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The first task new designers do in my team

By Vlad Zinculescu on 28 Jun 2022

Every single time a new designer joins my team, I ask them to do this one counterintuitive thing. They're all baffled ( and I assume you'll be too ) when I ask them to take a day and redesign our product. Hold down your pitchforks for a minute.

This is a common pitfall, especially for inexperienced designers and developers joining a new project. Instead of spending the proper time to understand the product's complexity and why certain decisions were made, new hires tend to want to throw everything in the trash and redesign/rebuild everything. I could do it so much better. This is NOT what I'm preaching. I'm in no way under the impression that a new hire could be able to execute a viable redesign, nor do I expect that. But the work they will do now often pays massive dividends and sets up new team members for success, and here's why.

Newcomers have a superpower. It's an ability that we, the experienced team members, tend to lose over time. Because they are new to the project, they have little context on our decisions and the rationale behind them. All they see is a finished product and a daunting task: redesign it. This process forces them to scrutinize every single detail of that page or section they're trying to redesign, and soon enough, the magic happens: they start asking the WHYs.

There are three things that newcomers help us challenge after going through this process:
established practices/assumptions that are passed on between old and new team members over the years;
compromises made to the design in order speed up the implementation and meet a deadline;
faults in the processes used to create a product.

It's beneficial for the new team member also. Onboarding takes a while and can sometimes be tedious or downright frustrating. Depending on the complexity of the product, it can take up to six months before you make any meaningful contributions in some of the most complex parts of Booking. Ugh, I can't even imagine! By doing this exercise, they contribute to the team from day one while establishing a reputation as original thinkers and experienced designers. Win-win!

Practice what you preach

Every 2 years or so, I change projects inside Booking, and the first thing I do is pick a vital part of the product and redesign it.

I first did this in 2014 when I joined the Search Results page. This is what the page looked like when I joined.

[old sr]

And this is the redesign I did.

[new sr]

Looking back at it now, damn, that's ugly! Yet this quick Photoshop mockup that took me an afternoon to put together made so much money it's ridiculous. We got seven great ideas for improving the website for our customers, and they loved it. Here are the top most impactful ones.

[show one price]
[move the filters up]
[remove crap]

The redesign I did for DestinationFinder, helped us unlock the potential of a struggling team. Their main problem was building a new product by measuring the increase in bookings caused by adding one section at a time to virtually an empty page.

[old dsf]

I used the power of the redesign to expose what their small-step experimentation process prevented them from achieving.

[new dsf]

This helped me convince the leadership team to abandon it's old ways, if only for a moment, and allow us to ship this design. In two weeks, we put a viable implementation out, and it succeeded. Travellers loved it. I put together a case study for it if you're interested in learning more.

In my last project, I joined an org with a ship-it-and-move-on approach to building products. I joined the project, and by redesigning one of their tools, I exposed many bugs in UX, interaction and business logic. The redesign showed the effects of reactively patching a product without investing time into properly validating its solutions. I made the problem so apparent that nobody could ignore it. Fortunately, they were open to change, and now we're putting systems in place that will help us avoid making the same mistakes moving forward.

[images with before]
[images with audit]
[images with new]

This is too late for me

If you've been part of your team for a while now, you might think it's too late to do this exercise. To that, I say swap places with another designer for a day. You redesign their stuff; they redesign yours.

The redesign, if used to ask questions and highlight pitfalls of the current product, or the process that led to it, can be a powerful tool in your arsenal. It can help you impress your team from day one and, most importantly, help you create a better product for your users. Try it out, and let me know how it goes.

Posted in draft AB Testing design leadership redesign