Design Processes in a Small Team Environment

January 16, 2019

Every small digital agency will tell you that speed is essential to the development process. But that speed is only useful when it’s paired with efficiency and skill. When there’s a lot of work to do, and only a few people to do it, you must work fast, but you must also do the job as well as possible from the beginning.

When it comes to design, this can be extremely challenging. Clients describe requirements and approve mockups, but if you simply turn a developer loose, this early conversation is rarely enough to ensure the final product is in line with a client’s original vision or the end user’s needs. Here’s how we manage the design process to make sure our clients get the front-end user experience they desire, without our developers and designers both going crazy in the meantime.

Step One: Research and Organization

The first step is collecting any and all relevant information from the client. This includes practical elements like their brand collateral and logo, details about the vision for the end product, plus insight into the stakeholders’ tastes and preferences. In this phase we have anywhere from one to three meetings with the client to review their requirements and preferences for the product.

We also ask questions like “What processes are impacted by this project?” to explore the business need for the app or software. This lets us make forward-thinking, proactive recommendations about the UX design based on our experience. During the same kickoff period, we research how the client’s competitors are doing similar projects, and ask the client to share examples of similar digital products they enjoy using.

The product of this exploration is a site map, plus a description of how key users will progress through the site or app. This is called a user flow. For instance, if someone needs to log in, we create a written description of the way the process will function before we develop it. Sharing this user flow summary with clients allows them to dig deeper into what they really want and why. They can also give feedback on functionality like forms and other interactive elements before they are implemented.

Step Two: Choose The Right Tools

We have learned that developers need to be able to see the front-end design constantly while they are doing the work. This ensures the product being created is true to the agreed-on, objective design and quality standards, not a “close-enough” version of the goal that got interpreted in the moment. Developers also need to be able to ask questions of both designers and the client during the development process, especially as animations or other tricky elements are brought to life.

Crafted uses two tools, InVision and Sketch, to achieve this transparency. Art boards created in Sketch can be put right into the development environment of InVision. In “Inspect” mode, developers see the original design, plus communicate with both designer and client in real-time. Because InVision makes it easy to interact with and test the front end of the product, even during early stages, these tools help us skip the step of sharing preliminary wireframes with clients and get right down to work. #efficiency, remember?

Step Three: Collect Feedback and Keep Learning

With InVision, clients share their feedback and see real-time progress on their project. In the early stages we are rarely so lucky as to have the content of the product in-hand. A lot can change even when everything is going well. For instance, when content gets longer or shorter, the whole design changes, and then the next day, it might change right back.

Our strategy is to take as many steps as possible early in the process to ensure these later, always-expected edits to the product go smoothly. This means asking good questions during kickoff and along the road to achieving the project. But it also means being the kind of people who can answer questions about current app design best practices and time saving options with confidence. Sketch is constantly releasing plugins that improve our processes. We read fresh perspectives on design daily, insights that are shared by working designers and award winning innovators, not just taste-makers or big news outlets.

Designing as part of a small team of engineers requires accountability, flexibility, and a constant passion to learn for your own sake and the sake of your craft. There are always new ways everyone can do their part to make the process go more smoothly. Like most else in our industry (and in life), the quickest way to fail is to forget the need for constant improvement and iteration. To learn more about the designs we’ve worked on and how we help clients keep raising the bar, check out our portfolio.