Jan 18, 2024

7 traits of craft-focused companies

Creator of Dive

Director of Design at Clerk

I've been on a mission lately.

The more that I talk to designers working on ultra high-quality products like Linear, Raycast, and Notion...

The more obsessed I become with understanding what it takes to establish a culture of craft.

After months I'm starting to notice some clear patterns 👇

🔍 7 traits of craft-focused companies

1 — Investment from leadership

Most teams are quick to descope projects and cut corners as deadlines approach.

If you're like me... you've labeled countless details as "fast follows" only to have them buried for eternity in a product backlog.

In order to build a culture of craft, the first step is for leadership to publicly state that they are willing to invest in high-quality design as a strategic advantage—even if it takes longer.

If they don't... then nothing else matters.

It's why Derek Briggs told me in this week's episode that he would only lead design at Clerk if leadership was willing to invest in #2 👇

2 — Dedicated UI engineering team

I'm convinced that craft-focused companies are the most likely to hire design engineers to own all of the finer frontend details.

They're people like Stefan whose job is to focus on how something like the (incredible) Amie 2023 page feels 👇

“focusing on interactions/animations and polishing up the UI takes up much deserved time to make it all feel right”

It's not impossible to create a culture of craft without this role (ex: Notion only hired designers who could code)... but it's a heck of a lot harder.

Hiring UI engineers fundamentally changes the way product teams work, and it starts with design/engineer collaboration 👇

3 — Fluid handoff

When designers work with UI engineers, they don't have to be as concerned with the translation process because they are communicating with people whose primary purpose is pixel perfection.

That means there's wayyyyy less pressure on annotating in Figma.

If you don't document that hover state, it's probably still going to get built 😅

And in general, collaborating with engineers feels a lot more like playing ping pong than lobbing designs over the fence.

Not only will they match what you have in Figma... they'll probably even improve your designs at some point in the process.

4 — Magnet for talent

Designers want to ship code that matches their Figma files.

UI engineers want high-polish, extremely detailed designs.

Put these two on a team that celebrates quality and they'll constantly be pushing each other to level up their output.

That's why when you use products like Raycast you immediately feel the pride that these individuals take in their work.

That makes people like Jordan want to get in on the action 👀

5 — Smaller, senior feature teams

When you look at the Linear roster you know what you don't see? PMs.

Notion is a $10B company and they only recently added PMs!

That's because when you attract experienced builders, there's less need for management and more opportunity for autonomy.

A feature team might be a single designer and a single developer. And this has a big impact on how a team ships👇

6 — Less process, more velocity

Do you know what doesn't exist in a culture of craft? Design by committee.

The more trust given to designers/engineers, the less reliant the team becomes on feedback checkpoints in the product process.

Instead people focus entirely on shipping.

In our conversation I asked Derek about his time working at PlanetScale. He shared two things that stood out to me about the design process:

  1. When working on a feature, there was very little feedback outside of the couple of people working on the project

  2. They didn't even set design deadlines—it was entirely up to the builders when to ship

This is why seniority is so important. It only works if you have people worthy of that level of autonomy.​

7 — Focus on the mundane

What do you think of when you hear the word "craft"?

I bet a lot of designers picture bento grids and fancy animations.

That’s why I like Andy Allen’s article about the world’s most satisfying checkbox so much:

“In Product Design, we sprinkle a touch of “delight” on key moments—colorful illustrations in our onboarding, confetti for major milestone reached. In reality, it’s the mundane, everyday interactions that need our attention most.”

To establish a culture of craft, you have to obsess over the most basic, heavily utilized parts of your experience… like deleting something 😉

🦸 A new design super-team is emerging

As soon as I saw James McDonald announce a new FT role I was curious...

What was Clerk and how were they attracting designers like James and Alvish? 🤔

This week's episode is the answer to that question because we get to hear from the Director of Design at Clerk, Derek Briggs.

Our conversation is the ultimate study of design craft:

  • How Clerk is approaching their massive redesign

  • Why Derek doesn't believe in design deadlines

  • The business case for prioritizing quality

  • Derek's #1 piece of advice for younger designers

  • Some really unique takes on the design process

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

I've been on a mission lately.

The more that I talk to designers working on ultra high-quality products like Linear, Raycast, and Notion...

