Working on the idea
Great design is born out of collaboration—when everyone is in the same room with a whiteboard and endless sticky notes. The ideas just seem to flow and communication is clear. This is how product decisions are made—working closely with your peers and stakeholders. As a team, everyone needs to tell the same product story and everyone should be involved in the design process. Working on a distributed team introduces new challenges on how we approach communication and collaboration.
Remote work is the future, and its increase in popularity has given rise to great collaborative tools that aid the remote design process. MURAL and RealtimeBoard allow validation of new ideas as a distributed team. These virtual whiteboards are the hub for visual collaboration and remote design sprints. They are especially useful while rapid prototyping, or during a design sprint. The design sprint has evolved over time and the good people over at AJ&Smart are refining what the modern design sprint should entail. The Design Sprint 2.0 extracts the information we need in less time, and the process tends to be more remote friendly.
Successful remote design teams also share work often. Never designing in a silo only to emerge weeks after a project kick-off, but instead to share the work as soon as possible. Sharing early and often keeps the conversation, and the process moving. Rapid iteration and design feedback should be a transparent process. On a recent project the client shared this feedback:
Really liking the progress, I think it is important to talk through each step and have enjoyed the fact that you didn’t just give me a final design and have to review that. The step by step is valuable so thank you.
It’s helpful to create a dedicated design channel for design-related conversations. Tools like abstract, Zeplin, and plugins for Sketch offer Slack integration. This exposes design work to the team throughout the process and notifies teammates about design changes instantly. It’s important to keep the design process as fluid as possible. Having availability on Slack, Stride or jumping into a quick design session via Zoom or appear.in will help address both questions that are hard to communicate, and questions that need one-on-one attention. This makes it easier for team members who aren’t in the same space to communicate.
Working with the development team
Sharing the design approach early and often doesn’t only keep the design team and the stakeholders in sync, but the development team as well. Developers need to have early access to the decisions informing the design. The development team has keen insight on what the design can and should support.
Sharing design work can be as simple as uploading screens or a clickable prototype to Sketch Cloud, where the team can leave comments. Sometimes you will want to layer your feedback: a feedback loop to surface design decisions early on, and a feedback loop tied to a development cycle. Asana, trello and Airtable are great for this. After the the initial design push through discovery, design tasks can follow a development cycle through first iteration. Zeplin stores the latest resources in the cloud and provides a great way to handoff assets to the development team. The team can leave detailed annotations, extract assets and view the app flow in the form of a clickable prototype, giving them what they need, when they need it.
The remote design process is rapidly evolving. Spanning timezones, mitigating communication issues and the occasional technology hiccup are just some of the challenges design teams are facing as we work in a remote first culture.