I am used to working in teams. Up to last September my main job for years was building and scaling design teams. I had the fortune to engage with companies from all sizes and got to work alongside the best individuals in our tiny corner of the UX industry down here in Miami. So it is fair to say that after years of developing procedures, implementing feedback loops across product, design and development teams and tracking velocity, it was a big departure for me to step down from those types of roles to go at it solo. Well, not quite solo, but for a little while I was the only designer at my new company, Takt Digital.
Part of what amplified a need to “get used to it” is that we’re a very tiny team. 3 founding partners, one developer and now another designer. This meant that I had to implement procedures from scratch, document our product, create and manage design tasks as well as execute them. When you come from a background where most of these tasks can be delegated, the workload can make your head spin. I guess that’s why most people say that you need a certain degree of insanity to join [or build] a startup.
What got me through this? Tools. Well discipline, lack of sleep, caffeine and passion. But also tools. So I write this post as a shoutout to the tools, digital and otherwise, that help me stay on my toes, effectively communicate with my team and operate at 💯 on a daily basis.
My tools of choice
I know this tool makes a lot of designers cringe, but I’ve come to terms with it. Their Cloud solution is flexible enough for small teams and it integrates well with some of the other tools in this list including Confluence, Slack and InVision.
I use this primarily to set up my tasks and assign them to different team members as needed. While most people in my position would prefer to use a simpler tool like Trello, the capabilities of JIRA make it easier for me to track our performance and unify the efforts of several verticals into one.
My experience with Confluence hasn’t always been the best. To be quite honest, for the longest time I thought I hated the damned thing. However, I gave it a second shot, mostly because of how well it integrates with JIRA—as it very well should since it is made by the same company. What I quickly found out is that I didn’t hate the tool itself, rather how it was being [mis]used at some of my previous companies.
I save a lot of time by writing my product requirements first and then highlighting sentences to convert to tasks or user stories directly in JIRA. This creates a link between the two and allows me to quickly see the progress of a feature directly in the documentation.
Another thing that is great is the ability to embed designs directly from InVision.
Speaking of which, this. I couldn’t love InVision more even if I tried. From allowing my team to provide feedback directly on my designs, to presenting solutions to clients and stakeholders, to sharing said designs with our developer to build, InVision has become a cornerstone of my process.
Another, possibly less popular feature, is the ability to integrate with both JIRA and Confluence. For JIRA they have a plugin which you can install, and for Confluence you can live embed your designs to your documentation. This means that when you update a design in InVision, it automatically propagates to all of your tasks and documentation. No more out of date designs sprinkled around! This has historically been such a huge pain point for me, I imagine myself at the top of a mountain, yelling this at the top of my lungs as it echoes into the distance for all designers to hear and assimilate. Pretty epic.
InVision also integrates with Slack, so team members can receive notifications when there’s an update, a change in status or a comment added to any design.
Craft by InVision
So I use Sketch for product design–as everyone should. Just kidding, but kinda serious at the same time. Craft is like if you grabbed a blind man (Sketch), instruct him to expand all his other senses, taught him martial arts and convinced him to be the guardian of Hell’s Kitchen. Daredevil, InVision Craft is Daredevil.
Daredevil, InVision Craft is Daredevil.
Their most recent release introduced the ability to Sync, or push your designs directly from Sketch. I can’t even count the amount of collective time this ends up saving me. What’s best, by syncing this way it allows to use InVision’s version of Zeplin, Inspect. This is yet another reason to use the platform, one of such proportions that I could literally (I’m a millennial) write an entire article about.
Duh! This one is obvious enough. Working with a remote team requires you to be extra communicative. No one has time for email, so Slack is the best. If only they added screen sharing capabilities…
Duet + Mountie
This setup is so fantastic that it is actually kind of a double edge sword. Allow me to explain. Duet allows you to use your iPad as a second screen for your MacBook [Pro]. Mountie is a simple plastic clip that attaches your iPad next to your screen, like so.
Seriously, dual screen on the go? Yes, thank you. However this is so cool that people will continually ask you what your set up is. And this is a #truestory, a few days ago I went to my corner Starbucks as my internet at home was wonky (thanks Comcast) and a total of 7 people stopped to ask me what my setup was. Even when I had headphones on, the universal symbol of ‘I’m working, please do not disturb’. I was fine with it as I like sharing tips with interested parties anyway, but consider yourself warned.
As Chris Murman told me once, tools are just tools, people are productive. This is very true, but having the right setup also helps immensely. The setup mentioned above is not only effective at a small scale, but can also be grown exponentially to match the need of pretty much any team.
Tools are just tools, people are productive.