When a design team is formed from individual designers, it needs to have certain rituals in place to grow into an actual team. Besides the usual suspects of alignment and communication, designers need these spaces to maintain a holistic view and be able to act as a team on the overall UX.

A repeating pattern of cake, digital art, generated with DiffusionBee
A repeating pattern of cake, digital art, generated with DiffusionBee

☕ The team’s common rituals build the team

When I started leading a team, one of the first things I needed to figure out was how to make sure we were not just a team of designers but a design team. This means we have a common purpose, we support each other to act on the common purpose, which mostly means we work together on the overall UX, and we also help each other to grow and get better as designers.

The most common tool for working towards these is for the leaders to create spaces and rituals. These are where the team members talk about their work, get feedback, and support each other. There are some tools to reach these, but a great way is to actually spend time together, so to have meetings.

Now, meetings often get a bad rep, as something to take time away from work. Most meetings could indeed be better designed, and a lot of them could have been an email. But the thing is, reading something written takes a lot of discipline to get through and act on. And getting informed is just one important aspect of these meetings. Discussions are often more productive and fulfilling in person - if they are set up the right way.

For distributed teams, this is especially important, and I mean both teams having designers embedded into product teams and designers working remotely. Spending time together with their functional team gives designers the energy and inspiration to do great work.

Design team meetings fulfill a few particular objectives:

  • Alignment and communication. Distributed design teams are still responsible for a shared user journey and need to maintain a holistic view. So being aware of what’s going on elsewhere in the experience helps to find common points, goals, and gaps that strengthen the overall work.
  • Safe space for feedback and ideas. Since designers probably spend most of their time with non-designers, getting back to their tribe and having a safe place to share ideas and receive feedback provides something solid to hold on to.
  • Progress tracking. Talking about how projects are going helps a bit in accountability and putting each designer’s own effort into context.
  • Learning and growth. Seeing how others solve problems and explaining their own approach improves both hard and soft skills.
  • Team cohesion. A design team is a professional team that needs people to work closely together. While being friends is not a requirement, having a good working relationship, respect, and camaraderie makes it a team that can progress together.
  • Management insight. Managers need input on how things are going, so they can act on problems, understand overall problems, and know where and how to support team members. Since managers are also the face of the company towards the team, they also need to share important updates.

Based on these objectives, I usually had these common types of meetings in the past.

  • Weekly review: A combination of things the team did over the past week and plans to do over the next week. A place to have quick discussions, share general updates, and ask questions. Generally, a challenge is how to keep them lively, interesting, and open to discussions as the team grows. If it turns into a status update, the value to team members is mostly lost.
  • Retro: Similar to the agile practice, a monthly thing to see what everyone is struggling with and what’s going well, and a way for the design team to try, and find solutions together. If the designer’s context is too different, the problems experienced might be varied too, and finding solutions together can become different, people should leave the session with something they can take away as an improvement.
  • Design workshops (Critique and studio): To get structured feedback on work done or to get ideas to get started. While these might be more project progress-dependent and ad-hoc, they need to happen, so designers understand they don’t have to solve everything by themselves.
  • Social time: The Zoom happy hour is not getting more interesting and after a few years of remote work, it’s still weird to connect with colleagues on these mandatory sessions — but having some opportunities to have more casual time together is still important. Leaders should find a way that fits the team member’s schedule and vibe.

To make these rituals successful, each session needs to be designed well. At the minimum, the purpose and format should be done together with the team. I also found it a valuable and compelling way to involve people to have a rotating facilitator (another way to improve skills), and check together how well the purpose of the meeting is fulfilled.

🥤 To recap

  • Team rituals help design teams to reach a common purpose by providing spaces to work together and support each other.
  • Meetings are team rituals that create a safe space for alignment, sharing ideas, tracking progress, growth, and team cohesion.
  • Different meetings will be needed to serve the various purposes; weekly reviews, retros, workshops, and social time.

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🍪 Things to snack on

One problem with meetings is that they are often framed as something done instead of work. There are reasons why this is not true, and Elizabeth Ayer has some compelling arguments why Meetings are the work. At least in the case of knowledge workers who are supposed to make decisions, like designers.


Fabiana Alegrio and Shubham Shreya write about the interesting challenge of figuring out common rituals for remote design teams merging in How we redefined rituals to optimize cross-team and cross-location collaboration. The minimum common denominator for designers seems a critique practice, and relaxed social event to find connections between people.


How We Structure Design Team Meetings at OneSignal is a detailed list of meetings of the design team at OneSignal by Lee Munroe with a lot of small tips and details on running these.


Design Team Rituals at Alcumus by Catherine Kazmir is also a description of what meetings a design team has, with additional info how they changed their meetings after some issues emerged. A curious part is how they combine sync and async meetings to stay aligned.


Ceremonies of a design team is another description of design team meetings. This is from Threefold, written by Shane Doyle, and is a nice insight into the goals served and how to structure each of the team rituals.


“At the furthest extremes, design team meetings can often resemble something out of Lord of the Flies where chaos reigns and there is absolutely no plan” — Yael Levey writes about how each type of design meeting has to serve a clear purpose in Improve your design team meetings: Three tips for greatness!. These are: showcasing expertise, sharing and collaborating on work, and practicing soft skills.