The no-nonsense design process

I guess everybody can agree that a good process goes a long way. It improves efficiency and collaboration between team members and between teams across the company.
Daniel Andor

Small or big - any startup needs some processes in place to deliver good work consistently. This aspect becomes especially true when things start to fall apart, and panic starts to take over. And if you add more people to this equation - well, you have a recipe for disaster.

There is one thing that I tell all my clients about Design Sprint - that is a well-tested #process that you can follow to create great results. A recipe, if you like.

But this recipe is composed of multiple exercises that you can re-use to create a design process for your design team. And this is exactly what I did for one of my clients.

So, if you are a startup and have a design team but don't have a design process in place yet and things look a bit chaotic, check out the process we came up with below. Is it perfect? Most probably not. But at least you have a good starting point.

Research phase

Like with everything, we started doing some research to see how other design teams work together. Mainly, there are 3 approaches:

  • Centralized design team - the agency model
  • Embedded design team - cross-functional teams with engineers and product managers working on a specific product or feature - the agile process
  • Hybrid design team - temporary cross-functional team to work on a focused project with a clear deadline, and when they’re done, they return to the centralized design team.

Each comes with pros and cons, obviously. You can read the detailed pros - cons list here.

We will focus on the embedded design team setup.

At Airbnb, each EPD function “is involved and aligned from a product’s inception to its launch.” At least one member from each of the 3 teams is involved with working groups for new features, or in product marketing, or user feedback sessions.

Guiding principles

The goal for the whole design process was to improve efficiency and collaboration in the design team and between the design team and other people/teams from within the company.

For this to work correctly, we set a couple of guiding principles:

  • Figure out a process and iterate as needed
  • Find each designer's core skillset
  • Foster growth and cross-functional teamwork
  • Reduce waste

Design process

Quite some of the steps from the process are based on the Design Sprint/Workshop approach, in which we tried to get the answers needed as soon as possible and reduce blockers.

You will see that there are check-ins with a product manager/product owner from time to time to make sure that everything is in line. This step is needed to make sure that if something needs to be corrected, it can happen early on, and the time wasted is at a minimum.

Create Task / Brief →  Product Owner (PO) / Product Manager (PM) + Design Lead

The task/brief should contain the following:

  1. What we need to create
  2. Why we create it / What problem we solve
  3. Where it fits in the flow ( what is before and after )
  4. Target user(s)
  5. Business logic/reason
  6. What does success look like, and how will we measure that
  7. Constrains
  8. Acceptance criteria


  1. Read the task
  2. Write questions
  3. Sync call (30' min) with the PO/PM for questions

Preliminary Research & Ideation

  1. Research and Lightning Demos (take screenshots, loom videos etc. and write down the big idea)
  2. User flow (Pen & Paper/Post-its/Miro)
  3. Pen & Paper concept sketch (45' min)
  4. Art Gallery/Design critique
  5. Sync call with PO/PM
  6. Involve somebody from technical


  1. Set Design Lead for the specific task
  2. Check needs and set who will do what (team members if needed)
  3. Design