Hi, I’m Ben.

The Open Design Review as a tool to establish a company-wide design culture

In many companies design happens in a silo. Design is often one of two things: the paint sprayed on a product once it’s built simply to “make it look pretty”. Or designers creating things that are then handed off to engineers, whose sole job it is to build the final product according to the specs they have been given. In both cases, creativity is killed and a lot of potential is wasted in your organization. Design, when implemented deeply into the company culture and executed properly on a daily basis, delivers an incredible business value and unique competitive advantage.

It’s a common practice in design teams to have frequent collective reviews of their work. Design reviews create a space for designers to show and constructively critique each other’s work throughout the design process with the goal to increase the overall quality of the final product. Ultimately, as most of you know, the goal of giving feedback to fellow designers is to help them succeed with their work.

So, what happens if you break down the silo and open up the design review sessions to your entire company?

Running ODR sessions

We did the experiment and introduced bi-weekly Open Design Reviews (ODR) at Wunderlist. The feedback we received from within the company was extremely positive. We had almost the entire company filling our auditorium and contributing to the design review by sharing their thoughts and knowledge, which ultimately helped the designers make better decisions in their process.

Like with any design review, there are a few rules as to how to run an ODR. And there needs to be one appointed facilitator who takes notes and ensures everyone respects the rules.

The Facilitator

  • State the rules and keep the session on track
  • Take notes, so no feedback gets lost
  • Share the feedback note and follow up on open questions

The Designer

  • Present your work by explaining your process in a way non-designers can follow
  • Point out the design goals of your project and the areas where you need feedback or have specific questions
  • Focus on receiving feedback, avoid discussions or justification

People attending the ODR session

  • Listen before you speak and ask thoughtful questions to clarify things you don’t understand
  • Try and provide feedback from your field of expertise that can help make the project more successful
  • Be objective and focus your feedback on the design goals of the project
  • Separate your personal preference from the customer’s perspective
  • Avoid speaking from a position of absolute truth
  • Point out paths that lead to potential alternative solutions

Break down the silo in your company

As designers we have a responsibility to share our design knowledge openly with the people around us. Not only to make them smarter, but ultimately to inform their decisions and focus them on the needs of the people we are designing for. The ODR helps you spread design thinking across your organization.

I believe the best design team is not a team full of designers. Design benefits and excels when fuelled by many perspectives and experiences. Especially in technology companies, great customer experiences are created at the intersection of design, technology and business.

How could we possibly think design should happen in silos and behind closed doors?