Scaling Design at SumUp

Knowledge / Inspiration

Scaling Design at SumUp

Enabling the Team
UXDX Europe 2020

As companies grow in scale with distributed teams around the world it is important to have embedded designers and researchers in your organisation. Keeping momentum, alignment and customer focus to maximise business outcomes requires scaling practices, frameworks and community.
Join Pamela as she shares her journey in leading the scaling of design within SumUp.

Hi, everybody, super happy to be speaking to you at the UXDX conference many thanks to the organizers for inviting me to come speak to you. Happy to share with you my journey of SumUp, how we’re looking to scale design. It’s been quite a journey, and especially in the last couple of months. The experience with COVID has really taught us a lot about the organization, and how we need to be adapting. And it is affected and impacted, of course, how we’re thinking about our scaling.
We’re going to talk about three pillars that we are racing to participate in to make this journey work. One is around organization, one is around practice and culture, and the other ones are UX strategy. So I’ll walk you through all of those. A joint SumUp in November last year, so it’s been 10 months. And as I already mentioned, it has been a journey, both because of the nature of the company, and then of course because we had to some significant adjustments with the lockdowns and the COVID crisis. It has actually revealed quite a bit about the company and the commitment that’s our past to helping our small merchants be successful. And be successful at this point in time was a very heartfelt and very genuine part of our motivation to significantly shift the company from card reader company to a multi-product company.
When I joined the companies, I always spend some time getting to know the organization. And I like to use this model from the DENNIS Design Center to take a little bit of an inventory of how does the company actually understand design, how does it work with design, and how much does it embrace it. There are a couple of other models that are also quite good. One is from the McKinsey value index that was published, I think in 2018. And then last year, the InVision maturity report was also published, and it’s quite good and worth with a read. This one is a simple four-steps. So, I like to stay with that because it makes it understandable, and how design can progress in an organization. And SumUp, like most companies, is somewhere between two and three. Thinking about design as more styling versus understanding that design is actually a process, and in the way of designing in the way of working can be an organizational change driver.
The other model that I always like to look at is where’s the organization, how is it evolving, what’s its philosophy. In general, when I start, when companies are early in the design adoption, I like to start with a more centralized but embedded teams, in order to really be able to build the culture and build the practices. What is happening as we are now all living in some form of tribalization. We frequently have to go straight from scattered individuals and teams to actually having distributed teams that are living inside of tribes, or whatever the particular language is in your organization. And we need to move towards finding a way in which to have a what I called empowered transversal teams to really support the individuals and the various tribes in organizations.
It is for that reason that I come back to what should be a super familiar model to us and almost common sense at this point. But it’s always surprising to me how organizations are not really acting, embodying, or working with them. But these believes, that I called the Magic Triad, where design, product, and engineering really collaborate together in solving the problem that we’re trying to solve for our customers, in this case for our merchants. But I find in a lot of organizations, sometimes because of reporting, the design and product work well together. Although frequently design is more of a supporting function to product, and then engineering’s left out. I have been in some organizations where design is more closely tied to engineering, and then is a bit more on the implementation of functional side. But in most organizations, this Magic Triad doesn’t really work the way I think we’re all envisioning it, in this kind of super collaborative, super equal mindset. So I’ll bring this up again later when I talk about how I’m setting up organization within SumUp. But I think it’s a pretty important framework to remember that real innovation comes at that intersection.
So with these three models, I then also always look at what is unique about an organization. Because ultimately any model can work, but it can only work if it can fit within the philosophy and the structure of the company that you’re trying to introduce this to. And SumUp has distinctly unique attributes and characteristics that require particular approaches. The way I like to talk about product in the merchant experience is to say we have one merchant and one product. And for quite a long time, this is really true. We had a card reader, and then we had an interface that, for example with this product, the AIR. You need to have the app so you could enter the amounts, and then you could actually do the transactions.
Straightforward interface, some additional management functions but quite straightforward. In the last four or five months, we’ve become a multi-product company. So, we have now invoicing, we have selling online, we have mobile payments, we have gift cards. We have all these new products, functions, and tools that can allow our merchants to be much more successful. But where do we put them? How did they integrate them? And basically, we’ve started the conversation of saying that our app reflects our organization, because we have one more button where everything now lives that we’ve launched.
