Design

Staying organized as a designer

4 min read
Manav Khurana, Ileana Georgiu  •  May 25, 2018
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User experience design is constantly changing to keep up with all of the latest technological achievements and user behaviors.

As designers, we are now part of all the steps in the lifecycle of the product and we have to adapt to new tools, methods, and complex processes that help us design faster and better to fit these new needs.

We need to handle a lot of deliverables and a lot of communication with stakeholders, designers, developers, and users.

“Being organized isn’t limited to a clean desk.”
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In this post, I’m going to share how I’ve managed to create habits that help me and my design team be more organized and collaborate better. And as the Head of Product Design at New Haircut, the organization goes beyond just my own needs. It’s critical for running a productive and inspired design department, communicating up and across other departments, interacting with external stakeholders, and delivering impactful user experiences.

Managing your design system just got easier

But as I’ll cover, being organized isn’t limited to a clean desk. How we prioritize and stay focused is where an organization can have the biggest payoffs to you and those around you.

Starting with the simple things

Everything starts with how we set up the foundation for our products and how we communicate and share our work with our team or client.

Establishing a few basic rules and creating some habits can help you avoid losing files or getting lost in product versions.

What I found useful is to set up simple guidelines for structuring your project folders. Especially when you are part of a team and work on shared projects, try to decide together on a set of rules for all of you to follow.

Sometimes it is very hard to stay consistent as the project unfolds. What helped me, was to create all the folders from the start of the project event if empty, for example:

Project name:

Assets:

  • Client resources
  • Development assets
  • Research

Website:

  • Design concept
  • UX documentation
  • Mobile
  • Desktop
  • Tablet
  • UI kit

Spending this little time upfront to set up the structure of where the project lives will be very valuable as the projects scales.

Tips for keeping order:

  • Name your project so it will be understandable for the people who will access it in the future:
    • Bad: Website_Final.sketch
    • Good: Smiths_Website_2018.02.14.sketch
  • Avoid ambiguous and potentially redundant folders
  • Try to number files or folders to help keep a natural order
  • If necessary, use standard acronyms that are agreed by the whole team
  • Use standard formats for dates and personal names
  • Use a standard format for version control such as “V” followed by at least 2 digits and placed as the last element:
    • Example: Smiths_Website_2018.02.14_V01.sketch

I know it might be much, but if you maintain the same structure on all your computers, personal folders, and work projects it will help you transform this into a habit.

Keeping layers and files clean and clear

As designers, we often collaborate with at least one other designer on projects. The most frustrating thing is to get lost in unnamed layers or unclear versions of files.

Decide upon naming and structure guidelines for you and the team to follow while creating your designs, starting with the naming of the files to the naming of layers. A helpful plug-in for renaming layers in Sketch is RenameIt.

Here are a several of guidelines that will help the design projects be more consistent and easy to understand:

  1. Every artboard, layer, and group is named indicating accurately what it is
  2. Use lowercase so it’s easier to scan and read
  3. Use uppercase only for acronyms
  4. Group your design by sections and elements
  5. Don’t use “copy” at the end of the name

Don’t forget about the developers! Define all these naming conventions and guidelines together with the developers you work closely with. Using a common language will help you when exporting and sharing assets.

Time awareness

Often we end up getting too absorbed in our activities and we don’t realize that time is passing, so we end up running late and get everything done last minute.

How we perceive and estimate time also impacts our daily productivity and can lead to disorganization.

One way to avoid this is to try to create a schedule for the day based on your tasks. Set up milestones and break big tasks into steps. Write them down in whatever tool you like working with—I usually use Trello or Notes.

Make sure you don’t overdo it and create too many small steps. Sometimes it’s enough to set a simple milestone like: “Finish Task 1 by lunch.”

It’s easier to relate to events then time, but creating a habit to watch the clock from time to time definitely helps.

When I have complex projects that are time sensitive, I use the Time Timer for activities like research, mood boards, and ideation. It’s not only helping me stay on track but it’s also more productive because it keeps me focused.

How we perceive time definitely impacts how accurately we estimate our projects and tasks.

Keeping track of what you’ve estimated and how long the task actually took will help you estimate better. You can track this by adding this information to your Trello tickets (or other management tools) and compare them at the end of the task.

“Be aware of your habits and always strive for improvement.”
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Final thoughts

There is no magic behind staying organized, and we all handle it differently. But what I find essential is to be aware of my habits and try to improve.

Spend time to get things in order from the start of a project, then stay organized during it. Try not to get distracted and jump from one task to another, and always ask for help when needed.

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