5 Tips for Effective Design Collaboration

by in Industry, Best Practices

Remote working has changed how businesses around the world think about staying connected and productive. As a result, companies are rethinking how they’re supporting their employees with processes and tools that facilitate effective remote work and design collaboration

In this post, I’m going to give you five design collaboration tips that will help remote teams make their work more efficient and effective. More specifically, we’re going to cover the following topics:

Let’s dive right into it.

A woman looks at a document that she's sharing with her team

5 Design Collaboration Tips

Tip #1: Choose the Right Design Collaboration Tools

When it comes to an effective collaborative design process, the most important step is to choose the right design collaboration tools. In order for a company to facilitate collaboration within its design team, as well as with other departments, it’s absolutely essential to cover design needs by providing useful project management tools to ensure design requests are well scoped, managed and delivered on time.

By having the right tools and processes in place, team members will be happier and more productive working together remotely without having to deal with unnecessary project management issues that can cause delays and misunderstandings within the team.

Below you can find some design collaboration tools that I’m sure you’ll find useful:

1. Visme

Visme is a popular desktop app that can help design teams significantly with design collaboration. 

Visme dashboard  

Image Source: Visme

The tool gives any team the opportunity to centralize and unify their design projects by creating design files in a variety of forms, such as presentations, web content and infographics. Since all team members collaborate within a common, easy-to-use platform that provides them with convenient and effective design tools, content creation processes become that much easier and more streamlined.

2. Filestage

As any creative team will attest, content review and approvals are essential stages of the design process; however they can also be tedious and time consuming if not properly managed. 

Filestage Dashboard

Image Source: Filestage

To address this, Filestage focuses on streamlining the process of giving and receiving feedback, as well as constructively reviewing a content piece and making sure it fulfills the project requirements. This, then, allows remote design teams to more efficiently review and address feedback, working with stakeholders to make updates as needed to meet project requirements. 

3. Asana

Project management is one of the most critical factors for any high-performing remote teams. Thankfully, tools like Asana have made project management significantly easier.

Asana dashboard

Image Source: Asana

Asana boasts a number of intuitive tools to help any team keep work organized and projects on time, including workflow management and powerful timelines to help visualize all project components.

While remote work tools like Asana, Slack, Proofhub and Trello are not design collaboration tools, they are extremely useful for keeping track of tasks and activities between teams and project managers. They can also significantly help increase productivity and efficiency within design teams. Also, there are sales and marketing remote work tools you should know about, like PR outreach software Respona. Additionally, file sharing tools like Dropbox and prototyping tools for design teams like Invision can be used for Sketch file sharing and design collaboration by designers and design teams.

Tip #2: Ask for Early Feedback

Remote working has proven to be beneficial for many employees who attribute feeling more relaxed and motivated to the increased flexibility they have working from a home office.

90% of employees say more flexible arrangements would increase morale

Image Source: Flexjobs

Remote working, when it can be applied, gives employees flexibility and can increase their productivity. The graph below clearly shows the upward interest in the term "remote work" during 2020.

Google trends depicting the increase in searches for remote work in 2020

Image Source: Google Trends

On the other hand, working remotely can affect some aspects of collaborative work. In other words, a large number of teams that used to work collaboratively, and usually within the same physical spaces, are now going remote and need to adapt to lots of changes in terms of their collaborative work and communication.

Under these circumstances, it’s absolutely essential that team members and project managers ask for early feedback. 

Why is that important?

By asking for early feedback, you save yourself and your team valuable time and make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings between creative teams and internal stakeholders. It’s always useful to know how others might feel about a project that you’re working on and to check in on progress to ensure you’re on the right track. Doing this, you’ll notice that early feedback can be extremely constructive and make your work hit the mark. 

The Design Feedback Tool

Image Source: Filestage

As you can see in the example above, a design team member has shared a file that’s open for discussion and brainstorming between the team members. The reviewers of the file get the opportunity to annotate and highlight details on a design, as well as propose ideas in the comment section on the right. 

Instead of conducting reviews via email -- which can be quite formal, stressful and time consuming -- consider leveraging a design collaboration tool that accommodates markup and feedback. As I mentioned earlier, Filestage is a useful tool for content review and approval that offers feedback with image annotations.

Ultimately, file sharing and early feedback on work in progress leads to teams working more efficiently together, even when they’re working from home or in different places across the world.

