How a global design team works collaboratively

4 min read
Hidde van der Ploeg
  •  Dec 5, 2016
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Just over a year ago, Lightspeed made the shift within our product team to a broader global design approach.

Our team now consists of designers from around the world who provide valuable input on our retail, restaurant, and ecommerce products. Our mission is to provide independent retailers and restaurants with cloud-based point of sale solutions that help them seamlessly run their business.

With 8 offices in 4 time zones, we needed to figure out a solid way to work well together while listening to the changing needs of our customers.

Related: An inside look at how Envato’s agile UX team works

Beautiful yet easy-to-use software has always been a core philosophy of the company and an important value of the growing global design team. Here’s a look at the tools and techniques we use to maintain communication and consistency as a team to continuously deliver great products—no matter how far apart physically we may be.

A team across time zones

Our product design team isn’t the largest, which has been a big plus for us. It allows us to be really flexible and quick to adopt new ways of collaborating.

We have a total of 10 designers working on our 3 products. The team is a mix of unique skill sets. Our team has everything from visual design artists to masterminds of interaction—and some designers even design directly in code.

Our philosophy is to have a good mix of designers who will challenge and push each other out of their comfort zones and continuously learn new skills. Collaborating with designers from different cultural and design backgrounds has proven extremely useful in creating a global suite of products.

Collaboration tools

In order to achieve greatness as a team, it’s important to have some similarity in the tools everyone uses.

At Lightspeed, we have a “use whatever tool feels most comfortable for you” policy, but we do ask that if a designer uses a different tool, they need to be able to teach it to other designers as well. Tools are ways of solving design problems but aren’t the solutions themselves. We do, however, have some standards in our design toolbox which we all need to use.

“Tools are ways of solving design problems but aren’t the solutions themselves.”

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The most crucial part of successful collaboration is communicationTwitter Logo, which often gets forgotten. We use Slack as our main communication tool, for a variety of reasons.

In order to be consistent with our designs, we work in a so-called “design system.” We actually have 2 main systems, which we manage inside Github, a crucial tool for our collaboration.

Last but not least is InVision, which helps us to share complete flows and gather feedback from all various stakeholders. Since a lot of our communication is text based, the InVision commenting tool helps us move fasterTwitter Logo by allowing us to give precise comments on designs. For prototyping, we use a diverse set of tools depending on the project.

The combination of these tools keeps our workflow running smoothly, but as with anything in the tech industry, we continue to move forward and switch tools as needed.

How we collaborate

When you’re working across multiple countries and time zones, communication becomes even more important. Instead of face-to-face conversations, you’re sending a lot of messages and talking via video chat, so how do you make sure your designers keep on sharing their work for feedback?

The obvious way would be doing a weekly design critique (which we do), but we also have a daily design standup meeting within our private Slack channel. By using screenshots of InVision projects during the standup, designers can show what they’re working on and discuss how far along they are in the process. This allows us to share early stage designs all the time and get feedback as we progress.

The open communication and feedback ensures everyone feels empowered to share early stage designs, which is extremely helpful. Not only will you find product designers reading, responding, and sharing on this Slack channel—our marketing design team and design-loving CEO are on there as well!

This mix of unique views on different projects provides a lot of valuable feedback. Once a final flow is ready to be shared company-wide, we create a single InVision flow and post the link inside a public design channel to gather as much feedback as possible. This continuous sharing helps us stay consistent and aligned as a company.

Each time one of our own Sketch templates gets updated, we get a notification in our Slack channel. Github works great for this and allows us to all stay in the loop.

Github is where the real magic of collaboration happens for us. Not only do our design systems live there, but also all our “final” designs per product (we use “final” with the understanding that all designs can still evolve).

Each product has its own Github repository with 3 main folders: Assets (assets for developers), Resources (all flows and designs), and Playground (all little experiments). Having this inside a repository has multiple advantages. Developers feel comfortable in this environment and with the version control—plus, knowing when something has been added doesn’t hurt either.

The repository for our systems contains a Sketch template for both styles, and a folder with all elements exported for showing differences when updated. Every designer is free to create a Pull Request (PR) to update one of our systems. In each PR, the designer states why the change is needed and what it improves on. PRs are also a perfect way to have a focused discussion in one place. This helps a lot for documentation and future reference.

“In the end, it really doesn’t matter how you update your teammates, as long as you do.”

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In the end, it really doesn’t matter how you update your teammates, as long as you do. Although working as a team from different time zones might seem challenging at first, it’s proven to be a fun and rewarding experience for us here at Lightspeed, thanks to the variety of platforms we use.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard