Designing in the open


Updated 3 months ago

What I’ve learnt about sharing constantly and live designing with my team

Designers are precious people. Arguably, the vast majority of Creatives are precious people. From my own personal experience, observing teammates and generally speaking to other creatives, it’s apparent that we seek perfection and are often uncomfortable with sharing works in progress.

If you work in design, you’ll be familiar with the WIP abbreviation. You might have used it in file extensions `homepage_redesign-WIP.fig` or within the document itself `homepage_newScreens-WIP`or you may go as far as using more blunt language to try and stop prying eyes `homepage_newScreens-NotReadyYet-DO_NOT_TOUCH`.

When I moved to HomeHero, I was one of two designers. The very nature of having two individuals meant that we were somewhat forced into working in the open. We, in most cases, would be working across the same files because of the needs of the organisation at the time.

One thing we did though, was use Figma. By default, Figma’s goal is to enable and encourage working out in the open. Whether that’s through the cross-platform, web-based tool’s easy sharing options, or the multi-cursor features, it became super easy for us to bring product managers and developers into the fold too. 

As we’ve grown, we’ve ensured that we maintain this approach to working. Although we only open access to our files once they’re in the right shape, we actively seek product manager and developer input during the early stages of design. Allowing them in to the fold when the file is still a mess of ideas and mistakes ensures that we don’t spend too long going down the wrong path or thinking we’ve understood the brief but we’ve actually got it hugely wrong.

Being consistent

This is all well and good, but it’s easy to lose consistency with this and retreat back to the WIP-obsessed designer mindset. 

We’ve done it as a team. We started with really open access in Figma. Anyone with a HomeHero email address could just jump in to any file and have a nose around and have their say. We experienced a few moments where we got some unhelpful feedback on parts of a project that were just experiments. And the problem is, no matter what the page was labelled or what text is included on the page, it’s not always clear to an outsider that something is an experiment.

It’s not an issue just for us as designers. Receiving unnecessary feedback isn’t helpful, and it’s also a huge waste of time for the person who spent their precious hours adding comments to something that was a passing idea anyway.

Finding a happy medium

In order to maintain our openness across the organisation, whilst also ensuring we don’t fall into the old traps, we’ve spent some time crafting a way forwards.

Our default position is that only Design have Figma access to our Team now.

This means that only the design team have open access across all the Figma documents we’ve created. This allows us to be working out in the open within the confines of the Design Team. It stops us from keeping our ideas just to ourselves, obsessing over them until they’re “perfect”, but it also ensures we don’t end up in the land of unnecessary comments.

We add the relevant PM, Developer and and others to a singular, specific file.

By only adding the right people to the right file at the right time, we guarantee that we’ve put the file into the right kind of state to receive the feedback we need, but without resorting to  `homepage_redesign-final_FINAL.fig`.

We design together, live.

The main thing we spend a lot of time doing now—beyond collaborating inside the same design files—is actually designing whilst sharing our screen. 

If we’re working through a specific problem, we’ve found that screen sharing-based design sessions work great. In some ways we’re trying to mimick the idea of being able to do in-person peer-designing or whiteboard sessions, but we’ve found that it really increases our ability to take an idea from experimentation through to a more defined execution. 

Oftentimes, one of the team will share their screen whilst designing and we’ll all jump into the file too. This means that we can let one person essentially lead the design process whilst still dropping in and adding things we think of in the moment.

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