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Make it Scale.

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Welcome back to our Design at Scale™—Academy series, focusing on design practice in a team of one hundred. This article will close the series by examining the overall organisation as a well-functioning ecosystem.

Traditionally, "scale" has been synonymous with increased resources: more personnel, greater server capacity, and expansive infrastructure. However, the 21st century has ushered in a paradigm shift. A new way of thinking about scale is gaining traction across small, medium, and large organisations.

This modern approach focuses on efficiency and strategic utilisation of resources to maximise reach and impact. Several solopreneurs (companies of one) have achieved remarkable scale by leveraging available technologies and implementing smart strategies. These individuals have become industry thought leaders, inspiring and guiding others on the path to success.

You belong to a tribe.

Organisational structures often lead to the formation of departmental teams, fostering a sense of belonging among colleagues with shared responsibilities. These groups can extend beyond typical social clusters like those who enjoy coffee breaks together. Creative and innovative individuals often gravitate towards one another, forming communities of practice (CoPs).

These CoPs are driven by curiosity and a shared desire to develop new methods, processes, and functional artefacts that enhance the work of others across the organisation. The supportive nature of these communities empowers members to tackle challenging tasks and disseminate their solutions throughout the company.

The specific terminology used to describe these collaborative units (guilds, squads, or teams) is less important than the core concept: a group of like-minded individuals who leverage their collective knowledge and expertise to generate bespoke solutions tailored to the specific needs of the organisation and the situation at hand.

You act as an individual. 

While individual contributions are valuable, collective action yields significantly greater impact. By aligning yourself with a community of practice (CoP) that recognises the advantages of collaborative leadership, you can accelerate your professional development more effectively than through isolated learning methods like YouTube tutorials or paid mentoring courses.

Within a supportive CoP environme If, mentorship becomes a mutually ben, your progress is measured not only not only reflects your individuaby l growth but also testifies to the effective,ness of your mentor's guidputtingccesses achieved colcompany's courserwarAndot j,ust the individual, ,but the entire team, CoP,, yet the outcomes drivezati .

You are completing the team.

At this stage, you transition from an individual contributor to a valued member of a cohesive team. Your contributions are acknowledged by your colleagues, and your expertise is recognised as an integral part of a successful unit within the organisation. This validation stems from the supportive environment cultivated within your community of practice (CoP).

The impact of your work extends far beyond the confines of team meetings or departmental boundaries. Your innovations potentially benefit hundreds of employees across the organization who can leverage, adapt, or build upon your creations to serve the common goal of supporting their own teams.

Once your achievements gain wider recognition, whether through internal or external channels, remember to celebrate the collective effort rather than solely focusing on individual triumphs. By acknowledging the contributions of your colleagues, you will earn greater respect and broader exposure than by prioritising self-promotion.

Supporting function 

By supporting your team, you contribute to strengthening the overall functionality of your department within the organisation. This solidifies its position as not just relevant but essential among other business functions.

Let's be clear: Everything we've discussed centres around achieving results. As a designer, you are a creator, an innovator, and a maker. Your role is to generate valuable artefacts that benefit the organisation as a whole.

When we refer to "supporting functions," we encompass the broader contribution of design skills. Your work extends beyond aesthetics to encompass the creation of functional tools and resources that empower every department across the organisation.

Building culture 

The unsung contribution of design lies in its ability to foster a positive internal culture through the everyday deliverables and artefacts produced by designers. This strong cultural foundation creates an unwavering environment where team members can flourish and reach their full potential, ultimately contributing to the organisation's success.

Within this supportive cultural context, the implementation of high-level automation becomes particularly effective. With a clear understanding of organisational objectives and a well-established company culture, artificial intelligence and automation tools can be effectively deployed to address specific tasks.

Growing the influence 

My experience has shown that several organisations have encountered challenges when implementing automation within design departments. There's a tendency to overly prioritise Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions with high automation levels while neglecting to educate the workforce (including designers) on how to effectively utilise these tools and understand their broader business impact.

To maximise the positive impact of automation, it's critical for design departments to evolve beyond presentation-driven approaches. True integration requires designers to become fully functional partners within the organisation. This can be achieved through the strategic automation of repetitive, non-design-centric tasks, such as:

  • Time tracking
  • Expense management
  • Invoicing (if applicable)
  • Research management
  • Communication facilitation
  • Sign-off processes
  • Content categorisation
  • Documentation generation
  • Cross-functional collaboration

By outsourcing these administrative tasks to automated services, designers can free up valuable time to focus on higher-level activities that require creativity, critical thinking, and strategic problem-solving. This increased efficiency allows them to generate more meaningful artefacts that contribute directly to the production line and ultimately enhance the overall impact of design within the organisation.

Scaling yourself while scaling others 

The core message of scaling organisations through design is not about accumulating a vast number of designers. It's about empowering a single designer equipped with the right mindset, philosophies, values, and technical skills to foster a thriving design community within the organisation.

This approach promotes a centralised design strategy that gains traction and demonstrates its effectiveness over time. The ultimate measure of success lies not in the sheer number of designers employed but in the consistent delivery of high-quality design work that meets deadlines and contributes to organisational growth.

And that scales the business. 

The fundamental challenge to scaling design within organisations often lies in a misconception. We fail to recognise that our own ability to scale our capabilities is the key to empowering others to scale theirs. By continuously developing our own knowledge and expertise, we indirectly contribute to the scalability of design initiatives across the organisation.

This understanding dispels the myth that large design teams (50-200 designers) are always necessary for projects like financial design systems, FX trading dashboards, or retail experience apps. History provides counterexamples: some of the most significant advancements in design have been achieved by relatively small teams (around 12 people).

… and that is design at scale 

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