Building a Successful Creative Design Team in 2021

You can spot a creative design team from a mile away. Often, you will find them huddling together talking on how to optimize a white space on a landing page or see their eyes fixed to a giant monitor checking for alignment and contrast.

They are a group of extremely talented individuals blessed with an acute trait of envisioning ideas. However, how do you build a team of such talented folks? Designing is not a task of a single person; it takes a team effort to ship out great designs. So, let me add another question to my previous one - how to ensure that the team dynamics is at a place so that all of the designers work in cohesion?

Honestly, till a few days back, we didn’t have the answers to these questions, but after our webinar with Jerry, head of the creative design team in Animaker, we got our curiosity quenched. Jerry has more than 6 years of experience in building creative design teams, and she was sporting enough to share her wisdom with us.

This blog is a summary of the webinar; if you would like to check out the recorded version (which is highly recommended), then click on the link below - 

YouTube video of the design webinar

1. Can you walk us through the steps you go about planning your team structure before the hiring starts?

Building a team starts with hiring, so naturally, this question was at the top of our list. Jerry gave a detailed answer to this question, and shared her three-step process with us  -

a) Defining a mission -  Focusing on giving a direction to the team
b) Focussing on roles - Assigning responsibility to every member of the team
c) Hiring an experienced design leader - To lead the way, and set a direction for the team

Let’s go ahead, and understand how each of these steps help in planning the team structure.

a) Defining a mission

Jerry broke this point down for us to clear out what she actually means by defining a mission. She shared 5 questions that she asks herself to define the mission behind structuring the team-

i) What is the work we were brought together as a team to do?
ii) How can this work best be done as a team?
iii) What is the end result of our working together?
iv) Will our work create an opportunity for our organization, our team, and ourselves?
v) What is the project’s scope and schedule?

She defines her mission statement based on the answers to these questions. Furthermore, it helps her to zero in on the vision, and then the structure of the team.

b) Focussing on roles

Having a role defined in your mind when you start recruiting people is a great idea. It keeps your hiring process thorough; in spite of elongating the process, it has long-term benefits. 

Jerry rightly explains this in the webinar.

“People should not end up becoming revolving doors. You hire one person, and then realize they’re not the right fit, is not good. Value each role. Have well-defined roles on the team. With each team member bringing something special to the table, treating each role as an essential part of your operation is also crucial.” 

c)  Hiring an experienced design leader

If you’re planning to scale your creative design team, then start by hiring a design leader. A design leader is like the captain of a ship. They should know in which direction their crew should set sail, inspire the team so that they stay motivated, and keep educating subordinates about the importance of design.

2. How have creative teams evolved over the years? Are we still working on generalists who can do more than one task and have a competitive edge?

Often, designers have to multi-task to get things done. While it does give an advantage to the designer of working on multiple projects simultaneously, and learning more things on the way, is it how creative design teams function presently? Or things are done differently now? 

We asked Jerry about this, and she willingly shared her personal experience with us -

We started with just 1 member team who did both the illustration and animation. We were generalists then. Now, we have structured the team such that every individual can leverage their area of expertise to fuel their passion and ride through a learning curve and capitalize the production process itself to polish their own skills - This is more of a specialist approach. Today, we have evolved into several creative design teams with an average of 10-15 members per creative design team.”

3. If you have to recruit me today, what should I possess? What are the key qualities you look for in an individual before hiring them to your team?

Here’s where we shifted gears, and thought of going for an uphill drive. We knew that a lot of aspiring designers are attending this webinar, so we wanted to throw this challenge to Jerry to check her response to this question. With an extensive experience in hiring people, and structuring teams, she is a competent person to answer this question. 

Jerry shared her top 5 tips for an individual to get hired, and work with her -

a) You have to be a creator - If you have that unbridled creative energy in you, then you’re off to a great start. In Jerry’s words, “You have to be a creator or a maker with an undiminishing desire and passion to create awesome designs and videos.”

b) You love videos - Not just watching them, but also creating it using curated designs

c) You have to be highly committed - Every creative work takes time, and demands high commitment. If you're a fickle mind, then designing might not be the right choice for you.

d) You know how to learn fast  - Designing is not very different from hustling. You try different things, use different ideas, and most importantly, learn from them quickly.

e) You got to be crazy - Crazy enough to think about new out-of-the-box ideas, experiment and innovate along the way.

4. Communication is a key aspect for designers - How do you plan your communication and feedback model? Both within the team and with your clients?

Communication is a link that binds the creative design team together. If the communication is weak or absent, then your team is on a perilous path. When we speak about communication there are two sides to it  - Internal feedback among your teammates and external feedback from your customers. 

Internal feedback is always welcomed, however, when the feedback is from clients, it’s an harbinger of long chain of emails, endless calls, and meetings. This is a real pain for designers, and it hampers productivity. Usually, a designer gets stuck in the feedback loop for a very long time. 

To cut this loop, and make communication more streamlined and easy, video communication is the answer. However, video communication can get too much if it continues for a long time. Being synchronous in nature, the attention span will reduce with the increasing timeline.

To continue with video communication, and keep it asynchronous, screen recording is a great solution. Jerry’s team rely on Vmaker to record videos, share with the team, and clients. This has helped them to avoid the loop and keep communication effective.

Vmaker lets designers and clients record their screen and camera at the same time, mouse over and highlight elements, edit aspects of the video. All these features ensure the communication is happening properly between all parties involved.

So, hold “help wanted” meetings coupled with a life-saving tool like Vmaker can help you go a long way.”

5. Experience vs certification vs skill set - What weightage does each of them carry?

Jerry had an interesting take on this question. She shared an analogy with us which is the perfect explanation to this question. There are two people here - John and Jane eyeing for the same job opportunity in a multinational analytics company.

