Utilizing Effective Collaboration Tools
“At Saggezza, the members of our distributed UX team work across different geographies and time zones,” responds Michael. “Plus, within our enterprise organization, we must also communicate with other stakeholders. So our UX team needs to utilize the tools at our disposal effectively. Let’s look at a few of the tools—other than our email system—that are beneficial for remote design collaboration, as follows:
- InVision—This tool assists us in collaborating and communicating across our UX and development teams, as well as with other stakeholders. We use InVision to deliver high-fidelity components to our development teams. But rather than creating high-fidelity screens for every feature that we work on from the start, we create low-fidelity screens during the exploratory and solution phases. Then, once we arrive at the storytelling phase, we create high-fidelity components for delivery. Throughout this process, we use InVision’s ability to customize a Kanban board, which allows our designers to collaborate and proves helpful when we’re collaborating with designers who are not only remote but working across different geographies and time zones. This is also a good solution for avoiding meeting fatigue.
- Digital white boards—Tools such as Miro, Mural, and InVision’s Freehand help with collaboration and problem-solving across teams and designers. We use these tools for workshop collaboration with smaller teams, as well as for affinity diagramming and analysis sessions.
- Microsoft Teams—This tool has been essential in keeping our teams organized during remote sessions—especially since the pandemic began. MS Teams has helped facilitate our getting quick feedback and lets us have open conversations in an organized manner. One of its most beneficial features for working remotely is real-time collaboration. When our team is working through a moderator’s discussion guide, we can have two researchers simultaneously reviewing, editing, and adding comments to one document. This makes the life of the UX designer easier later on because there is just one source of truth when they’re building a test stimulus. Plus, they can see any edits to the tasks for which they’re designing a solution in real-time.”
Following Meeting-Design Best Practices
“Remote design collaboration can feel much more complicated than in-person collaboration,” replies Andrew. “Fortunately, by following best practices and using the right software tools, remote collaboration can be just as easy and effective.
“The foundation for remote collaboration is your chat app. Using an app such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, you can create specific channels for teams or projects. Your channel not only lets you chat with everyone but launch video calls as well.
“One of my favorite solutions is an online-whiteboard tool such as Miro or Mural. You can use the whiteboard either synchronously, while you’re on a video call, or asynchronously. For design projects, I find online whiteboards most useful for brainstorming, flowcharting, modeling, taking screenshots, and wireframing. Best of all, you won’t run out of space because you can zoom in and out on the whiteboard canvas.
“Perhaps the most important thing for remote design collaboration is following meeting design best practices. When you’re working remotely, meetings can become more critical because you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk or have a hallway conversation. I recommend your having everyone on your team read Kevin Hoffman’s book Meeting Design—you can read Chapter 5: Facilitation Strategy and Style on UXmatters—and UXmatters articles such as Jeremy Wilt’s ‘Transforming Meaningless Meetings into Meaningful Meetings.’ Your team’s meeting cadence and rituals also become more critical when you’re fully remote. Noah Levin shared an overview of Figma’s product-design process in ‘Inside Figma: The Product Design Team’s Process,’ which includes a warm-up activity on Monday and a cooldown on Friday.”
Focusing on Team Communications
“As UX professionals, it is our duty to communicate well,” says Michael. “At Saggezza, our UX team is a distributed team, working from Chicago, New York, and Dublin. Our team’s roles include designers, architects, managers, researchers, and analysts. Since our team ranges across different geographies and time zones, we have diverse needs for communication and must deal with the latest complications due to COVID-19. The following three things are of great importance to our team when it comes to team communication:
- Make your goals clear and ensure that all team members know their responsibilities. This might seem to be an obvious first step, but it’s essential that you ensure the designers on your team understand what their responsibilities are and where they need to align in the process.
- Leave no details to chance. As UX Designers, we often face receiving ever-evolving requirements from our stakeholders. Plus, we need to be sure we create solutions for our users that are based on specific research findings. Whenever you receive new requirements—whether from a stakeholder or research findings—be sure to reach out and communicate with the proper parties to gain the clarity you need. If you fail to resolve open questions, stakeholders might come to consider UX and design to be bottlenecks.
- Hold design breakout sessions. Once a week, I meet with three other UX designers in our own breakout session. In our enterprise setting, our UX team supports multiple applications, and we experience evolving design standards, ever-changing user needs, and multiple, simultaneous research efforts. It is imperative that we set aside time to talk through our ideas, design directions, and user journeys and share any updates before development implements a solution. This approach helps facilitate meaningful critiques during the exploration and concept phases before we are too far down the line.”
Promoting Healthy Teamwork
“With the spread of COVID-19, we all find ourselves working primarily outside the office, with limited in-person interactions,” says Michael. “So it’s especially important to make sure you’re taking your health seriously—including your mental health. Since we’re not generally commuting into work, it’s a good idea to use that extra time to do yoga in the morning, get outside during lunch, or go for a walk or a run around your neighborhood to get some much-needed fresh air and sunshine. Another thing that seems to help me is getting some virtual facetime with our team rather than just hearing their voices. Seeing someone’s reaction or their laugh and smile brings back some of the human interaction we desperately need during the challenging times through which we’re all living right now.
“Find time to be creative. The daily grind of making calls, eliciting stakeholder requirements, and working within a set of design standards, although important, can become monotonous. Finding some time to get outside inspiration can help immensely in breaking out of your day-to-day grind and can deliver real benefits. I try to take roughly thirty minutes a day to find outside inspiration—perhaps exploring Abduzeedo for user-interface or design inspiration and Pinterest as well. Whatever you choose, try to carve out twenty to thirty minutes a day to gain some new insights and inspirations from outside sources.”