Working in a number of companies in various stages of growth, I have recognized that growing design teams will add more complexity with how they communicate and work. This means creating and managing processes and systems to help shoulder these changes. In this post, I will outline the importance of the following three essentials (heuristic reviews, design systems, and 10% time) to help sustain productivity with an expanding team.

1. Set up and do regular heuristic reviews

Growing design teams will have to do internal reviews as well as broader sessions with developers and product managers. The more people in the meetings the more varied the opinions will be. Decide on a set of heuristic principles and use them as a basis for group interactions. Establish ground rules for the reviewers and the designer. On our teams, we call out a part of the design in question, name the heuristic principle, and communicate a recommendation that is not UI based. The designer will work on how to solve the problem.

To help the designer or team of designers, have an outside facilitator to gather results and show common broken principles.

2. Create a design system

Just as setting up a tighter heuristic review practice will focus the review, a design system will hone in the varied design patterns. In the early days of a growing team, designers will be working on flows and layouts. During this time, individual designers even on the same team will make decisions on what at first seem like simple things. Over time, this multiplies into numerous patterns for call to actions (CTA’s), tables, tabs, dropdown, etc.. Columns, grids, paddings, and layout will be diverse. Color, fonts, type treatment, gradients, icons will also be all over the place.

Start with things that show up a lot in the heuristic reviews. In one case, we were using a lot of tables. That lead us to study the types of data we needed to show and how we needed to show it.

3. Give 10% time back to your growing design teams

A common pushback I get when I talk about the first two is, “we have no time!” My response to that is to plan for the time. This was inspired by Google’s legendary or mythological (depending on who you talk to) 20% time. I have noticed in all of the companies that I have worked for there are regular downtimes. Those times are often on Fridays. The Fridays in the middle of the sprint are typically the slowest.

Recognize those slow times and offer a system for people to work on these projects. Setting heuristic reviews will be easy to set up and may take one or two weeks. A design system will take longer to establish. It is a living system that will need updating.

Nielson Norman 10 heuristic principles of system design –
IBM Carbon Design System –
Design Systems Conference –
Google’s 20% time –

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.

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