How Regular Design Audits Help These Teams Elevate Product Development

For these two growing companies, regular design audits keep brand and product experience unified.
Written by Remy Merritt
June 17, 2021Updated: July 6, 2021

It is almost impossible to nail product design from the outset. As a brand evolves, each new or iterative product needs to find its place in the brand design’s ecosystem, in ways that may not be obvious. Product design audits are key in illuminating product gaps, and identifying where development energy is most focused. 

When reviewing an existing design, Faire’s Katie Wiktop knows that one of the biggest challenges is maintaining collective focus on the overarching target. “It can be quite easy to ‘boil the ocean’ due to the vast surfaces to review and refine,” the founding designer said. Early identification of high-level goals keeps her team aligned and on track. 

As companies evolve, so do their expectations around branding and design; if not reviewed cohesively, brand development can lead to mismatched products and an uneven user experience. Just ask Tempus Brand Director Bri Gonzalez. She knows that at a rapidly-growing company, keeping design consistent is key for company image and, ultimately, the success of its products. 

“Audits allow us to constantly reevaluate our work, push our designs further and strengthen our brand identity and customer experience,” she said.

 

Katie Witkop
Founding Designer

More than 200,000 local retailers have used Faire’s wholesale marketplace to connect with emerging and established brands. For Faire’s product design team, balancing the number of users and their experiences requires constant product audits, always with an eye on adherence to Faire’s foundational product goals. 

 

How often does your team perform a design audit, and what are you typically looking for?

Our product and brand design teams audit the Faire platform constantly. We alternate between larger audits, which culminate into a laundry list of fixes, and smaller more iterative add-ons that can be tacked onto feature work. As a growing design team at an emerging startup, recognizing what is foundational to our product quality, versus areas that are being tested or in flux, keeps our audits rigorous but practical.

 

What's a best practice your team follows to streamline the design audit process and make regular check-ups more manageable?

Before doing a larger audit on a given product surface, team contributors will align on the high-level goals to accomplish. For example, we most recently audited our typography system across all Faire products. Typography touches literally every component, marketing page, modal and flow. It can be quite easy to 'boil the ocean' due to the vast surfaces to review and refine. However, by identifying overarching goals, accessibility, cohesion and hierarchy, we were able to keep ourselves — and our stakeholders — aligned with our project goals and timeline.

 

Once you've completed the audit and you have a list of recommendations, how do you ensure those changes are implemented and who else is involved in that process? 

When it comes to productizing the audits, we've found that Asana and Jira help keep teams accountable with actionable implementation deliverables. Within a design audit, the design team will create an initial checklist of surfaces that need to be viewed, scoped and annotated for updates. Those agreed-upon surfaces are assigned to specific designers and broken out by assignee in Asana. The public nature of the project helps prevent redundancy and preserves valuable time. Each Asana fix is reviewed by the group and organized from highest to lowest priority based on the audit’s high-level goals. From there, our developers take the Asana board and create matching Jira tickets to stay in unison, pairing with our designers as necessary to unblock more difficult changes, and sharing progress with the team in daily standups.

 

Bri Gonzalez
Brand Director & Lead Product Designer

The team at Tempus is familiar with reviewing and unifying vast amounts of information. Their mission — to accelerate cancer research and optimize patient treatments — is driven by ingesting and analyzing clinical data, in turn delivering actionable treatment plans. With a product set that is as detail-oriented as the healthcare patients it serves, the product design team at Tempus keeps a keen eye on consistency and scalability. 

 

How often does your team perform a design audit, and what are you typically looking for?

Our team performs design audits about once a year, and we’re currently in the process of auditing our visual design system across brand and product experience. We’re looking for ways to improve consistency and accessibility, as well as opportunities to elevate the design and experience of our products.

Our company and design team have grown immensely since we established our brand design system, and we’re rapidly developing new products for unique needs and audiences. Because of this growth, regular design audits are key. As our company and product offerings expand, it becomes increasingly more important to develop and maintain a unified brand experience from our marketing materials to our software products.

Accessibility is also very important to us, and we’re actively aiming to improve accessibility and usability across all of our products. As our user base continues to grow, we’re looking for ways to make our products as inclusive as possible. In our current audit, we’re addressing accessibility issues and incorporating standards and best practices to help guide design decisions around color, typography, interactions, etc. This sometimes means making tradeoffs between aesthetics and usability for highly functional elements. Ultimately our goal is to design better, more useful tools that reach more people.

Audits also allow us to revisit our designs on a regular basis so that we continue to evolve and improve our brand. We hire talented designers who have incredible skills, big ideas and fresh perspectives, so regular design audits allow us to open the door to new ideas!

Our company sets the bar high for design, and capturing the incredible work that is happening within the Tempus walls is extremely challenging. Audits allow us to constantly reevaluate our work, push our designs further and strengthen our brand identity and customer experience.

 

What's a best practice your team follows to streamline the design audit process and make regular check-ups more manageable?

Auditing is difficult at a company like Tempus because we move so quickly. We’re building new products at a ridiculous pace, and a new product team emerges nearly every quarter, so cross-functional communication and collaboration is key. An audit requires careful coordination across all of those autonomous product pods, each of which has a design team focused on their unique users’ needs. Furthermore, the brand design team is responsible for our website and marketing collateral, all of which must be considered in an audit.

The most reliable best practice we’ve found is documenting the design system and decision-making processes. We want future designers who join our team to understand what came before, and how they can carry that evolution into the area of the business they’re developing. After five years of defining and developing the Tempus brand, I’m excited to be leading our recently formed design system team, which is responsible for articulating and explaining our design decisions.

Our guiding principle is scalability. The design system must be prescriptive enough to ensure we meet our highest design standards, but flexible enough to be adapted to future requirements. This is no small feat when the business is not only scaling within oncology, but across new areas like neurological disorders, infectious disease and cardiovascular disease, and more in the future. Our user base is expanding in multiple dimensions, so a simple, linear set of guidelines won’t be sufficient.

 

Once you've completed the audit and you have a list of recommendations, how do you ensure those changes are implemented and who else is involved in that process?

We’re currently working on a number of exciting design initiatives that contribute to our visual brand identity, including a website redesign and new look and feel for our software products.

For an effort like this we try to involve all relevant teams, including design, product, engineering and marketing, from the early audit stages. Collaboration from the outset allows us to discuss feedback, brainstorm ideas and share knowledge of any upcoming deadlines so everyone is aligned and on track.

It’s challenging to negotiate competing priorities, but the goal is to ensure the necessary teams are involved and can plan ahead as much as possible. We want them to remain equally incentivized to implement design changes.

At the end of the day, everyone’s goal is to deliver the best product possible, so it’s about prioritizing and working together to make that happen.

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