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Designing the Design Team

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Let’s see a show of hands. Which of you is in design? Ha! It’s a trick question. We all are.

Although visual design was not necessarily much on the minds of the founders and first employees of Signifyd, design in the larger sense was very much a part of the process.

The company was founded by two entrepreneurs who had a really good question: Why should online merchants be liable for credit card fraud? They knew it was deeply unfair that crooks and weasels could steal from merchants who were only giving people what they wanted and needed.

Raj Ramanand and Michael Liberty, who between them had experience from PayPal and FedEx, saw a huge business pain. They imagined the beginnings of a solution in a rating system for ecommerce orders powered by machine learning. They were undeterred by the huge personal risks of creating a new company, and so a startup was born.

The idea that we’re all in design came to me when I heard our head of sales, Danny Lorenzo, say that we’re all in sales. It occurred to me that when you drill down into what design really is, we’re all in design, too.

If you look up the word “design” in the dictionary the first few definitions do touch on visuals, “a plan or drawing…,” “an arrangement of lines or shapes…,” and “…the look and functioning….” It’s not until later that we see what I think goes to the beating heart of what it means to design, to “do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind.” Design combines imagination and intention to envision the future of something. The process goes: Observe, understand, transcend, repeat. As it happens, this is also the motive force of startups. Creating a startup is an act of design — and courage.

Since the beginning, Signifyd has gone through the well-known wash cycle of innovation. Have an idea. Build a team. Create a product. Sell the product to someone. Show the check to investors. Learn from mistakes and successes. Improve the product. Repeat.

Early customers loved that someone could tell them whether an order was likely to be good or bad, but they wanted more. So the founders thought, if we are confident about the quality of these orders, why not put a guarantee in place to cover the merchant if we’re wrong? Most of the time we are right, so we can still profit by being more right than wrong. And so Guaranteed Fraud Protection was born, along with a new market category.

Our customers deal with chargebacks, a lot. So it only made sense to add a Abuse Prevention offering to help merchants with all kinds of chargebacks, even those not related to fraud.

As a startup grows, building a design team becomes more important as ideas happen and improvements need to be imagined and visualized. When I was brought on as a contractor for the Marketing department, Signifyd had found product/market fit, already created, and was market leader, of the category they created, had classic first-mover advantage. The company had secured Series C funding and had one employee designer — my boss, Sarah Kinkade, head of brand design & strategy — and a handful of contract designers, including Tiki, Kristy, Laurie and Anthony. In the year between starting as a contractor and being hired as an employee, the company hired a lead product designer — Mariana Ortiz-Reyes — and secured Series D funding. More recently, Senior Designer Sylvie Lee and product designers Yitong Gao and Tony Nguyen joined the company as we have entered the expansion phase of the startup journey. Like the company, we are ambitious. We are newly formed as a team. We want design to be as important, at this company and in the world we live in, as it is in our lives.

At a big company, a post like this would be a humblebrag about how awesome we are as designers and,”Look at what we’ve done.” This is a startup though, so our design thinking is a lot about filling in the gaps as we come together as a team. We have systems and practices in place, but they lack some polish and adoption. We have a fine product, but our business is growing and we are learning where we can improve. We have a good brand, built up from humble beginnings, but also showing some strain as we grow. There is good design work to do here.

We have talent, energy and imagination and the will to create a better future for this company and ourselves. In a big company, silos tend to prevail; so product and marketing designers might never work together, or even see each other much. But here in Startup Land, ignoring or competing with each other is not an option. The nature of startup is: See what needs doing and do it. Quickly. Depend on each other because no one can do this alone.

Our combined team recently attended a design meetup in San Francisco, where we heard repeated several times, “design is subjective,” which implies an infinite number of potential experiences, and militates toward an auteur theory of design: One talent to rule them all.

Clearly, the experience of design will differ from person to person. But design at scale tends to round out over the many, and what emerges is more like a bell curve of common experiences and outliers. This is why user research and testing is so useful to design. And why collaboration makes every designer better. Design isn’t so much subjective as it is personal. We need to make space for each other and our differences, because together we can build something great for everyone.

We intend to transform our product and our brand through continuous improvement. We have strong company values to guide us: Hungry Curiosity, Tenaciousness, Compassion and Agility as we Roll up our Sleeves to Design for Scale. We are interested in how design can be better integrated with engineering, and better integrate with agile practices. We believe that the give and take of collaboration makes us all better designers. And we can see a lot that needs to be done.

Not to go all meta, but here we are, designing Design at Signifyd. Observe, understand, transcend, repeat. That’s what we’re doing.

Please let us know what you think.

Photo by Marvin Meyer

Kevin Boyd

Kevin Boyd

Kevin Boyd is the web development manager at Signifyd. When not leading his team in crafting captivating digital experiences, he experiments with prompt engineering using ChatGPT and other generative AI systems, as well as writing and optimization.