Digital Telepathy’s Dan Trenkner: Collaboration is everything

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Oct 10, 2016
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Digital Telepathy works with companies like Bulletproof,, and Marriott to craft beautiful experiences.

We sat down with Dan Trenkner, Digital Telepathy’s Creative Director, to talk about collaboration, empathy, and the one thing in a portfolio that gives away a designer’s experience level.

How does your team communicate?

There are 17 of us on the design team, including 2 creative directors and a mix of senior, associate, and junior designers.

We communicate and collaborate a ton in person—with the exception of 3 employees, our entire staff is in-house. We also use Slack internally and with clients, though we try to communicate the important stuff over email.

In terms of client communication frequency, we meet with our clients consistently throughout the week. We always try to use video chat (Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts) with our clients—anything to make the relationship a little more human.

“Collaboration is everything.”

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How do you hand off designs to developers?

It depends on who’s doing the development. If we’re doing the development, our development team should already be very familiar with what they’re building since they’re included in all the client meetings. We deliver the Sketch or Photoshop files to the devs, and we also use InVision prototypes for all projects.

As they start building, there’s a lot of back and forth that happens in person to make sure that the intentions of the design are maintained, while giving the developers the freedom to make tweaks and suggestions.

Related: Get our free e-course, Designing with your developer in mind

If we aren’t doing the development, there’s usually a handoff meeting—or multiple meetings—where our teams connect and we deliver files and an InVision prototype. We also use style guides with all of our projects to help external dev teams maintain consistency, especially if they have to design/build screens on their own. Craft has been extremely useful in recent projects for doing most of the legwork in creating style guides from our Sketch files.

“Using style guides helps dev teams maintain consistency.”

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We’re extremely lucky in that we don’t normally have to spend time building out detailed spec docs. Instead, we rely on collaboration and communication throughout the entire project.

How do you think you create a great company culture?

Culture is one of the most important aspects of a businessTwitter Logo, and we put a lot of time and effort into making sure ours stays awesome. Creating a great culture doesn’t happen overnight—you have to cultivate it over time.

Some things we do to maintain our culture:

  • Company lunches twice a week
  • Weekly design team critiques and workshops
  • Transparency with everything from revenue to hiring
  • A non-waterfall approach to all the work we do

Tell us about your design process and what makes it effective.

A good design process starts with a solid foundation of empathyTwitter Logo, and that’s exactly what we do. Do you understand what the business is trying to achieve? Do you understand what the user’s or customer’s needs are? Do you know how the specific industry functions? As a designer, you’re designing solutions that fulfill business and customer needs, so you need to be able to look through both lenses.

You also need a great team that you can work with collaboratively. I love when a good idea becomes a great idea through collaboration with others. At Digital Telepathy everyone has a voice in the design process, and it’s not uncommon for strategists and developers to come up with design solutions that the design team didn’t consider.

“A good design process starts with a solid foundation of empathy.”

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How do you hire new people?

Hiring is hard. As a 9-year veteran at our company, I’ve been a part of every design hire we’ve had. The first thing I do is look at the applicant’s portfolio, Dribbble, Behance, etc. Usually within a couple of minutes I can spot if there’s potential. The first place I look is typography. By looking at the type choice, sizing, line height, etc., I can pretty accurately measure a designer’s experience.

“Teams have to be able to work collaboratively.”

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Based on the position we’re hiring, I have to look at applicants through that lens. There might be someone without much experience who I can instantly tell has good style and aesthetic. With people who have lots of experience, it’s often hard to tell what their role was on particular projects. Having them talk through a couple projects is a good way to gauge their experience.

On your philosophy page, you say that everyone is a designer. What are some unexpected places you’ve noticed amazing design lately?

Here in San Diego, there are lots of new breweries and restaurants popping up everywhere. The attention to detail these companies put into their products and service is impressive. It’s not enough anymore to have a great product—your brand, service, and experience have to be carefully craftedTwitter Logo as well.

How did you personally get to where you are now?

Lots of practice. Designing different websites and applications for a bunch of different industries and clients makes you a well-rounded and experienced designer. It’s cliche but you also have to be passionate about design. You should want to always do great work and constantly be learning.

How do you use InVision?

InVision houses all of our projects and designs.Twitter Logo Before every presentation, we use InVision to turn JPGs into into clickable prototypes. During client presentations we use LiveShare to walk them through the designs. Then, after the meeting, we share InVision links with the clients so they can review the work and add comments.

If we aren’t able to present a design to a client, we’ll often use Tour Points to walk them through important points throughout the design.

The design team has also been using Craft a lot lately for component libraries and style guides.

“Jumping into a design without momentum and excitement is dangerous.”

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What’s your best advice for young designers?

Don’t have an ego. Listen to others and embrace feedback, even if you don’t agree with it.

Get inspired. Jumping into a design without momentum and excitement is dangerous.Twitter Logo If you have 4 hours to do something, spend the first 2-3 hours planning and getting inspired.

Collaborate with your team and clients often. Being the designer doesn’t mean you always have to be the expert.Twitter Logo

Explore. Even if you think you know the right solution, quickly explore lots of other directions. It’ll validate the best solutions and give you ammo when someone asks “Did you try this?”

“Don’t be afraid of research.”

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Don’t be afraid of research. Talk to customers, create personas, map experiences, understand new industries. This knowledge will make your job 100% easier when it’s time to start designing.

Take initiative. Throw a workshop, write copy, do research. Don’t wait for others to do things that are ‘out of your wheelhouse.’Twitter Logo They’ll appreciate the legwork—and you’ll probably do it better than they would have.

Pay attention to every detail. A single bad image, icon, typeface, or color can sour an entire design.

Make connections. Be nice and get to know people, grow your network, and don’t burn bridges.

Never stop learning. Our industry changes overnight. Stay up to date with the latest and greatest, but don’t be a know-it-all. Read (good) business books, learn how to code, take photos, draw, play music, be mindful, and stay active.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard