How to improve your design workflow

How to improve your design workflow

For over four years I’ve been designing visual solutions at Hike One, a tech savvy digital agency based in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. We do what we love; create innovative products that make life better. Today I will give a sneak peek in my daily workflow.

Two years ago I became fascinated by how we, designers in the digital era, work. Since then, I have become more aware of how to work smarter. And ever since, I’m more productive, design more effective and learn what works best for me. Some tips which might suit your workflow as well…

Early bird or night owl

7 days a week I wake up at 7.15. No alarm needed. I’m an early bird and am full of energy all morning. From 3 to 5 pm, my energy drops and my concentration and productivity decrease. What I’m trying to say is: We can’t peak all day. Some colleagues I work closely together with are night owls and boost in productivity in the afternoon. There is no right or wrong, as long as you use your energy level wisely.

The 5 hour design system

As we can’t peak all day, we can’t be fully focused all day. Unregarded the amount of energy we have. For this reason I came up with the 5 hour design system. It helps me to use my energy more effectively. Basically, it means I only schedule a maximum of 5 hours design work each day.

  • Just because I have more energy in the morning, compared to the late afternoon, I start the day with creative work — tasks I need my brain for. I focus on what really matters. ±2 hours.
  • Next, when I’m fully on track, I answer routine emails in sequence, review planning topics, handle Slack conversations and get inspired by work from others online. ±1 hour.
  • At noon, we lunch. I look for distraction, enjoy small talk and beat colleagues and clients with foosball. Hell yeah!
  • In the late afternoon, I do all that’s necessary and demands less creativity. I go on autopilot: specifying components, documenting process in multiple systems and helping developers with questions. ±2 hours.

I spend my remaining time at standups, briefings and meetings. It rewards to leave gaps in my schedule for those events. Since I’m holding on to the system, I have time left for helping colleagues. I experience less time pressure, which makes me feel calm and in control of the situation.

Prioritise tasks

As designers, we often have a lot of small tasks on our mind. Through adding them in a note tool, I get a glance overview what I should work at. I prefer Evernote and each day I make a new note. The note title is the client’s name, as well is the tag. And before each task is a checkbox. Next, I divide the note in sections: To do, Today, and General.

  • In To do I add tasks I should do in the next 3–5 days. These tasks can be project related or not. It doesn’t matter. This section provides me with an overview I label as important, which I should not forget and should pick up soon.
  • Today contains all things I must do that specific day according my 5 hour design system. Each morning I prioritise what should be done in chronological order. I prioritise and solve important things first and less important things later.
  • All tasks that are not project related go in General. I write down my working hours per client and the location I’m based (Hike One or client’s office).

Adding a new note each day may seem time consuming. Actually, adding one can be done in one minute or less. Some additional reasons listed:

  • Quickly recall tasks during standups
  • Explore blocking tasks and the ones that need attention
  • Find back easily how many hours I’ve worked for a client
  • Collect notes in one central place
  • It is usable on multiple devices and cross-platform

Rules become habits

Although prioritising helps scheduling my tasks, the right mindset and a hands-on mentality are necessary as well to become more productive. In the beginning I defined a few rules for myself, which transformed into real habits piece by piece. Just by continuously checking if I applied them! Meet some new habits…

Do what you love, delegate what you dislike

I find myself happier when I do what I love, like solving challenges in design and exploring with the team how to take the product to the next level. Of course I also encounter things I like less or even dislike. To keep motivated; do what you like, delegate what your dislike.

Do what works for you

Not often do I actively listen to music at work, but when I do, I put my headphone and noise cancelling on and nod to beats from Jay-Z to Hans Zimmer. And from time to time I walk outside for a few minutes, clean up my desk, order post-its, wipe whiteboards or go for a talk with fellow designers or stakeholders. Despite the fact I’m not productive, it helps me manage my thoughts and I feel more relaxed.

Don’t mind what others think. If you want to dance, dance! Yes, a colleague sometimes dances during standups. Who cares? So despite what others think, do what works for you.

Focus on one task only

Sometimes you do not know what to start with, despite your prioritised task list. You have so much work, could you work on multiple designs the same time? It should be faster, right? No. Forget about multitasking. Decline the opportunity of making mistakes.

Do one thing at a time and do it well. Working on multiple tasks at once is asking for problems, especially when someone interrupts and needs you in a meeting all of a sudden. After the meeting you have two tasks that are only half finished, while otherwise one of your tasks would be totally finished!

Dodge all that distracts

While designing I often turn off my iPhone’s WiFi and put it away. Noisy messages distract me and get me out of my flow. What’s more, I find it hard to get back in my flow. Besides, being busy with my phone could give a negative signal to others: ‘My work is boring, I don’t want to be here.’

Write down brainfarts

Ideas that keep popping up in your head, can be distractive as well. Write all thoughts down immediately to get them out of your short-term memory. Use a note tool for example. ;)

Plan meeting outcomes

Because meetings can be pretty time consuming, they could be killing for your productivity. Especially when there are multiple meetings at the same day. Before joining, ask yourself what you want the outcome to be, and if the right people are attending. If not, you might consider skipping the meeting and do something that is actually important.

Always look on the bright side

The life of a designer isn’t always as romantic as others might think. Sometimes it’s creative, and sometimes it’s just not. Documenting and specifying assets is often part of the job. Grumbling doesn’t change your situation. What’s more, negative thoughts have a bad impact on your mood and on others.

Be positive and thankful for the creative field you’re in. And for now, change your attitude rapidly. Focus on what you try to solve in the long term and remember that all effort you put in, will eventually improve the product.

Final thoughts

What works for me, will not automatically work for you as well. But I do think being aware when your energy level peaks, how you prioritize, and keeping in sight what works for you will improve your workflow. Also, trying on its own contributes to your personal growth. Set simple rules for yourself, try molding new habits and learn how to work smarter. Good luck!

Let me know when you enjoyed reading. ;)

Danny Groenen
Visual Designer at Hike One