That can all be worked out, but what’s the particular challenging about this is, it means that I have, this was actually in January, this is 11 teams working into one product interface. We’re now actually 16 teams working into one product one interface. And so, the particular challenges in this autonomous, with these autonomous teams, how do we get this product to evolve in a way that creates a cohesive merchant experience that really focuses on building value for the merchant, not launching products and features in our own autonomous ways. This is what keeps me awake at night. And this is really what I’m looking to address and evolve as we go on this journey in scaling design.
So, how to do this? I have three pillars or areas that I really focus on as part of this journey. So one is what is the design organization, what are the practices and the community that really provides the glue, and where do we really want to go, what’s our UX strategy and what’s product vision that can really inspire people to really work towards this shared vision.
So first, the design organization. I mentioned already that I have a particular philosophy of how I would love to start, but most of the time we already further along. And at SumUp, like probably a lot of the organization that you’re working for, we have to embrace the fact that the design organization needs to map the organizational philosophy of the company. I have worked in other companies where the design organization didn’t quite match the rest of the organization. And yes, it made us special, but not always special in a way that was good for us. So, design frequently in those circumstances was blamed for any hindrance, any delays, anything. It was always somehow the design was the bottleneck or the other, in terms of the team not delivering. So, I’m very aware that even though I might think about it, think about wanting to have a different structure, it’s super important for designed to be equal from an organizational perspective.
Since I started, we’ve grown from 35 to designers to 68. We have brand designers, product designers, and user researchers. And we are quite distributed, we have offices in Copenhagen, in Sofia, in Berlin and on another office in Cologne, and it’s not insignificant office in São Paulo. So, when I think about, “Okay, we have this organization, how do we create cohesiveness both in structure but then also in our practices, so we can actually all be empowered to create one experience for our one merchant?”
The way we’ve matched to the organization is we are tribalizing our product teams. So we have, I think seven tribes now, and there’s more coming on a regular basis. And then, we have marketing teams that are currently embedded. We are very country focused. But here we are also talking about tribalization. So, we really want to the company very much believes in autonomous teams, really self-organizing, and really solving merchant problems in their particular demand and value stream. On the other side then I’m looking to build this empowered transversal organization. It was part of the platform tribe where we’re really building teams that can provide needed expertise and look across the journey and look across our products. So one is around brand design, one is around user research, a design system, and then service design are senior design experts who can work on projects that cover different tribes and teams, and we’re also beginning to set up design ops, and then bringing in much-needed expertise that may not exist in the organization. And I’ll talk about that in a few minutes.
From to then come back to how do we empower this triad, this magic peer relationship to happen, I’m working with all the tribe leads, which can come from a variety of different disciplines to create a matching structure for design within the organization. So the design will have a Design Lead, reporting to the Tribe Lead as a peer to Engineering Leads and Product Leads, then have Designers actually reporting into them. So we set up many organizations in these tribes, so that there is design support for the designers, there’s mentorship, there is this cohesiveness. And there is a ready at the most senior level in the tribe, and a set up where the teams in the disciplines are treated equally. This is really quite important that a lot of organizations design is reporting to product, and this keeps this slightly lopsided relationship moving. And here, I’m really looking at reinforcing the equilibrium by setting up this parallel structure.
