The drop-in clinique sessions

A catalyst for collaboration across our design system community.

Benjamin Franck

13 January 2023

One of the longest-standing traditions of our team is to hold a session where anyone can join and take part in a conversation about Nucleus.

Have you heard about the latest in Nucleus?

When we started rolling out the first components, we quickly found that we needed a forum to raise awareness about Nucleus, what it is, what it offers, and how to use it. We also wanted to demo the latest and hottest stuff we released. Getting the word out on Slack was good, but we wanted to engage with our recently formed and growing community.

We knew that the best way to get our product teams to start using the design system was to bring them together across disciplines in an open and welcoming environment.

We needed a mix between a showcase, a help desk, and a fireside chat. A regular get-together that is open to anyone and can be joined at any point. At first, we called them Nucleus Sessions, and then over time, the name changed to Drop-in Cliniques.

Come and join us, we've got doughnuts!

Mmmmmh, doughnuts!!

Back in 2018/19, we still lived in a world where most of our teams were co-located on the same floor. A world where physical collaboration spaces were available to us. And we naturally used those spaces to start our first drop-in cliniques (quickly shortened to "drop-ins").

Every Thursday afternoon, in the breakout area.

We would gather up the crowd on Slack by sending a quick message. We encouraged product owners, engineers, and designers to join us, and one of each discipline on our team would be present so we could have expert answers to anyone's questions. Something that worked quite well to bring people along was snacks. We brought sweets, doughnuts, biscuits... these were all quite popular!

Snacks go a long way: providing some treats is a great incentive to get people to join your sessions. Doughnuts and yum-yums are always popular!

Every session would start with a showcase from our team: a new component, a how-to, a proposed approach to a problem. Anything freshly released or updated is a good introduction to get the discussion going.

We would then be open to any questions from the "audience". We would encourage those who we knew were working on something worth sharing with everyone, not only so they could get feedback from us but also from other teams.

In terms of setup. all we needed was a big screen to connect to and some seating for those joining us. And we purposely did it in an open space rather than a meeting room so anyone walking by could let their curiosity

We kept a log of all these sessions on our events page too, so we could keep track of the topics and highlights we had in the past. But these in-person events were just about to become history...

And soon enough, it was 2020

Most of us faced the same challenge in late March 2020: we had to re-think our ways of working remotely overnight. We went home on Friday, and wouldn't see the office ever again. And we had to learn how to operate, and most of all, engage with our system users without being able to rely on a space visible to everyone.

The first obvious thing was to set up a video call to replace the weekly sessions. Invite everyone we knew, and tell them that they are free to forward the invite to anyone interested in joining.

The start of the lockdown coincided with a switch from Slack to Microsoft Teams. And while we didn't always find it as friendly as Slack, Teams offers something quite nice for a community like ours: a set of public and private channels grouped into a team within the organisation's instance of Teams.

We migrated all our internal channels there and set up a few public channels. One of them is a drop-in clinique channel. This would serve as a "24/7" help desk channel, to complement the weekly video sessions, and to replace the "come to our team desks and we'll help you". Having that channel also helps expose questions and answers to everyone, because if you work on a design system there is one thing you know: the same questions keep being asked!

Hybrid is now the way forward!

These days, our organisation has a flexible approach to work. That means some of us will be in the office, and some of us remotely joining calls. This meant we have a more geographically diverse team, but that's not an issue!

Our team decided to work together in person on Thursdays, which allows us to host the clinique sessions from a meeting room in the office and welcome anyone on a call on the big screen, or in person if they happen to be in the building! We get the best of both worlds! (but you only get treats if you are joining in person 😋).

We get great feedback about the clinique sessions, even from new starters attending their first session!

What do we get from it?

Nowadays, every Thursday at 2 PM, we have a group of product designers, content managers, product engineers, product owners, and more disciplines coming to our sessions to bring something they'd like to discuss with us, or very often, to just listen in even if they don't have a specific need. We have our regulars, and we have the occasional participant.

For us as a team, it's a great opportunity to put the spotlight on a new component or variant, introduce a new tool, or shed some light on a proposal raised by a team to make sure the wider community is aware of the work being carried on and that we get as much input as possible in the design of a solution and get immediate feedback we can take on board.

It's a great way to identify good and bad uses of components, and help teams improve their experiences and pages before it hits the build stage, or worse: before it goes live. We often see how designers push the components to their maximum, and sometimes helps us identify a need that isn't currently addressed by the system.

We also get some great stories of how the system is delivered for a team, and this is a very powerful lever for getting more people on board and making the first steps in adopting the system. Getting the outcomes first-hand is always better than when we play back the same story. It builds confidence and gives evidence designers can take back into their teams.

And finally, one of the recurring themes of our drop-in cliniques is accessibility. It has been a very valuable opportunity for us to have the accessibility conversation on everything from a component to the context of an interaction. It helps us ensure that while we try to make all our components accessible, they're put together in a way that retains the accessibility of the overall experience.

The team is gathered in a collaboration space, discussing using Nucleus components.

Looking at setting up your clinique?

Here are a few things we learned, and that you may find useful:

  • In a remote setting, it's not always easy to keep the conversation going. Prompt participants to share any work in progress or even work coming their way. Some groups may stay quiet, but will gladly share if they are invited to do so.
  • Make it as flexible as you can, people should feel it's OK to join a session halfway or drop off a bit early if they have other commitments.
  • We do not record our sessions: this makes it easier for some to share their work. If you think a topic would be beneficial for those who couldn't attend, you can always share some minutes, or continue the conversation on your main communication channel.
  • Open your sessions with a bit of news, a spotlight on a recent proposal, or a piece of work. your attendees won't be the first to present and it'll feel easier for them to share something.
  • Run them weekly, try not to cancel them, and build a habit for those joining regularly. It becomes a weekly tradition. But it's one you know you can miss once in a while but that will always be there.
  • Try to be open to as many disciplines as possible. We recently noticed that our marketing colleagues were asking for dedicated components that may be a redundant solution, or that already exist or an interaction that we have previously considered and tested that didn't work. We'd love them to bring these to our sessions.
  • And lastly, to encourage participation from all disciplines, have a host rotation, where the host will be a designer, an engineer, a tester, or a product lead. They will show that the design system is for everyone, not just for designers.

Let us know how it goes! And if you are already running a similar session, We would love to learn from you and improve our Cliniques! Drop us a line on Twitter!

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