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Ask Spotify Design 04

June 2021


Article credits
Spotify Design Team
Sofi Salazar

Do you ever wonder how other designers approach challenges? Ask Spotify Design is your chance to pose questions to our community. We find people with the right expertise to tackle your queries and package the whole thing up with some delightful illustrations (this time it's Sofi Salazar's artful stylings). Read on for wise words on design systems, collecting unbiased feedback, and how to beat imposter syndrome.

What do you think is the number one task when creating a design system?

When starting to build a Design System, there are many, many guiding principles to consider to ensure the success of this often underestimated endeavor.

Things such as:

  • Your Design System is a Product and a Service.

  • Starting small and continuing to iterate is best.

  • Over-communicate! You’ll be talking to lots of busy people.

  • Make sure to implement active and passive feedback loops.

  • Accessibility is the key to success and being truly inclusive.

  • Don’t forget to keep it fun! Both for yourself and others. :)

These are just a few big-ticket items, however, the number one task when creating a Design System is to listen to your users. For real!

It may seem obvious, but I know firsthand that it's very tempting and rewarding (short-term) to start building a brand new Design System from a literal blank canvas. 

Instead, focus on understanding your users first. After that, any step forward will be smoother than simply trying to throw something at the wall and see if it sticks.

So put the curiosity and empathy hat on, and go seek answers to questions like:

  • Who are your users? Are they people inside or outside of your org?

  • Why would they use it? How would they rely on it?

  • What are they looking forward to gaining from it?

  • What is most impactful for most of them, sooner?

  • Is this something a small team is likely to manage alone?

  • How do they see your users contributing to the system?

  • With what principles and requirements should the Design System be created?

  • Are there similar or different products, teams, and contexts your Design System should be able to extend to?

  • …and more! You will see — they will come up.

The reality is that, as with most things, creating something from scratch is never going to be easy nor orderly. But you can always make sure to try to understand and define the impact of the work you and others are about to start, all while managing to set up ambitious goals and reach a better outcome.

Get started by learning more about your audience and soon you will see what your priorities are, together with the most immediate tasks you need to get to create your best Design System ever. 🙌

– Riccardo Buzzotta, Senior Product Designer

How do you handle imposter syndrome?

First of all, let’s be clear we have all been there, you are not alone. 

In the design world, we are all a bunch of perfectionists. Our work is seen and used by many people which means our work can be judged and criticised. Ultimately, we always want people to love it. This means that often we set ourselves the unrealistic expectation of having to deliver “perfection” on every single thing we do. And guess what, perfection doesn’t exist. No matter how good our work is, we may never be fully happy with it, there will always be something that can be improved, and we need to acknowledge that it is OK. 

After spending hours focusing on something or trying to solve a complex design challenge, it is easy to get to the point where you can’t tell good from bad, and you might start doubting yourself. Let your team help you assess if something is good or not. Make sure to share your work early and often, have other designers critique it, share it with your manager, with the project stakeholders... and listen to what they say. Don’t let yourself be the only judge of your work. 

Use their feedback and comments to improve your work but also embrace their praise: We can be pretty good at clinging onto a single small negative comment while ignoring all the positive ones. Try listening to the positives as much as the negative ones. 

Work with your manager to set your goals and track progress. That will help you understand what really is expected from you and allow you to avoid being your inner perfectionist setting unrealistic expectations. Keep track of your achievements, write them all down and revisit them the next time that your inner voice starts telling you that “you aren’t good enough”.

Your manager will have the full picture of you as a designer and they truly understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you were an imposter, they’d call you out. So, unless they do call you out, it probably means you are doing amazing. Let your manager be your biggest advocate, listen when they tell you what you need to improve and focus on in order to grow. But don’t forget to listen to them when they say you are doing great and celebrate your successes.

– Jordi Carrasco, Senior Product Designer

Tips for great workshopping!

At Spotify, we often run workshops to collaborate and get alignment on a project. Many of these have been remote and across different time zones. A few tips I have for great workshopping involve steps on how to prepare yourself and your attendees. 

Define the goal and the outcome of the workshop. It’s easy to jump into a workshop with all the right stakeholders but no clear next steps, leaving you wondering what to do with all the great ideas you’ve discussed. The best tip I’ve gotten is to write down what you and your team want out of the workshop ahead of time. What does a successful workshop look like? What artifacts are you hoping to get out of this workshop? What will you do with the output? That will help define the activities and may even help shape who should attend.

Prepare the attendees. Offer some materials as a pre-read to your attendees so they have ample time to digest the topics you want to cover. Even something as lightweight as sending the agenda or a summary helps attendees get in the right headspace even before jumping into the workshop. It also yields better discussion since everyone feels up-to-speed on why they are there and what they can contribute to the conversation. 

Practice timing and transitions. Time seems to move faster in a workshop setting, doesn’t it? And moving from one activity to the next is a lot of context switching for your attendees. The best way to mitigate any abrupt transitions is to go through your agenda with a teammate to get feedback on how you’re introducing topics. If you find your agenda is packed and you don’t have a co-facilitator to help shepherd activities, try drafting the start and end times of each activity to help you keep track of where you’re at in the schedule. 

Keep it inclusively interactive. Not everyone feels comfortable speaking up in a group setting, especially if the workshop isn’t in their native language or they have social anxiety. Consider activities that enable everyone to contribute individually — whether that’s submitting thoughts ahead of time, writing down ideas on stickies, drawing solutions quietly, or creating smaller breakout rooms for your activities. Check out Spotify’s templates for some ideas on activities and how to prep your workspace.

— Melissa Wong, Senior Product Designer

How to get pure feedback with no bias for our designs? 

As a designer, there are very few things more frustrating than receiving vague or biased feedback. I've found when that scenario occurs; it's typically of my own doing. I did not set the person(s) providing feedback up for success. Whether you’re seeking critique in a more casual 1-to-1 setting or sharing formally with a large group, setting up some structure is vital for getting candid and transparent feedback.

When reaching out for feedback, you’re typically the one setting the tone for the conversation. Who are you talking with? What's the setting? Are you seeking feedback, or is this more of a status update? Factor these aspects into how you share your work. Regardless of the scenario, if you present your content clearly, confidently, and warmly, the person(s) providing feedback will (usually!) match this tone.

Receiving clear feedback requires clear direction. State what aspects you want feedback on, and keep that list concise. I usually aim for three specifics I want feedback on and name those at the very beginning of the conversation, along with any background information that might be necessary.

Make it a two-way convo. It shouldn't feel like the person is giving feedback to a wall. Remain engaged in the conversation and ask clarifying or follow-up questions. This will ensure you understand their feedback, and that you’re getting the most from it. It also loops back to the first point about setting the tone. If it feels more like an actual human conversation, people will be more likely to give you genuine feedback.

Like the digital spaces, we work on, getting unbiased and effective feedback requires an understanding of your user (the person providing feedback) and the scenario. With clear goals and an idea of who you are asking for feedback, you should be iterating on your designs in no time.

— Ryan Swedenborg, Senior Product Designer


Spotify Design Team

We're a cross-disciplinary team of people who love to create great experiences and make meaningful connections between listeners and creators.

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Sofi Salazar


Sofi is an illustrator, tropical creature and nomad. Her work is inspired by the colorful and vibrant Latino culture she's a part of.

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