How We’re Tackling a Weakness: Design Pattern Club


Kyle Caruso


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A few months ago our Design Newsletter crew brainstormed ideas for articles we wanted to write about. Something that often bothers me about company newsletters is that it’s usually all about what they are really great at. I mean, it should be, it’s good PR and it is part of being a thought leader, etc. However, we all know it’s not all perfect. When considering our imperfections, we gravitate towards one topic: what's something we're not good at and what are we doing about it?

I interviewed three folks on our design team about a gap they saw with our design patterns across Lattice and what they are doing to improve that.

Kyle: Can you all quickly introduce yourselves? Name, role, something fun about you. Andrea, you start.

Andrea: Oh, gosh! The “A” always gets me. I’m a product designer on the Compensation team. I started running 3 weeks ago, and I hate running but I'm gonna become a runner.

Cap: I'm Cap, I'm a design director at Lattice, and my fun fact is the same. I started running 3 weeks ago, and I hate running, and I don't know if I'm going to become a runner though, the jury's out. I find it boring and that’s a good segway to Chex.

Chex: I'm never at the end of an alphabetical order. This is exciting. I’m Chelsea, I also go by Chex. I am a product designer on the Talent and Design Systems teams. I used to run a lot. I did my first Marathon in 2020, and I stopped running while I was pregnant, and since I've had a baby, I started running again 2 weeks ago. So let's all run, because running is amazing.

Chex, Andrea, Cap, and Kyle

Kyle: Can you tell me about how/why Pattern Club got started?

Cap: So when I got to Lattice, Jared (Head of Design) asked me to drive some quality discussions across the design team. After I got settled, two things seemed pretty obvious: 1) Our design systems investment, rightfully so, for the stage of the company, isn't super large, and so there's only so much that someone like Chex, and the engineers working on design systems can do. 2) At the same time, it was like the design team was kind of waiting on design systems to define patterns so they could use them. So we're all reinventing things all over the place because the design system is not ready. And again, it's not a criticism of the design systems team or anything like that. It's just the reality of a team our size at the stage we were at. So we needed to do something about our inconsistent patterns.

One thing that worked for me at past companies had been to start by getting all the designers to just agree on what the patterns are. If all the designers can agree on what the patterns are, and we use them, then even if they don't get implemented everywhere at the same time from a component perspective, at least it all is going to look the same and act the same, generally speaking. So I started the Pattern Club and asked for volunteers, and I think like over half the design team instantly volunteered, and other people have volunteered since then. We went from there.

Kyle: So how does it work? How often do you meet? What do you do?

Andrea: It started with four of us and we meet every other Wednesday. We'll get together and walk through what's in progress, and then we'll go deep into what we're working on and give feedback. Then we're always walking away with next steps, and what we want to accomplish by the next time we meet depending on what phase the projects are in. We're really trying to get stuff to the finish line. It's like, how can we do this really fast, but also spend quality time on it?

Kyle: So what's an example of something that Pattern Club has tackled and solved for?

Chex: The most recent example we worked on is page headers. Across Lattice products, the page header is a little bit different. Some are the same as others, but there's not a consistent way that we have a page header. We started by everybody bringing their examples of pages and what they want each page header to look like. Andrea did all the hard work of taking everybody's ideas, collating them into a pattern to beta test with the team.Then I took what Andrea did, along with the feedback and worked on getting it into a Figma component. We can then roll out to the whole team.

Cap: I think it's been a discovery process. What would be a good project for this group, and what's the right scope for this group? We definitely had a few missed starts with a couple of different patterns that just wound up being too vague or so big that it just didn't make any sense to tackle it. So we were like, ‘Let's do something else.’ So it hasn't been all perfect but we do stuff and iterate as it makes sense..

Kyle: What would you say is working? What do you think the Pattern Club can do better?

Cap: We're learning a lot. The page header really is our first big document, a piece that we're putting out there, and almost instantaneously we've learned some stuff.

Chex: Yeah, so, I sent the email about page headers this morning. Feedback happens fast, lol. One thing was we're experimenting with these indigo buttons in the header. The immediate feedback was like, ‘Okay, do I use these? Should I just change them to be blue until we roll out indigo buttons?’ To be clear, there is no engineering plan to release indigo buttons. So it's this tension of we need to create consistency but we're gonna have things that might not be unified off the bat.  It’s hard to say, ‘Hey everyone, we want to change the color of our buttons.’ And not have everybody ask why and folks have way more important things to do. But, if we have a bunch of designers saying, ‘Yo, look how much better this looks! Here's the case for it,’ and we can all push collectively. If there are things we want designers to push, being really clear about what those are, because people want to do that with us, and people want to do that work with their teams.

Kyle: That makes me think, how do you decide what's next?

Cap: It's random, lol? It’s something that when we started we sat down, and we made a list of everything we could think of that might be something we should patternize, and obviously we didn't get everything.The list is very long to start with. So we prioritized it. Some based on total usage; headers rose to the top. Tables is the other thing we’re working on right now, and that's because it is used everywhere. But really it's like, ‘What's the most fun and high impact thing you could do and let's do that.’ What I think is nice about this being a club, and not an actual team is, there are no company objectives attached to us. Like we can do whatever we want, it only works if people want to do it and want to be a part of it. That’s really nice.

Kyle: Chex, how do you think about a design systems team and something like a Pattern Club working together?

Chex: When there is something like the Pattern Club, things can evolve in a different way. I do think where there is a design systems team, there should also be something like a Pattern Club. In some places I've seen it as a council of some kind of people from across the company to interact with the design systems team. I think something like this, whether it's formal or not, needs to exist in parallel to a design systems team.

Andrea: I was just gonna add to that. I'm super excited, now that the headers are out there. Seeing how the rest of the design team contributes and gives feedback. It can be challenging to get others to implement this in their current work if they weren’t involved. But now that it’s in the wild, they’re trying it and giving feedback.

Kyle: Any tips or advice to other design teams that may be in similar situations?

Andrea: Something I've seen a lot more of lately is just doing audits. If you're working on something, go in the product and do an audit. See if there's existing patterns that we can either improve or use.That's been really helpful.

Chex: Something I appreciated about the Pattern Club was the design phase. Everybody's explorations were so different. Some people explore the layout of the page. Some people, what the individual elements look like visually. Some people explored color a little more than others. That diversity of what each person thinks is fun to work on, really contributed to the outcome. A little piece of everybody's was in there, and not because we had to make sure everybody's work gets in there. But just naturally, there was something to pull from everyone’s approach.

Cap: My thing that I would say is, keep it low key. Everyone has a job they have to do. The low key nature of it, and not tying it to any sort of strict timeline or business goals, allows people to have weeks where they weren't able to get to it, and that’s totally okay.
You want to keep the fun aspect, you want to keep it feeling lite. Otherwise it's gonna feel like a drag, and people are not gonna want to do it because they're gonna be afraid to commit. Also, we actually do have good efficiency, but without any of the strict guidelines. I think it works pretty well so far.

Kyle: I have noticed that even when you share recaps after your meetings. It's just like, here's what we talked about, here's what we're gonna work on. It’s light but it’s also super informative.

Kyle: If I had to try and sum this all up in one sentence: it seems like the main takeaway is to keep it fun and high impact…just like running! Sorry, dad joke, I couldn’t resist. Thank you all for this and I'm looking forward to what you’ll tackle next!