Designing our design team culture

Discussion during a How Might We exercise during our design team day at Rexlabs

Rexlabs is a growing company, and with growth comes the need for change. While this can be frustrating because change takes time, the design team at Rexlabs are using this frustration as fuel. I am sharing my insights about how collaborating and defining new processes ensures we are creating a space where we can do our best work.

Starting my journey with Rexlabs

I joined Rexlabs in February 2021 as a Senior Product Designer working on the Rex product (a CRM tool used by real estate agents and their teams to manage their day-to-day workflows and customer relationships). Although I had no previous experience in this domain, I am constantly empathising with customers through research and learning about the real estate industry.

Rexlabs piqued my interest because I wanted to join a customer driven and product lead company, work in a smaller design team (currently there are 5 of us) and have impact within the organisation. Each of us have different backgrounds and complementary skills, which makes us a diverse team when we get together to solve problems.

The design team: Chris Kerr, Eva Plaisted, Taylor Smith, Yolanda van Kimmenade, Cody Gordon

At Rexlabs there is one designer per product in cross-functional teams (except Cody and I who both work on Rex). So one challenge we all face is overcoming our product silos and thinking holistically about design at Rexlabs. We want to plan for the future, designing our products as a suite that will work together and are connected under the same parent brand. We also want to improve sharing research insights as our customer bases are similar.

“Collaboration with the design team is awesome. Whenever I reach out to someone they always have time to chat and have genuine interest in what I am doing. I think this interest stems from us all working in the same domain but on different verticals. I am quite collaborative by nature and it’s pretty nice having a team around that also enjoys that way of working.”
(Taylor Smith)

Design team collaboration

As Product Designers, it’s no secret that we enjoy collaborating to solve problems. We meet every Wednesday for ‘Scribbles’ — alternating in-person and remote meetups. We discuss topics of interest, give each other feedback on designs (eg. user research insights, user flows or WIP designs) and have a delicious coffee (and a pastry or smashed avo toast) at the Woolshed in Newstead.

During one Scribbles session, the topic turned to our frustrations about processes that needed improvements. Anton Babkov (our head of design and CEO, who gives us business insights and support), suggested we document these challenges and decide how we’re going to tackle them.

Defining our challenges

During our next Scribbles meetup, we brainstormed the challenges we wanted to focus on as a design team:

  • Recruitment of new design / UX team members
  • Creating guidelines for measuring success of features and iteration post-release
  • Defining our ideal design process
  • Defining our design team principles
  • Contribution model and adoption of the design system (known as Luna)
  • Defining customer research best practices

After defining our challenges we researched articles about design teams at Figma and Intercom, detailing how they nurture their design team culture, to inform our approach to solving these challenges.

We decided to test ‘10% time’ for the team, allowing us to spend a day together every 3 or 4 weeks to workshop solutions to these challenges using design thinking practices. This gives us a chance to collaborate and learn from each other outside of our daily product work.

“We have a lot of knowledge, talent and love for design between all of us and I think we are really starting to learn how to use it and learn from each other as a collective group. I look forward to our 10% days because we always uncover something of interest and we get to be our true geeky design selves.”
(Eva Plaisted)

Our first design team 10% day — creating a backlog

Using a design thinking workshop approach we focused on understanding the challenges we were facing and aligning around common goals. Our first 10% day was organised by Eva Plaisted and myself. We split the day into 4 parts:

  1. Alignment of our company vision and values (presented by our CEO, Anton Babkov)
  2. Create a backlog of design team tasks in the prioritised areas
  3. Discuss our team ceremonies
  4. Get to know each other and have fun

our high level agenda for the first UX team 10% day — images by Eva Plaisted

Part 1 — defining problem statements and brainstorming solutions

Our schedule for part 1 of the day

In the morning we focussed on creating a backlog of tasks we wanted to tackle as a design team. We started with the challenges identified in previous sessions to ensure we were aligned on our problem statements. Then we voted on these problems to select the highest impact challenges. There was plenty of discussion around prioritisation as we are all passionate individuals.

