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How culture shapes design at Pinterest and Shopify

4 min read
Tara Malone  •  Jun 27, 2018
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Each company has its own unique corporate culture that influences the different departments in the organization. An organization’s culture has a major impact on the role of design in particular. A company that embraces innovation, creativity, and transparency creates an environment where design can thrive.

InVision’s Director of Design Education Eli Woolery recently hosted a Fireside Chat with Pinterest’s Design Operations Manager Anne Purves and Shopify’s Director of UX Amy Thibodeau to discuss the many ways that culture shapes design at their organizations.

What makes great culture

Leadership has a profound impact on the development of company culture. A great company culture can develop when the leaders convey a clear vision, emphasize inclusion, and promote diversity of thought.

Related: What exactly is a design culture?

When discussing the company culture at Pinterest, Anne described the importance of giving all employees a seat at the table and a role in shaping the vision of what the company is. When employees are engaged and feel like their voices matter, they have the opportunity to grow and move with the company and to contribute to the overall culture.

Anne also stressed a culture of transparency, in which designers can share their work with the rest of the company and receive feedback from other teams such as engineering and product development. In this way, collaboration is encouraged and different teams can work through issues together.

How design impacts culture at Pinterest and Shopify

At both Pinterest and Shopify, designers hold highly influential positions—and that allows design to make a significant contribution to the culture of the companies.

Anne mentioned that since one of Pinterest’s co-founders is a designer, an awareness of design is deeply ingrained in the culture. The founders helped to create an organizational culture that respects and celebrates design.

Similarly, Shopify also has designers at the highest levels of leadership. Amy explained that any time Shopify has a large product initiative, they form a group of three people: one engineering leader, one product leader, and one UX leader. These leaders discuss the initiative and make sure they’re on the same page. This fosters a culture of collaboration and a shared mission across departments.

Ways design leaders can impact company culture

Design leaders are innovative individuals who ask in-depth questions as they try to better understand their users. Amy believes these practices can also be applied to developing a company’s culture. The most important practices involve asking thoughtful questions to understand the needs of the employees and promoting open, inclusive dialogue in the organization.

Anne spoke of the need for design leaders to establish clear principles of good design in their companies and to make sure that everyone in the organization is aware of them. This can be challenging in a company that has many different teams and departments.

Still, it’s ultimately up to design leaders to make sure design is seen as a partnership and not as a service. Design should be seen as integral to the company’s visionTwitter Logo and designers should work alongside engineers and product developers.

How do product designers impact business goals and outcomes?

Amy and Anne agreed that designers need to put business needs first if they want to contribute to company goals and outcomes. It’s extremely important that design and user experience are aligned with business needs. To accomplish this, Anne recommends having designers involved with planning to help them understand the company’s goals and metrics. Then the designers can work on improving user experience “with these goals in mind.”

“Design and UX must be aligned with business needs.”
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Amy felt that having a specific business framework can actually benefit designers, as some constraints provide more opportunities to exercise creativity. In turn, design can benefit business by giving more insight into the user experienceTwitter Logo.

Related: Getting started with data-driven design

She also stressed the importance of metrics and expressed the belief that designers can make metrics that much richer and better informed so they measure the things that matter.

How do product, design, and engineering teams work together?

At Pinterest and Shopify, there’s a great deal of emphasis on collaboration between the product, design, and engineering teams. Anne explained that Pinterest involves all the different teams in each initiative so that everyone is clear on what goals they’re aiming for.

The company holds design critiques once a week, where designers share a visual status of their projects with the rest of the company. They encourage feedback from colleagues in all departments, which promotes transparency in the organization.

“A culture of collaboration really benefits the product in the long run.”
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Amy agrees that all the different departments need to be aware of the goals and objectives from the very beginning, and they need to collaborate with each other whenever possible.

Related: Get over yourself: collaboration is the secret to great products

At Shopify, collaboration promotes diversity of thought on their project team. Designers encourage input from all the teams, including the support team and marketing team. Amy finds this approach to be highly effective, since members of other teams have different experiences to bring to the table. Ultimately, Amy finds that a culture of collaboration really benefits the product in the long run.

Listen to the full recording here to learn more about the unique cultural practices at Pinterest and Shopify and how they shape design in these companies.