In the file at Config 2021

Yesterday, we released all of the videos from day two of Config 2021, Figma’s virtual design conference. Here, we’re highlighting some of our favorite moments from the breakout sessions. You can watch the videos on YouTube, and read on for some tactical tips and takeaways.

Across the 40+ sessions at Config 2021, there were a number of talks at different altitudes—personal stories, industry insights, and deep-dives on team culture. Beyond looking for inspiration, we know that many (us included!) come to Config to learn. Whether your team is just starting out or gearing up for rapid growth, process is top of mind. Here is a look at the tactics, systems, and best practices that keep the design teams at Coda and Stripe running.

Balancing intuition and insights

Helena Jaramillo joined the design team at Coda just as they set out to build a publishing platform, with the goal of allowing users to share best practices and discover documents. Unlike past projects that were focused on redesigning or optimizing an existing product, Helena was tasked with building something from scratch. Going from 0 to 1 can be tough. For Helena, it’s all about cultivating expertise so you can rally your team around a shared vision, even when you’re just getting started.

Build context

In previous projects, Helena had been able to leverage data to support her efforts. Since she and the team at Coda were building something from the ground up, she didn’t have the benefit of context and insights. “You don't have existing users’ behavior, you don't even have users that you can interview for research,” Helena says. To fill in those gaps, Helena researched competitors and products in adjacent spaces. She annotated screenshots in a Figma file, sharing inspiration, and pointing out approaches that may not be a fit for Coda.

Develop a strong perspective

To rally the team around building a publishing platform, Helena knew it was important to have a clear vision. First, she asked questions to articulate why people would publish on Coda, and what Coda could uniquely bring to the table: “Was publishing on Coda going to feel more like publishing a blog post? Or was it going to feel more like publishing a no-code app? Or was it going to feel more like publishing a website?” she asks.

To answer these questions, Helena called on her own experience as a publisher, and bounced around ideas with her team to see what would resonate. They arrived on two priorities: make the process easy, and ensure that publishers would be proud of their work. These priorities resulted in product decisions—a flow that made it easy to publish interactive docs, and the ability to add a photo, subtitle, and byline so that publishers could take credit for their work. In the absence of existing user insights, they trusted each other’s instincts and built a strong POV as a team.

Tell the broader story

When Helena shared her insights and vision with the Coda product team, it wasn’t just about aligning on the right features and functionality—she wanted to tell a story. She created a “tl;dr page” in Figma to get her cross-functional partners on board, showing a flow with a handful of mockups that effectively narrated what they were building. “The tl;dr page was helpful for when someone wanted to understand what I was doing but didn’t have all the details,” says Helena. It wasn’t meant to explain how all the features worked, but simply show the story we were trying to create.”

Solving short-term needs while building for scale

Connie Yang, Tayler Atiken, and the rest of the design team at Stripe endeavor to make complex processes as simple and easy as possible for businesses and end users alike. The team operates on four main principles, which inform their processes, tactics, and systems:

Think in really long time scales

Connie calls this a “city planner mentality.” “We're not thinking about how we build individual buildings or cars, but we're thinking about questions like: how wide should the streets be? Where and how should traffic flow? What connects to what? How do we prepare for fires and disasters?” she says. Ultimately, the team asks themselves, “How do we move with urgency and focus while also building for the year 2030?”

Lay strong foundations

Establishing the right infrastructure and processes is key to that forward-looking approach. “Solid foundations means things like making sure we build products and platforms that are fast and accessible. It means we invest in the creation of systems that scale rather than short-sighted fixes,” Connie says. For example, the color system tables in Stripe’s design system have built-in contrast and accessibility ratings. The result is a stronger structure for the team to build on, and a better experience for Stripe’s users.

Prioritize rigor and quality

At Stripe, Connie says, “Details matter.” Since businesses use Stripe to accept payments and send payouts, user trust is top of mind. This means building things that are a little harder, but ultimately make the experience better for the user. “A user interface that is perfectly polished and works exactly as you would expect is critical to earning and keeping the trust of our customers,” says Connie.

Inspire confidence

The team at Stripe deals with technical infrastructure that has to be both compliant and easy to use, so the work can get complex. Rather than over-simplifying concepts, one of Stripe’s guiding principles is to talk “up” to users, while helping them through challenging situations. “We are the primary, and often only, source of revenue for most of our customers," says Connie. And that means a lot of actions they try to take can be really scary. If something goes wrong, there can be serious consequences." 

For example, dealing with a disputed charge can be tricky for a merchant. In Stripe, the merchant will see helpful tips, informing them of what to expect in a clear and straightforward way. “We guide users towards specific solutions and try to lighten their cognitive load so they can get their work done,” says Connie.

While it can take some time to figure out the right processes and systems, investing in them now will provide a strong foundation that grows and evolves with you—whatever that looks like for you and your team.

If you’d like to hear more tactical tips Config 2021, watch all the sessions on YouTube.