Top Tips for Growing a Product Design Team

January 27, 2021

Aditi Kulkarni,  UX Manager for Money & Channels at Shopify, will speak at UXDX APAC on March 4th-5th 2021 on the topic 'Is Your Design Team Ready For Radical Change?'. Join our conference to hear from Aditi and other amazing leaders in Product Management, Design, UX Research and Product Development. You can buy tickets here: https://uxdx.com/apac/2021/tickets

As the new year rolls in, Shopify has announced that they will hire 2021 engineers this year as the company successfully expands. With this, design and UX teams must grow to accommodate. But how does a company decide it needs more engineers, UX researchers or designers? And how do they scale without breaking the current culture and bond within the team? As a UX Manager at Shopify, here are my top tips for scaling your team successfully!

But first, let me tell you a little about my experience. I've built teams from the ground up throughout my career, often for companies who have never had a design team before. In 2014, I joined the startup Postman as their first designer. In this role, I developed the brand and initial product in order to secure funding, and eventually raised $7M in Series A. I then hired designers and formed a team that is now still building and growing at Postman. Shopify is the first time I've worked for a company that already has a strong established UX & Design presence. From startups to enterprises, I've experienced design teams of all sizes and maturity, and today I want to share some of my learnings. Two features that the Money & Channels Team at Shopify have recently shipped are Balance and Pay Installments.

Keep It Lean
The only time you should be thinking about hiring is when your team is at capacity and it's painful not to expand. Keeping your team as lean as possible forces you to prioritise constantly. This will help with your teams motivation to get work done efficiently.

This idea of keeping a team lean is a people-centric strategy instead of a numbers strategy. A bigger team doesn't always mean getting through more work. From my experience, it's easier to be flexible with a smaller team.

Balance of Experience
It is important to have a good balance of experience levels on the team. The numbers of senior, junior and mid-level people matter when making a team efficient. For example, a senior team member with 10-15 years experience may not be open to change, while a junior person who hasn't seen crazy things happen will be more accepting when a things go south. I don't have a ratio, but it is important to understand the experience levels of who you are taking on and if it will holistically support your current team.

Keep It Diverse
A psychology study from 1998, conducted in Santa Clara University, studied 83 college students interviewing for their first job and the results showed that the number one signifier of whether they were offered the job was how extroverted they were. There have been many studies to follow suit such as The Sutton Trust study in 2016 which found extroverts 20% more likely to have a high-paying job than introverts.

On my team, I am very cognisant keeping it diverse when it comes to attitude characteristics. I find that both introverts and extroverts can bring different things to the team and that a good mix helps keep the team efficient. For example, introverts are typically better at handling stress during remote work and can really support the team during challenging times.

Value T-Shaped People
For certain design projects, it is essential to take on specialists to advise on certain elements, such as marketing or business strategy. I generally look for people who have t-shaped skills, people who have great skill in one area but also possess other skills that can support other areas of the team.

To build an ideal design team, I like to have professionals with one or more of the following skills: content design, product design, evaluative research, exploratory research, design systems, and most important designers who have strong metrics understanding.

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