Tip #3: Leverage Real-Time Video Communication for Milestones

The third tip that all remote and distributed teams should keep in mind is the importance of leveraging real-time video communication – particularly for milestones.

Video conferencing, live chats and other forms of real-time communication can be very useful when it comes to building client relationships and collaborating with colleagues. It can be especially critical for design teams, where face-to-face communication can help replicate the meeting room experience.

Especially when many companies and employees are working fully remote, leveraging real-time video communication is essential for boosting employee satisfaction and morale, as well as keeping team members engaged.

Teams that regularly communicate build rapport, working better together and improving time spent getting projects done.

Not only that, but having the ability to understand visual and non-verbal cues via video calling can really help people collaborate more seamlessly. Even stopping work every so often to participate in some virtual team building activities together can help remote team members get to know each other on a more personal level, creating better working relationships.

Face-to-face video meetings create the environment necessary for natural communication and successful collaboration.

Tip #4: Establish a Production Sequence and Knowledge Base

When it comes to adjusting your processes to fit both your design team’s strategy and the demands of a client or business, you shouldn’t forget how important it is to define the proper sequences for tasks and communication. 

Remote teams may be online in various timezones and that could lead to communication issues or affect the quality of the visual content that gets produced. For that reason, it is highly recommended to create and document a formal sequence for the methods and steps that all your team members should follow when working with each other. 

Put another way, what you can do is to create a knowledge base with standard operating procedures (SOPs), checklists and templates to help someone such as a junior employee or newcomer follow the design process of the company.

Here’s what some of the main components of a graphic design process might refer to:

5 Important steps of the graphic design process

Image Source: Medium

As I mentioned earlier, having a fixed routine of how things need to be done can save you time because all your team members will be on the same page and that will minimize delays and decrease misunderstandings.

Simply put, it is important to have a process and there are tools out there that can help you achieve that.

Trello dashboard

Image Source: Trello

While the above process example from Trello was built for blog content creation, the principles are the same for design. Remember, although creating a process and sticking to it is very important, you need to regularly review the process and solicit feedback to determine if it truly works for you.

Understanding your process by analyzing and monitoring it will help remote and project management teams to improve it when needed. With regards to creating a process for remote teams, you could also consider team training that can elevate a team’s collaborative work as well as help coworkers have the same initial knowledge around a project before it gets started. 

Tip #5: Create Naming Conventions for Backups and Version Control

Remote teams in graphic design will have working mockups and backups being created in simultaneity. These versions will be created for a wide range of purposes, from working files to drafts designed for demonstration or evaluation.

Establishing strict naming conventions and folder structures creates efficiencies for remote colleagues, and provides an intuitive taxonomy for new employees – for referencing previous work samples and repurposing concepts that can be further optimized. Given that remote design teams don’t share the same physical space where, ideally, their design work would always be open for discussion and available to everyone in the team, recording previous and different versions gives the designers the opportunity to reflect upon a design. 

To make sure that you’re keeping backups of different versions of your creative work, you should try to direct your design efforts towards design tools that allow you to recover past versions of your designs as well as duplicate your projects, exactly like Visme does.

Duplicating a project

Image Source: Visme

Give duplicates and versions a name that classifies documents to your project workflow, so that media creators have the freedom to edit and try out new ideas in one of the copies whilst keeping the original design as it is.

You also want to make sure that your hard work won’t suddenly disappear because of a system malfunction, and that all variants are easily referenceable for the lifespan of a project.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, companies should always try to find the most appropriate design collaboration tool and make sure that it covers their needs and streamlines their work, instead of making it more complex. 

When working with remote design teams, remember to create a process that will define and facilitate your work and, of course, always ask for early feedback because it will save you a significant amount of time. 

Additionally, make sure to leverage high-quality video conferencing apps like Lifesize for your most important milestones and meetings. Establish a sequence of communication for your design collaboration tools. And finally, adhere to strict naming conventions for versions and backups, so that your remote teams work better together. 

This guest post was contributed by Farzad Rashidi. Farzad is the co-founder of Respona, the all-in-one PR and link building tool that combines personalization with productivity. He also runs marketing efforts at Visme, where he helped the company gain over 5 million users and pass 1.5M monthly organic traffic. Since then, he’s been helping other companies achieve the same success via Respona.