If you’ve ever worked as a designer in a rapidly-growing team, you’ll know that the territory comes with its fair share of challenges. For newcomers, there’s the gauntlet of adopting the team’s tools and workflow, not to mention culture. For the team overall, there’s maintaining consistency, while not stifling any one designer’s unique style.
So now that our own design team has grown to 10 people in just over a year – and with big plans for the future… how do we juggle it all?
I recently had a Q&A session with Buzz (right), who is our Head of Design and the person responsible for building our current design team. I thought that his experiences may be of value to others who are either growing their own teams, or just curious about how design works here at Campaign Monitor.
Here’s a peek behind the scenes…
So, to start; Tell us what your team looks like today?
Today there’s an even split of Product (UX) and Digital designers, two Email Developers, the occasional freelancer, and a Studio Manager who oversees the day-to-day running of our projects. Then there’s me – writing briefs, art directing, and occasionally designing.
And although we’re a relatively small team (10 people), we manage to produce a huge amount of work from our humble Sydney studio. There’s variety in what we design too; briefs range from big feature releases like Canvas, to smaller updates and even mobile apps on the Product side – and books and iconography, to this website on the Digital side. We also get to have a bit of fun with internal projects too – like our recent “Ship It Day” (below).
No two days are the same.
How do you keep control of so many jobs?
I’m fortunate to have Tanya, our Studio Manager to look after the scheduling and pipeline of upcoming work – she’s definitely the organizational brains behind this operation. Between Tanya and myself, we organize the team through a mix of Basecamp, Trello and Jira.
Each designer is given creative ownership of each brief they work on
What helps the most is that each designer is given creative ownership of each brief – so instead of micromanaging every job, it’s up to the individual to decide on what’s necessary, and run the project accordingly. That level of trust and independence means that we can run quite a few jobs in parallel, without having to worry about putting unnecessary process in the way – or constantly having to chase deadlines.
How have you kept a strong consistency across the site and app, despite each designer having their own unique style?
Collaboration is the key. Everything we design individually is regularly shared with the rest of the team, either online or stuck on the wall (below), which means that anything inconsistent gets caught pretty early.
Fortunately for us, the current website and brand was designed in-house only a few years ago (by me) – so given that we had a fresh start, it’s been fairly easy to manage consistency. All of the designers have been collaboratively responsible for developing our brand, and have had a personal stake in growing the visual style – so we’re all totally on the same page when it comes to what feels right or wrong.
As a team, is there a process you follow in order to build on Campaign Monitor’s design and branding?
Interestingly, we don’t have a formal brand or style guidelines. Instead each designer is expected to “own” the brand, and appropriate the style of each brief to match the content and audience. So if that means tweaking the logo, the site, or creating a whole new style – we have the flexibility (and eagerness) to do that.
Of course, each designer has their own idea on how the brand and site should evolve, so an open forum for discussion is encouraged. Designers regularly collaborate on how to progress our design styles – with the common understanding that consistency is key (which is my job to ensure). Nothing is off-bounds though, and if a designer feels that a new style or technique is the right thing for the brand – we’ll make sure they have enough time and resource to make it happen.
How autonomous are each of your designers, anyway?
Generally speaking, an individual designer will own a project from start to finish – which means that there can be some form of autonomy once a project is underway. I usually touch base in an art direction capacity only when I’m called on – although a lot of team discussions (or “Design Jams”) usually happen before that point. There’s an unspoken rule that if this GIF is shared on HipChat – everyone will drop what they’re doing, and gather around for an impromptu design review…
Tanya is always on hand to advise on deadlines and deliverables too – which helps everyone stay focused on what’s required. She’ll also communicate with the various other departments and stakeholders too – which means that the design team can stay focused on the creative.
Occasionally we’ll also work on projects that’ll involve two or more designers – projects like Canvas that require videos, landing pages, UX and more can sometimes involve everyone. In those situations, projects are split and shared based on each designers’ strengths and interests – then the “not-so-awesome” parts, like bug fixes, are shared equally amongst the team.
What methodologies do you use to work together
The most effective thing in my opinion is daily “stand-ups” – borrowed from the Scrum/Agile methodologies used by the UX and Engineering teams. Stand-ups are quick 10 minute chats where everyone says what they’re working on for the day and any challenges they face. It’s really an open forum that allows for discussion and helps to build a cohesive team with everyone conscious of what others are working on.
That cohesive team attitude is something I believe is the key to producing great work. Building a team of passionate and creative people is one thing – but nurturing that talent and reinforcing our team values is equally as important.
How do you go about encouraging that team attitude?
The Campaign Monitor culture is already pretty great in this regard, we regularly get away from the office as a company, at least once a month, to do fun activities like horse riding or surfing. So I don’t have to organize much in the way of team building exercises.
Instead, I focus on making sure that the success of the design team is communicated with the rest of the company – and reinforce the fact that we’re all collectively responsible for our work. There are no ego’s or individual heroes here – we celebrate our successes as a team.
But we do pretty much everything as a team; eat, play table tennis and even paint our studio together (above). Having a good relationship and rapport with your colleagues really makes all the difference when it comes to giving open and honest critique when the need arises.
Any plans for the future?
The company has some pretty big ideas and juicy projects that are in the works – especially since the investment… there’s definitely more work coming than we’re able to do with just 10 people. So I’m looking to add to both the UX and Digital teams with likeminded and passionate designers, who share the same creative values as us, and are interested in the work we’re currently producing.
There are also plans to relocate to central Sydney in the next 6 months – so that’ll be another great opportunity to build on how we work together as a company.
Many thanks to Buzz for his insights into how our team has continuously maintained a high standard, even as it continues to grow. If you think you’d be a great fit for the Campaign Monitor design team, please get in touch – I’m sure Buzz would love to hear from you.