Design From Day One
Behind the scenes of Postlight’s design team, six years in.
I’ve been at Postlight from day one. Because of this, I know its complete history and have become a keeper of its arcane lore and traditions. For example, every new designer who joins Postlight is given a neon-colored, urchin-like Koosh ball. If you’ve never seen one before — and wow, I feel ancient — here’s what a Koosh looks like:
I’ve always liked to have a random tchotchke on my desk to toss around when I need to think, and I’ve always pictured what we call “star-shaped” designers like a Koosh ball: flexible, noodle-y, stretching out in all directions, and what one reaches for when trying to think creatively. Sounds silly, but the humble Koosh ball has become a bit of a mascot for design at Postlight, especially in our Slack. We even send a Koosh to our remote designers before their first day — which has occasionally led to confusion!
In nearly six years of building and leading Postlight’s design team, I’ve seen us evolve into a powerhouse for Postlight, driving strategic vision through design thinking for our clients. We’ve worked on financial platforms, communication management tools, newsroom operations, and everything in between. I’m proud to say we now have over 20 bright, thoughtful design leaders on our team, both in NYC and across the country, each with their own Koosh on their desk.
How we build our team
Our belief in star-shaped designers goes far beyond desk toys. We look for well-rounded designers who span the gamut of skills that set up a product designer at Postlight for success. But it’s important to note that not all arms of that star need to be equal. Everyone’s backgrounds can bring a lot to the table beyond the definition of “capital D” Design.
I come from a multidisciplinary background with experience in journalism and museum exhibition design, so I know how valuable skills learned outside of design can be. Many of our designers also don’t come from “traditional” design backgrounds. We don’t require any specific design education, and some have been able to adapt their experience from another industry entirely and apply it directly to product design.
We view every applicant as an opportunity to expand the definition of our product design team. We don’t evaluate culture fit as much as we do culture add. What does this candidate bring to the table that allows us — and what we bring to our clients — to grow in ways we haven’t yet? That approach has brought in diverse thinkers who serve our clients and the overall team well.
We set up our client teams to run as independent, autonomously led units. That leaves plenty of room for designers not only to have a seat at the table but also to drive the discussion.
But there’s plenty of support along the way: from consultations with leadership via QORE sessions; to design managers who act as part safety net, part sounding board; to our pair design program in which one designer helps navigate through another’s process; to our team-wide design review where our team gets exposure to a deeper dive of our work across the entire team.
We’ve also added what we call team-on-ones. Every designer has a direct manager who helps them craft their path at Postlight through goal setting and biweekly one-on-ones. A team-on-one is a space for a designer to collaborate with their manager, and all the other designers that they manage, in the weeks between their one-on-ones. This gives designers an opportunity to share their common goals and discuss their work with a dedicated group through the life span of a project.
If you think of pair design as “small” and the team-wide design review as “large,” we have found the just-right size of team-on-ones to be perfect for deeper discussions and co-managing. Everyone has the ability to help shape interests and expertise into a path for another designer’s growth, not only one’s manager.
And being able to work with some of the best engineers and product managers I’ve ever worked with in my career is a huge plus, too. Because our whole team is oriented around crafting compelling products, we all get to learn from one another in new ways on every project.
Seeking growth mindsets
As designers in a fast-paced agency, we’re often presented with unique challenges for our clients. Our experiences certainly can be applied or take a similar shape, but there rarely is an off-the-shelf solution that fits every scenario and user base. We don’t have one process to fit all problems, nor do we focus on one or two industries. In the first years of Postlight, we had a number of media-focused projects, but these days our portfolio stretches far and wide. We’re finding room for our designers to be involved in much more ambiguous and ambitious projects, ones that require early design conversations at a strategic level.
In fact, our whole company is built on a growth mindset. There’s a clear sentiment in our Slack — especially from our engineers — that there’s no dumb question in any channel. We are constantly learning and we are all capable of teaching, and it’s part of how we all grow. Our engineers are naturally curious about design in the same way we as designers become more familiar with the constraints of building for performance. That symbiotic relationship shapes how we work on every project and really cuts down on the waterfall fatigue that plagues other teams.
Learning never stops
Design at its core is communication, and being able to allow our team the ability to expand their skill set in cross-functional ways is essential for their growth. Some designers have taken this even further by using part of their yearly professional development budget to focus on learning opportunities outside of design that still build toward their larger career goals, like writing workshops, public-speaking training, and coding academies.
Our team’s learning mindset also carries into our Design Lightning Talks, our quarterly, company-wide knowledge sharing sessions in which topics can range on any number of topics across product design. Crafting user stories, understanding accessibility, writing for UX, best practices for mapping — these are just a few of our latest topics. We also document these presentations and save them in our company Rewatch account for later reference. Being able to provide a new employee with a wealth of historical knowledge sharing has been critical to our growth.
Above all, every designer finds their own path forward beyond just the critical work of servicing our clients. Designers can bring their whole selves and focus on topics that drive them, whether it be accessibility, mentorship, or any number of opportunities. Our designers also lead both social clubs, sharing design writing as well as employee-led resource groups that upload our commitment to action through advocacy and empowering outside groups through monetary contributions.
If it sounds like we’re a busy team, we are! Driving with design is built into the foundation of Postlight. We take that role seriously, and we’re always looking to grow. If we sound like a team you’d want to be a part of, reach out or see our job openings — we’d love to hear from you.
Matt Quintanilla is a Partner and Head of Product Design at Postlight. Say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story published on Jul 14, 2021.