Uniting User Experience through the Signal Design Guild

May 04, 2015

A meeting of the Signal Design Guild
A meeting of the Signal Design Guild

As a thriving tech company, we’ve had our share of growing pains as we scale our organization. Among those is the challenge of maintaining consistent design patterns across our applications and brand materials. To combat that problem, we recently took a page from Spotify’s techniques for Scaling Agile and formed our first guild at Signal. Spotify defines a guild as an “organic and wide-reaching community of interest” and that is exactly how we formed the Design Guild at Signal. Our Design Guild extends beyond the development team to include members from marketing, sales, and product who are also involved different facets of design at Signal.

The mission of the Design Guild is “to promote great design in Signal products and branding by sharing knowledge, tools, code, and practices.” We accomplish this goal in several ways. We have a monthly design guild meeting where members present projects they are working on currently or share past projects with titles ranging from “Value Proposition Design” to “Nik talks about Backbone” to “Live Special Effects for Theatre Performance with Kinect.” In addition to monthly meetings, we get together for critiques and brainstorming sessions on an ad-hoc basis and are sponsoring several development projects to promote great design through code.

Our first project, ChopSuey, stems from “Chopped GUI” and as Art Lawry, the project lead, describes it:

“The goal of ChopSuey is to create a reliable set of UI components that allow our developers to focus on coding features without the burden of re-developing and re-testing common interfaces.”

ChopSuey is used to create general front-end components consisting of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that can be used across applications that have wildly different technology stacks.

Our other project, LoMein, is a low-level main stylesheet to be used as a foundation for developing applications. It is a prescriptive SASS/CSS library that provides consistency in our colors, typography, and formatting of basic HTML elements. Both projects are released as open-source and we plan to continue the take-out food naming convention as we develop new libraries.

One of the most important functions of the guild is to promote collaboration across divisions of our company. Sarah Neurauter, the lead designer from our marketing team, shares her experience:

“Getting involved in the design guild gave me insight into how our products are created and also provided a forum to share our approach to design with other parts of the company. We went from designing in a bubble to a very collaborative design process.”

Recently, for instance, it became apparent that we need to rethink our product logos to better relay our latest marketing and product initiatives. Previously this type of work would have been handled solely by marketing. Instead, we brought together several members of the design guild for a fruitful brainstorming session that resulted in robust yet simple iconography that communicates our product intentions better than ever before.

“We’re in this for the long-haul, and making investments in common shared libraries, tools, knowledge, and frameworks will pay off for all of us down the road,” says CTO Eric Lunt in reference to the emerging Signal guild culture. While these initiatives have arisen as grassroots efforts within the company, we’re embracing the guild model as a way to bridge the gap between parts of our growing organization. There is already talk of forming guilds for other disciplines, including databases, performance, availability, and data science. By building a culture of cross-team and cross-division collaboration, I hope we can keep our organization nimble as we add the next 100, 1,000 and even 10,000 people.

Brian Peacock

Brian Peacock was formerly the product manager for activation at Signal.

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