None of these articles ever apply to my work experience because they are usually written by people who have a large enough team to give them the time and resources to do stuff like this AND write blogs about it.
For the past 7 years I have worked in startups with less than 30 people. At most I have led a team of 3 other designers, but the majority of the time it was just myself and one other designer since that is usually the most an early stage company is willing to invest in design (Which totally makes sense).
I know this is partially my own doing, but there is this feeling I get that I'm not "doing enough" as a design leader because I'm not constantly executing on all these major logistical projects like design systems and fancy brand guides. Sometimes that feeling isn't just put upon myself, but rather is communicated from leadership who read articles like this and don't realize it only applies to companies with much larger teams and resources.
When you are just one or two people in a startup that is under constant development and iteration, the best design system you can hope for is a decent set of symbols, colors, and typography. I had to learn how much additional effort to put into logistical projects because they were taking time away from actual design execution and didn't provide the same advantages at scale that you would get with a larger company and design team.
I would love more articles writing about how tiny design teams tackle the same large design problems as well as growing expectations from leadership for polish, quality, and consistency that larger teams are able to achieve.
You're damn right. And you're damn wrong.
Here's the thing - and I've been in both positions myself, currently in the same position you're talking about.
You're damn right: they've got tonnes of resources... or they don't, and just write about how to do the job properly on their own time, whilst their daily job is a mess.
Don't stress over not doing things the right way - stress over knowing what the right way is! Reading these types of articles gives you a target to shoot for. How close you'll get depends on the resources you have.
To put it in different words: factor the resources at your disposal into your self-assessment.
I've been in the business for well over a decade, and still sometimes find myself butchering a WordPress template to get a landing page out there today.
So you're right about this being "your fault" for not picking a different job. However, you're wrong when you think you're "not doing enough".
Excellent points, and I appreciate the thought.
Interestingly I find that I'm spending more time documenting my work internally to explain its value to leadership and development teams, rather than documenting it for external audiences. Maybe I can tweak my internal documentation to more easily be shared.
Although I also don't have a team of 30 there are some valuable lessons in this piece. I would say that with smaller teams managing resources is even more important as time and budget is limited.
- In 2015 we had a 5% loss
- In 2016 our company had a profit of ~10% after cutting costs (this included turning off empty servers and the likes, the margins are in everything)
- In 2017 we upped that to 20%/25% (we're still crunching the 2017 numbers)
One of the things we did, is that we really cut down the fat in the development pipeline. Re-use assets between projects and even recycle left-overs to create something new. We also limited the number of 'systems' that we work with, meaning we limited it to just our own custom CMS and WordPress (with just 1 template/site-builder) as opposed to 10 different WordPress packages and a bunch of other things. We've become more aware of what we spend our development time on and see if we can adapt say the booking form for a travel agency to a car rental company and/or restaurant as well, instead of building everything from scratch.
At first we were afraid that our clients wouldn't like that some of their websites look the same but in reality they really enjoy having an 'eco-system' of roughly the same designs with adaptions for their different projects. They surprisingly even like having the same characteristics as other client websites. We also try to re-sell the modules that we think are really good, such as our customizable booking form to other clients.
One of the things that really helped with this was Notion a sort of Wiki with all our code snippets and assets. I'm now looking into creating some sort of project database where we can easily add all our websites and add some tags like 'form', 'blog', 'page-transition' etc. so we can better archive all that we've made.
I wouldn't change your entire workflow and start going modular for every project(as the time an money mostly isn't there), but having a good archive of what you've already build and being more aware about what you build and why you build its is a valuable lesson to be learned.
Yeah I have a similar experience, and I think I'm reacting more to the overall trend of "Design Systems" articles and other large design team written articles lately rather than this specific one which really is scoped more to just symbols and documentation of those symbols which my two-person team does as well.
We also have a brand/code guide, but we've struggled to keep it up to date with rapid design iterations and struggled to enforce better developer implementation of those guides.
What I have seen over the past few years is how the expectations of developers and designers have changed so drastically and the list skill sets they should possess has just continued to grow.
In reality, there are very few, real, 'full-stack' designers or developers and everything ends up being watered down. It seems to create a void somewhere between design and development.
It really feels like a hybrid design-developer role should become more of a thing.
excellent article, and I'm impressed with the new design system. I can only hope it will actually make using the products easier. Because right now using hubspot applications makes me want to put a bullet in my head...
Whether it's trying to design an email (which for some reason is so simple in mailchimp, but rather tricky with hubspot) or trying to design a decent landing page (once again, rather simple with something like wordpress, but a nightmare with hubspot)... if the new design system helps make things easier for folks on the user end, I'm all for it :)