Design culture
Written by Jotham Oakley
Sep 27, 2016

How to create a Design Culture

How we created and continue to nurture a Design Culture at Brightec.

The culture and output of our design team

As part of the Brighton Digital Festival we hosted an Open Studio event. Attendees could wander around our space, and we had the privilege of explaining our company culture, and how we apply that culture to the work we do. 

I gave a short talk on how Brightec’s values affect the culture and output of our design team.

This talk was split into three main areas; 'What we work on'; 'Who we work with'; and 'How we work together', I spoke on how one key theme ties all of our work together...the importance of valuing people.  

What we work on

Our design team works on everything from research and UX design across multiple platforms through to UI design, to client branding.

We also help create pitch documents for the sales team and keep the Brightec brand up to scratch. It really is quite a varied output!

Valuing the end user

We have a particular focus on the end user and we believe in placing a high value on those people actually using the final product. Ed (our experience designer) will spend time speaking to potential users in order to understand the problem that the app is trying to solve. This fuels our ideas for how best to approach each project.

This carries on throughout the project and we’ll often conduct UX tests with users even as the product is being developed. This enables us to spot any areas of improvement right up to the release deadline.

Avoiding misconceptions

Ed sets the standard of humility pretty high. He has to lay aside any pre-existing ideas about the project and let the users inform him. However much good intent is behind it, the last thing we want is for a misconception to sneak into the project at this early stage.

Harnessing knowledge

As the project passes amongst our design team, we try to harness all of the knowledge gathered at the research stage and build an interface around those core ideas.

From here, we'll see it through to the point where it can be passed onto the dev team, where they’ll begin to help the product really take shape.  

Who we work with

Working on a broad variety of projects is always a challenge, but another complicating factor is that with each new project comes a new client.

Every client has different preferences, styles of work and expectations. Therefore, it's important that the designers at Brightec have a lot of interaction with the client at all stages of the project.

Listening to the experts

Although we’re experts in the mobile industry, the client is the expert (not us) in their own sector, whether that's the financial industry, charity sector, the world of education etc.

We need to listen to them and learn from them if we are to create a good product. In particular, we place our design team right in the heart of the project at the beginning of a new piece of work, getting to know the client straight away. 

Inception workshops

A great way to start any project is an inception workshop. This is a half day session, where we focus on identifying all the key goals for a new project.

We’ll also look at any potential risks or details we’ll want to take special care over.

We participate in a range of activities in the workshop to help us learn all of this.

The 'gut reaction' test

We'll start with a ‘gut reaction test’.  We show 10 slides for 20-30 seconds each. Each slide shows some screenshots from an app and everyone is asked to give it a value between 1 and 5. 1 being ‘it’s horrible’, 5 being ‘it’s the best-looking thing I’ve ever seen’ (crucially all the examples are apps that Brightec haven’t everyone can be honest if they don’t like it).

This provides us with a quick understanding of the things the client does & doesn’t like and also helps everyone get their head in the mobile mindset.

Project scope

We also have discussions around the scope of the project: who are the key participants and stakeholders? What are the main deadlines and milestones? The more information the better.

Sketching workshops & feature prioritisation

If necessary, we’ll do use some activities such as feature prioritisation or sketching workshops. These are short exercises that help us to understand what the client is imagining in their own head. Seeing this on paper helps to speed up conversation and, ultimately, our production time. 

Ongoing contact

We’ll stay in touch with the client throughout the design phase of a project, giving them updates as and when appropriate.

We use Invision to show them prototypes of their project and, when necessary, we'll arrange a face-to-face in for any presentations we need to do (for example if we’re pitching a brand idea to them we’ll always do this in person). 

"The best idea wins - a disagreement over a creative idea is not the same as a personal attack"

How we work together

It's vital that our creative team trusts each other. This means, however painful, we must be open to critical feedback.

The best idea wins

We’ve learnt over the years to hold our ideas lightly. When someone disagrees with your idea that’s okay!

We believe in the concept that ‘the best idea wins’ and that a disagreement over a creative idea is not the same as a personal attack!

Without this culture in creative industries, staff can be easily offended but, worse than that, the actual ideas seem to get stale and dull because nobody is challenging a better way of thinking.

Stand up

For larger projects, we’ll aim to have a stand-up meeting once a day as a design team to go through our progress together and offer improvement ideas, encouragements and help each other to think through the problems we’re trying to solve.

As an aside, we normally have these meetings after lunch when energy and focus can often be at it's lowest. 

Style guides

Our design team works closely with our development team. Often we’re to be found walking in between the office pods asking questions or suggesting ideas to each other.

Part of this process for us is our style guides. We design these for each project and make these as useful for a developer as we can, using their language where possible and continuing to explain the end user to them so that everyone, at any stage of the project has a focus on valuing people. 

Lastly, put users first

In closing, at every stage of our process, we try to put our users first.

We listen, learn from and value our clients and we trust each other as a team. 

A lot of our thinking has been influenced by  Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull (president of Pixar and Disney animations).  Half the creative people I know are reading it right now, but it's not just a trend, I found it to be deeply inspiring, challenging and motivational. 

/ Design