Designing Your Experience

with Jeff Veen

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Building a culture around quality

Jeff Veen

Design Expert, Good Taste Purveyor, Product Guy

Lessons Learned

In a team, you want a foundation of what works, what is good, and where you're going.

Engineering & product quality is incredibly important, and get set as part of a culture.

It is never too early to set communication and values for the team, no matter how small.


Lesson: Designing Your Experience with Jeff Veen

Step: #5 Culture: Building a culture around quality

We really tried to cultivate good taste on the team. It's a couple things. I think in a softer sense it is: a group of people can collaborate together to try to get to the best solution for the problem they're tackling and feel confident that everything they say and that they hear from people is not going to be so out there and derail everything.

I'm sure you've been in a meeting where somebody proposes something and you're like, "Oh my gosh, that's so far from where we all are." And it's not even this sideways idea that's going to spark more creativity. You want everybody to have a similar foundation of what works, what's good, where we should go, so that they trust one another. And that is kind of the multiplying effect on the creative solutions you can come up with. I find that fascinating.

But it's also just kind of cultivating in a team the level of professionalism and the level of quality. I see that if we take taste out of it and design out of it, the level of engineering quality that a team needs to have is incredibly important, and those standards get set as part of a culture.

I remember when we went to go work at Google, I was like "Whoa, the bar is high here," probably as high as it can be for the kinds of computer science that's happening there. It's amazing. You can do the same thing for the quality of the product, not just the quality of the development and the code and the performance, but for actually the product as well, the fit and finish, the level of critical thinking that goes into it. You put that all together, and that's good taste.

That's why when Steve Jobs had the early Macintosh team, he had a Steinway piano and a Ducati, and things like these unbelievably well-designed products in the lobby of their building, so everybody would walk in and every day go, "I am making the Steinway of computers. I'm doing the best work, not that I can do, that could be done in the world." That's cultivating good taste.

The culture, I think, has been, still it is really, palpable at Typekit in the team. We focused a lot on that. A couple of ways in which we did that was to start immediately. We started the company with four people, and we immediately laid down tracks for how we wanted to work together and communicate with one another.

Yeah, there's some artifacts, like a weekly stand-up and a weekly team meeting. At the end of the week, Friday afternoon, everybody had some beers, and we go over the week that we just went through. We called the meeting "The Week." We did that with four people on Friday afternoons, which was weird because we had been sitting with one another the entire week, but we did it.

We made slides, and we competed with one another for how good our slides would be, just the four of us, so that when a fifth person came in, they were like, "Oh, there's a thing going on here," and then the sixth, and then we had 25 people. There's that touchpoint every week, every morning.

We did kind of ridiculously regimented and disciplined stand-up, which is seemingly very at-odds with the kind of loose and fun culture that we have, but so meaningful to put that kind of structure in place to ground us, to be able to do very creative work. I thought it was great, and everybody seems to think it works really well.

It's 15 minutes, literally everything in the company, everyone in the company. So everybody from sales to an office manager is at this meeting, and we're just really hammering through each thing. People are assigned a position to talk. We're not solving problems. You know what I mean? It's just like, "What are you doing? All right. Great. How's that going? What do you need?" We just go through it so quickly, the life of the company and it makes the culture.

We have a lot of remote employees now, which is another thing that takes a lot of discipline. Nobody really feels like they are wandering off without guidance, because every day we know what's happening. So those things can seem synthetic or artificial and strict and regimented and work so well for a loose, happy, fun team. That's always been an inherent contradiction that I've really enjoyed.

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