Designing for Global Markets with Satellite Teams

Before I finished my master program at Tongji University and moved to Vancouver, I did a 4-month internship at BMW ConnectedDrive Lab helping the company redesign the UX for an important module in the upcoming touchscreen-based HMI iDrive 7.0.


Designing how we design inside a designers team.

Since it was a short-term internship, the design task assigned to me at BMW was not the most challenging or complicated one I have ever handled. But it was the first time I was working remotely with designers from other countries. The system, which will be deployed to cars shipped globally, needs to be applicable for users in different cultures. Our lab’s strategy was simply setting up satellite offices for regional design proofing, which means every major design change will be distributed to all the satellite offices and be modified or expanded by the local design assistant. After gathering up all the feedback, we finalize and confirm the design and push it to the HQ.

To me, the process was fascinatingly complicated and surprisingly ordered, thanks to the standardized documentation. Each part of the documentation was edited collaboratively with version control, and this widely applied practice requires a more efficient workflow to reduce waste and cognitive load.

Instead of documenting it later, I designed ‘documentationally’ during the process, which also helped me with evaluating and reasoning in a more organized way.

Documenting everything afterward can be tedious and time-consuming, so it actually forced me to design in a more organized way. I started using more structured notes to do my design reasoning and sketches, which automatically became the foundation of the documents later. It was not only about documenting the process but more like designing in a ‘documentational’ way from the beginning.

I think it would be a good method for product design in any context, even in agile processes like design sprints. The idea behind it is to do design reasoning by making documentary explanations, the idea or proposal will also automatically be more self-explanatory and collaboration-friendly. The internship experience really helped me build a better design habit and, more deeply, gave me awareness of team UX.