That design is so last year

How we’re designing Dream Crew

By Charles Deluvio | Originally appeared on the CREW blog.


Full disclosure: I was once a full-time freelance designer. And like many of you, I worked in Crew for some extra income. While I felt the platform ran well, I did have my fair share of frustrations with the app itself.

Things like:

  • Getting an error when adding a collaborator
  • Not being able to log out of my account when on mobile
  • My messages being duplicated
  • Having to download a file before previewing it

If I wasn’t bringing up some those issues with Kirill (my good buddy and then-product designer at Crew), we’d be discussing different design solutions for it.

That Facebook conversation was from a year ago and around the time that Crew tackled one of their most challenging product updates to date.

And while the results of that huge overhaul (dubbed ‘Big Bertha’) were impressive, they weren’t the be-all-end-all of Crew.

Right now, we’re in the process of redesigning the entire Crew experience with our community in mind. We’re calling it Dream Crew.

We’re reworking every flow across the website to bring you a faster and more responsive app with real-time everything.

Our goal is to have a platform that reflects your feedback, and continues to adapt to the challenges freelancers face today.

What can you expect from Dream Crew?

First off, a brand new layout.

CTO using Photoshop. Not bad.

This is how Angus, our CTO, imagines the next version of Crew to look: a 3-column layout similar to Slack.

Why this layout style? We found that many Crew members prefer to manage their projects on Slack rather than use the Crew platform. Hell, we even manage our day-to-day tasks on Slack.

When we dug a bit further and looked at other project management tools (like Basecamp and Asana) we found more of the same: a 3-column layout with Your Projects in one column, Your Tasks in another, and Information Pertaining to that Task in the last column. If it works, why change it?

Building a product with purpose

Taking on a redesign like this requires serious thought and research before you even think about building.

For large-scale projects like this I like to refer to Matt Cooke’s Design Methodology chart. It helps generate concepts with purpose rather than creating ‘look and feel’ designs with no functionalities in mind.

More importantly, the chart keeps us in check, making sure we always validate our initial design brief at every phase (and adjust it as we see fit).

We know that our target audience prefers to manage their projects on Slack because of features like:

  • Instant Direct Messaging (feedback is immediate)
  • Streamlined Project Management (attending to multiple projects in ‘one screen’)
  • Trouble-free Team management (easily add/remove collaborators from a channel)

Moreover, Slack’s success comes from the way it allows us to navigate and manage various conversations at once and how ‘fast’ it all feels. It’s also readily available on the web, and as an app on our phones and desktop computers.

To make Dream Crew a reality, we need to hit these ‘wow moments’ and so our main design objectives are to:

  • Simplify the flows: Design a smarter and more responsive app that displays important information in real time
  • Create a sense of familiarity when navigating Crew using a shared aesthetic to most messaging/project management tools
  • Make Messaging the most prominent feature of our App

Next, the ‘Divergence’ phase is where the majority of our background research takes place.

Once we had a bit of an idea of where we wanted to go, we took a step back, put aside our assumptions, and assessed the project as a whole.

To make sure we weren’t just making decisions based on how we felt, we reached out to the people who know Crew best — those who interact with our members on a daily basis.

With support, we outlined every problem area of the current website. We also came up with potential solutions for each one.

This exercise helped us refine what has become our Design Problem:

Crew will help Project Owners build their dream product by matching them with the industry’s best freelance professionals.
For these professionals, it is the most secure place to find contract work as Crew takes on all the risks associated with freelancing (in-house agreements, securing funds, and any disputes are handled by the Crew Happiness Team).

Finding the problems that need to be fixed

We found that Crew’s problems arise mainly once the matching phase is complete and especially during the agreement and funding stages.

After speaking with our members, we nailed down the main pain points to:

  • Incomplete specs: Building a solid work agreement is key for the success of any project. Unfortunately, the current agreement is too long to complete and the descriptions are too broad, resulting in underwhelming, inconsistent specs.
  • Down time: Too many actions require approval from the other party, which causes the project to lose momentum.
  • Knowing what’s happening: The Crew App fails to communicate the many stages it takes to complete a project. Too many times, a user is confused as to what needs to be done as information is scattered across the app.
  • Unresponsiveness: The Crew App fails to notify the other party of a person’s availability (vacations, online/offline).
  • The disjoint between estimated and final budget + Crew fee: The cost associated with each part of a project isn’t communicated clearly enough. There’s confusion as to how the Crew Fee is communicated to the respective parties.

In order to solve these issues and make for a better user experience, we came up with the following features that should be implemented in Dream Crew:

  • Instant Messaging + Notifications: Keep the conversation going. Have real-time discussions on Crew.
  • Better Escorts: Our very own ‘Crew Bot’ will guide you towards your next ‘To Do’.
  • Progress Tracker: Easily know what phase of the project you’re in.
  • Overhaul of the Original Agreements: Parts are no longer sequential and can be created at any time, in any order. The new agreements should reflect this change.
  • Simplified Agreements / Standardized Proposals: Member1 is hiring Member2 to build Project X for an estimated price of $______, to be delivered by this date: _____.
  • Penalty/Reward System: Penalize unresponsive Crew members. Reward those who deliver on time.

Finally, we created a range of visual experiments and solutions with our design objectives in mind.

From our research and when designing for Dream Crew, we found a need to make changes to our current layout — ones that make it possible to display all the new information and features.

We needed a layout that breaks away from the confines of a 970px grid, and goes full width.

  • On the left of the screen, a user can navigate to their projects.
  • In the middle of the screen, the user can manage their projects.
  • On the far right, the user can find important information pertaining to that project.

With the design idea in good shape our focus will now shift to designing the different interactions within the 3-column layout. Ideally, we want to keep the interactions as intuitive and consistent as possible (e.g. Where can I see all of my projects? Where can I add a collaborator? What does the new agreement page look like? How do I get back to the previous screen, etc…)


To design is always to redesign

It’s been a year since our last major update. Yet here we are again, racing towards another major change to Crew.

Granted, at this pace you might think there’ll be a newer and better Crew every year. However, our hope is that Dream Crew will be the last of the app overhauls and that future updates will be relatively small, isolated features that will make for a slightly better experience.

Designing for Dream Crew is a daunting task.
Daunting because you’re redesigning something that currently works.
Daunting because, well, it’s a lot of work.

But I find comfort in knowing that I’m inheriting a product with flows that have already been thought through. It makes designing Dream Crew that much more attainable.

“Design is never a process that begins from scratch: to design is always to redesign. There is always something that exists first as a given, as an issue, as a problem. Design is a task that follows to make that something more lively, more commercial, more usable, more user friendly, more acceptable, more sustainable, and so on, depending on the various constraints to which the project has to answer.” — Bruno Latour: A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design.

If you have any questions or comments about the future design of Crew, feel free to email me at deluvio@crew.co

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