Then we still have the designers embedded in actual teams and squads, this is super important. Because again, this is on the ground, you get really this level of collaboration going in. So I’ll talk about team designers with their own superhero skills, if you will. That really can work on a day-to-day basis with a squad or with a team on features, be in the practices, in the rituals, and really be part of making things happen. I’ve watched over the last five years, the rise of product designers, which I don’t fully believe in. They usually hired as one designer who needs to be great at UX, great at UI, great at user research, great at pixel iconography, and maybe even also copywriting. And while I may know a handful of people who are really great at all of them, most designers that I know really have a strength in the core where they really excel, and then they have complementary skills. So I really want to think it as an opportunity for us to really honor their strengths and really leverage that, and then have them focus on bringing additional expertise as needed to really help support where they may not be as strong. So, team designers tend to be stronger on the UX and problem-solving side, but that’s not of course a rule. But then if that’s true, then at what point is a tribe for example, or even by the global level need a really super expert UI designer that can really work and complement the team designers. Or a copywriter, because not every designer is good at copywriting. Or use a researcher who can really support may be multiple teams or multiple tribes. So, this model is one that really honors at, A, if you want to have design excellence, we really need people who have deep expertise in a particular area to compliment, or maybe more generalists or designers for UX designers who can apply very good systems design, but who could benefit from a peer to really solve the design problem. And take it to the next level by having a UI or visual designer or UI copy expert working with them.
This is important in a couple of levels. I apply the same model inside of tribes, as well as to the organization as a whole. It gives me a chance to scale design at a pace that the company can actually handle. So, we’re now looking to hire our first UX writer in all of SumUp. I’m hiring him or her into the global organization. With that, I’ll begin to set up, almost to demand for my other teams and other tribes to also want to have a UX writer because they see the value that this skill and this person can produce. And they’ll be a natural push for then tribes to say, “Yes, we need to have one. We’re going to prioritize them as a head count.” So, rather than me needing to convince the people, I can bring somebody in, I can show what value they can produce. And then very quickly the demand will grow in the other teams, and we can expand and disseminated as we need to initiate a shared resources, and then may be embedded in different teams.
So coming back to organization, what are three principles that can really help with the thinking around organization? One is very important that the design at an organization needs to really adapt and work within the philosophy of the company. If you aspire to have really great products, I really believe it’s important to not compromise on quality of talent and cultural fit. And the Idea of having experts supporting more generalists is a way in which you can really do both. And then really grow at the pace that the organization can handle. And that’s where this model of experts supporting generalists is one that I found to be really quite effective and creating our kind of demand and creating a natural organizational pace.
The second pillar is really around practices and community. Because as we shift the organization towards these embedded tribes and these embedded teams, we need a way in which to have cohesiveness across them. Remember the 16 teams that are all working into an interface? While those are all individual teams and individual tribes, and I need to find a way in which at least at the design level, but really also the product and engineering level, we know what we want to be doing, we have shared practices to get there.
Design sprints have become a very loved practice. I believe design sprints aren’t the answer to everything. I actually believe workshops are really sitting down and working together on solving problems. So we are embracing the workshop as a format for us in general. Of course, when we can all be in the room together it really creates that bond and that kind of sensitivity that we are looking for. One of the designers, I can’t see him right now, he’s from our Sofia office. We had quite a few of our Brazil product, engineering, and design members in this particular sprint. And he really embraced understanding our merchants from Brazil. And now in conversations, he’ll be talking about how we need to be thinking about it from a completely different perspective. And he didn’t have that kind of awareness until we brought everybody together. So, this I really believe is important, of course. Now, that we’re all working from home, we have to take it virtual. Which, you know, yes, we’re all getting to know Miro port, and they do quite a bit of magic. It is not the same thing as working in a room together and whiteboarding. But we need to embrace the technology, and not forget the practice and the importance of collaborating and working together, which is super important to create that shared knowledge. Especially when we’re in an organization that so distributed. And we’re really developing in Berlin and in Sofia, for our merchants as far away as Brazil.
One of the practices that I really focus on, that I find it actually quite interesting as a design crit, as part of the way in which we can come together, review, and input in each other’s work, we’re finding at SumUp that frequently two or three teams are working on very similar problems or views into a portal. So we’d like to bring them together, and I’m going to start to have a conversation of do we really need to do different list views or can we have the same, and how do we agree to that. Coming from consulting, design critiques are work how and practice. I found through in organizations that is much less common and frequently quite uncomfortable. So from my perspective, this is going to become an important part of our practice. But we need to figure out how to bring designers to the place where they can value it, they can work with it, they can separate themselves from their work, and really engage in dialogue, so we can strive towards the much better solutions and much better quality of output.
