connecting a remote team through books

Growing to become a team

When I joined 99designs in 2013, we were only three product designers embedded in product teams, reporting to product managers. 

As the company and our products matured, we needed to break these silos and work together as part of a single platform. This surfaced many challenges on how we could collaborate and be aligned as a design team while keeping our autonomy.

During this process, I've had the opportunity to help set some practices for our team, and to give support to leadership in growing the design team. I've shared one of these experiences in an article for the Invision blog: how we started a design bookclub to connect the teams in different offices across the globe. 

One of our team initiatives shared on Invision blog

Remote collaboration needs the right tools, and something else

With our design team split between Oakland (CA) and Melbourne(AUS) and a flexible work from home policy, collaborating remotely is part of our daily routine.

Many tools, such as Zoom, Confluence, Whimsical, and Invision Freehand, help make it easier for us to discuss projects, share ideas, and collaborate on flows and visual assets while remotely. However,  we were missing the value in conversations had while grabbing a coffee in the kitchen, or during a fleeting moment in the hallway—outside the context of a project or deadline.

We knew we needed something beyond our screens to strengthen our team’s design culture and truly connect, which is how our UX book club was born.

Talking about how we talk

For our first book, we chose a book by Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor called Discussing Design: Improving Communication and Collaboration through Critique. Over seven chapters, the authors share best practices and frameworks for improving the way we talk—and design—within an organization.

Communication as a team improved after just the first meeting as the book and the space of the meeting encouraged us to be more open about the way we give each other feedback. It also helped us develop a more robust shared design vocabulary. 

Most importantly, we gained a moment to connect with each other. Each person had a chance to express themselves in an informal setting, talking about something that had nothing to do with our product—what we set out to achieve from day one. Regardless of seniority, we could share our opinions without being afraid of being right or wrong. The benefits of a book club go way beyond team building for remote workers—it can be a great tool for any design team.

Workshop with the design team in Melbourne
Workshop with the design team in Melbourne

The book club is just one example of the many awesome initiatives that we have in our design team. 
Thanks to Cristina Galie for editing the article.


99designs 2014-

Moip 2011-14
Brazil, acquired by Wirecard

Locaweb 2010-11

AgenciaClick 2009-10
Brazil, acquired by Isobar

Yahoo! 2007