Design collaboration is an important component of creating and launching digital products. The design process of a product is incredibly important, as it affects how people will use it.
The term ’design collaboration’ is generally referred to as the process by which people from different backgrounds – and those possessing different skill sets – collaborate on a particular project.
At Atarim, we are firm believers in the importance of design thinking, and collaboration plays an important role in fostering that approach.
In this article, we are going to discuss how you can use design collaboration effectively to improve workflows, team effectiveness, and team efficiency.
Understanding Design Collaboration
In essence, design collaboration is an umbrella term that refers to a series of processes that companies can use to collaborate on the design of a website or a product.
In general, it’s considered a multi-stage process that takes into includes planning, strategy, feedback, and lots of iteration. The entire design collaboration process can be divided into three main stages:
- The research stage
- The design phase
Of course, companies can design products without requiring any sort of collaboration, but that’s not always the wisest approach. When building a digital product, such as an app or a website, it’s important to get feedback from different stakeholders.
Essentially, design collaboration provides a common platform to different experts within the company, and seeks inputs from each of them.
This way, everyone takes ownership of the product, and when everything’s done, the final product is significantly better in quality. Here’s some more information about each stage.
The Research Stage
This is the phase where you can send a questionnaire to your clients and get the answers you and your team need. This will give you the important information that you must have to start working on the first version.
It is essential at this early stage to define the scope of the project as specifically and comprehensively as possible. This includes not only what will be included in the project, but also what won’t be included. It’s also important to be clear about who is responsible for each task – including the client themselves when providing feedback.
For a more detailed look at this idea, read our article “The Complete Guide To Defining Project Scope In 6 Steps”.
During this stage, designers try to gather as much information as they can so that they have a solid foundation. This also means reviewing the latest industry design trends for specific products.
The more information you have at this stage, and the more specific you can be, the higher the chance of being able to reduce or eliminate the risk of project creep.
The Design Phase
The design phase is all about iteration. It’s the stage where the designers seek feedback from other teams, and then use it to create new iterations.
Instead of creating multiple screens right away, designers usually start with a few and then seek feedback – both from the client and from other teams.
After multiple iterations, the actual product design begins to form, which allows the designers to eventually focus on creating a demo.
Iteration and Feedback
Finally, with the design complete and approved by the client, the first iteration can begin. This begins a cycle – often referred to as the iterative process – in which the agreed design is implemented and realized, and then presented to the client for feedback.
This feedback will go on to influence the continued development of the final product, until it reaches completion, with the client’s feedback satisfied, and the project scope met.
How to Improve Workflows and Team Efficiency in Design Collaboration
For a long while, collaborative design processes went underappreciated, with product teams often ignoring the importance of working together to improve the core product design.
In the past, most teams used to work in silos, which obviously made cross-department communication quite difficult.
However, if you want to improve workflows and team efficiency to ultimately improve design collaboration in your agency, here are some of the steps that you can take.
Provide an Open Platform to Internal Teams
With any project such as web design that involves the development of a visual product, the single most effective approach to improve the design collaboration between clients and teams, or even between teams, is to do so directly on the site.
Being able to share visual screenshots of pages, sections, or page elements and then annotate these allows for a far more effective way for everyone to see and understand the tasks, suggestions, and ideas.
This approach is at the very heart of Atarim’s workflow process, allowing everyone to see the suggestions, ideas, and approaches, and become involved in this quickly and easily. This helps to eliminate the risk of misinterpretation which, as any agency knows, can easily lead to time and money being wasted.
Encourage Constructive Feedback from Internal Teams
One of the best ways to improve design collaboration is to encourage constructive feedback from internal teams. As the designer, getting design reviews from different teams is often a bit of a challenge.
The core product designers will take great pride in their work, and opening up the design to reviews from various teams is frequently going to be difficult. However, this has benefits: different users will evaluate the product based on how they intend to use it.
As a result, you’ll be able to get crucial feedback that will help you improve the overall user interface before launch.
Use the Right Collaboration Tools
The design of a product is greatly influenced by the quality of the tools that are available to your designers. For example, many agencies will either commit to one product they’ve always used without considering alternatives (that could potentially improve their design flow) or spend considerable time trying to analyze the benefits.
A classic discussion many agencies have had recently is whether to use Figma or Sketch for the design stage. It’s important to be open to using tools and software that you haven’t used before because in some cases the benefits outweigh the time commitment required to getting a team up to speed with the new tools. (We can save you quite a bit of time here as we’ve written a full guide on which is better – Figma or Sketch.)
Making sure that the team has access to the right design collaboration tools is vitally important. That’s why we created Atarim (or more accurately, WP FeedBack, which then became Atarim as so many agencies began taking advantage of the improved way in which feedback and collaboration could be done).
We knew ourselves how vital it was that we were able to communicate effectively both internally and with the client, and we knew other agencies felt just the same.
You can use Atarim to ask for feedback from not just other internal team members, but also from your clients. As so many agencies have already found, design collaboration becomes incredibly easy, allowing users to leave feedback on specific areas as comments, so your designers know exactly what to focus on.
This kind of approach is one that we’ve seen ourselves greatly improve turnaround times. Instead of endless emails, calls, and a certain amount of guesswork, team members are able to leave very focused feedback on specific points, instead of surface-level reviews.
Review Progress Regularly
Working in a remote team can be challenging, especially if you’re taking a design-first approach. It’s important for agency owners to keep track of any collaborative changes, and to make sure that the project remains on schedule.
While you can always use communication tools like Slack to ensure you’re in touch with your team members, there are a number of things that you can do to ensure that everyone remains on track:
- Hold meetings to discuss progress at least once a week
- Track the progress of tasks using Kanban boards, so you know exactly where each task stands
- Track time spent on each task to determine if there are any bottlenecks
- Celebrate successes for team members and share them across the team!
Double Down on Documentation
During the design phase, your core team of designers will be working across a significant number of files, many of which contain old iterations or design changes that are crucial for the success of the project.
It’s essential for you to organize these files, and to ensure that appropriate documentation is available that clearly identifies all of the changes that the project went through.
If you have guidelines in place for version control and tracking changes, make sure that every designer follows them.
Consider the Agile Methodology
The Agile Methodology is popularly used in software development and is designed to bring cross-functional teams together. This approach isn’t just limited to software development though, as many companies use it to push out new products and to improve their iterative processes.
Simply put, the Agile Methodology requires that teams from different departments work together to push out a new feature or update. In this case, that would mean agreeing on a specific design.
The Agile Methodology encourages team members to communicate freely with one another, irrespective of their teams. It allows anyone with substantial input to come forward and provide it through a centralized channel.
This allows designers to improve their understanding of how different users may think about the product, or use it. The earlier they know this in the design phase, the better.
Collaborative design processes and the Agile Methodology combine really well, as they bring teams from different verticals together, and allow them to share their thoughts or reviews about the product design.
Collaborative Design Leads to a Better Digital Product
Organizations that understand how to leverage the intellect of different members in the team are often able to succeed. They understand that inspiration can come from anywhere, and that’s why they take collaborative design processes so seriously.
Creating something entirely new – from scratch – definitely poses a few challenges. But with input from different team members, you end up with a digital product that is much more likely to appeal to a wider audience. If you want to learn more about design processes, you may want to check out Herbert A. Simon’s journal article, entitled The Science of Design: Creating the Artificial.