Inside The Minds Of A Design Team
Ever wondered what’s going through your teammates’ minds? Projects can be full of highs and lows, and sometimes it’s easy to mistake a sidelong glance during a review for a something more sinister, or feel put off by over-enthusiasm at the kickoff.
Ever wished you could just take a sneak-peek inside their minds? It’s your lucky day, because through the power of the interview, we will do just that! I chatted with a product designer, a scrum master and a UX researcher to get the scoop on how they think about project phases, what they love and hate, and some of their typical thoughts at each stage.*
*Disclaimer: Qualitative research sample of three may or may not be indicative of your particular teammates’ thoughts and opinions. Difficult team dynamics are often best explored with open communication, and lots of cake.
Ever googled design or development process diagrams? There are so many variations and schools of thought, it’s easy to get bewildered. Our trusty trio had different ideas about where the project begins.
Your teammates might be thinking: ‘What exactly are we building here?’ or ‘Ok I have a good feeling that I know enough to get going!’ ‘I’m so excited – think of the possibilities for what we can learn and build.’
Caroline Cocchio, a scrum master, highlighted the importance of a team forming phase, where the team is getting together and aligning with each other and the client (where applicable) to understand the goals of the project and who the users are. During this phase, there are often ‘aha’ moments as the team gets immersed together in what they are working on, allowing them to grasp the opportunities and objectives of the work.
Your teammates might be thinking: ‘What’s it like for the user? How do they experience it?’ ‘ Oh this is so painful for the person, but I can understand why we can’t solve for that.’ ‘Oh, I didn’t know they were using it like that!’
For the designer and researcher I spoke with, some kind of research phase is a crucial next step. Ricardo Vazquez, a product designer, was even more emphatic about this, “All design projects must start with a research phase – it’s critical to the success of a project – from that phase we will be able to establish our metrics, understand who we are designing for, areas of opportunity.” For Jen Chow, a UX research lead, the upfront context gathering and research are also a space for empathy and understanding the problem space from a customer, business and tech perspective.
Caroline echoed this in her characterisation of what comes next, saying she thinks about the next stage as digging into the big picture; it’s about trying to understand the user journey and roadmap for the product, and really putting yourself in the shoes of the user to understand their ideal experience.
Your teammates might be thinking: ‘I wish this was feasible on our project.’ ‘Man, so many excellent designers out there just blowing my mind.’ ‘Let’s get it out there and put it in front of people and see what they do.’ ‘ How can we create a bare bones, but still testable version of this concept?’
Once the user research and big picture roadmap is in place, the designing begins. Depending on their roles, people characterised this phase in slightly different chunks.
Ricardo included an upfront ‘design exploration’ phase, where the goal is to examine competitors, and go wide to explore inspiration from adjacent and opposite places. Ricardo’s passion and commitment to this phase is common in designers. “The exploration phase is my favourite, as it allows me as a designer to think about the design in a more free way. I love knowing what I can and can’t do. Knowing the limits around design and feature. I’m able to go crazy to be honest! You’re not accountable to your users, all your accountable to is just the work. It becomes a really fun playground.”
Jen also talked about the excitement of the exploration phase; where many possibilities are uncovered through activities like card sorting, mind mapping and prototyping. In this stage of the work, focus for Jen is on being scrappy while also being effective at testing assumptions and hypotheses. This part of the phase is a satisfying challenge to tackle in collaboration with designers and other team members.
Design and build
Your teammates might be thinking: ‘You can do this! You can push through!’ ‘I wasn’t expecting this!’ ‘I hadn’t thought this one through’ ‘Man, I hadn’t thought about that edge case’ ‘How well are we solving the problem?’ ‘Ok, we’ve committed to following this direction, let’s see what we can learn.’
The design and development phases, where the meat of the creation happens, involves some different focuses depending on role. For the product designer, this is about creating design principles based on research, devising the UX flow, and figuring out how to design for the pain points or friction in the experience. This is really where the team is “figuring out the ingredients that make the whole,” says Ricardo. For Caroline, as a scrum master, this phase is characterised by its intensity – “it’s non-stop, constantly moving, it never slows down.” The team is working together to create, iterate, prototype and build. Jen also mentioned the momentum of this phase, and for her it comes along with a detached curiosity. This phase is not as emotional for her, but rather an opportunity to see if the problem is being solved with the chosen solution.
In collaborative teams, this can be a wonderful phase where the team is hitting their ‘performing’ stride. Caroline mentioned, “I work in a cross functional team – which means that everyone has an equal voice on the team – often what I’ve really enjoyed is contributing from a design or UX standpoint.” This can also be a tricky phase of work, as Ricardo outlines; “it’s work that drains you sometimes, that constant reminder of leaving your ego at the door, of being an advocate for your user. When there is no end in sight, it sometimes becomes my least favourite – it becomes a mental game of always keeping the user at the front of your mind. When you can see a finish line in the distance, it becomes by far the most rewarding phase of all.”
Launch and Feedback
Your teammates might be thinking: ‘How successful were we in solving the problem?’ ‘Are people using it in the way we thought they would use it? ‘Oh sh*t, that wasn’t supposed to happen!’
Launching can of course take a few different forms, and all of the interviewees mentioned incremental releases or gradual roll outs as well as a more formal ‘launch’. Either way, putting something into the world comes with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Ricardo reflected on the possibility of failure after all of that work, saying that “product design is good no matter how bad it is – if it’s bad that’s okay, because it gives you another opportunity to keep pushing forward to find that second major iteration.” Jen mentioned the nervous excitement that comes with launching and monitoring the feedback.
Celebration and Close
Your teammates might be thinking: ‘Finally! It’s over. Thank God’ ‘It’s bittersweet to say goodbye.’ ‘We made it!’ ‘Where’s the beer?!’
Need we say more? We definitely didn’t need a mind reader for that one!