Design Team Ethos

At the beginning of 2014, I began to build out the traveljunction.com design team beyond a single person (me).

I gained an awesome team-mate, Tim Gale, who’s been with me on the journey ever since. We sat down and created a design process as traveljunction never had one previously.

We were very particular about the process and it was quite exhaustive, something that worked pretty well as we revamped nearly every area of the product over the course of a few months.

The additional thing we worked on as we drilled away at the process was a 5 point ethos that Tim, myself and any person who joined the team thereafter would be held accountable to and work towards. A few months later and we grew again and added Kate to our team.

Our Design Ethos

The aim was to keep it short and on point, to include things we truly believe in and to push ourselves to become better at what we do on a daily basis.

#1 – Never assume

We will never assume that anything we do is right, we’ll only hope that we’re less wrong than before so we can progress in a measured manner.

#2 – Collaborate Always

We will never work in silos, even if we’re working on different parts of traveljunction at the same time, we’ll collaborate in an effective manner to get the best out of the product. More heads are better than one.  It’s far too easy to silo yourself.

#3 – Visuals do not come first

Visuals do not come first at traveljunction, aesthetics don’t make a bad product good. Usability and experience do, focus on those first and the aesthetics later.

#4 – Open, Honest Communication

We’re a team and great teams communicate and are open and honest with each other. When the going gets tough, when the product is under heavy critique, if we stand by shoulder to shoulder we’ll do ok. Ego’s are left at the door.

#5 – Process is King

We’re well aware that sometimes things can get challenging, but if we trust the process we’ll end up at the place we’re wanting to be no matter how long it takes. Trust the process and everything else will take care of itself.

Constant Improvement

Many of the points above could be used for different types of teams including engineering teams. We’re always looking to improve in our own little individual ways and having something to look at is comforting. Our process has changed over the years, but the ethos stands firm.

Big Thanks go to Tim for working with me on creating both the ethos and process.

It’s ok to not have all the answers…

I have a very analytical, methodical and logical mind.

The certainty of factual information to provide answers has to be very high for me or at the very least way I need to be able to weigh up the odds in favour of being right before I do something.

The need to analyse data and behaviour every single day is something I’ve never been able to stop, I now do it without even thinking and this happens both online and offline.

Having a logical mind requires me to have correct and valid reasoning for pretty much everything, both at work and at home.

The traits I’ve identified above don’t often sit well when I come across something where I don’t know everything about it or don’t have data and analysis to hand. There’s been a couple of times over the past few years where I’ve let this get to me — and I’ve almost felt that I should just give up because I don’t know enough.

And you know what, it’s so easy to give up. It means you don’t have to do anything. You can get back into your comfortable place where everything is rosy. There are no problems to solve and no stress to gain.

I’ve read quite a bit about this subject recently where people have said “Don’t worry, I’ve no idea what I’m doing.”

That doesn’t help someone like me who doesn’t just want to know, but I need to know or I’ll internally combust.

Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about dealing with the ‘not knowing’ even when the pressure is on when you’ve got other incredible talents around you in and out of teams.

Firstly let me clear something up. In a literal sense, if you didn’t know what you were doing you’re likely lacking in the skills to be in that role in the first place as you ‘literally’ don’t know what you’re doing.

You should always know what you’re doing but you might not always know or have the answers straight away. And you know what, that’s ok. Don’t worry.

Things to Help

Trust your team

If you work on a design team you’ll have other professionals around you have felt or are feeling the exact same way as you. Trust in the communication of your team to discuss the challenge at hand and find a way forward.

If you’re a freelancer, speak to other freelancers. If you’re completely alone then reach out to anyone that you can to hear you out.

Have a process

As creatives we generally have a process for just about anything and everything. As part of a design team, we at TJ have a set design process that we work through which helps us to figure things out.

A lot, and I mean a lot of research is done up front in our team. This helps alleviate the ‘not knowing’ as we generally have something to work with based on the the research. We’ll always have a baseline amount of data to go off.

Trust your gut

Over time you build up a sixth sense, you can just tell that one direction is the right direction to go in or you know two and it is worth testing.