One of the things that we’re looking at to get there is to talk about what we even mean by Design Excellence. It is my goal that we create amazing product. So we need to have a shared language, not only design but also with product and with engineering, and what do we actually mean by that. So we right now in the middle of going through this process, this was our first step of to even saying what is excellence, and it’s of course not purely aesthetic. There’s a lot about fit, usability, and accessibility, but we really need to take it a step further. Because too many principles and too many characteristics, it gets really confusing and what to work with.
So, we’re currently looking at how do we take our brand values or promises or who we want to be. And then, use Design Excellence as a part of our process tool, part of a something we can use for developing language to do design critiques. And then how can we actually then measure the output in a more on the design side, then maybe on NPS or overall performance side. So, we’re still is very much a work in progress, but we believe that this can be one of the vehicles, where we as a design community. But then also eventually with the product and engineering organization can have a language for providing feedback that’s constructive, not opinion-based, and then we can overtime actually tied to different metrics.
So, here again are three principles for how to emphasize community as a vehicle to build this cohesiveness. One is really about the community values, agreeing in the principles, the artifacts. We haven’t quite yet figured the artifacts out yet, but that’s part of what we want to do this quarter. You don’t want to talk about processes, but what are these fundamentals that we need to cover as we work on different projects across the globe. I definitely believe we need to co-create, so we can have a shared language, we have a shared vision of what problems we’re solving for our customers. And as a company, SumUp is very much in the conversation of how important is for us to work together and be face-to-face. You know there’s a big trend everywhere to work remotes and that will stay, but we’re real big believers that the face-to-face in conversations are the ones that allow us to innovate, are the ones that allow us to actually connect, that allow us to actually discover solutions to problems that we can’t really get to serendipitously when we need to schedule some calls.

And then, the last is UX strategy and Product vision. You know, towards what end are we actually working, where do we want to get to, what is great look like. So, what is this end-to-end journey experience, what is the narrative. And this is, from my perspective, essential for having not only designers but also product managers and engineers really feel empowered because they understand where we’re looking to go.
Coming back to our one merchant one product narrative. This is really the world that I want us to think about that one merchant. You know, we have multiple products that are being experienced through this one interface. So, what is the user experience journey, what does that really. Like, how are we coordinating the marketing touchpoints for all these different countries, what brand are really building. And then, we invest in our customer care agents. We really believe they are an important part of delivering the SumUp quality of experience. So, how do we empower them to really deliver an experience that’s cohesive. So we’re on a journey to look at what are the brand characteristics we’ve been reviewing them, to see if we can simplify them and really have a strong message that we can craft into the UX strategy. We have experience principles that we’re working on. And it’s the third, like we want to be looking at what actually is service principles.
One important part, I’m super excited about this, with Erica Gibson joining SumUp as the global head of user research, is we’re now starting the journey of really understanding our merchants. And we want to build it around something we called Continuous knowledge building, which is philosophically a very different approach to use research than even what I’ve been able to do in other companies, where it’s more generally project based or question based.
So we have three pillars that we want to be establishing for this continuous knowledge building. One is around Data, the first pillar. We have data, of course everywhere, and we talk about big data, which is all the data that we generate through the use of the product, through our customer care agents, through just demographics, through the business. But then we also have thick data which comes much more through a qualitative research that the user research community is going to be bringing to the conversation. It’s a really important part that we leverage all the data that we have inside of a company to understand our merchants and trying to create hypotheses.
The second pillar for us is Meaning, because of course the data and of itself doesn’t really fully tell us what is going on. And we, both Erica and I, are firm believers and the rigor that we need to put into understanding the data, creating insights, and creating meaning out of them. The meaning however is also only one thing, how do we then take what we’ve learned, how do we take our understanding and really create impact on what are the practices around that. I see the move from meaning to impact is where a lot of companies stopped short because the translation just either gets lost in translation or there is no translation that’s happening. So our vision is to really, with these three pillars create this virtuous circle of continuous knowledge building where every person, every SumUpper in the company starts to have a knowledge of our merchants. So, somebody in Sofia really can understand merchants in São Paulo where in the northeastern part of Brazil, as well as in the UK. And somebody in Brazil also understands what our Merchants would needs are in the UK. So we really built this almost like, my metaphor is a bit like clay, it’s a continuous additional knowledge building. It’s not like one report one moment in time.
