How we developed a Design Handbook to manage our design process and workflow

Ales Nesetril
Aug 1, 2016 · 6 min read

Taking the necessary steps

Let me first explain you how our team works in terms of organization. We believe in freedom and responsibility. That means that everybody is their own boss and is in control of everything, including when and where to work, and what tools to use. The main focus is on finishing tasks, and keeping both internal and client communication as smooth as possible.

Design Handbook preview from Google Docs

Criteria

We also considered how our design process could be applied to the kind of business we’ll be working with. If the approach is too broad, it may not be the right fit for specific types of clients or projects. We identified 2 key criteria that influenced our Design Handbook.

1. Speed

Most of our clients are early-stage startups for whom every day matters. As such, there are also certain budget sensitivities involved. In this case we wanted to optimize our process to be as fast as possible. Most of these clients can’t afford (both time- and budget- wise) to work on design for a few months or so. Instead we optimized our process to be heavily focused on prototyping, testing and quick iterations. Basically turning an idea into a clickable prototype really fast, testing it and quickly iterating over collected feedback. On the other hand we spend less time in the visual design or branding parts of it.

2. Flexibility

Getting the first MVP out in a few weeks is the ideal scenario, but our cooperation with clients usually doesn’t end up there. If everything goes right and they start getting users — or raise money — we turn our cooperation into a long-term partnership. That means the first MVP we quickly made during the first stage needs to be scaled or optimized for new features. Our design process covers this case as well, for sure. Starting with having well-organized source files or style guides, it’s easy for us the maintain the original design direction. We’re able to quickly adapt to new situations and carry on working. Also, it’s easy for us to smoothly switch projects between designers if it’s necessary.

The Benefits of having a Design Handbook

Let’s take a look on some of the perks of having a doc like this:

1. Unified design process

The first and most obvious. Thanks to the Design Handbook, every member in our design team now works in a similar way, keeping the same stages in the design projects for each new project. Each part of the process has a detailed description, tips or best practices, but we don’t push anybody to read it every week and we rather use it as a “support” in case you are not sure about the right approach.

2. Sales calls handled with ease

Designers are also often part of the company sales calls with new client prospects. These calls are usually led by a sales or account manager, but naturally, when there is a design-related question, designers are the ones to answer. Our Handbook plays its role as a quick draw or cheat-sheet. We’re able to clearly describe each part of our design process, point out some critical things or quickly introduce related projects from the past.

3. On-boarding new designers

Every time we have a new designer joining our team we also use the Design Handbook for introducing them into our process and culture. We don’t push too hard as to not make them feel they have to work this way, but we present it as recommendation they can follow. The first day usually starts with a Design Onboarding meeting, during which we guide a new designer through the Handbook for the first time. We only point of the necessary things, leaving the rest of the learning for them to do it on their own.

4. Anyone can participate

We don’t take the Handbook as a final document for everything, and all of our designers have the same opportunity to contribute to its pages. We’re constantly evolving and tweaking content on the go, and if we find out that something could be optimized or improved, we go for it. This creates a constant loop of learning, testing new tools or even removing some parts of the process if they are not valuable for us after some time.

STRV designers Pavel & Katka, tweaking our Design Handbook

Side effects

It’s been more than year and a half since we first introduce the Handbook. Freedom and responsibility doesn’t apply to designers only, but to everyone within the company. Surprisingly for us, we managed to inspire other departments to follow our lead and create their own Handbooks. People started to be more organized and responsible if there is a plan and vision behind their back.


Design Insights

A series of design articles by STRV

Ales Nesetril

Written by

A product designer from Prague, Czech Republic, who focuses on interactive experiences & mobile apps, currently co-leading a design team at STRV.

Design Insights

A series of design articles by STRV