Writing the Unwritten

Emily Stuart
4 min readNov 28, 2023
Illustrations by Misha Cobb 2023

An example of how we are using a human-centered design process to iterate on & evolve our agency’s culture

Have you ever left a meeting with a pit in your stomach and you weren’t sure why? You feel as though something you said or something you did made the energy shift, but what was it? And how do you avoid doing it again, if you don’t know what it was to begin with?

This feeling often comes up when starting a new job. All of a sudden you are part of a different culture that you don’t know and it’s easy to do something that rubs people the wrong way unintentionally.

When I joined Craft in January 2021, I was the fifteenth employee and the first employee hired through a third party recruiter, not based on an existing relationship with anyone working there. I was excited and (honestly) terrified about joining a team of people who knew each other so well and had been working together for so long. At its core, Craft is a group of incredibly talented people who trust each other and genuinely enjoy working together.

From 2021–2022, we doubled in size and, with that growth, came the need to continue defining the ways we work together. As a research and design organization, we want to ensure that the culture and processes that we create honor the needs of the end users: the designers, engagement managers, and researchers who make up our team. To begin this process, we held a series of small group workshops.

Illustrations by Misha Cobb 2023

One area we focused on in the workshops was defining Craft’s unwritten rules. Unwritten rules are behavioral expectations that are enforced passively within an organization but are not typically voiced or written down. They are assumptions of a shared belief or practice, but because they are not documented, they often are not actually shared. They can have negative impacts on job satisfaction, performance, and the ability or desire to stay at a company.

Across the sessions, the team came up with 96 unwritten rules, which we were able to synthesize down to 34 — one per Crafter. At our next in-person gathering, we had the unwritten rules on sticky notes across our office wall. Everyone, partners included, picked a rule and we broke into teams of three to examine each rule and decide whether we wanted to keep the rule, modify it, or reject and replace it.

Illustrations by Misha Cobb 2023

To do this, we had everyone fill out a worksheet per rule that included the following prompts:

  1. Write down the unwritten rule that you chose:
    Ex. Avoid being late to meetings.
  2. Why does this rule exist?
    Ex. This rule exists because one of our core values is respect. Being on time shows that we respect our clients and each other.
  3. How might this rule change the way each individual at Craft behaves?
    Ex. Having this rule in place means that people prioritize being to meetings on time and that they pay attention to their clocks & calendars.
  4. How might this rule change the way each individual at Craft feels?
    Ex. Having this rule in place means that if people are late to a meeting, then they feel shame. People might feel nervous that they may be late to their next meeting, if their last one was running over.
  5. What are the benefits of having this rule in place?
    Ex. The benefits of having this rule in place are that clients view us as timely and we are often able to start meetings and end them on time.
  6. What are the drawbacks of having this rule in place?
    Ex. The drawbacks of having this rule in place are that people feel undue stress over their calendars. Clients are also often late, which means we spend a lot of time waiting on calls after being stressed to get there.

When we came back together, each person had the opportunity to share their old rule, whether they decided to keep, modify, or reject & replace it, and put the new rule up on the wall. Then we all clapped, because progress is worth celebrating!

Illustrations by Misha Cobb 2023

For us, this exercise reinforced the idea that trust is at the center of the way we work together. At Craft, we operate under the assumption that every individual is here because they have value to contribute and desire to work towards our shared goals, but sometimes misalignment, past experiences, and doubt can cause mistrust. To continue operating from a healthy place of trust, we know that we need to continue defining expectations and creating structures that we can work within to start from a place of shared understanding.

We used the process of writing our unwritten rules to collectively evolve our Craft philosophy, which is documented in our Notion space, and add definition to new working groups that we were spinning up to address some opportunities coming out of our working sessions.

As any good designer knows, iteration is part of life and being “finished” is just an illusion. We will continue to iterate on and evolve Craft over the years to come. How lucky are we?!

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Emily Stuart

Research Director @ Craft Studios (madebycraft.co) | Passionate about creative facilitation & qualitative investigation