Building Internal Design Teams in Traditional Companies

As the creative heads of Alphaform, back in the day, we joined one of the biggest banks in Turkey to establish their first design studio. We established and ran the studio for 3 years, during which we won multiple global design awards, including RedDot and IF Design. Here are our tips and tricks on how to achieve success in building and managing design studios within traditional companies.

How to start?

Although companies are renewing their HR processes, if it's the first time the organisation will hire designers, make sure you customise the process for them. First impressions are everything

Initially, we tried to hire using the standard procedure. However, we saw that designers accustomed to working in small agencies were easily getting lost in all the bureaucratic procedures. More importantly, they were getting scared that these procedures were just a preview of how their daily life with us would be.

Although it requires quite a lot of your time, make sure you design your hiring process and reach out to the designers first. Explain to them how it is going to happen and keep holding hands until the signature.

And of course, make sure you have a well-designed onboarding system. Based on the experience of many failures, we designed a self-executed onboarding system specifically for designers:

  • Good coffee is always a good idea. Start by introducing them to the neighbourhood's best café.
  • Big companies mean many security restrictions. Make sure you have done the pre-work and completed their approvals.
  • Big organisation means many departments. Have a simpler schema to explain the departments they will work with the most.
  • Get to know the departments and identify your designer-friendly ambassadors. Help designers get to know them.
  • Have a simple guide about the daily process and tools in a reachable location for their reference.

Explain the C level support on design

Designers need more motivation to choose you; they want to feel that they will be part of change. This is where the top positions make a difference. Luckily, we had great support from the CEO, who was a design enthusiast.

Be open-minded and give freedom to designers to question everything about your business and organisation

Do not just listen. Show them that the organisation is willing to take action on some matters their questions depict.

Protect them from chaos

Big companies most of the time mean many meetings and projects running in parallel. To protect them from chaos:

  • Have a daily studio stand-up. Start the day with some music and fun.
  • Set up your task tracking tools to reduce friction with external teams.
  • Give visibility to priorities and overall goals.
  • Have weekly sessions to explain where their work fits in the overall company strategy.

Find smart ways to reduce the meeting load on your team. Set barriers if needed.

Have a solid design system and design principles aligned with brand values

Explain the rationale of your design system and principles. Make sure design critiques are well-structured to support the continuity of the core principles. Make your designers the biggest advocates of the system, and they help new joiners to adapt to the same principles.

Help them grow

Especially new graduates need your help to learn what strategic design means. Encourage your team to move beyond their design education:

  • Think strategically
  • Talk in business terms and KPIs
  • Have an understanding of how software and hardware works

Make sure your design critics help them to improve in these aspects.

Always have time to laugh. As a team, enjoy creating design-driven innovative products that people will love

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