LearnDesign Process with a Remote Team

Jeremy Jantz
writes on August 27, 2012

The product team at Treehouse has grown over the past few months and we have a lot of new faces on the team since I joined in April. A growing team means new people with new processes and new ways of doing things. On top of that the product team all works remotely, so having a design process and tools that allow us to collaborate and quickly share ideas back and forth is important. Here’s a quick list of what we’ve found to be effective for our team.

Intake Meetings
Since our team works remotely, these meetings tend to be more informal, but typically when we kick off a new feature we’ll get together in a virtual room to talk about it. Lately this has been either using GoToMeeting, or Google Hangouts. If it’s a small feature, and it’s only two of us, we might just jump on chat, but we’ve found that face time, even if it’s via video conference, is valuable.

It’s extremely important at this point in the project to ask a lot of questions, and to get designers and developers in the “room” together. Talk through all of the elements to be included in the feature you’re designing. Discuss as many of the interactions as you can at this stage. Explain how this new feature will fit into the big picture of your product roadmap. If you start working without a solid grasp on the project goals, you’ll end up having to do a lot of rework and backpedaling later on.

This initial discussion is intended to cast a vision for the feature, allow everyone to get their initial input out on the table, and hopefully spark some new ideas. It also sets a tone for the work and collaboration to follow.

Shared Prototypes
We’ve quickly grown to love Invision as a quick way to get our ideas down on “paper” and share them with the rest of the team. If someone on the design team has something to share we’ll sketch it out or create a quick Photoshop comp, throw it into Invision and share it with the rest of the product team for feedback. The designer sharing the comp can add notes about intended functionality and open up questions for the rest of the team to respond to. When someone responds with a comment, everyone gets an email to keep them in the loop without having to log back into the app. Feedback is tracked in a thread and can be marked as complete when consensus is reached. Having everyone’s feedback all in one place, and closely tied to the design or idea being presented is valuable if we need to go back and review feedback from a particular stage. It’s also much more organized, and contextual, than meeting notes or relying on memory.

Of course, a big thing we like about Invision is to be able to uploaded multiple screens of a workflow or process, and link them together with clickable areas on each page. We’ll mockup our various states in Photoshop, import them into Invision, and quickly string them together to create a “working” prototype of our feature or idea. This is especially helpful when working on complex interactions that are sometimes hard to explain over email, or even in person. Having something tangible, that you can actually interact with, means less chance of communication breakdown. The rest of the team can actually click through the design, and see exactly what the vision for that interaction is supposed to be. This also lets us iterate more quickly with our designs, which leads to better work.

Shared Assets
For sharing files we’re working on, and keeping everyone in the loop we use Dropbox. Of course we’ve got folders organized for all of our global assets, but we also have design files for work in progress. We tend to work directly in Dropbox so our work is always synced, and others on the team have access to peek at what we’re working on. Being able to look over each others shoulders, so to speak, helps to keep everyone up-to-speed with progress and encourage discussion.

Frequent Communication
We try to keep in constant communication throughout the day, or at least keep that line of communication open. Of course we use email, but we’re all also on either Skype or iChat all day as well. We use shared Google Docs when necessary, and of course Invision for sharing prototypes. The whole company is also on Campfire, which makes it easy to have a quick discussion with a few people while still keeping everyone else in the loop.

Having open and regular communication amongst the team is extremely important to help break down the communication barriers of working & designing remotely.

Image Credit: Long Green Arrows from Shutterstock

One Response to “Design Process with a Remote Team”

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