Michelle Brownstein
Michelle Brownstein / Design / March 8th, 2016

3 Ways to Create Better Design Through Remote Collaboration

Though we stand by the power of dedicated, co-located teams, modern web development is driven by remote collaboration. Since our agile process is driven by daily client participation, it’s only natural that we’d lean on technology to keep us connected and moving forward.

This collaboration is most critically important in the creative design process. While many Product Owners can speak knowledgeably with software developers, design offers a tangible process in which clients and stakeholders can truly engage. And like we’ve said before, agile is uniquely suited to an effective creative process.

However, the uncertainty of how best to collaborate remotely, particularly on design, is a common source of frustration for teams and clients alike. Experience has taught me that client involvement and early acceptance of a design idea generates better product outcomes. But how do we facilitate getting clients involved in the design process when they are 3,000 miles away?

Recently, my team worked with a very hands-on client – let’s call him George – who lived a few states away from our designers. In addition to regular brainstorming sessions on the phone, George wanted to remain actively involved throughout the design process as well. We experimented with several solutions to improve the feedback loop between the designers and George.

Here are a few tools that served us well:

Live Sketching over Screenshare

George loved to play around with layouts but wasn’t especially design software savvy (often relying on Powerpoint to produce sketches since he was most familiar with that software). Screenshare services like join.me and GoToMeeting enabled us to communicate in real time, view shared mockups and make adjustments together. We bounced ideas around until we came up with a layout that made sense for users and for the business requirements of the project. It was then up to the designer to take the layouts and flesh out the rest of the design, but these sessions created a great starting point for everyone to get on the same page.

remote-collaboration-design

 

Virtual Whiteboards

While live sketching is useful, sometimes George simply couldn’t explain what was in his head without drawing it. White boards are perfect for this, but obviously, when you are working remotely, it’s hard to share a physical white board with your team. Virtual white boards, like conceptboard.com, provided a great way to quickly draw some rough sketches that the rest of the team, and George, could add to, or riff off of.

Commenting

If you’ve ever tried to get feedback from a client strictly through email without the UI to assist, you know the occasionally horrifying confusion of deciphering a client’s thoughts.

“George wants the button to be blue, but does he mean the “send” button or the “log in” button, or both?!”

In an effort to provide more clarity in these conversations, George started the project printing off designs and writing feedback on the printout, then scanning it back in and emailing it to us. While in the end, it was effective having his feedback obviously associated to specific parts of a UI, it’s hardly an agile process. It’s time consuming and doesn’t leave room for conversations about the UI or design decision in question. This is where systems like Invision and Notable (or our new product MixFrame) play a role. These systems allowed us to upload the design, and for George to add comments to specific parts of the UI, and then we could carry on a discussion for each of those comments. This meant that we didn’t have another “which button are you talking about?” type of conversation, saving everyone time and energy.

This level of collaboration is critical to achieving product vision and maintaining an effective product roadmap. Rather than hindering the creative process, interactive collaboration with a client allows the team (client included) to iterate rapidly while blending user and stakeholder needs.

Ultimately, you have to work in a way that works best for you, your team, and your client. These tools have helped us to mitigate some of the pain of working remotely with George and other clients, and has helped us produce the best possible products by incorporating everyone’s feedback into the design process. What’s your favorite way to drive client collaboration?

  • James the Verb

    Awesome post by awesome people. Much potential here to help lots of folks, well played!

    • Michelle Brownstein

      Thanks James! There are so many solutions out there for our type of work, but I certainly hope these 3 will be as useful to others as they have been for us.