John is a CFA, but lacks the quintessential skills like SQL, financial modeling, Tableau and Data analytics. He is ordinary in presentation and report writing too. However, he is a top of the class student, confident and extremely well-read person. 

Jane, on the other hand, is a very career focused person, but doesn’t have a formal degree like John. However, she picked up all the necessary skills while studying for her graduate degree, and she is excellent at it too.

Who do you think has a higher chance of bagging the opportunity? Will it be John, who has a degree but lacks skills? Or Jane, who lacks a degree, but has the skills?

This brings us to the ever continuing debate of skills vs qualifications. Jerry put her opinion in a very constructive way, and which makes it one of the highlights of this webinar.

Degrees are a formal validation of your domain knowledge. Employers do not know you personally, so these qualifications help them to filter candidates. A degree for a reputed institute has a higher chance of getting selected, however, only securing a job should not be the only motive. Skills are your biggest strengths; the best tool that can help you overcome day-to-day work challenges. They are like hooks that will help you to catch the attention of your superiors, and take note of your talent.

To conclude, she added that qualifications and skills cannot be looked at in isolation. To be successful, you need both. None of them have an upper hand on the other, and they cannot survive without each other. 

6. For start-ups, do you advise them to have their own team or outsource to a creative agency?

For a start up, outsourcing to an external agency is a great choice. Here are the top 3 reasons for going ahead with this choice - 

- Agencies hire a team of specialists who work on specific projects and tasks only

- Creative agencies also have a thorough process in place to vet and hire the right talent

- Above all, startups can get top-quality work at affordable rates at zero overheads.

7. What makes design a good design? The clients say v/s the customer’s pick?

We thought Jerry will find this question challenging, but she defied us. She was as quick as she was for the previous questions and presented her own list of 10 points to identify a good design.

Let us present, the 10 commandments of a good design -

  1. Makes a product useful
  2. Is aesthetic
  3. Makes a product understandable
  4. Is unobtrusive
  5. Is genuine/ authentic
  6. Is long-lasting/ sustainable
  7. Has clarity
  8. Thorough down to the last detail
  9. Satisfies the client's requirements and needs - meets the end goal 

8. For the general audience, can you help classify between UI and UX and why UX is claimed to be the future for a product’s success?

UI and UX sound similar, but they are different. Many people make the mistake of using them interchangeably, however, that’s not the right thing to do. Jerry once again shared a beautiful analogy with us, and coupled it with one more. Here’s what she said in the webinar - 

A UI without UX is like a painter slapping paint onto a canvas without thought; while UX without UI is like the frame of a sculpture with no paper mache on it. Great product experience starts with UX followed by UI. Both are essential for the product’s success.

To sum up the relationship between UX and UI design perfectly: UI is the jumpsuit, parachute, cord, goggles, safety helmet. UX is the feeling you experience while skydiving.”

UX is user experience design. It encompasses all the interactions between a customer and the company. Essentially, UX applies to anything that can be experienced—be it a website, a coffee machine, or a visit to the supermarket. A UX designer thinks about how the experience makes the user feel, and how easy it is for the user to accomplish their desired tasks.

For example: How easy is the checkout process when shopping online? Is it simple for a customer to grip that vegetable peeler? Does your online banking app make it easy for you to manage your money? The ultimate purpose of UX design is to create easy, efficient, relevant, and all-round pleasant experiences for the user.

Here are the three points that sum up this question  

a) UX design is all about identifying and solving user problems-the process of developing and improving the quality of interaction between a user and all facets of a company-UX design is NOT about visuals; it focuses on the overall feel of the experience.

b) UI design is all about creating intuitive, aesthetically-pleasing, interactive interfaces.

c) The main difference to bear in mind is this: UX design is all about the overall feel of the experience, while UI design is all about how the product’s interfaces look and function.

9. How do you handle creative briefing during remote working setup? [The process of moving remote and the adoption towards a remote communication model]

Making a masterpiece design boils down to how good you’re collaborating with the team, and how your brainstorming sessions contribute to preparing the creative brief. As a designer, when you look at the creative brief, you interpret the information in your way and design it accordingly. When you send it for creative review, remember that you also switch on the feedback loop because most likely what you have designed is quite different from the expectations of the client.

During this pandemic, when most of our team members are working from home, discussions over a creative brief is mostly done with the help of phone calls and video meetings. This leads to a lot of going back and forth which adds to the chaos.

Jerry’s team prefer using tools that increases the proximity. Vmaker has helped them a lot, and her words about the tool proves that -

“Vmaker saves my day. I get to video record, cast my screens, and explain precisely the visual edits, corrections, etc. so on and so forth. This helps me in avoiding back and forth and feedback loops and have an effective creative briefing discussion in a much more collaborative way.”

Summing it up

That was a glimpse of what we discussed with Jerry on building a successful creative design team. Many insights shared, and a lot of ideas discussed. If you have enjoyed reading this blog, then go ahead, and check the video as well.

You can register for our upcoming events on our webinar page. If you miss that, you check our YouTube channel. We upload the recorded version on the next day.

You can also be a part of our Facebook and Slack community to participate in many conversations related to business, productivity and growth.

Few of our previous webinar blogs worth checking out:

SaaS narrative: The Art of Storytelling for SaaS Companies
How COVID Has Disrupted The Way Startups Operate
5 Proven Ways to Improve Customer Service in 2021
6 Proven Ways to Improve Sales Productivity in 2021
Mastering Communication For Agile Teams In 2021
What is buyer’s journey and how to leverage its different stages with videos?

Buyer's journey blog