How we work

As designers at Truss, we have a wealth of opportunities to both learn and deepen our expertise of good design practices, as well as teach and share these practices to fellow Trussels and our clients.

Table of contents

  1. Sharing with and learning from our design teammates
  2. Bringing design perspective to Truss committees, guilds, and working groups
  3. Representing design in sales scopings and proposals
  4. Designing with teammates and clients on projects
  5. Sharing good design practices company-wide

Sharing with and learning from our design teammates

More brains are better than one, so we take every opportunity possible to share with and learn from other designers on our team. Here are some of the ways that unfolds:

Weekly huddles
We meet for an hour every week to talk through team developments or trainings, share work, or run a workshop together. Notes from past huddles can always be found in ๐Ÿ”’this shared document.

Being humans time
Every week, there is an optional 30 minutes on the calendar to get together with fellow designers and talk about not-work-related things. Because we donโ€™t catch one another in the hallway or by the watercooler, this time is there to help us form those human-to-human connections necessary to do good work together. This is something we do at the company-level and occasionally at the project-level, too. Anyone is welcome to throw out a topic (๐Ÿ”’see this list for ideas), but be forewarned that with this group, thereโ€™s probably a 50% chance it will end up being food-related.

Critiques and share-outs
We regularly share in-progress work for feedback and to learn from one another. Sometimes these are more formal critiques, and sometimes theyโ€™re just to share something interesting that might be useful to others. Past sessions that weโ€™ve recorded can be found below:

  • ๐Ÿ”’Organizing research with Airtable
    by Monica; June 2019 - Monica shared how she tagged and organized research for the CMS-West project using Airtable.

  • ๐Ÿ”’MilMove design tooling workflow
    by Derrick; June 2019 - Derrick showed us his proposal for a new toolset and workflow for the MilMove design team.

  • ๐Ÿ”’MilMove training materials
    by James; July 2019 - James walked through his process for creating training materials for users of MilMove and shared drafts of in-progress documentation.

  • ๐Ÿ”’SABER discovery roadmap
    by Karen; July 2019 - Karen walked through the roadmap she designed in Miro to kickoff the SABER project and outline the Discovery and Framing period.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Design method cards
    by Mariesa; August 2019 - Mariesa shared her first draft of method cards for commonly used design activities and workshops.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Intro to GitHub
    by Josh; September 2019 - Josh took the team through a simple GitHub workflow so folks could get more familiar with a tool used widely across the Truss org.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Outcome-based roadmapping
    by Monica; December 2019 - Monica shared how the team on EASi transitioned out of the discovery period and into delivery by aligning on strategic outcomes using lean value trees.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Code for America workshop
    by Carmen and Monica; February 2020 - In preparation for the Code for America conference, Carmen and Monica walked us through their draft workshop, Practical Design Thinking and User-Centered Design for Moving the Needle in Government.

Bringing design perspective to Truss committees, guilds, and working groups

Truss has a number of ๐Ÿ”’auxiliary groups where you can lend your time and expertise to help improve the organization. You can easily find these groups by searching โ€œc-โ€ for committees, โ€œg-โ€ for guilds, and โ€œwg-โ€ for working groups in Slack.

Here are some examples of the committees, guilds, and working groups designers have joined or contributed to in the past:

#c-compensation: Kaleigh took on a year-long stint with this group which is responsible for the companyโ€™s quarterly compensation adjustment process.

#c-welcoming: Liz and Monica have both taken on rotations in this committee which is responsible for helping onboard new Trussels and ensure they have support from a โ€œbuddyโ€ in their practice during their first few months.

#g-frontend: Josh, James, Shauna and others from the design practice have participated in this guild which provides a collaborative space to learn and discuss best frontend development practices.

#g-research: Carmen started this guild which is focused on deepening research skills, sharing best practices, and building research skills across practices.

#wg-covidwriting: Ryan B and Kate both jumped in to help on a short-term project to formalize and publish our best practices on distributed work.

Representing design in sales scopings and proposals

We are fortunate to have a business development team that prioritizes practitioner participation and input in the sales process. All scoping calls with prospective commercial clients include a member of the design team so that we can ensure someone from the practice can vet the opportunity, understand the needs of the client, help determine staffing, and assist with writing the proposal.

Monica helped our business development team design a more ๐Ÿ”’streamlined user flow that details every client and internal touchpoint from the prospect stage to getting the deal signed. The ๐Ÿ”’Involving Trussels in CommSales Playbook outlines exactly when designers get brought into the sales process, what the expectations are, and the current list of folks who are designated to assist with this effort.

