Design

5 ways to scale your design when you’re a small team

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There’s nothing like a redesign to get a UX designer thinking about past mistakes.

At Splash, we’re currently knee-deep in our biggest redesign ever. It’s something we’ve been working toward for over two years (read: I have design files from 2015).

Cait Charniga and I make up the product design team at Splash. In our time here, we’ve learned that with fast company growth comes some relatively common product design baggage: multiple stakeholders, outspoken customers, business changes with new considerations, expanded personas, and a fully-baked sales and marketing strategy.

Related: How to scale product design with DesignOps

We’ve grown to embrace this baggage, recognizing it as a positive sign that our business is growing up. As the smallest team at the company, it’s really forced us to think outside the box for our design decisions.

These are the small but impactful ways we’ve scaled our design practices to keep up with our fast-growing product and company.

1. Look beyond the digital space for inspiration

Working in SaaS, we put ourselves in a box pretty frequently. As a small team, it’s easier for us to focus on competitive research and look to other products for inspiration.

But I’ve learned that if you restrict your inspiration—to your peers, your industry, or otherwise—you’ll miss out on creating something truly special.

“If you restrict your inspiration—to your peers, your industry, or otherwise—you’ll miss out on creating something truly special.”

A good designer reads design books, industry content, and competitive research. A great designer goes beyond the digital space and takes inspiration from their physical environment. It’s even easier if it’s something you’re passionate about.

For me, it’s cars. I follow car design trends really closely, and especially enjoy the concept-to-final-product process.

Illustration by Topher Edwards, Splash

For Cait, it’s board games. I love this. There’s just so much you can learn from game designers and how they design storylines. It’s fascinating and insightful to see how they set people up for both success and failure.

2. Make a redesign an excuse to align messaging

I’m a strong believer in a seamless user experience, and not just within the product. A consistent message is crucial from marketing emails to sales demos to customer training.

If the language and messaging across your company is inconsistent, your product’s user experience is already set up for failure.

“If the language and messaging across your company is inconsistent, your product’s user experience is already set up for failure.”

As a small company, we have a hard time with internal and cross-organization alignment (said every startup ever). A redesign is a huge opportunity to get your entire company on the same page.

Our redesign allowed us to take a step back as a UX team and align our messaging across every single touchpoint, and with every team.

3. Get the whole company involved in user testing

New features come with new problems. And since Cait and I have limited resources, we need help testing both our product and our process.

That’s why we get our company’s major stakeholders from sales, customer success, marketing, engineering—and anyone else necessary—in the same room before and after user testing.

That’s why we get our company’s major stakeholders from sales, customer success, marketing, engineering—and anyone else necessary—in the same room before and after user testing.

Beforehand, Cait will present an overview of the test and high-level goals. This is a space and time for internal feedback, which is incredibly valuable. After the test, Cait will perform a post-mortem with those same people and share insights, success metrics, and notable customer quotes.

To take it a step further, we make user feedback visible to the entire company. After every user test, we’ll integrate Splash with Zapier, which will automatically send any high-level user results to a Slack channel that anyone in our company can access.

Illustration by Topher Edwards, Splash

4. Don’t just focus on the data (bear with me)

Before I get destroyed on Twitter, let me first say: Of course we use and value data. We survey the hell out of our customers. We collect user data, testing data, heat maps, NPS scores. Everything.

But to inform our UX decisions, we put a lot more weight in our gut and empathizing with our customers. Since it’s just the two of us, we spend a lot of powerful one-on-one time with our customers. What can we learn from qualitative interviews with our power users? What’s a specific pain point that we can solve with this redesign? If you can’t put yourself in the mind of your users, numbers can’t do much for you.

“If you can’t put yourself in the mind of your users, numbers can’t do much for you.”

And yes. Later, we’ll back up our empathy-led design decisions with data.

5. Embrace the fact that you’re (almost) always wrong

One thing never changes in design or UX. The final product is always completely different than what you had in the beginning, even if that first version was the most beautiful thing you’ve ever created.

This may be the most important thing to remember as a product designer: You’re almost always wrong.

A concept car at a car show doesn’t usually have door handles or an engine, but it looks awesome. When those cars go into production two years later, it only vaguely resembles the initial design. After all the collaboration and feedback, you end up with a very different product than the original concept car. And it’s even better.

“This may be the most important thing to remember as a product designer: You’re almost always wrong.”

It’s hard to remember this when you work at a small company and within a small team. Keep an open mind. Listen to other perspectives. Get to really know and trust your users. It’s something I’ve been struggling with throughout this redesign.

But by setting aside your own ego for the betterment of the product, you make room to become a great designer.

We hope you enjoyed this post. But what if you’re the only designer at your company? This is for you.

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Author

Ross Gaither
Ross Gaither is the Director of Product Design at Splash (and employee #10) and has over 8 years of design experience in the digital world. Formerly, he's built products for Salesforce and Scrollmotion. Currently, he leads the design and development of the Splash platform. Eternally, he loves a good stout. (p.s. Splash is hiring product designers!)

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