While many large tech companies are creating standardized design systems, condensing their tool stacks and formalizing their processes, media giant Netflix has decided to go a different direction.
Netflix values speed and freedom, so they let each product team make their own decisions about how they work. They value flexibility over standardization. And it has paid off.
Speed + Freedom = Innovation
“The focus of a product designer at Netflix is to identify opportunities that grow the business,” said Andy Law, Director of Product Design. “Each designer has business context, and it is very much up to the individual to figure out how to be impactful. … We hire experienced designers who can make good judgment calls knowing they are aligned with the overarching goals of the company.”
Netflix pushes innovation with a unique process called “mountain” or “multivariate” testing. This means that radical changes to the interface, interaction design, navigation patterns, gesture support, and content are tested with small subsets of their member base to help them find new ways to improve the experience through innovation. They believe innovative leaps occur when teams are empowered to question the status quo, and design plays a key role in their success.
Related: How Netflix does A/B testing
In addition to empowering their designers with the freedom to make big changes, Netflix has given everyone on the team the ability to experiment freely with their ideas. They’ve flattened the hierarchy of their design organization to emphasize the philosophy that anyone can have good ideas and they should be valued equally.
Netflix embeds designers within cross-functional teams (Phone & Tablet, Membership, “10 Foot Team” (people watching from 10 feet away or more, e.g. TV) and Originals) where teams tend to have more autonomy to make key decisions and communication is more immediate across engineering, product, and design.
“Netflix values flexibility over standardization. And it has paid off.”
How to design like Netflix
If you’re looking to emphasize design flexibility within your organization, try these three things to help empower your designers:
- Treat designers as equals. Andy Law says that at Netflix “Design has an equal seat at the table. We've earned it. We have proven the impact design can have in creating positive experiences and how that translates to achieving business goals.” Emphasize the difference good design makes, and follow through on that promise.
- Test, learn, repeat. “Depending on the complexity we may test an idea multiple times to identify what, if anything, is contributing to a positive member experience,” said Law. Make changes and test them (even the little ones) with smaller user groups before launching.
- Use data to drive change. “Research and data drive a lot of what we do, but even if we don’t start a project based off a data point, our data science and consumer insights partners are always involved in our explorations,” said Law. It’s hard to track improvement if you don’t start with a clear benchmark. Know what you’re measuring and where you’re starting before you ship.
The Design Genome Project, which explores the DNA of the world’s best design teams, gives you concrete examples of what drives the success of the companies you admire and helps you build a body of evidence for investing in design. Check it out!