The more obsessed I become with understanding what it takes to establish a culture of craft.

After months I'm starting to notice some clear patterns 👇

🔍 7 traits of craft-focused companies

1 — Investment from leadership

Most teams are quick to descope projects and cut corners as deadlines approach.

If you're like me... you've labeled countless details as "fast follows" only to have them buried for eternity in a product backlog.

In order to build a culture of craft, the first step is for leadership to publicly state that they are willing to invest in high-quality design as a strategic advantage—even if it takes longer.

If they don't... then nothing else matters.

It's why Derek Briggs told me in this week's episode that he would only lead design at Clerk if leadership was willing to invest in #2 👇

2 — Dedicated UI engineering team

I'm convinced that craft-focused companies are the most likely to hire design engineers to own all of the finer frontend details.

They're people like Stefan whose job is to focus on how something like the (incredible) Amie 2023 page feels 👇

“focusing on interactions/animations and polishing up the UI takes up much deserved time to make it all feel right”

It's not impossible to create a culture of craft without this role (ex: Notion only hired designers who could code)... but it's a heck of a lot harder.

Hiring UI engineers fundamentally changes the way product teams work, and it starts with design/engineer collaboration 👇

3 — Fluid handoff

When designers work with UI engineers, they don't have to be as concerned with the translation process because they are communicating with people whose primary purpose is pixel perfection.

That means there's wayyyyy less pressure on annotating in Figma.

If you don't document that hover state, it's probably still going to get built 😅

And in general, collaborating with engineers feels a lot more like playing ping pong than lobbing designs over the fence.

Not only will they match what you have in Figma... they'll probably even improve your designs at some point in the process.

4 — Magnet for talent

Designers want to ship code that matches their Figma files.

UI engineers want high-polish, extremely detailed designs.

Put these two on a team that celebrates quality and they'll constantly be pushing each other to level up their output.

That's why when you use products like Raycast you immediately feel the pride that these individuals take in their work.

That makes people like Jordan want to get in on the action 👀

5 — Smaller, senior feature teams

When you look at the Linear roster you know what you don't see? PMs.

Notion is a $10B company and they only recently added PMs!

That's because when you attract experienced builders, there's less need for management and more opportunity for autonomy.

A feature team might be a single designer and a single developer. And this has a big impact on how a team ships👇

6 — Less process, more velocity

Do you know what doesn't exist in a culture of craft? Design by committee.

The more trust given to designers/engineers, the less reliant the team becomes on feedback checkpoints in the product process.

Instead people focus entirely on shipping.

In our conversation I asked Derek about his time working at PlanetScale. He shared two things that stood out to me about the design process:

  1. When working on a feature, there was very little feedback outside of the couple of people working on the project

  2. They didn't even set design deadlines—it was entirely up to the builders when to ship

This is why seniority is so important. It only works if you have people worthy of that level of autonomy.​

7 — Focus on the mundane

What do you think of when you hear the word "craft"?

I bet a lot of designers picture bento grids and fancy animations.

That’s why I like Andy Allen’s article about the world’s most satisfying checkbox so much:

“In Product Design, we sprinkle a touch of “delight” on key moments—colorful illustrations in our onboarding, confetti for major milestone reached. In reality, it’s the mundane, everyday interactions that need our attention most.”

To establish a culture of craft, you have to obsess over the most basic, heavily utilized parts of your experience… like deleting something 😉

🦸 A new design super-team is emerging

As soon as I saw James McDonald announce a new FT role I was curious...

What was Clerk and how were they attracting designers like James and Alvish? 🤔

This week's episode is the answer to that question because we get to hear from the Director of Design at Clerk, Derek Briggs.

Our conversation is the ultimate study of design craft:

  • How Clerk is approaching their massive redesign

  • Why Derek doesn't believe in design deadlines

  • The business case for prioritizing quality

  • Derek's #1 piece of advice for younger designers

  • Some really unique takes on the design process

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

I've been on a mission lately.

The more that I talk to designers working on ultra high-quality products like Linear, Raycast, and Notion...

The more obsessed I become with understanding what it takes to establish a culture of craft.

After months I'm starting to notice some clear patterns 👇

🔍 7 traits of craft-focused companies

1 — Investment from leadership

Most teams are quick to descope projects and cut corners as deadlines approach.