And our belief is that in a year, in a year and a half when we have a knowledge base that we can leverage, we’ve been talking about our merchants, been building this narrative, that the velocity at which we can create impactful increase, because we’re all going to be working off a shared knowledge, and we’ll be able to reference that in solving our problems in building products. Super ambitious. We are beginning of the journey, but I’m very excited that this will give us a very different foundation from which to both create stories, but really solve our merchant’s needs.
When I started at SumUp a month in, I was asked by one of the tribes to talk about design and what we want to accomplish, and I put together this provocation to tell the story, to start to open up everybody’s mind to what could be the experience of SumUp to our merchants. It was very provocative, it was a lot of hand waving on my part, but the story behind it was really engaged everybody. And I’ve done the same presentation in a couple of different offices, and everybody would come up to me afterwards and say, “Okay, now I really understand where we’re trying to go. I really understand what our goal is, what our vision is.” And the particular tribe that I created this for did their q1 planning as a follow-on to this, and immediately change their strategy and start to focus on how would we actually get there, what’s the delta to be able to achieve a vision. So what’s really exciting for me is both the impact that the reinforcement of how important the story is, but also what I’m excited about is actually on this journey where this seems too provocative, but it’s really not the provocative, this is really where we’re going.
One of the foundations for UX Strategy is for us to look at our brand. I really believe that the digital experiences that we create are the strongest manifestation for a brand, because it’s dynamic, it can be emotional. And that we bring that together with our merchant knowledge. So we’ve been working on taking our brand characteristics and who we want to be as a company and what we want to stand for. And deriving UX principles from that, and we’re going to be rolling that out this quarter. Initial feedback or even for product and engineers has been super supportive and engage, so we think we are able to provide principles that teams can use to really drive decision-making for implementation for the experience.
We, of course, have a design system. We are in a process of significantly upgrading it from first version that was very web based to actually design system that really works also on mobile. And that can take us to the future. Next year, we’re going to make accessibility one of our themes. And we really want to take accessibility topics and bring them into the design system. We’ve already started to do that by our look at typography and colors. So we have enough contrast, we’re getting away from light gray and light gray, and very small type and light gray, and really creating a design system that really works for our merchants who are going to be using our product in bright sunlight, in dynamic environments, on phones that are going to be quite different quality, and be start to be truthful to our care of our small merchants and serving their needs.
So, UX Strategy and Product vision, we really believe in that, we are working on it. I’m happy to share it when we have created it as a follow-up if there’s interest. But as three principle on how to get there, I really believe enhancing empower teams with knowledge about our customers, and this is really our mission from a user research perspective. I believe in the power of story, inspiring and bringing people together. And I believe autonomous teams will gravitate toward saying, “Yes, we want to make that happen, and we’ll go that extra mile to make it happen.” Which is why it number three is also important. We need to bring everybody on the journey, and I want engineers to be as passionate about what we want to create as the designers are, and to be really engaged in the problem solving and in the solution to this.
So, in summary, we use these three as a foundation for how we’re scaling design at SumUp. And with design, I mean brand design, product design, and user research. So it’s very much looking at the organization really making that harmonious, really making that adapt. But then, as a counterpoint to the autonomy that we are setting up, what are the practices, how do I bring a really super committed community together so that we jointly stay focused on our one merchant and our one product experience. And then, how do we inspire the whole organization with this. And this is really where the product vision comes into play, but also the tools that really enable these autonomous teams to stay connected, to create this cohesiveness. And that the product that we’ll be able to download, hopefully in a year, will be significantly more powerful and not reflect our organization, but really serve our merchant’s needs.
So it’s an exciting journey. We’re in the middle of it. But I hope that one is able to share with you is also useful for you and your organizations. I think these are fundamental tools and ways to think. But of course, they all work a little bit differently in each organization. And you need to figure out what makes your organization unique and how do you adapt them to this to take them on this journey. So, thank you very much. And I look forward to talking to some of you during the conference. Thanks.

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