our components are customizable and configurable, which provides room for exploring outside of the box. Our design system allows us to easily and quickly roll out changes across apps so that we’re not stuck repeating the same patterns in an effort to maintain consistency. 

project44 team working
project44

project44

Jessica Schnepf said it’s important for the other teams at project44 to know what happens behind the UX design curtain. For the director of product experience at the logistics company, familiarizing other departments with the design team’s process — and incorporating them into it — results in a user experience that encompasses a greater diversity of thought.

 

What processes or tools were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process?

Intentionally aligning on a design discovery process has been critical for our team to achieve better outcomes. We adopted the Double Diamond process to guide our design thinking. Having a solidified process allows us to align cross-functionally and provides better visibility into how we problem-solve. Now the other teams we collaborate with understand our approach and know when and how to get involved and contribute ideas.

 

"Having a solidified process allows us to align cross-functionally.”

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things?

I believe the goal of having a process is to provide clarity and efficiency without limiting creativity. Through design-thinking tactics and exercises, we’ve been able to quickly explore a wide range of ideas before honing in on one solution. And by involving product management, engineering, operations, customer support and sales teams in our ideation sessions, we’ve discovered more diverse perspectives and innovative outcomes.

 

Envoy Global team working in their office
envoy global

Envoy Global

Envoy Global’s UX team values design before development, which gives the team time to creatively experiment and field the opinions of other departments, according to Alice Toth. The lead product designer said dedicated tech tools like InVision help make that collaboration possible.

 

What processes or tools were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process?

Idea-sharing is key to having a common vocabulary and direction, not only within our team but also within the company. To that end, we use collaborative tools such as Sketch or InVision to facilitate a conversation among other teams. Engaging product, engineering and stakeholders bring their input and ideas into the UX process and help us scale our process beyond just the design team.

 

"Idea-sharing is key to having a common vocabulary and direction.”

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things?

Because our design sprints run ahead of development, we have the time to both iterate and collect feedback. A shared vocabulary and pattern library help in the process, as they give us a solid foundation on which to start. Additionally, we encourage designers to play with new products and ideas and evaluate whether or not they’ll enhance our overall process.

 

JumpCloud team
jumpcloud

JumpCloud

JumpCloud’s Directory-as-a-Service platform allows customers to unify their user identities, manage user access and secure network sign-in. Erica Wilhelmy, senior UX manager, said working across departments benefits their user-obsessed design strategy. 

 

What processes, tools, methodologies, etc. were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process?

We advocated for hiring designers and researchers relative to our overall growth (and we’re still hiring). We kept the UX team centralized to ensure designers and researchers are supported, have a sense of community and are aligned around the experience we’re working to deliver. Meanwhile, we partnered with product management, engineering and marketing teams to create a structure where designers are embedded cross-functionally to work toward a clear business objective and solve problems for our customers. Designers bring their perspectives to their cross-functional teams while ensuring we’re creating a consistent experience. 

 

"We believe ideas come from anywhere.’’

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things?

With each designer at JumpCloud, we’ve maintained the tenet that creativity is key. We believe ideas come from anywhere. However, it is the designers’ skills that bring them to life. We introduced a design system that allows our designers to be more strategic and forward-thinking in their work and to tackle more complex problems. This is where designers are encouraged to think outside of the box and seek how they might design the whole experience rather than just a slice. They are challenged to contribute to the metrics, by which the success of the solution is measured.

 

Validity team
validity

Return Path

For Principal UX Designer Mike Mencimer, success hinges on iteration. 

Return Path from Validity helps businesses’ emails reach their intended audience, a feat that is more difficult than you might think, thanks to spam filters and provider barricades. Mencimer walked us through the team’s design process below, which relies heavily on being comfortable with the phrase, “try again.”

 

What processes, tools, methodologies, etc. were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process? 

We’re a growing UX team on the smaller side at the moment, but we are putting processes into place that will help us scale up as our product and engineering teams grow. Those processes include a (home-brewed) style guide and component library for a single point of truth between designers and developers; weekly design reviews to encourage sharing our work and getting outside perspectives; heavy Slack communication for iterative feedback and gut-checks; and abstract for version control for designs and collaboration.

 

"Each UX designer is responsible for one or more of our interlocking products.’’ 