Weโ€™ve also developed a ๐Ÿ”’design-specific scoping guide that details what makes a good project and what questions we should be asking the client in the scoping call to ensure itโ€™s a good fit.

Designing with teammates and clients on projects

There is no โ€œtypicalโ€ project here at Truss, so there is no โ€œtypicalโ€ design playbook to run one, but there are some practices we hold near and dear, which weโ€™ve started to formalize below:

Team norming
Every new project is a new problem to solve and potentially a brand new mix of people to solve it with โ€” which is why we care so deeply about team norming and building a foundation of trust. ๐Ÿ”’Here are some of our favorite activities to get to know each other, understand working styles, and norm on how weโ€™ll work together.

  • BICEPS: Understand what is important to each person working on the project and what motivates us.
  • Superpowers and kryptonite: Understand each personโ€™s self-identified strengths and areas for growth/improvement.
  • Contribute, lead, learn: Understand the work areas each person wants to contribute to, lead, and learn more about.

Weโ€™ve also found it helpful, as an output from these activities, to develop more ๐Ÿ”’formal workstreams for everyone on the team that detail what theyโ€™re responsible for leading, who they will collaborate with, and any potential risks.

In addition to these activities, it is also critically important to discuss with the entire internal team how decisions will be made, who will be involved, and how they will be documented. Truss has a robust practice of using decision records to document decisions โ€” which the ๐Ÿ”’SABER design team adopted and recommends for future projects.

Discovery and framing
We regularly push clients to include a Discovery and Framing period at the start of each project to ensure we are all aligned on user needs, business goals, and stakeholder priorities before we settle on a solution. If there is a common thread in almost all of our projects, itโ€™s this, and as designers, weโ€™re often leading the charge on this effort.

We think of D&F as a three-phased approach:

  1. Understand the problem space
    • Onboard to D&F mindset
    • Align on access and tooling
    • Have a pre-mortem and talk through anti-goals
    • Review past research and identify assumptions and gaps
    • Map current workflows
    • Map stakeholders and their scale of influence
  2. Conduct stakeholder and user research
    • Write interview scripts
    • Recruit, schedule, and conduct interviews
    • Synthesize information (create/update user archetypes, user needs, pain points, journey maps, service blueprints, etc)
    • Collaborate with stakeholders to prioritize needs and create experiments roadmap to test ideas
  3. Experiment with potential solutions
    • Run design studio sessions with stakeholders and users
    • Design low-fidelity prototypes to test with stakeholders and users
    • Synthesize findings and share recommendations
    • Create an outcome-based roadmap and project plan to move forward

While every project approaches this work a little bit differently, thereโ€™s value in having a shared library of resources to pull from. While itโ€™s still in progress, we have the beginnings of a ๐Ÿ”’Project Kickoff Miro board with easy-to-copy templates for many of the activities listed above. Additional resources can be found in the Resources section of this playbook.

Sharing good design practices company-wide

In the life cycle of Truss, research and design is a relatively new practice, so when an opportunity presents itself to share design practices and work with the entire company, we take it.

Every Friday after our practitioner (full company) meeting, there is a 25 minute slot open for any Trussel to present on a topic to the rest of the Truss team. Below is a list of recordings of past One Topic Talks done by members of the design team:

  • ๐Ÿ”’Introduction to content strategy
    by James and Kaleigh; January 2019 - A general overview of content strategy work, why itโ€™s important, and what it looks like in practice.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Stakeholder research and synthesis on CMS West
    by Karen; February 2019 - How user research was conducted on a very technical project with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Truss brand guide
    by Josh; February 2019 - The official release of a visual brand guide and assets for Truss.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Human-centered sales process
    by Monica, Dom, and Jamie; September 2019 - How a human-centered approach helped improve Trussโ€™s commercial sales process.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Introduction to object-oriented UX
    by Karen; October 2019 - An overview on object-oriented design and how to apply it to some of the work we do at Truss.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Introduction to accessibility
    by Liz and Christine; December 2019 - An introduction to web accessibility, why it matters, and tools to ensure your work meets baseline accessibility standards.

  • ๐Ÿ”’SABER research and design wiki walkthrough
    by Carmen, Kaleigh, and Josh; April 2020 - Walkthrough of the SABER design teamโ€™s ๐Ÿ”’GitHub wiki for research artifacts, decision records, and MVP work.

  • ๐Ÿ”’Best practices for writing UI copy by James and Amanda. There was no recording of this OTT, but this document captures most of the content; namely, the key principles and best practices of writing good UI copy.