Expanding on the challenges we identified and grouping common themes

The next step was to do a HMW (How might we…) exercise to open up the problem and allow us to brainstorm solutions. We prioritised these solutions based on what we could achieve this quarter (using an effort vs. impact framework). These tasks were then entered into a backlog for visibility.

“I think that our first 10% UX day workshop was a good start to bringing the team together. I was happy to see us hash out ideas and thoughts openly as to what we needed to tackle as a team, when we haven’t really worked together as a group before.”
(Eva Plaisted)

Focusing on feature success (metrics) + recruitment topics and documenting HMW statements, challenges and solutions

Part 2 — getting to know each other and creating a backlog

Schedule for part 2 of the day

Superhero Scribbles

“Getting to know each other” games can be cheesy, but ours was fun! After lunch, Taylor Smith took us through a drawing exercise to practice our skills using only circles, squares and triangles. Then we each drew or created our superhero version of ourselves highlighting our strengths, interests and ideas for personal growth. We shared our drawings or sculptures with each other and explained our creations. (My superhero strength is definitely not drawing!)

Our superhero creations – using pens, pencils and modelling clay
“As they’ve worked together — I’ve observed the team starting to build trust and a sense of shared purpose.”(Anton Babkov).

The output: our backlog

We created a backlog of tasks in our internal Notion page and prioritised recruitment as our focus for this quarter.

First priority: recruitment

Hiring new colleagues has been a challenge because of several factors: high demand and low supply of UX candidates in the job market, Rexlab’s long recruitment process and slow turn around to review candidate’s portfolios. We also lack visibility in the design community because we’re not in the habit of sharing our work and learnings, compounding the difficulty to attract great talent. These problems lead us to define the following areas of improvement.

Recruitment goals:

  1. Make our recruitment process more predictable and consistent for candidates and the interview team
  2. Streamline the process to reduce the time designers spend on recruitment activities
  3. Develop evaluation criteria to ensure alignment on the candidate’s suitability for the role
  4. Explore ways to share our design work and learnings with the community

10% day learnings

After the workshop we had plenty of tasks to work on and time to consider our approach moving forward. We enjoyed working together to solve problems and generate solutions. We reflected on how beneficial it was to be creative and laugh together during the “superhero scribbles” activity. However, our energy was low in the afternoon and we tried to fit too much into the day.

“I think our ambitions were too big in terms of what we would cover for the whole day. I think that the drawing and clay exercises were awesome and a great way to have the team “collaborate” without having to work on a design problem per se. I think perhaps we should have broken it up into two morning sessions or next time, just stick to more team bonding / light collaboration work in the afternoon.”
(Eva Plaisted)

Progress on recruitment since our workshop

We have removed a few steps of the recruitment process that weren’t in line with industry standards after our second 10% day, organised by Chris Kerr, in consultation with HR stakeholders and an external recruiter.

Eva and I worked on documentation by creating an interview guide with a structured outline for interviewers to follow (while still allowing for spontaneity and flexibility during the conversation). We also championed improved documentation through the interview process, encouraging interviewers to fill out an evaluation template. We believe it is important to give thoughtful feedback to ensure candidates understand why they may or may not be a good fit for our team.

Taylor has run 2 short workshops to further understand our recruitment challenges by mapping the recruitment journey. Which has allowed us to consider these challenges from both Rexlab’s and the candidate’s perspective.

“We have the tendency to get excited about new ideas as a group, but a little more hustle around finishing what we start would be a good place to improve.”
(Taylor Smith)
DUX (Design and UX) backlog after we started working on improving our recruitment process

Looking forward

Our next focus is on creating artefacts to contribute to the design community and showcase our processes, insights and work (like this article!). This will give us more visibility in the design community and encourage us to share our work more often.

I have realised that the process of creating our design culture is continuous and requires collaboration and leadership from all of us (not just the head of design). I’m excited to be part of Rexlab’s growth and build the relationships with my colleagues that are needed to enact change.

“Change is only apparent when we look in the rear view mirror.”
(Anton Babkov)

If you want to know more about life as a Rexlabs Product Designer feel free to ask any questions in the comments or if you’re interested in a career at Rexlabs check out our open positions.

If you want to understand more about how our large agency and enterprise customers are using our API, find out here!

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