Design

6 ways to speed up and improve your product design process

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There’s something enticing about the famous Facebook mantra to “move fast and break things.” It’s ambitious, but powering through without the right precision may not be the best course to chart—especially when it comes to making better products.

Author Mark Schaeffer quotes a philosophy that fits better when it comes to speeding up internal feedback loops and turbocharging design processes:

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

In the world of product development, there are ways to remove inefficiencies from the design process without forgoing the speed. In fact, the whole point of a design sprint is to use design thinking to reduce risk—but it has to be the right size and kind of problem.

Beyond starting from the right place, you should focus on these 6 aspects of the design process to make better products in less time.

Improve design to developer handoffs

Companies that build great products have worked the kinks out of collaboration. Still, design-to-development handoffs involve tons of back-and-forth and wasted time—even for companies as reputable as Bloomberg BNA. In their case, the design process incorporated feedback from a range of stakeholders but had to be agile enough to develop new tools.

Sound familiar? To target the common issue, Bloomberg focused on streamlining design to developer handoffs by gathering assets, taking measurements, and generating style code from within an existing prototype. The result was a process with fewer instances of manually sharing information or pausing to sync the engineering team with the designers’ vision.

Related: A simple checklist for successful design handoffs

Eliminate the guesswork

Another core aspect of speeding up the entire design process is removing guesswork from every step of the process.

According to the Head of Application Development at Bloomberg BNA, uniting designers and developers in a single prototyping and collaboration tool eliminates the disconnect between vision and implementation.

Vision—whether presented through a video, storyboard, or some other means—gives purpose and clarity to our work. Without it teams often lose sight of their mission.

Inspect, by InVision, outputs pixel perfect code from designs, providing designers and developers a single source of truth. According to InVision’s VP of Design Education Aarron Walter, this “North Star” is crucial to moving everyone forward with the same vision.

Keeping direct collaborators on the same page is only half the battle. When it comes time to include stakeholders, you’ll need to emphasize removing inefficiencies from the feedback loop as well.

Accelerate stakeholder reviews

The concept of a feedback loop inspires groans. Product managers understand their value but detest their complexity.The key is designing a feedback loop to flow more like a monorail than a bus, with fewer stops and faster travel times.

The key is designing a feedback loop to flow more like a monorail than a bus.

You want to keep stakeholders informed without pausing the entire workflow. The solution is adding each person or party as a “reviewer” who can instantly access the latest files or design presentations your team puts together.

The reviewer function is a perk of using InVision, but simplifying the feedback loop with a single source of truth isn’t only one way to speed things up.

It’s also helpful to think of stakeholders as a resource or co-creators, since they can supply points of view that a designer hyperfocused on a user’s experience may not. In author Tom Greever’s book Articulating Design Decisions, he emphasizes the importance of stakeholder feedback to the entire development process—even though stakeholders have goals beyond achieving great UX design.

When this aspect of the feedback loop starts to stall, push it forward with research. To refocus conversations or add intent, point to:

  • quotes from actual users
  • survey responses or trends
  • patterns discovered in early studies
  • what’s been identified as the biggest pain point
  • Stay on top of version control

Sometimes the product design process is a logistical nightmare. By using a tool to sync and store files, you’ll safeguard the feedback loop—and internal team members—from referencing outdated versions.

In addition to version control, create a project-specific nomenclature to organize and easily locate files within the synced options.

Image by Kerem Suer on Dribbble

Naming convention possibilities are endless, but consistency and usefulness are key. Product Designer Kerem Suer shows a great method. He suggests file name + platform + direction + iteration, which saves you from 10 versions of filename-final.psd.

This best practice is mostly preventative. A design management system with versioning control levels the playing field and keeps you moving forward without the weight of confusion.

Related: Design file syncing (.PSD, .AI, .SKETCH), version control & more

Test early designs, target real problems

Rapid prototyping should be a priority wherever there’s desire to build better products. This process involves several iterations of a 3-step process:

  1. Prototype (turn the solutions into a mockup)
  2. Review (introduce it to users)
  3. Refine (use feedback to clarify or improve)

Bench, an online bookkeeping platform, can attest to the importance of this cycle, having built several versions of an app that initially missed the mark.

Instead of assuming customer pain points or desires, pull contextual, real client data into a prototype. This practice is a proven—and extremely fast—way to conduct user testing and focus designs on actual people instead of just personas.

We can quickly and easily design out screens for a proposed experience and put together an interactive prototype to share with clients for new business work, and they can fully comprehend the intent of the new experience. – Senior Product Designer, Bench

Early prototypes also enable your team to communicate interactivity and make the user experience a priority. Then, with relevant feedback, you can tweak the design to before it’s created—instead of sprinting to fix a feature or user flow after it goes to market.

Make efficient workflows repeatable

Another way to expedite the design process: Standardize workflows after identifying what suits your team.

For example, you can streamline the speccing process by mapping the name of Craft components with the exact names found in code libraries.

Then, a designer could easily see that code component in a spec without requiring a developer to custom code it. In this example, the team now has a common language to use when it comes time to code the interface—which goes back to improving handoffs.

Naming systems, workflows, order of review process and more, can all be templated and applied to future designs.

Similarly, you can depend on in-tool libraries to house commonly used design elements so you’re not juggling multiple design tools or programs—which is exactly what IBM, Atlassian, Salesforce, and Westpac do to standardize UI. Libraries can be customized to house:

  • user personas
  • broad design principles
  • stock photography
  • fonts and text styles
  • branded design elements common across multiple projects

So how does all this lead to better products?

Time is money, but time well spent is more money made.

Nearly 80% of products miss their launch dates(source). Time to market and consistency at scale are both critical in product design, so speeding up the design-to-development process and feedback loop gives you the opportunity to do more in less time—and before competitors beat you to it.

New user experiences and products are rapidly designed and brought to market faster than we’ve ever seen, and the agility to iterate is a major edge on competition. – Head of Application Development, Bloomberg BNA

That’s exactly where you want to be—ahead of the competition, who are still manually sharing files, exchanging feedback through email threads, and building full-scale products without enough consumer insight to guarantee they’ll be successful.

That kind of strategic product development is only possible when the entire design process is set up to move quickly and efficiently—without breaking a single thing.

More resources to speed up your design process

Author

Kaysie Garza
Kaysie is a digital copywriter at InVision—devouring books, French fries, and hiking trails when she isn’t working on words.

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