Design field trips: How they help us get a heartbeat on design at Redgate

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The Roadmap Team
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We formed a design guild this year at Redgate to bring designers together from different parts of the company, as a sort of formalised team outside of our teams. Because product teams at Redgate have the autonomy to work and solve problems quickly, guilds are an important way for us to:

  1. Learn and grow

  2. Transfer knowledge

  3. Solve design problems bigger than just our product

Visiting other companies is just one example of an activity we do that falls under the guild’s remit. It’s a way to get a heartbeat on what we’re doing right and what we could be doing better. Also, it’s just fun.

Our latest trip was to Facebook in London.

But what does design at Redgate, a company that makes software for DBAs, have in common with design at Facebook, you ask? I have to admit, we prepared for the possibility of not much, because from the outside looking in, we couldn’t be more different.

But, we knew we would no doubt leave feeling inspired, so with an open mind and invitation from a classmate from University (👋Thanks Gabriel!), we ventured into London to visit Facebook.

Office tour

We kicked off our visit with a tour of the Facebook office, a modern glass office building tucked away off Brock Street in central London. Aside from the huge Christmas tree with Facebook-blue ornaments, the focal points of the lobby were the glass lifts and windows that looked into each floor of the building.

Our host, Carlo, a product designer for Workplace by Facebook met us in the lobby to greet us, get us our visitor badges, and sign our lives away (NDA) on the tablets at reception.

When the lift doors opened up on the Facebook floor, we were met with colourful murals, modern furniture, and posters — lots and lots of posters. Carlo explained to us that posters are part of the Facebook culture. (They even have a screen printing machine at Menlo Park (MPK), that everyone is free to use!)

Lots and lots of amazing posters

There was a big 3D Facebook logo, a cutout of the Queen, a red telephone booth, and lots of other fun decorations that made the space feel unique and creative.

We walked past a stand selling homemade wreaths for charity, through a cafe with free snacks and drinks, to the open plan environment where everyone was working.

A cafe with a barista and free drinks and snacks

Comfy seating areas to get away from your desk

Team environment

Most of the people working from the London office are engineers, building Workplace by Facebook and virtual reality software for the Oculus Rift. They work in small teams with product designers and data scientists. With flags from all over the world hanging from the ceiling above the desks, they are proud and celebrate their diversity. (Anyone can order a flag that represents them.)

For a weekday, they seemed light on the ground. He explained they have “No Meetings Wednesday” and a work from home culture that encourages people to work when/where/how they want to get things done.

Designers, engineers, and data scientists sit together in teams

We toured through 3 different levels, passing by plenty of desks, meeting rooms, and seating areas for casual chats. Carlo described it as ‘a typical office’, but there were pool tables, a free sweet shop, a LEGO wall, and even a bar with beer on tap that said otherwise!

Lots of artwork and great furniture brighten the space

Table games to help clear your head and have fun

After the tour, we made our way to a corner meeting room with floor-to-ceiling views of London, where we’d have a discussion with 4 product designers, 1 design director, 1 content strategist, 1 researcher, and 1 product recruiter.

We all sat in a circle, each of us in a quirkier chair than the next, where we kicked off with quick intros followed by a presentation from Blaise (how badass is that name?), the design director.


Presentation

On achieving quality

They don’t “move fast and break things” at Facebook. Instead, they believe in “Shipping love and empathy”, that “Shipped != Done”, and “Nothing is someone else’s problem.”

Everything that goes out the door answers “yes” to these three things, with a huge asterisk: it’s been a constant journey for them, and one that’s constantly evolving.

  1. **It’s valuable: **Delight without value is nothing.

  2. **It’s easy to use: **Do we handle failures and edge cases gracefully?

  3. **It’s well crafted: **Are visuals beautiful and faithfully executed?

Notice the similarity of this to the “valuable, usable, feasible” venn diagram for MVP with craft replacing feasible.

Two universally accepted truths

Stuff naturally regresses and there’s always room to improve after launch.

  • **At 1 month: **Product shakedown

  • **At 3 months: **Platform shakedown

  • **At 6 months: **Goal setting for the following half of the year.

Blaise giving a presentation on design values at Facebook


Discussion

Armed with way too many questions prepared, I didn’t expect we’d never need them. Here are some things we found interesting:

Creating design consistency

Just like the rest of us, Facebook struggled with consistency and growing their design system. At first, it was a handful of people contributing in their free time. Now, they have a team of designers as a service organisation for the company.

  • Every designer at Facebook goes through a design bootcamp.

  • Going rogue (e.g. breaking patterns without buy-in from other designers) is completely unacceptable.

  • All designers use Sketch with a plugin that allows them to share styles and components. Everything must be documented and coded up.

Informing and validating work

The Workplace at Facebook team rarely waits for statistical significance before starting a piece of work, but are extremely data-driven. Metrics and objectives are set by the business and it’s up to the teams to decide how to best solve that problem.

Facebook has a data scientist on every team, and an infrastructure that’s incredibly mature to help inform and validate every piece of work.

Shared ownership of user experience

Designers: check your ego at the door. Because lately, it’s the engineers making usability decisions and the designer keeping up.

There’s a passion for shared understanding and empathy. Everyone has access to the data. Everyone talks like a product manager. Everyone shares the research burden.

In situations where the value of design is questioned, it’s the designer’s job to be a design evangelist and create a narrative that resinates with everyone. One of the ways they do this is through a design course for non-designers.

A flat playing field with career tracks

Everyone at Facebook in a similar role shares the same title (e.g. product designer, software engineer etc.) but they have bands within roles, kept private between managers to avoid pulling rank. They start at E3 to calibrate levels across the company and go all the way up to E9.


Heading into Facebook, we assumed our design problems were different from theirs. But they weren’t far off. It’s easy to say things like “their product isn’t technical”, “our product isn’t as sexy”, or “they have the best design talent and leadership” and “everyone already cares about design there.”

Truth is, if it’s easy, someone worked really, really hard to ensure it was. If it’s beautifully crafted, someone cared enough to make the extra time. If everyone cares about design, it’s because designers evangelised it.

The Redgate design guild with Carlo and Mike

Our visit to Facebook helped us sanity check initiatives we’re taking on at Redgate, and reassure us that our challenges aren’t as unique as we think they are. They gave us ideas for how we could be constantly improving design at Redgate.

A big thank you to Carlo and the Facebook team for inviting us into their office, taking time to talk to us and for inspiring us.

If your design team isn’t already taking field trips, do it! And in the spirit of open doors, we’d like to extend an invitation for any design teams to come and visit us at Redgate.