Here’s a fantastic, frank and inspiring 20-odd minute talk from Stuart Frisby, Director of Design at booking.com, talking at Clearleft’s Leading Design conference recently.
Stuart notes a number of important enablers that helped him work with the business to scale design from 5 people to over 200:
- Initially, recruit designers with broad skills (especially technical skills) to integrate with a highly technology- and data-driven culture. Go for specialist roles later on.
- Embed designers into each team, and use their skills in visualisation, prototyping and research to help bridge Engineering (technical) and Product (commercial).
- To prove the value of design, demonstrate how it adds value in terms that the company already understands. In booking.com’s case this was through A/B testing and conversion improvement.
- Once developed and proven, offer design’s playbook of tools and techniques back to the business as a ‘gift’. Stuart’s examples include the use of design systems to standardise user interfaces, team skills assessment processes and internal knowledge sharing meeting formats. When these tools are adopted by other teams in the company, everyone wins.
I did pick up some concerns stemming from Stuart’s talk too.
- Stuart mentions that prior to his promotion through the company, clear role definitions and career paths for designers did not exist. One has to wonder why. To people outside of design, this could betray a lack of professionalism in design that you wouldn’t expect from other business functions.
- The 200 designers at booking.com don’t report into Stuart as Director of Design. I found this strange, particularly the comment that Stuart does not have control over salaries and promotions. Which Finance or Marketing Director would allow this to happen with people working in their subject area?
Those considerations aside, this is a brilliant talk that lifts the lid on what it’s like to lead design in a rapid-growth, highly successful digital business.