3 Tips For Improving Your Design Workflow

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We all know the importance of productivity, especially those of us working in freelance. Each of us is as eager as the next to find the key to improving our workflow – saving on wasted time and money. But how many of us would be willing to let go of our deeply ingrained models of working and change our habits, in order to embrace something unfamiliar but effective?

The Agile Manifesto

Agile philosophy is that something. You’ve probably heard of it – it’s been huge in web development for over a decade – but do you really understand what it’s all about? And what’s more, how it can apply to you, as a designer?

To start, the agile philosophy values these concepts:
• Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
• Working software over comprehensive documentation
• Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
• Responding to change over following a plan

All well and good for developers, but this reactive philosophy that strives to accommodate change instead of pre-empting it can be relevant for designers, too.

Working with an agile philosophy means starting with a client’s basic idea and foregoing a big upfront design in favor of consistently delivering smaller, valuable increments of a project. As each of these is completed, the client gives feedback which can be acted on immediately, before moving on to the next element. These small cycles, or ‘iterations’ last from one to two weeks, and after a series, each element can be put together to create one final, cohesive product.

In short, communicate well and communicate often in order to design well and deliver often.

If this still sounds far from anything you feel you can implement in order to improve your workflow, hang in there. With agile in mind, here are three useful, design tips that, if followed, should increase your efficiency significantly.

1. Forego Meticulous Research and Upfront Design

An agile design approach requires small iterations, and this means you won’t be delivering a large, upfront proposal to your clients. Instead of taking large amounts of time to produce static PSD mock-ups of the entire site, use the time before your first iteration (known as iteration zero) to do your groundwork.

Ask yourself:
• What does your client envision?
• What features are they aiming for?
• Why are they building the site?
• Who are their users?

Your research here will not be as painstaking as you’re used to, but answering these questions should give you enough of a design vision, enough of a sense of your client’s aesthetic style and brand, to get started and see real results – which is what agile is all about.

You can still design, but the point is that it’s not about perfectionism and ‘counting pixels’ in the early stages. Your aim is to create something workable – rapid prototyping in order to see your designs ‘in browser’ straightaway, so you can get the feedback you need to improve.

If you’re still uncomfortable with this approach, think how frustrating it can be to spend infinite amounts of time working on a carefully constructed design, only for your client to be unhappy with the final product.

By avoiding upfront activities, you will avoid this happening and develop a much deeper understanding of the whole project, and will become far more results driven.

2. Think Continuous Integration, (Scrum and Deliverables)

The success of agile lies truly in the concept of continuous integration. By testing a product continuously throughout its development, issues can be discovered and resolved throughout the process and changing requirements can be taken into account as and when they are realized.

The organization of design into specified time frames, or ‘sprints’, that work on specific user stories, allows you to work on what you know and only what you know about the site’s desired functionality. This means you’re able to create a working product (by prototyping in HTML) based on your client’s highest priority, get their feedback, adapt your work, and then move on to the next priority. This is repeated, and your work refined as you go along.

Scrumming (which are short, daily meetings) allows for scheduled brainstorming sessions that contribute to the development of the end product by encouraging critical reflection on iterations as they are completed and tested and thinking of new ideas to apply as the project progresses.

Although a slightly crude account of the scrum process, what is being highlighted here is the importance of adaptation throughout the entire process of creating a website.

3. Communicate Consistently and Clearly

• With Your Client
This means keeping your client involved throughout the design process, continuously explaining your ideas to ensure that you are both on (and that you both stay on) the same page. Once you’ve presented your ideas, listen to their concerns and always keep their needs at the forefront of your mind, then create solutions accordingly.

By remaining in constant communication, you are continuously being reminded of the overall goal and are able to make sure that you, as a designer, are not going off on an unnecessary tangent, spending hours on an element of a site that your client never wanted.

Using an agile framework means concepts you’ve worked hard on shouldn’t get thrown out, and if they do, you won’t have wasted a huge amount of time perfecting it.

The other benefit of communication is that you will be able to gain valuable insight into how your designs are being interpreted, and this will help keep you on the right track, as well as help you develop as a designer.

• With Your Team
Due to the fragmented nature of the agile philosophy, cohesive design can be difficult. Communicating with your team is just as important as communicating with your client, and taking advantage of daily brainstorming sessions can help you create a unified feel from something that may initially feel disjointed.

Finally…

Admittedly, designing in this way is not initially intuitive. You might feel that by producing a deliverable, you’re committing to something that you’re not completely enamored with. The whole point though, is that agile is a test-driven process, and feedback is imperative.

In order to avoid stagnation and keep our industry moving forward, we need to borrow from the agile philosophies of developers. Although we approach things from different a perspective, the agile philosophy is flexible enough to suit a design approach as well as a developer’s.

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