At Outwitly, we’re lucky to have built a fantastic team of UX and service designers who work collaboratively and creatively to design products and services that delight our clients and end-users. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about what makes for a great design team, and the truth is that there isn’t one single recipe that can be perfectly replicated. Great design teams require many elements– from individual skills and expertise to team dynamics and communication.
We wanted to share some of our insights with you in this post. We’ve asked our very own design team members (hello, Outwitlians!) to provide their thoughts on what they believe are the key ingredients to a successful design team.
You’ll notice that our team makes mention of the specific complexities that come with working in a 100% remote environment, as we do here at Outwitly. We’ll be touching on the unique challenges of building and maintaining a strong design team. Our goal is to show you that even when working from different physical locations, connection and collaboration are possible!
So, whether you’re a designer looking to improve your skills, a team leader trying to build a better design team, or simply interested in the world of UX and service design, we hope this post provides valuable insights and inspiration. Let’s dive in!
What makes a great UX and service design team (according to Outwitlians)?
Aday, Service Designer
What type of team(s) are you currently on: Agile with a healthy dose of waterfall
Time in your career: 10 years
Different roles you’ve held: Graphic Designer, Product Design Lead, Process Designer, Sustainability Coordinator
Education: BASc Industrial Engineering, Diploma Graphic Design, Master of Design
Secret Sauce of a great design team: Clarity is the secret to a high-functioning team – setting clear roles, goals and expectations. I like to align on what needs to be done and who is doing what so we can work autonomously within the team dynamic. Especially now that remote work and different time zones are a very present reality; it’s essential to level set from the beginning to reduce ambiguity and ensure everyone has what they need to succeed.
Key Takeaways: Clarity is key!
- Make sure roles, goals, and expectations are understood.
- Be in alignment with your team members, so even when working independently, you’re maintaining a strong dynamic.
- Be mindful of coworkers in different time zone! The best way to do this is through (you guessed it) getting super clear from the very beginning.
Nedu, UX/UI Designer
What type of team(s) are you currently on: I work in a cross-functional agile team that collaborates closely to meet user needs, and deliver on time and budget. We may also use lean or design thinking for rapid iteration and user feedback.
Time in your career: 6 years
Different roles you’ve held: User Experience Designer, User Interface Designer, Interaction Designer, Digital Production Designer, Graphic Designer, Visual Design Lead, Front-end Designer
Education: Master of Digital Experience Innovation (MDEI) B.Eng. Information & Communication Engineering
Secret Sauce of a great design team: People are at the heart of it all. Design is a collaborative process, and a team that works well together is essential to success. When everyone on the team feels comfortable sharing ideas, giving feedback, and pushing each other to be better, it creates an environment where creativity thrives. But collaboration alone isn’t enough. A culture of trust, respect, and inclusivity is also crucial. When team members feel valued and supported, it leads to engagement, commitment, and better design outcomes.
Empathy is also key to understanding the needs of users, stakeholders, and team members. By putting yourself in their shoes, you can design meaningful, enjoyable solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Work with a team that values collaboration, empathy, and inclusivity and it shows in the exceptional work they produce.
- Put yourself in each other’s shoes.
- Collaboration is an essential ingredient for great design teams.
- Strive to make others feel safe, included, and heard in their ideas. This is crucial for optimal creativity!
- At the end of the day, a great team is all about the people, culture and empathy.
Amy, Service Designer
What type of team(s) are you currently on: Agile with a healthy dose of waterfall (same setup as Aday and Nedu!)
Time in your career: 6 years
Different roles you’ve held: User Experience Researcher, Senior UXR, User Experience Research Lead, Service Designer
Education: Honours Bachelor’s of Art in History and Art History, Masters of Digital Experience Innovation
Secret Sauce of a great design team: The first thing that comes to mind: creative constraints. My team today is very different from teams from my not-so-distant, pre-pandemic past. It’s more dispersed, digital, and especially more dynamic than ever before. It’s not just dynamic because we work with an agile/scrum framework. It’s also because many of our team members are contractors. This means the team has only existed for a couple of years, and nearly all of the original members have changed: the team itself is constantly evolving.
Still, joining this team was a bit like being a plus one at a games night: when you join a group of friends playing their favourite game, and you have no freaking idea what’s going on. What I crave in those moments is to read the rules and then to get advice from everyone present to really get a sense of what other dynamics are at play: how they approach the game strategically, how/when/if they break the rules, how fast the pace of the game is. I crave this when I join a design team too. I love to read up on the organization’s structure, goals, and our team’s mission, and then I’d like to know what’s going on so I can contribute to the team meaningfully. In great design teams, I find everyone wants to help each other learn, and this sort of advice and knowledge sharing happens organically (regardless of whether you’re dispersed or digital). These rules and norms of the game at play are explained as the creative constraints we need to know to meet the user, business, and technology needs of the problem at hand. Great design teams share a common understanding of those creative constraints and know how and when to break them when necessary.
Key Takeaways: When joining a new team, that is ever-evolving, be sure to…
- Build a common understanding of creative constraints quickly.
- Document and share team norms and rituals for communication.
- Take it upon yourself to read up on the company’s vision, mission, and org structure.
- Find opportunities for knowledge sharing (whether through regular meetings, shared repositories that are well organized, or frequent Slack messages).
Janine, UX Designer
Time in your career: 2 years
Different roles you’ve held: Industrial Design Intern, Graphic Designer and Analyst, UX/UI Designer
Education: Bachelor’s of Industrial Design at Carleton University
Secret Sauce of a great design team: As a junior designer who just joined Outwitly’s team, I’ve already seen incredible open communication and regular collaboration. These two ingredients are key to making the team function well, especially in a remote setting. During my first week, every single team member was happy to take half an hour and set up a coffee chat with me, which was so great to break the ice and help me settle into the community. Regular check-ins also helped me establish a routine to stay on track and maintain accountability as the weeks continued.
I also thrive off clear expectations and guidelines because knowing what’s expected of me means I can focus on a task without stressing about ambiguity. But most importantly, Outwitly’s positive and warm attitude toward seeking feedback has been essential for me to build relationships and establish trust in my new team. Feedback is key to growth and is also crucial to the design process. Luckily, everyone at Outwitly provides valuable insights without being overly critical. Their responsiveness and openness have been fundamental for us as a successful remote team.
Key Takeaways: When you’re new in your career and new to the design team…
- Lean into your soft skills of communication and collaboration.
- Get to know your team members on a human level by setting up coffee chats.
- Establish a regular cadence of 1:1 check-ins with leadership. Don’t forget to seek feedback during this time – it’s essential to your growth!
- Ask for clarity around expectations and eliminate as much ambiguity as possible right off the hop.
Are you looking for an exciting new work opportunity? Outwitly is always looking for talented folks to join our Independent Contractor Pool.
Building a great UX and service design team requires a combination of skills, expertise, and teamwork. From communication and clarity to collaboration and creativity, many ingredients go into the secret sauce of a successful design team. But above all, the people you choose to work with make all the difference. Great design is a collaborative effort that requires a talented and dedicated team. So surround yourself with the right people, and you can create amazing things together.
We hope this post has helped provide some insights into what makes a great design team. Stay tuned for Part Two of this blog series written by Kristin, our Director of Design Strategy. She has years of experience leading design teams worldwide – trust us, you won’t want to miss it!
P.S. If you like the sound of being a designer on our team here at Outwitly, keep an eye out for open positions on our website. Follow us on Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter to be among the first to hear of new opportunities!