If you're like me... you've labeled countless details as "fast follows" only to have them buried for eternity in a product backlog.

In order to build a culture of craft, the first step is for leadership to publicly state that they are willing to invest in high-quality design as a strategic advantage—even if it takes longer.

If they don't... then nothing else matters.

It's why Derek Briggs told me in this week's episode that he would only lead design at Clerk if leadership was willing to invest in #2 👇

2 — Dedicated UI engineering team

I'm convinced that craft-focused companies are the most likely to hire design engineers to own all of the finer frontend details.

They're people like Stefan whose job is to focus on how something like the (incredible) Amie 2023 page feels 👇

“focusing on interactions/animations and polishing up the UI takes up much deserved time to make it all feel right”

It's not impossible to create a culture of craft without this role (ex: Notion only hired designers who could code)... but it's a heck of a lot harder.

Hiring UI engineers fundamentally changes the way product teams work, and it starts with design/engineer collaboration 👇

3 — Fluid handoff

When designers work with UI engineers, they don't have to be as concerned with the translation process because they are communicating with people whose primary purpose is pixel perfection.

That means there's wayyyyy less pressure on annotating in Figma.

If you don't document that hover state, it's probably still going to get built 😅

And in general, collaborating with engineers feels a lot more like playing ping pong than lobbing designs over the fence.

Not only will they match what you have in Figma... they'll probably even improve your designs at some point in the process.

4 — Magnet for talent

Designers want to ship code that matches their Figma files.

UI engineers want high-polish, extremely detailed designs.

Put these two on a team that celebrates quality and they'll constantly be pushing each other to level up their output.

That's why when you use products like Raycast you immediately feel the pride that these individuals take in their work.

That makes people like Jordan want to get in on the action 👀

5 — Smaller, senior feature teams

When you look at the Linear roster you know what you don't see? PMs.

Notion is a $10B company and they only recently added PMs!

That's because when you attract experienced builders, there's less need for management and more opportunity for autonomy.

A feature team might be a single designer and a single developer. And this has a big impact on how a team ships👇

6 — Less process, more velocity

Do you know what doesn't exist in a culture of craft? Design by committee.

The more trust given to designers/engineers, the less reliant the team becomes on feedback checkpoints in the product process.

Instead people focus entirely on shipping.

In our conversation I asked Derek about his time working at PlanetScale. He shared two things that stood out to me about the design process:

  1. When working on a feature, there was very little feedback outside of the couple of people working on the project

  2. They didn't even set design deadlines—it was entirely up to the builders when to ship

This is why seniority is so important. It only works if you have people worthy of that level of autonomy.​

7 — Focus on the mundane

What do you think of when you hear the word "craft"?

I bet a lot of designers picture bento grids and fancy animations.

That’s why I like Andy Allen’s article about the world’s most satisfying checkbox so much:

“In Product Design, we sprinkle a touch of “delight” on key moments—colorful illustrations in our onboarding, confetti for major milestone reached. In reality, it’s the mundane, everyday interactions that need our attention most.”

To establish a culture of craft, you have to obsess over the most basic, heavily utilized parts of your experience… like deleting something 😉

🦸 A new design super-team is emerging

As soon as I saw James McDonald announce a new FT role I was curious...

What was Clerk and how were they attracting designers like James and Alvish? 🤔

This week's episode is the answer to that question because we get to hear from the Director of Design at Clerk, Derek Briggs.

Our conversation is the ultimate study of design craft:

  • How Clerk is approaching their massive redesign

  • Why Derek doesn't believe in design deadlines

  • The business case for prioritizing quality

  • Derek's #1 piece of advice for younger designers

  • Some really unique takes on the design process

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

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Join 10,000+ designers

Get our weekly breakdowns

"There's no doubt that Dive has made me a better designer"

@ned_ray

Join 10,000+ designers

Get our weekly breakdowns

"There's no doubt that Dive has made me a better designer"

@ned_ray

"

I've been binging Dive Club lately and the quality is nuts

Literally the only show about design I watch”

Eugene Fedorenko

"

I've been binging Dive Club lately and the quality is nuts

Literally the only show about design I watch”

Eugene Fedorenko

hello@dive.club

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