Designers at Pivotal Labs have two jobs:
- design great products
- enable clients to design great products
Yes of course a designer’s work includes user goals, business goals, team collaboration etc, but at the core this is how I see it. And if our team ourselves are struggling, burn out, or don’t deepen their craft doing , then can’t happen.
Designing great products (1) and enabling clients to design great products (2) regularly leads to repeat and extended client engagements. Similarly pivot design pairing leads to pivot happiness which improves retention and reduces recruiting, hiring, and HR costs. We need more pivot design pairing.
Design and programmers work are both generative and exploratory work. To that end, design the work benefits from pairing for the same reasons it benefits pair programmers: diversity of ideas, driver and navigator, collective ownership, increased discipline, fewer interruptions/working in flow etc.
It’s important for these individuals to have contexts to deepen their craft, which often comes with pairing. Senior designers are more likely to get paired with clients or junior designer since they are likely the best mentors from a technical perspective. Learning at work falls by the wayside when their pairs are not practitioners, but someone who got put into a practitioner role and work time is constrained to 40 hours. In short: designers also need to geek out at work.
We get some of these benefits when pairing with a client. But pairing with a client is doing extra mental consulting gymnastics to achieve , leaving less energy . Programmers often see relief when they rotate pairs the next day. Designers rotate pairs after a few months, and often go onto another client designer.
Having one designer on a project, or one pivot and one client designer requires that Pivot individual to be an off the charts unicorn with remarkable humility. Why? Because we have three streams of work: research, interaction, and visual plus collaboration with development. Two people makes it possible to distribute the mental and sometimes tactical effort.
Enabling clients is hard because we are defending our work, teaching our process, and designing complex systems all at the same time.We have to start our client mentorship from a strong place so we can help our client designers. A lot goes on the shoulders of one person for the intensity of the work we do. Design is a team sport, not facilitating lots of non-designers.
Sales, Scoping, Hiring, and Staffing
Having more designers in an office would likely change the staffing needs all the way from a sales and scoping perspective. When we have too many engineers on the beach we start research and software development at the same time. Doing this slows the entire success of a project down anyway, ultimately hurting the success of a project whether it’s measured by client enablement or execution of product. Doing this once and a while is understandable but this solution on repeat burns designers out. The team needs time to think about a problem and approach a solution before it can be built.
Schedule and staffing is an art not a science. If only a few Pivots have experience with the design process, the designers ends up leading a hungry-to-learn team will want to be involved with everything. That gets celebrated as “balanced team”. It’s possible the newcomers to design will want to see all the activities, inflating the process and ultimately unbalancing the project and hurting client success, a good name in the community, and future projects. When pivots are paired more often they can be better consultants when they are paired with client designer. Pairing pivot designers invests in project success by investing in individuals first. I’ve seen this approach regularly lead to repeat client engagements or project extensions.
Hire more designers
The hiring, sales, and staffing plans should start from two pivot designers pairing and deviate for individual circumstances. This will increase the quality of products, projects, pivot happiness, client happiness, transformation success, which ultimately benefits the business goals.