Design

Fixing your design team’s communication problems

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First, let’s nail down a simple definition for efficient communication: it happens when one party sends a message and the other party receives it with minimal noise and loss of data. Both parties have to work to make this process happen, and both are responsible if the communication fails.

At Netguru, we’ve been improving our workflow for what seems like forever. We’re still amazed by how much different technological solutions can assist us in our collaboration. Delivering designs gets more satisfying and fun.

Related: Get over yourself—collaboration is the secret to great products

During work sessions, we share not only screens but also Spotify playlists. Don’t underestimate the power of great flow brought about by music.

Which of those improvements can you use for yourself?

Worry not—here they are. Think of them as recipe ingredients. You can throw only some of them into the mix, but then you might end up with a weird, (almost literally) half-baked product. Which could work, too, depending on your needs and your taste buds!

Just remember that I warned you.

Design team communication

1. Be clear about goals and responsibilities

This one’s fairly obvious. If you want your team to do good work, you need them to understand what they’re supposed to be doing. They need to be able to imagine the end result and to identify their specific role in the project.

Think about it. You probably do your best work when you know exactly what to do and why it needs to be done.

DOs:

  • Make sure team members understand their role and tasks they’re responsible for
  • Remember about the project timeline and task deadlines

DON’Ts:

  • When you’re responsible for task distribution, be sure to balance skill sets and eliminate gaps

2. Select one person to lead the team and keep the design work moving in the right direction

Everybody on the team is going to have their own ideas about what small changes should be introduced into the plan. It’s not that some of those ideas are better than others, it’s just that you can’t mix a bunch of different approaches and expect solid results.

Related: The 8 qualities of a great design leader

Get someone to become the leader and make the final decisions. They’ll steer your design team’s ship in the right business direction and towards the client’s vision.

And remember: an imperfect decision that leads to getting things done now is better than a perfect decision that blocks you from moving forward for a long time.

DOs:

DON’Ts:

  • Don’t always search for the perfect compromise—it’s better to move forward rather than look for the perfect solution, which might not even exist at all

3. Set a specific time during the day for information and direction updates in the project, and communicate without delay

Don’t be afraid to be open and inform other people as quickly as possible about problems and ideas that can help push the project forward. It might feel like pointless complaining at first but push through the discomfort.

Share your thoughts. Even if you don’t come up with anything enlightening, you could inspire someone to see the project in a different light and notice something crucial. Your opinion matters, regardless of how much experience you have or how big your role is.

Also, don’t hesitate to jump on a quick call and ask for feedback when you need it.

DOs:

  • Always ask for feedback on every step of design
  • Have regular design reviews
  • Communicate clearly, early, and often
  • It’s a good idea to have daily standups
  • Try to involve remote team members in anything that is relevant to their work, but also consider whether they feel they’re part of the team and what they can learn through participating in certain meetings
  • Verify designs of complex processes with team members who didn’t work on them as closely as yourself

DON’Ts:

  • Don’t be stubborn or try to defend against constructive criticism—you can’t grow professionally without feedback
  • Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions
  • Don’t assume your team knows how to use collaboration tools (unless you’ve worked together before)

4. Be on the same page as your team

This is vital. As a member of a team, you need to be aware of what everybody is doing, along with why and when they’re doing it. You need to know which tasks are being worked on or have been completed, so that the flow of work is smooth for the entire team. And maybe so that you don’t accidentally do things twice. You need to know who to approach when you need specific information or some part of the already finished work.

You need to keep track of who is doing what.

DOs:

  • Be responsive and helpful: if a team member asks you for urgent feedback, give it a high priority
  • Solve conflicts and misunderstandings within the team quickly: personal conflicts have a tendency to escalate

DON’Ts:

  • Don’t take the whole credit for the final design (you won’t be inclined to as long as you know how much work everyone else has done)
  • Don’t get too attached to your designs, because your teammates’ solutions might be better than yours

5. Know your team members and their specific skills

Imagine your task requires an element you don’t feel comfortable working on, while it’s likely that it wouldn’t require much effort from someone else on your team. Who do you approach about it? The person on your team best suited to do the job, of course!

How do you identify this individual? Well, you should already know what everyone on the team is capable of and what kind of work they enjoy.

Have you made sure you have this information?

DOs:

  • Ask your teammates what they’d like to work on and which skills they want to improve
  • Have fun getting to know your teammates
“Do you know what everyone on your team is capable of?”

DON’Ts:

6. Your ego is your worst enemy

Better ready than perfect. Your team can have ideas better than your own, so focus on the common goal instead of your personal pride and attitude.

Think about it as if you were taking advantage of collective intelligence and creativity. That’s a lot of potential right at your fingertips.

DOs:

  • When a conflict arises, collect all the arguments from the team and choose the solution which serves your product’s business objectives best
  • Back up your ideas with real-life examples and surveys
“Focus on the common goal, not your personal pride and attitude.”

