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Building an open and inclusive design process

Alia Fite, Editor, Figma

Last week, we shared takeaways from Config Europe about the importance of building trust with teammates and clients. Trust is the backbone of an open and inclusive culture, and the right processes—which govern how you design, develop, and work together as a team—can, in turn, result in more open and inclusive products. Here, we’ve curated more highlights from the conference on how to do just that.

Going beyond the “perfect” use case

Of course, deeply understanding your users and their needs is the foundation of any good product. But that also means understanding all types of users and use cases, and familiarizing yourself with challenges and requirements that may not be top of mind. While a target persona or core use case may be your north star, Furquan Ahmad, Product Designer at Ford Motor Company, says that developing user empathy should extend beyond the “perfect use case.”

“Too often, apps and services are designed for the same core user group,” he says. To cultivate user empathy, Furquan encourages everyone to get out and experience their product “in the field.” For example, he says, If you work on a delivery app, put yourself in the shoes of someone making a delivery. It’s easy to forget that they’ll have to walk up flights of stairs if an elevator is broken in an apartment building, or they won’t be able to find their way if their GPS doesn’t work in a more remote location.

Taking a more inclusive view of your users will help you think more deeply about accessibility as well. While Furquan says you can start by making some small accessibility improvements, like simplifying copy, colors, font sizes, and the layout of a landing page, lasting change comes with prioritizing accessibility more holistically. This also extends to “temporary” accessibility, situational considerations that otherwise may not be top of mind. Furquan says these needs might revolve around location—like if someone is in a crowded place where it’s hard to hear—or equipment (think: a shattered phone screen). Whether you’re making small changes on color contrast or rethinking your approach to accessibility more broadly, a good place to start is making sure that there’s accountability. “Who’s taking ownership at your organization?” he asks.

Getting a sense for more use cases and taking a more expansive view of your users will result in a better product. “What’s essential for some,” Furquan says, is “useful for all.”

Close collaboration across the organization

For Anne-Sophie Delafosse, Localization Manager at Deliveroo, localization is similarly part of the whole user journey. Localization isn’t just translating copy, but thinking about how syntax, language nuances, and broader cultural considerations can make your designs friendlier to markets around the world.

Up until recently, whenever Deliveroo prepared to launch a product in a new market, a designer would build a user experience and hand off that design to engineers, who would then manually upload a screenshot to each piece of translated text. Realizing that this process felt siloed and inefficient, the team decided to use the Phrase Figma plugin to allow designers to quickly build, share, and iterate on localized designs. Now, Anne-Sophie can share these lightweight prototypes with, say, the Italian or French teams. If there’s an issue with the localized version—an inaccurate translation or not enough space for the translated phrase—the localization teams can offer early feedback at the design stage, saving engineers from having to build a new page each time.

Plus, the localization team can see how their work maps to the bigger picture: “Our localization experts see the entire flow in one go. They have the full context,” says Anne-Sophie. Beyond saving time, this new process has reframed localization; rather than a transactional handoff between the localization and design teams, it’s an essential part of the product development process. As a result, both teams better understand “what it means to create a user journey for a global audience” that spans many languages and cultures.

Open processes with your team

Improving collaboration across your organization is key, but it starts with your immediate team. Especially as so many of us continue to work remotely, it’s more important than ever to establish more open routines and processes. “This lack of visual and spatial awareness of a teammate has meant remote working requires more transparency across teams,” says remote freelance designer Kate Pincott.

And transparency extends to how you spend your time. Especially with remote work, it can be hard to see who’s working on what and how much time they have for meetings. Kate’s Team Capacity Template outlines how to map out a typical week and visualize any gaps. In addition to giving everyone visibility into how others spend their time, it also helps the team work more efficiently. Since you can’t just walk over to a teammates’s desk, she recommends using regularly-scheduled meetings and quick stand-ups to catch up on a personal level. “It’s ok that we spend more time on what’s important to get us through this period,” she says.

Figma Product Designer Jordan Hsu echoes the need to find time to work together in the absence of spontaneous in-office brainstorms and hallways chats. Jordan and his team experimented with Zoom working sessions to replicate the experience of working together in a conference room: “Anyone can join, hop on, hop off, and start conversations whenever they want,” Jordan says. Whether teammates have questions, specific discussion topics, or just want to check in on each other, it’s free time for everyone to connect.

He also recommends scheduling recurring working sessions to collaborate with cross-functional partners. “Work with me” is a two-hour block, a sort of design office hours. Recently, Product Manager Ben Stern joined a session to work through a refresh of Figma's Organization admin experience. People can come with questions, conversation topics, or just observe while Jordan works to get more insight into the design process. The goal? “To keep design open and transparent throughout the company,” Jordan says.

As you revisit routines to adapt to remote work and find ways to stay close as a team, more than anything, build processes that bring more people in. Whether that’s taking a more expansive view of your users, working more closely with cross-functional partners, or just spending time with teammates, your products and culture will be better for it. As our CEO Dylan shared at Config Europe, giving more people access to the design process ultimately makes it more open and inclusive.

You can watch the full keynote here and subscribe to Figma’s YouTube channel to get notified when we publish all of the breakout sessions, including more highlights from the speakers featured here.

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