The many dimensions of trust in design

Last week, nearly 10,000 of you from 100 countries came together at Config Europe, Figma’s first virtual user conference. Instead of dictating an agenda of talks and sessions, we relied on you to submit your ideas. Across the twenty-two breakout sessions with tactical tips and case studies, guides and how-to’s, one theme emerged as a north star: trust.

As our CEO Dylan shared in the keynote, we at Figma aim to make design more open and inclusive. But this way of working is only possible with a culture of trust. Below, we’ve curated some of our favorite takeaways from Config Europe on the importance of trust amongst teammates, with clients, and in the broader design community.

Building strong relationships

Trust begins with understanding your teammates and connecting with them on a human level. Olga Mishyna, Lead Product Designer at Adyen, suggests that it’s not just about building relationships with immediate teammates, but everyone involved in product development. “To understand what other people think, want, do—or expect you to do—we need to talk to each other,” she says. At Adyen, that can be as simple as making time for brief catch-ups before or after scheduled meetings, or hopping on a quick call instead of problem-solving over email. (If you're looking for an activity to do with your team, this toolkit from Dropbox has some exercises to get the conversation going.)

It’s so much easier to work together once you've built a foundation of trust, and that extends to giving and receiving feedback. Designers want to know that feedback in a design crit “comes from a place of care and support,” Olga says. The only way to do that is to build a culture in which team members assume positive intent; if someone doesn’t feel like feedback is coming from a good place, they’re more likely to get defensive. The team at Adyen feel like they can be honest and direct because they’ve invested in getting to know each other, their working styles, and the challenges they face. “Empathy is a very powerful tool,” she says.

Embracing in-progress work

At design and development agency The Techno Creatives, communication is key. “If you improve your communication skills, you can improve your trust with clients,” says Digital Product Designer Daan Hekking. For Daan, it’s about establishing and communicating operating processes with teammates and clients alike. 

Working with clients in Figma can take some getting used to. Once a client has access to a file, they can follow along as the designs evolve. While these real-time updates are helpful for keeping everyone on the same page (literally), it can also be scary to get feedback on early explorations. When collaborating in one file, Daan urges the team to “treat it delicately and set rules.” This means asking designers to be clear on where they are in the design process (with status annotations, for example), whether or not input is welcome, and if so, the altitude of feedback they need to move forward. 

Since design is iterative by nature and work evolves constantly, keeping clients and the internal team up to date is key: “Make sure that your doc reflects the current state of the project,” Daan says. As you think about establishing these types of operating rules on your team, this file from Mixpanel is a great place to start.

Opening the dialogue

Beyond the day-to-day work, Shirley Lai, Product Designer at Rakuten Viki, hopes that teams can have open conversations about the bigger picture as well. Shirley created The Designated Dissenter card game to empower everyone—regardless of role or seniority—to speak up about design ethics and the role of technology. 

Broken up into “stakeholders,” “values,” and “discussion,” the game assigns a “dissenter,” whose job is to object and oppose what others on the team say. “It’s a way to get to know your team better and foster an open feedback culture,” Shirley says. And more importantly, it’ll get the team to think about the “larger consequences” of what they’re building, on a more foundational level.

Building trust with colleagues and clients won’t happen overnight, but taking time to get to know one another, establish clear processes, and have honest conversations with your team will set you on the right path.

If you’re curious to hear more from Config Europe, subscribe to Figma’s YouTube channel to get notified when we publish all of the breakout sessions. In the meantime, watch the keynote here.