Keeping our design team sharp with lots of learning

Sep 30, 2016

Lee Munroe


4 min read

I came across this tweet from Bob Baxley recently. It was a poll to see what UI/UX designers value most.
Just out in front, ahead of company mission and personal impact, was the opportunity to learn. Ongoing education and learning is very important. While we have our day-to-day jobs—where most of the time we're likely doing things we're already good at or are very familiar with—we want to keep developing our personal careers and skill sets.
As an industry, we want our design teams to keep developing their careers and skill sets. The web and design practices and tooling are constantly evolving. There is a lot to learn and we want to promote a culture of learning. The design team at Mesosphere recognizes this, and we have a few different ways we try to keep educating the team and learning from each other.
Lunch and learns
Everyone on the team comes from different backgrounds, educations, companies and experiences. So we all know different things, and sharing that knowledge is great.
Every other week, in between our user testing weeks, someone on the team will lead a "lunch and learn"—an opportunity to talk about something they are good at or that is important to them. It could be a talk on a specific topic, or maybe an overview of a book they read recently, or they could run a design workshop (or challenge) for something they're working on. It's their call. The purpose is to share that knowledge across the team and to give everyone a turn at leading the room.
We started earlier this year and some topics to date have included Photography 101, User Research, Sewing, Flight Hacking, and Things I Learned in Architecture School.
Jesse Lash leading a class on Photography Lighting 
Myself (Lee Munroe) leading a class on User Research
Guest speakers
The design community is a friendly community, and there are a lot of people with great knowledge and experience. If you just reach out to them, offer them some free lunch and beer, they're often happy to come by and talk about the things they're doing at their company. This is a great way to get some insight and cross-pollination of skills from other teams.
We've been fortunate to have some great speakers come by our headquarters in San Francisco, including Zac Halbert (Tradecraft) discussing product design workflow; Aaron Irizarry (Nasdaq) talking about his book "Discussing Design"; and Tim Van Damme (Abstract) showing us what design tools they're building.
Aaron Irizarry (Nasdaq) talking about his book "Discussing Design"
Tim Van Damme (Abstract) showing us what design tools they're building.
Design inspiration
During our weekly design standup, a member of the team will pick an inspiration topic. Over the next week, each of us will find something to speak about and present it at the next standup. We call it "Designspiration" and we use Dropmark to keep track of these.
We try to not just stick to UI and pixels. Some interesting topics have included Inspirational People, Podcasts and Package Design, which helps us get out of the day-to-day of UI design.
The Mesosphere design team "Designspiration" Dropmark board.
Code school
This is an informal occasional meeting. Those of us who have a bit more experience with coding and development walk through some simple tutorials and educate the rest of the team (e.g., clone a repo from GitHub and get it running; create a branch and make a pull request; or how Grunt/Gulp/Sass/Less works)
If you're a developer, these examples may sound basic, but bringing the design team up to this level is very powerful for future projects, our workflow and collaborating with engineering.
Kaleb White leading a class on frontend development
What does your team do?
These are just a few things we do at Mesosphere to keep the culture of continuous learning alive. We've also seen great ideas from Foursquare, where they get together once a week and play "creative games," and at Tradecraft, where they do weekly whiteboard challenges. What does your team do?
Follow @MesosphereDsgn on Twitter for more design team education inspiration, or to share your experiences.
P.S. Mesosphere is hiring Frontend Engineers in both San Francisco and Hamburg.

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