Aysha Samrin, Lead Product Designer at Perch, on how to set your design team up for success at an early stage startup.

Too many young startups view design as a secondary element of product, when in reality, the design of the product is what often determines its success or failure.

At Perch, we’re building a design culture that celebrates design by ensuring that design always has a seat at the table and offering challenging and rewarding opportunities to our designers in a supportive environment.

Uniting the team and structuring conversations

Without a common understanding of what makes design great at an organization, everyone is left to act according to their gut feelings. This makes the outcome of the design process entirely unpredictable, and can cause issues in the quality of the work output.

At Perch, we established three design principles that helped drive a lot of our decisions on our product and design team. These principles act as standards for our team and help us measure the quality of our work. They replace subjective ideals with clear standards that help team members make user-centered design decisions. Conversations turn from “I think that…” to “does this fall in line with the principles we’ve established?”.

Principles aren’t perfect and may change over time, but ultimately they play an important role in guiding us towards our end goal—creating a great user experience for people who will use the product that we’re creating.

Establishing design processes and creating a shared vision

Building a successful design team is all about putting talented people in positions, and on projects, where they can be successful while also growing as designers.

At Perch, we recognize that designers are not just focused on aesthetics. We are intentional about team dynamics and work towards creating an environment for success by roping designers in on product vision and strategy discussions so they better understand the context for the existence of a product.

Fostering collaboration between design and other parts of our organization has helped our designers improve their skills at articulating design decisions, in ways that our internal teams and external partners can understand.

Establishing design processes centered around communication and collaboration has helped us break down silos and facilitate conversations that help align Perch on a shared vision and outcomes.

Enabling design thinking across the company

In order to build a great design culture at early stage startups, it is crucial that design leaders work towards fostering design thinking outside of the design team than they do within their own team.

At Perch, we do this by including non-designers in the design process. We host cross-functional ideation sessions where members of different teams contribute their perspectives and ideas towards a design discussion. Another way we foster design thinking outside of the design team at Perch is by letting external team members into the design world and asking them for feedback at specific points in the design process.

Setting up a design team for success within an early stage startup requires an appreciation of the differences between design thinking and other transformational approaches that exist within the organization. Design leaders must be coaches who inspire their teams to achieve success, hand-holding when necessary but drawing back when a team hits its stride.