Trust in your gut but don’t assume for too long that you’re right. Test those assumptions as quickly as you can.

Practice what you preach

The more you do something the more you learn, the more you learn the more you know. In our industry, in our roles we will never know everything, but we can continue to feed on information that we’re presented with and build links between them to better inform us in the future.

It’s ok…

It’s ok to not have all the answers straight away. Those folks on teams you’re admiring, they likely don’t have the answers upfront either, they’ve just found a way to make the process easier of getting them.

We pressurise ourselves too much to know all the answers. Don’t. The stress in doing so will hinder your ability to find them.

You might not have all the answers now, but you will in time.

Oh Carousels…

But the carousel is our prime real-estate.

I’d tend to disagree with the above. I believe, whatever a user interacts with and responds to is prime real-estate. Whenever they move their cursor, hover with their thumb, scroll up and down and stop for a millisecond with intent to think about whatever it is they’re looking at… that my friend is prime real-estate.

By nature we humans have a short amount of time on our hands. Browsing, viewing and reading amongst many others are actions a user will do. These take time. If you think that your image and text, 4 slides down inside of a carousel is going to get someones attention in those short milliseconds, I’d advise reviewing your content strategy.

Why?

A carousel changes from slide to slide every 2 – 3 seconds. 4 slides down is a minimum of 8 seconds away and if you think that 8 seconds is a short amount of time, count it out and you’ll quickly realise that it’s not. Within a few seconds your website visitor has searched, clicked or scrolled on your site, they’ve missed your ‘prime real-estate image’ by 6 seconds let alone any image after it.

If you were lucky, your website visitor clicked on the first image they saw in the carousel, for them it was a static image which didn’t move or change so I hope that particular image was your highest converting promotion. If you’re busy burying promotions into a carousel, should those images or promotions be displayed in a different way that isn’t buried 8 seconds deep into an animation on your page?  When you’re putting actionable imagery inside of a carousel, then the thinking behind the content is likely misunderstood.

How about removing that carousel and creating actionable content that your customer would like to use and more importantly need?

Designing with the future in mind

As designers we can often become entrenched in working on tiny details because they matter. It’s far too easy to get wrapped up in the intricacies and become short-sighted on a longer term view.

Short-sightedness can cause design challenges which can be ironed out fairly easily when you’re looking at your long term plan.

For products, roadmaps can aid you well. Depending on the products I’ve worked on in the past and currently, I aim to keep an eye on the items which are coming up in 4 weeks, 2 months and 6 months.

I’m confident enough to say that anything in a roadmap in the 4 week to 2 months range will definitely have an impact on what you’re currently working on. Whether it’s a large or small impact, it will be there. Your big challenge could prove irrelevant if you look at your long term view, something you’re stressing over might not even be in the product in 3 months time because in 2 months time it’s being phased out in favour of something else.

Alternatively, you may need to not over-design something. If you know in your roadmap that a new feature is coming which may indeed take up room in your design that you’re currently trying to fill, don’t stress things out. It’s ok to not over-design something if it has no impact whatsoever on your current product especially if it impacts something in the future.

You can iterate quickly, adjust where necessary and complete your to-do’s with confidence when you can rationalise your decision making.

Controlling Product

In a general sense, without the likes of customer development (I’ll write more about this at a later date and how it comes in to play with the way I do things), users have no idea what they want until you have given them something.

There must be control within yourself to not feed the beast and give them the whole kitchen sink when they only needed the sink plug.

I’d prefer to deliver in short, fast increments, than longer bigger drops as they’re harder to measure results from. If your drops are short and fast, it’s easier to listen to them to choose your next direction. Even if you do deliver short and fast drops, you as the person delivering must measure, analyse and then make a decision on ‘what’ to deliver next.

I personally look at it like this;

  • Deliver in short, fast increments.
  • Have absolute control over what you deliver and always err on the side of caution, I prefer to give the sink plug rather than the sink.
  • Listen for feedback.
  • Analyse the feedback – Don’t make a decision on one persons feedback, listen to 5 out of 10 and make a decision on 99 out of 100.
  • Deliver in short, fast increments. Rinse & Repeat.