How books became our ultimate collaboration tool

4 min read
Caio Braga
  •  Nov 10, 2018
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It’s 2018 and remote work is the norm, thanks to technology and the brave pioneers who’ve championed and embraced it. At 99designs, we look up to industry players like Buffer and Invision, where remote collaborators make up almost the entirety of their teams, because it’s no different for us: with people spread out over three continents and a flexible work from home policy, collaborating remotely is just part of our daily routine.

Our design team alone sits between Oakland and Melbourne, meaning we could spend 20+ hours on a plane to work in precious face-time—or just sign into Slack really fast, and reallyyyy cheap.

Remote work is all fun and games until it isn’t. Design by Spoonlancer

Digital tools are critical to any remote team’s workflow, and we’re fans of Zoom, Confluence, Whimsical, and Invision Freehand to help boost our productivity. Along with a decent connection, these tools and apps make it easier for us to discuss projects, share ideas, and collaborate on flows and visual assets. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Remote work definitely has its drawbacks.

“The benefits of a book club go way beyond team building for remote workers—it can be a great tool for any design team.”

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Talking shop strengthens culture

For us, our pain point is our time zone overlap, which limits our discussion topics to the most pressing and day-to-day. Still, though, we understand the value in conversations had while grabbing a coffee in the kitchen, or during a fleeting moment in the hallway—outside the context of a project or deadlineTwitter Logo.

We knew we needed something beyond our screens to strengthen our team’s design culture and truly connect, which is how our UX book club was born.

For our inaugural meeting, we chose a book by Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor called Discussing Design: Improving Communication and Collaboration through Critique. It focuses on a very specific type of design discussion: the critique. Over seven chapters, the authors share best practices and frameworks for improving the way we talk—and design—within an organization.

45 pages chock-full of insight. Via Scott Millburn

Our team found humor in passages that hit home–like, who hasn’t ever been in a meeting derailed by clashing personal preferences of a drop-down versus radio buttons? But we appreciated that the insights weren’t too formulaic or unrealistic to apply.

We identified simple practices to fit into our current process, for example: sharing a mini-creative brief prior to the critique to help us remain objective.

“When looking for feedback on our designs, we should be working to understand whether we believe that what has been designed will work to achieve those objectives. We should be looking for a form of analysis to take place. And that’s exactly what critique is.” –Discussing Design

It helped us make connecting a priority

Communication as a team improved after just the first meeting. Not radically, but enough that it encouraged us to be more open about the way we give each other feedback. It also helped us develop a more robust shared design vocabulary. That shared vocabulary allowed us to define what good design means for us as a team.Twitter Logo

Most importantly, we gained a moment to connect with each other. Each person had a chance to express themselves in an informal setting, talking about something that had nothing to do with our product—what we set out to achieve from day one. We realized we had much more in common than the fact we work at the same company. And regardless of seniority, we could share our opinions without being afraid of being right or wrong.Twitter Logo

Our biggest takeaway? The benefits of a book club go way beyond team building for remote workers—it can be a great tool for any design team.

Together we’re nearly unstoppable. Design by Spoonlancer

What’s on our bookshelf?

If you’re curious about what we’re reading next, check out our list:

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard