Layering on your design approach isn’t enough, we should be innovating our own team experience

Designers attempt to explain their design process often it seems, and in a myriad of ways. It’s like we’re responding to a feeling of not being fully understood, so we want something substantial to put in front of others so we can point to it and say ‘This is what I’m trying to do!’ The regurgitated images of overlapping circles conveying an iterative cycle come to mind here.

Airbnb’s article, The Way We Build, by Alex Schleifer explains that we need to go further into the root of the matter. That it’s not so much about layering on your lean design approach, but more about ensuring that a fundamental mindset is in place so that we can innovate on our own team experiences (how we treat each other) and our collaborative tool sets.

Our ability to invent new ways of working together are becoming more and more crucial due to a collaboration gap. If you find yours is getting wider, it could be due to the fact that our teams are getting bigger because we’re build more complex stuff at a faster rate. This collaboration gap can often cause trouble for our customers down the line. The lack of cohesion between engineering and design, the gap, is often mirrored in the disjointed user experiences within the products we’re building.

‘Here’s the simple truth: you can’t innovate on products without first innovating the way you build them.’

– Alex Schleifer

The article goes on to explain that a shared language can help close this collaboration gap bringing about better unification and consistency across our product experiences. Airbnb’s investment in a Design Language System (DLS) that is based on core design principles even sighting Christopher Alexander’s work on design patterns, The Timeless Way of Building, is thoughtful and seems to dig deeper into their company wide design philosophy.

Their design tools team is building an environment that supports, distributes and socializes the DLS. Schleifer uses the term design and build software – the phrase itself already implies cohesion among designers and engineers.

‘The biggest existential threat to any system is neglect. The attrition generated by how difficult it is to use and maintain a cohesive system across various teams with their own specific needs. This is where our investment in tooling comes in.’

– Alex Schleifer

Is there anyone else currently staring into a big, bad gap right now? A first step in leading a discussion on this critical subject would be to share this seminal (at least in my opinion) Airbnb article, The Way We Build. I’d expect everyone to react with inspiration, conviction, excitement and hope towards a brighter future. But how do we address any looming concerns around organizations that are having these discussions, but are experiencing friction in closing the gap, especially on something as weighty as a Design Language System. We might have to start off with a smaller step, and begin by asking more fundamental questions?

Bluescape is currently working on the topic of a unified experience design for their collaboration platform. A few of their recommended steps to asses a baseline for a unified experience design system are to

  1. Clarify how important Experience Design is in your company
  2. Define your Current State and Desired State for Experience Design
  3. Decide which is better: a top-down approach or a bottom-up approach
  4. Engage leaders in the company to drive toward Unified Experience Design

These questions are a good start to the conversation which would hopefully lead to a good articulation of the current state of affairs. With a well specified problem statement, ideas can then start forming around possible steps towards solutions and improvements to the way we work. If we need to starting build our work experiences in the same we build products, with dedicated iterations, then our latest innovations don’t necessarily have to be more product features, but pivotal improvements to how we build.

Examples of DLSs and UX pattern libraries:



The Way We Build

Inside The Organic UX Design Process At Slack

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