How Shopify and Pinterest design with culture in mind

4 min read
Will Fanguy
  •  Apr 12, 2018
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When it comes to creating an e-commerce store, Shopify is the preferred route for many. And when you’re looking for inspiration or ideas (like a DIY project, a recipe, or interior design inspiration for your kitchen remodel), Pinterest may be your virtual go-to. They share a common approach to design—one that has contributed to their success and is a model example for other organizations.

They’ve both been built from the ground up to respect and revere design as an essential part of their ethos and their business. Shopify has grown a team of design leaders to evolve what design means, and the role it plays in everything they create. Pinterest has a designer as a co-founder, and they’ve created a designer-friendly culture that emphasizes humility and a focus on the user and the product. Together, both of these companies can teach us about the benefits of having a design-driven culture.

“In design, find ways to play to everyone’s strengths.

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“In design, find ways to play to everyone’s strengths.


What design culture looks like

Pinterest and Shopify both have high-ranking designers and multiple opportunities for progressing and maturing into leadership roles.

Pinterest focuses not only on creating a great product for their users, but on creating a culture that celebrates design and nurtures design talent. By providing alternate, non-managerial options for career advancement — like the Creative Director role for people who want to advance without also having to manage people — Pinterest has been able to grow rapidly and maintain a reputation as a great place for designers to thrive.

Shopify has a group of senior level UX leaders and principal designers that are responsible for the growth and health of the team, as well as the quality of the experiences shipped across the company. Their design roles extend all the way to a VP of UX who reports to the CPO, ensuring teams get the support they need and design is part of key strategic plans.

Both Shopify and Pinterest embed designers into cross-functional teams, albeit for different periods of time. Shopify uses a decentralized organizational structure to embed UX designers within cross-functional teams. Shopify has grown through a number of different organizational models, and this recent move to a decentralized model better reflects the level of leadership and autonomy they want their teams to have across the company.

On the other hand, Pinterest uses a hybrid approach to their organizational structure. This is more common in large enterprises because it blends multiple organizational models and runs different models in parallel. In hybrid structures, an organization might position designers in a temporary cross-functional team to work on a focused project with a clear deadline. When they’re done, they return to the centralized design team.

Another common hybrid model strategy is to distribute designers in cross-functional teams, but pull them back together for design reviews, stand-ups, and fireside chats, which helps designers maintain peer connection even when isolated in teams dominated by engineers. By positioning the design system team as the hub of design culture, embedded designers are free to work on their respective projects while returning to the larger design team for discussion about creating a unified customer experience across platforms and products.

“Something is not done after launch.- @lynseythornton”

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How to design like Shopify and Pinterest

If you’re looking to establish a design-driven culture where you work, try starting with these tips that have made a difference for both Shopify and Pinterest:

  • Value designers and their work. “One of the most important parts of our org structure is that while we hire generalist product designers, we also know that some are stronger in certain areas than others (i.e. someone may be stronger in visual design, and another might be stronger in UI), says Meredith Black, Head of Design Operations at Pinterest. “When we set up the teams we make sure that we have members that can complement each other and their skill-sets, so that they work together on the best possible outcome.” Every designer is different. Find ways to play to everyone’s strengths.
  • Socialize your designs. Both Shopify and Pinterest prototype designs and show interactions at every step of a users journey. The prototypes are shared with project managers, marketing, engineers, and other designers to make sure everyone is on the same page. For both organizations, InVision is the tool that enables this feedback and collaboration.
  • Research, test, and modify when necessary. “Something is not done after launch,” said Thornton. “The Tweak phase signifies the importance of putting time in after a product has launched to make sure we’ve done what we set out to do.”

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!

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