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7 ways to improve teamwork with design

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Building a product is a lot like putting together a puzzle with a group: lots of pieces that all need to come together, and the more hands involved, the trickier it is to make everything fit just right.

Communication and teamwork take effort and planning. Ideally, a productive team consists of productive individuals, but that’s not always the case. In our time making InVision, we’ve learned a lot about how a team works. To help, we’ve rounded up our favorite ways to design some productivity and good vibes for your team.

1. Design sprints (work with structure)

design-sprints (1)

To some, sprint is a dirty word. I’m only using it here for lack of a better term, but the point remains: working with structure and measurable goals is an awesome thing.

Sprints and boards and standups are usually more at home in a development world, but applying them to our design process has real benefits. Working on things in small, measured segments keeps focus tight and progress digestible.

Sprints and boards and standups are usually more at home in a development world, but applying them to our design process has real benefits.

Since design is such a creative and subjective process, it’s susceptible to slippery timelines, and worse, the critical eye of a crunched project manager (“Why isn’t this done yet?!”).

Setting realistic goals about when things will be done and when developers and engineers can start working provides your team with a rhythm it desperately needs.

If you can swing it, work in the same task/agile/PM tool as the development team to provide transparent insight for your team into your process. If that doesn’t work, try a tightly organized Trello board.

2. Hackathons

hackathon

One key to designing in sprints: schedule downtime between your larger efforts so everyone can blow off some design steam.

Enter: hackathons.

Traditionally viewed as development exercises (yeah, it has “hack” in the title), hackathons give an otherwise focused designer a wild creative outlet.

Take a break from conversion, style guides, and business goals and create something goofy for the office with your team. I once made a “drinks by the bar” pager, for example.

Take a break from conversion, style guides, and business goals and create something goofy for the office with your team.

This is an opportunity to foster teamwork by pairing developers and designers together on a common, enjoyable task. Removing the stress and pressure from a working relationship helps build a foundation for when/if those things return.

3. Communication (that doesn’t feel like work)

chat (1)

Email isn’t fun. I get why we use it, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone on your team who’s dying to tackle a full inbox. It’s a slow, often hard-to-follow way to tell someone something (re: re: re: etc.).

Chat apps like Slack and HipChat not only provide your team with lightning-fast communication, they add a big dash of fun. Virtually every (modern) work chat I’ve been a part of has been filled with jokes, GIFs, and general good vibes.

That’s not to say that work doesn’t get done. Both Slack and HipChat have some serious integrations under the hood for GitHub, Trello, and all the other major players you’re already using.

Pulling quick conversations out of the inbox and into real-time chat is a huge shot in the arm for teamwork and productivity. Gathering feedback is quicker, action items multiply, and everyone gets on the same page.

4. Lunch-and-learns

lunch-and-learn

As software and design continue to solve new problems, we’ve got an interesting new hurdle: working in areas where we have no idea how things traditionally work.

For instance, I spent years building a consumer auto insurance app at a startup, but before that I’d never thought about how my insurance actually worked (let alone the industry behind it).

The more you learn about the tough decisions your teammates face, the more you can help out when they arise—and the less you’ll bother them over small things.

Until I got my feet under me, I spent a lot of time conversing with our insurance agents and others on my team who knew the space. I’m sure they thought, “Who is this clueless dude roaming the halls?”

One of my favorite tools is the lunch-and-learn, a quick meetup where team members share knowledge and insight—sort of like a high-level show-and-tell for professionals. At that startup, lunch-and-learns happened sporadically, or when a new team member joined.

The more you learn about the tough decisions your teammates face, the more you can help out when they arise—and the less you’ll bother them over small things. Gaining confidence in an industry that used to be foreign to you will definitely show in your design and the decisions you start to make.

5. Pair program (and design)

pair-designing

For a young developer, pair programming is a huge boost and great chance to learn from a more senior member of the team. I’m not sure if pair designing is even a phrase, but dang it’s useful.

Exploring your process with a team member (especially a non-designer) makes you really evaluate the choices you might otherwise take for granted. It’s also a great way to give a dev or engineer a head start on things in the pipeline. Simply being familiar with a design before it hits their plate can make building things so much easier for a developer.

Tools like InVision LiveShare PS allow designers to easily invite guests right inside their working PSD file. Hosting a real-time design meeting is perfect for explaining your process, speccing a build, or answering last-minute launch questions.

6. Team social accounts

team-social

One of my favorite recent developments on Dribbble is the rise of the team account, a way for folks working on the same thing to share as a group. Beyond that, there’s been a general rise of the “team member” on all social networks, and it’s been awesome.

There’s a bunch of folks I came to know through the brand first, before eventually beginning to recognize the person. “Oh, hey – it’s Andy from Visage,” or, “It looks like Phi from Funsize made this.”

The faces and stories behind a product are a big part of the product itself—and sharing them provides insight into your goals and company culture clearer than any marketing copy ever could.

There are some agencies here in Austin that take time to generate design prototypes specifically for social channels, in the form of micro-design explorations created for Dribbble (and to learn, I’m sure).

One manager’s “wasted time” is another’s “team-building exercise.”

7. Design critiques

close-meeting

A good designer is not an island. Gathering feedback from your team should be the hallmark of your design process. Painful as it is, having your design picked apart eventually leads to good things.

Gathering feedback from your team should be the hallmark of your design process.”

Do it however you want: call everyone into the conference room, start a new group chat, or email the team. The important part is to share the design and start collecting feedback.

One of my favorite ways to do that involves creating a prototype and inviting the team to leave comments all over the place. Processing feedback in context is a lot easier for me, and threaded comments provide better tracking than endless email back-and-forth.

A side effect of a solid design critique is that non-designers start to nab a stake in the design process. Seeing their contributed ideas take shape gets the whole team excited about a (previously) mysterious process.

Conclusion

Open your process and others will follow.

Disappearing into a hole and emerging with a solution isn’t teamwork. Opening your design process to anyone interested not only builds a better product, it builds a better team.

As your team grows and you add pieces to the puzzle, who better than a designer to make sure all the pieces fit jusssst right?

Author

Clark Wimberly
Clark is a UX designer in Austin, TX. Equal parts freelance, startup, and agency, he’s been rebuilt into a content producer with a designer-friendly interface.

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