Featured:Just About’s Design HQ a.k.a. Tom’s desk. Not pictured; a pile of sketches and papers deep enough to drown in.
Design is a fundamental part of any platform and, as part of our dedication to transparency (and, frankly, a keen-ness to show off), we wanted to share with you an insight into how design works at Just About.
Broadly, design at Just About looks a lot like design everywhere else: pixels moving about on screens, a few too many Figma files, lots of notes, sketches, and meetings where we get excited about pretty pictures. The interesting things are more about what sits behind those moving pixels - why we’re sketching that thing, and why that particular picture is exciting. What we choose to design, and which things we prioritise tell a much more interesting story…
You’d be forgiven for thinking that design is a visual pursuit. So much of the design we see discussed in the media is about aesthetics. But the reality is that design is more about solving problems. Sure, the thing you get at the end can usually be seen - and how good it looks is absolutely key to its success - but, if it doesn’t work, things fall apart pretty quickly.
Being led by our mission means that we take a holistic approach to design, starting with a fundamental understanding of the challenge to be solved, and following that through to solution design with user-centred evaluation and feedback built in. It’s a way of working that focuses us on delivering the best platform for our members. This design-first approach to our mission goals means that design isn’t just one department’s remit or a single discipline - it’s an approach and a value embodied by everyone. No one person can know the intricacies of how a feature request may have arisen, how the solution is agreed, and how the front and backend build delivers it. It takes a village. And a village with the same core focus - the best experience for the user - is a happy one.
Alex, our CTO explains how this holistic approach impacts the tech team’s workflow:
“In simple terms, it means that we don’t just take on specs and build them. We consider how our work impacts our members, the effect it has on our code base, and the future of our platform. If meeting a spec means slowing down how quickly the page responds, we weigh the pros and cons of that decision. If fixing a bug now means creating more bugs later, we regroup, reassess, and refactor. Our remit isn’t just building. It’s building the right things for our users, for today, and for tomorrow”
Our design values
As part of our design-centred approach, we put our values front and centre. Our three core design values are accessibility, agility, and a systemic approach. These three values complement each other in various ways and each one puts our users at the heart of our decision making.
In prioritising accessibility, we ensure Just About is a welcoming place for everyone. This manifests in obvious ways—like checking text contrast is sufficient for users with visual impairments, and ensuring screen readers can correctly parse our content. But, aside from being the right thing to do, it also benefits our communities - ensuring we do as much as we can to allow everyone to have a voice in the discussion. We know we can always do more—especially in the chaotic world of our Alpha release—but accessibility is always on our agenda and is something we hope to excel in as our platform develops.
Agility is a key value for us for the simple reason that we know we don’t know everything. We could labour for weeks to design a ‘perfect’ solution and realise as soon as we launch it that it simply doesn’t work for users on a certain device, with a certain condition, or from a certain culture. As inclusive as we strive to be, it would be naïve (and frankly arrogant) to think we can put ourselves in everyone’s shoes.
Instead, we prioritise agility. We launch solutions, monitor how well they work, iterate, re-release and repeat. It’s evolution in action and it means that you, our users, are integral to how the platform develops.
The last design value we have is to be systemic. This value captures how we work. We don’t design features in isolation. We don’t do our visualising and our building in bubbles. Instead, we work together to maximise our impact and consider the entire product design lifecycle. To make this possible, our visual design framework, our codebase, and all our processes have to be mindful of every team’s scope, strengths, and blind spots. We design our UI to cover the entire platform, never just one use-case. We build our codebase to accommodate all features - past, present, and future - never just for a quick win. And guess what? That keeps us agile. Which keeps us accessible 🙌
Past, present, and future
Ok, so all that stuff sounds good, right? But what does it really mean for the platform? Well, aside from meaning that it’s built on sound principles and should go from strength to strength 🤞, it means you can see us evolve along with the interface itself.
Our first platform designs were pretty basic, but they were great for articulating the features that make us different. They show our first forays into curated content, reward structures, and usability experiments.
Our current release shows the flexibility of content cards and is laying the groundwork for a future filled with feeds from multiple communities. Content that you can search through, filter, and organise to find the juiciest bits or the most interesting conversations.
And the future? Well who knows. That’s part of the fun! But what we do know is that the work we’re doing now and the lessons we’re learning in our alpha test will lay the foundations for our next steps and beyond. And we are so excited by the possibilities of what we’re building every day 🤯
Which aspects of our design do you love? Is there anything we should be prioritising more highly? We’d love to know in the comments 💬