Building a Design Practice

The practice of building any, uh, practice is challenging. Especially from the ground up or while merging multiple teams together. Verne Ho does a phenomenal job at explaining how his design practice evolved, and how he tries to keep his team engaged, focused and successful in his recent post A Framework for Building a Design Practice.

I’ve often described building a successful practice as one part mechanic, one part architect and one part magician. You end up creating a process that’s unique to your business’s needs (architect), then figuring out the minute details and gears that are out of sync and causing larger issues (small problems often lead to big impacts: mechanic), and then working constantly to make your team feel like a real team (which is often pure magic).

I tend to focus on three core things when building a new (or rebuilding an existing) practice:

  1. Helping the team deliver projects they are proud of: Too often we can just be pushing things out, or focusing on “quality”. Focusing on work that makes the team high five when it’s delivered will ultimately deliver quality and great results.
  2. Building a process that’s flexible and can be both scaled up and down depending on project/client needs: Too often, when we design processes, we do so to scale up. But scaling those processes down and having them be just as effective is often just as important (most teams get more “scale down” projects than “scale up” ones, after all).
  3. Create a culture that allows for inherent communication: I’ve always believed that email is where information goes to die, and that meetings are designed to be soul sucks. Cultures that inherently share information between people mean we rarely need to tweak process to “improve communication”, because the team’s energy and enthusiasm creates pride (see above) which results in “automatic” sharing (which, yes, includes saving files to intranets, standardized naming, etc).

Ultimately, you need to find the right mix for you as a leader, and for your organization and clients.



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