How to Grow a Design Culture in a Team

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As a product designer, you need a design culture that helps you consistently produce a user-centric design. When you’re in a team, it becomes more important to have a design culture and ensure every team member key into them. Having and growing a design culture is easier said than done. The process of having one and sticking to it is difficult, and the difficulty increases as the number of team members increase.

That’s not to say you cannot have and grow a design culture in a team. It is possible if you follow the right direction and stick to what works. At Plant, we have a design culture and advise every other design team to have one. Follow the strategies below to learn how to grow a design culture in a team.

Design in itself is not a one-way kind of process; It is iterative, and sometimes, it seems to work in a zigzag form. Without deciding to stick to a particular design culture, you are sure to have a design culture that nobody follows because designing is a dynamic process. However, having that willpower to stick to the plan no matter how easy or hard a process is, is what is needed except in edge cases where rules have to be bent.

Every member of the team has to know that you’re trying to develop a design culture. This is to ensure no one is left behind. One of the effective strategies used to get team members to adopt and stick to a design culture is to get them to develop a sense of empathy for the company’s culture.

When team members are encouraged and shown a sense of belonging, they can keep their perception behind and key into the team design culture. With every team member bringing his/her perception into use in a team, you can never have a design culture that works. However, when every member of the team keeps their thinking aside, a design culture can strive.

You are not going to be sitting alone and drawing out a culture for everyone in the team to follow even if you’re the boss. Your team members kept their personal perception aside, you should too, and one of the ways to ensure that is to get them involved in coming up with the design culture. Interestingly, your team can only contribute if they know who your customers are.

All team members need to know the behavior of your customers, what motivates them to patronize your work, what they plan to achieve, and what their networks are. These are key to understanding customers, and only if they understand these can they make suggestions that go with the team’s goals and objectives.

Now that every member of the team has an understanding of the customer’s and the team’s goals and objectives, a design culture can be developed. The process of developing a culture is not a one-man business. For a small team, every member of the team can be involved. In large teams, only a selected few can be involved. However, make sure every member is given a listening ear.

As you draw out the plan, make sure you only bring in realistic rules. There’s no need for having a culture nobody can uphold. There’s bound to be alterations. As you discuss among yourself, things become clearer, and there will be a need to make changes to previously defined rules. It is perfectly fine. Just don’t spend the whole time making changes. You can always make modifications in the future.

After deciding on the set of rules to follow to consistently design great products, you need to enforce it in the team strategically. What do I mean? Change is a gradual process. For it to become part of you without feeling its impact, you need to make sure you make them in drops. Also, resist the temptation of going back to past projects to make unnecessary changes as a result of the new rules. Like the saying goes: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Most times, the culture does not affect every aspect of your design work. They are only applicable to specific areas. Learn to appreciate the fact that design is not all about aesthetic. A design can be beautiful but passes no message. Not all the rules made are enforced. Some are applicable in some aspects and not applicable to others. Know when to stick to a culture and when to deviate from it.

As a team, the growth of the team is seen as the collective growth of all team members. There’s no way team members can grow without making mistakes and trying out new things. In some cases, trying out new things means going against the team culture. If the need arises, please allow it and if it leads to failure, accept it, and learn from it.

However, if the new ways seem better than the old way of doing things, then you need to bring in the new way into the team’s design culture. It is only through this that the team will grow better in design. If you resist change, you might end up being left behind as other teams accept changes and forge ahead.

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