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things? 

Each UX designer is responsible for one or more of our interlocking products. They need to fully understand the data flowing through them and the type of persona that’s using them. With that autonomy comes a lot of freedom to work up the best user interfaces in a reciprocal alchemy of sorts with product managers and engineering leads.

In other words, we research, we learn, we draw, we bounce ideas off each other and we iterate. When a teammate or stakeholder tells us to “try again,” we review with our peers and we figure out a way to meet the product requirements. After we get the go-ahead, we launch and start the process over. Designers are asked to be creative and solve challenging product problems every day. It’s the best part of the job.

 

Sovrn team
sovrn holdings

Sovrn

Sovrn helps creatives pursue their passions by taking care of the commerce, analytics and advertising side of the house for publishers and advertisers. We spoke to Creative Director Daniel Braha about why a cross-functional approach to design is crucial for building the best product possible.

What processes, tools, methodologies, etc. were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process?

First and foremost, it’s crucial we remember that our customers are real people. Our creative team takes an empathetic approach, focusing on human-centered design principles. We consider the motivations and goals of publishers and readers while we refine our incredibly complex products.

In terms of methodology, we follow an iterative design process. We use Sketch for layout and InVision for prototyping. Our design system is a custom set based on Google Material and our app is built in React. With this mindset and these tools, we’ve been able to maintain quality and reliability across our global services.

 

"Our creative team takes an empathetic approach, focusing on human-centered design principles.’’

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things?

We ensure that our creative team remains truly cross-functional. Designers, content strategists and marketers are involved in all of our projects. By keeping an open dialogue, we can brainstorm, get fresh eyes on everything and iterate quickly. 

Our team considers everything from a publisher's first moments with the website to the interactivity of setting up our products through the lifecycle of working with us. It’s important we don’t get tunnel vision or lose sight of our identity. We advocate for publishers because great publishers can change the world. It’s an honor to play a part in that.

 

Clutter UX Design
clutter

Clutter 

While poor design or user experience is hard to ignore on any business site, it’s a sign of imminent disaster for e-commerce or app-based companies. Despite its name, Clutter is the antonym of such practices, as demonstrated in its website layout. The business offers convenient, on-demand storage solutions at low prices — all managed through their online platform.

We spoke with Jess Brown, head of design and supply chain, about how UX features aren’t simply “nice-to-haves,” as well as how she helps her team advocate for essential factors in website integration and workflow production.  

 

What processes, tools, methodologies, etc. were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process?

Tools like Zeplin, Invision Inspect and Figma are incredible. Designers no longer need to exhaustively spec out what’s in designs; engineers can simply examine them for themselves. This leads to a more seamless handoff between designers and engineers and reduces the amount of back and forth required to attain pixel-perfection. The ecosystem for plugins in Sketch and Figma has also supercharged the design workflow. 

Sharing newly discovered plugins across design teams, like placing realistic content into mockups or automatically generating visual alternatives to a button style, enables more efficiency. 

 

"It’s often easiest to convince people of the value of design if they can experience and contribute to the process firsthand.’’

 

Since most product teams use Agile methodologies to plan and execute project work, it’s vital to understand both where design naturally fits in and also where design needs to zoom out and run parallel processes. Creating enough lead time for user research and design exploration can be challenging. It requires an ongoing effort to educate teams on how design methods can help solve the problems at hand.

Bringing other functions into the design process is also essential as you scale. It’s often easiest to convince people of the value of design if they can experience and contribute to the process firsthand. By running workshops with different teams, sharing early designs cross-functionally or presenting first-person perspectives in user research, design can have a stronger presence in an organization.  

Lastly, “design systems” have become a real buzzword in the past few years, and for good reason. They ensure consistency for users and speed up time to design and build product. These take real effort to craft and maintain, but the effort pays off in the end.

 

"Constraints are the mother of creativity.’’

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things?

Constraints are the mother of creativity. Processes like Agile sprints and tools like design systems give shape to challenges — defining the time and guardrails for a project. 

At Clutter, creativity can come from the fact that we’re delivering a physical service and have timing, location and physical processes to contend with. An open-ended question like, “How can we make it easier for a customer to store with us?” can point to a wide set of possible solutions to explore, from examining how we train our mover teams to how we message customers before their first appointment. Maybe we need to reevaluate how plans and pricing are presented on our website. Empowering designers to pull on different threads is one way we can be most creative here. 

