How to build strong design teams that scale

By Nathan Isaacs | May 10, 2021
Picture of team collaborating

How do you build a customer-focused design team that scales?

Susan Rice has done it three times. She’s the Vice President of UX at Workiva, a global SaaS reporting compliance platform that enables the use of connected data and automation for reporting across finance, accounting, risk, and compliance.

In her Human Insight Podcast interview with Janelle Estes, UserTesting’s Chief Insights Officer, Rice discusses: 

  • Her favorite UX design KPI
  • UX design differences between B2B and B2C
  • Advice for those embarking on a design career

How to build a strong design team that scales: a summary from the podcast

Of course, there isn’t only one correct recipe for building a winning team. Factors such as company size, industry, and business goals are obvious considerations. Nonetheless, companies that want to be customer-centric must also be intentional with their team design, as well as with their tools and tactics, to better understand their customers and build products and experiences with their input. 

Rice explained her team design and why she prefers it.

“We have a team of specialists and generalists,” she said. “It's interesting because I built my last two teams in this way. And then I was really fortunate to join Workiva and the teams were already set up this way.” 

She said they have UX designers, or product designers, each of whom is embedded in a squad with a lead engineer and product manager. “They’re a true triad, really working together to solve a particular problem in a particular problem space,” she said.

Then, she continued, you also want to have an opportunity to take a step back, look at the big picture and really understand your customers. But that presents some questions: 

  • How do we best go about doing that?
  • Who are the people that should be looking at that more broadly across the different journeys? 

It may not be the embedded UX designer who's focused on a particular space because they're always going to be researching their problem area. 

“For me, there's a big need to have research that cuts across the organization and looks at things more broadly and holistically,” Rice said. “They can feed into any given squad, but there are bigger opportunities that can help drive product strategy or organizational strategy. 

She also adds specialists for content design and UI design. “You may be a UX designer, you might do some writing of course, but are you the best at really understanding how that should be communicated and what the content strategy opportunity is across what you're solving for?” Rice said.  

“And thinking about that holistically, that's what helps us have these specialized roles that can think about how this one particular change fits into the broader ecosystem within the Workiva platform and how that meets customer's needs broadly from an experience perspective end-to-end,” she said.

The team makeup is intended to be very collaborative and enablers of one another so that they can help the organization deliver great customer experiences, Rice said. 

And as important as team design is, it’s also important to have a leader that enables that team to be successful. From her interview with Janelle, you’ll see that Rice is one of those leaders. She regularly makes herself available as a mentor and she asks others to mentor her.

Want to learn more about building your own customer-focused team? Check out this blog post, Why every team should care about human insights or this 3 tips for starting a UX division from scratch.

The startup's guide to user feedback

Learn why fast, iterative feedback is critical to any startup's success—from concept testing to prototyping, and more.

About the author(s)
Nathan Isaacs

Nathan is a Senior Content Producer at UserTesting. When he's not producing UserTesting's Human Insight podcast and other human-centered content, you can find him making beer, riding on Zwift, and fixing up his 110-year old Craftsman home.