DON’Ts:

  • Don’t let aesthetics or personal preference be your primary guide when you search for solutions
  • Be careful not to reinvent the wheel: someone out there is likely to have already solved the problem you’re facing

7. Set aside time for discussions, but have a limit

We all know we can discuss every single detail for ages. It’s easy to talk in circles if you aren’t careful, so set a time limit for meetings, and have an agenda and follow it carefully.

Sometimes, when a really great idea just won’t appear, the best option is to settle on a mediocre one and briefly revisit the topic later in the hope someone comes up with something brilliant at a later time.

It’s surprising how often this strategy works.

DOs:

  • Start each meeting with a proper introduction to get everyone on the same page
  • Preface each topic with a clear goal you want to achieve
  • Ask clarifying questions and make decisions
  • Take notes related to the decisions and arguments that are critical for the project

DON’Ts:

  • Don’t make snap judgements: no one is allowed to criticize during a brainstorming session
  • Don’t let the discussion run on for too long—you can book a meeting room for 1-2 hours, which will force you to stop brainstorming and relocate as soon as you run out of time

8. Organize your work before things get out of hand

You probably have your own system for doing design work, but you’ll quickly find out that it doesn’t quite cut it when you try to make the whole team use your strategies.

Other people don’t think the way you do, and what’s perfectly understandable for you might be confusing for them. In a team, you need a system that works for everyone and doesn’t introduce unnecessary complications.

At the same time, any system is better than no system, so don’t lose sleep over this. You’ll get it right with time.

DOs:

  • Have good naming conventions, e.g. standardize the folder naming conventions within Sketch and Photoshop
  • Use shared text styles and shared colors
  • Create symbols in Sketch and Smart Objects in Photoshop for recurrent patterns
  • Use artboards and pages in Sketch
  • Be on the lookout for bad layer or file naming

DON’Ts:


  • Don’t scatter files around: use one place for all project assets, ideally a shared folder
  • Don’t leave your layers ungrouped and unnamed: your team members might need to pick up from your file

The right tools for your team

Each team will need their own set of tools suited to their specific needs. Take a look at this list of recommended tools. Maybe you’ll be inspired to pick up something new that will improve your teamwork.

Sketch

We all love Sketch because it’s such an intuitive, uncluttered tool. It’s probably the best option out there for product designers (especially UI/UX, mobile, and web designers). Sketch helps you increase the speed with which you produce new designs and lets you iterate quickly, include fixes and deliver your work to the client via InVision. Exporting assets for developers works like a charm, too—it’s really straightforward.

You can check out a short guide on how to use some of Sketch’s hidden capabilities here.

InVision

No need to praise it—we all know what a wonderful tool it is. InVision became a bridge between designers and the rest of the world: clients, other designers, developers and salespeople.

Within InVision, the Craft plugin helps speed up uploads, while Library makes exchanging assets easier. You can use Freehand for visual collaboration and Inspect when you need to share your designs with developers.

Freehand

Freehand is a live collaboration tool from InVision. It revolutionized the way designers conduct brainstorming and wireframing sessions. The ability to draw or write on your designs vastly improved the way you collaborate and exchange ideas.

Inspect

Inspect improves the process of handing over final designs to developers. No more endlessly going back and forth. Everyone is happy!

Library

It’s not only ready designs but some of their elements as well (Sketch symbols, styles, and assets) that designers want to share with each other. A shared library updated in real time makes our work so much easier. Especially when the project requires you to share a design and its elements with teammates in real time.

HeartBeat

Music is important! Can you imagine working 8 hours a day in silence? It might suit some people, but others will find that HeartBeat helps them enjoy their work and bond over a shared musical taste.

Related: Designers share their favorite songs to listen to at work

Key takeaways

You should now understand that communication is not just about one party talking and the other party listening. Especially when a whole team is involved, when visual concepts need to be conveyed, or when not everyone can meet at the same location.

When in doubt, consult this list of tips and tricks:

  • Know your team
  • Select one person to lead the team
  • Pursue good organization
  • Set project goals
  • Work together
  • Update quickly and often
  • Use existing designs or wireframes for brainstorming sessions
  • Use the same tools as the rest of your team
  • Use the right tools for your purpose
  • Keep it fun!

This should keep you on the right track. You’ll have to adjust this advice to your particular situation, since no two teams are the same, but this is the basis for you to build up from.

Oh, and don’t forget to talk to your team about introducing changes in the way you communicate! They may have their own awesome ideas about how you could make things better.

Keep reading about design teams

Building the Golden State Warriors of design teams
Product design is a team sport

Have you seen Design Leadership, InVision’s new Medium publication? Check it out here and submit a story.

Authors

Marta Stachecka
Marta enriches every project with her knowledge about psychology, business, and front-end development. She uses what she’s passionate about in her designs: minimalism, typography and photography. As part of Netguru’s product design team, Marta’s daily work involves designing interfaces, mobile apps, and websites.

Michał Piechota
For over 10 years Michał has combined his two biggest passions, illustration and design, to create unforgettable experiences. Michał believes that illustration can be a powerful tool for closing the gap between product and user. Formerly a freelancer, now part of the Product Design team at Netguru.

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