Mentoring designers to be able to advocate for their own process is also key. If a designer believes a project will have a better outcome with a wider initial brainstorm and set of sketches, I want to help them make that case with their project team. Not every project calls for lengthy exploration, so learning which ones do (and how to articulate why) is a useful skill for designers to master.

 

hinge
hinge

Hinge

Rather than helping users find quick flings, Hinge wants its users to find a relationship (and delete the app). 

How do you inspire designers to make finding love user-friendly? Lindsay Norman, director of design, broke down how working with people outside the design team brings fresh insights to projects.  

 

What processes, tools, methodologies, etc. were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process?

As our design team scales, we're constantly rethinking our processes to ensure that we have enough structure to work efficiently, but not so much so that we lose our creative spirit. We'll try something new for a few weeks and then evaluate whether or not it's something we want to adopt more permanently. Being flexible and open-minded to changes in the way we work has made scaling the team more fun.

One recent change we've made to our process is the addition of more formal design crits, kick-off meetings and handoffs. When you're a small team of just a few designers sitting next to each other, feedback is easy and things are more fluid. But as we've scaled, we've realized that critique is higher quality when we take the time to get in a room together, invite our periodic maintenance engineering partners and spend a dedicated amount of time each week to review the work. 

Another improvement to our process has been working more collaboratively as a design team. We have started doing weekly sketching sessions to help unblock each other when we get stuck on our individual projects. As a design team grows, it makes sense to use the broader team to generate a lot of rough ideas early on in the design process. This also takes the pressure off any individual designer to come up with all the good ideas for his or her project.

Finally, we've moved our specs, project timelines and other design docs to Dropbox Paper. Standardizing the way we think through user problems has allowed us to work more efficiently and to be better aligned with our cross-functional partners.

 

"We have started doing weekly sketching sessions to help unblock each other when we get stuck on our individual projects.

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things?

For me, creative freedom in design is more of an attitude than a specific process or any one thing we've introduced in our workflow. It's allowing ideas to simmer rather than giving a concrete “yes” or “no” when they pop up. It's having the awareness when a designer is super jazzed about an idea and encouraging them to bring it to life, even if it's unlikely it'll make it on the roadmap. 

As a design leader, you have to set the tone. When I lead a brainstorm, I like to be extra playful and goofy to inspire crazy, out-of-the-box thinking. When sketching, I like to draw something super obvious and dumb to demonstrate that we don't need to sketch like Picasso to come up with great solutions. In my experience, the more playful the vibe, the better the ideas. 

REONOMY
REONOMY

Reonomy

Using big data, machine learning and AI, Reonomy helps real estate businesses compile and analyze property data to source building data, discover new investment opportunities and more. Director of UX Han Byul Ru said building a culture that celebrates wins creates a team ready to tackle more ambitious projects.  

 

What processes, tools, methodologies, etc. were crucial in helping you scale your UX design process?

Scaling is top of mind for Reonomy as we just received $60 million in Series D funding. It's important for us to retain a product-driven culture as we continue to expand nationally and internationally throughout 2020. 

Set your organization up for success by implementing a partnership model at the ground level. Staff each product area with product, tech and design leads and instill a sense of shared identity between those cross-functional team members. 

Build a culture of celebrating users and design. Don't skip on weekly UX team syncs, get out of the office regularly to do fun things, share research findings and designs at company huddles and set UX-internal goals.

Empower, don't police on following a process. As your company scales, this statement will increasingly ring true: there is no one-size-fits-all process. Give clear guidance on which tools and methods are best for when, and give your team the space to train and exercise their own discernment.

 

"Build a culture of celebrating users and design.

 

As you scaled your UX design processes, how did you ensure team members still had the freedom to be creative and try new things?

Give clear boundaries for ownership and encourage designers to set ambitious KPIs for their domain. Equip them to make results-driven and data-driven design decisions with their counterparts in product and engineering. That will involve doing some homework before having those discussions. Conduct competitive analyses, run user tests and identify patterns in usage metrics and agree on what challenges are worth tackling. 

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