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How to Build Fast Part 4: Designers

Ryan Jeon

Ryan Jeon

Product Designer

January 6, 2021

designer wireframing on whiteboard

This article is part four in the How to Build Fast series. Read part one on team culture here, part two from a Product Manager’s perspective here, and part three from an Engineer’s perspective here.

This article provides specific tactics that can help designers optimize their time, making the design process faster and more efficient.

Establish a lightning-fast workflow

When it comes to design workflow, setting up a fast workflow is key. Doing so allows you to not only streamline the design process, but also the entire product-building process.

For a project where foundational discovery work (user research and ideation) has already been completed, the team should have a few prioritized ideas that are ready to be tackled. From this point, the typical production design stages would be the following:

  1. Low-Fidelity Design (user flow, wireframe)
  2. High-Fidelity Design
  3. Build a Prototype
  4. Usability Test
  5. Iteration
  6. Design Implementation

Use the right tools

wireframing screenshot in Figma
Wireframing in Figma

The goal is to use the best tools to tackle each stage of the design process listed above. When you choose to use multiple design tools to tackle each stage of the production design, it is important to consider the compatibility of each tool with the others and how the design can be transferred from one tool to another. If this isn’t planned correctly in the beginning, a great deal of time might be wasted manually transferring content between each tool.

I previously used Sketch, InVision, and Zeplin workflow, which all had their benefits. They are fairly compatible with each other and I had no issues transferring the artifacts from one tool to another. However, I recently found a better tool, Figma, and highly recommend it to people who haven’t tried it yet. This is one of the best design tools for a few reasons:

  • Ultimate all in one design software
    One of the main reasons why Figma is so powerful is that you can design, prototype, gather feedback, and share design specs all in one place. There is no need to juggle between multiple tools anymore.
  • Easy to share and present design
    Figma is a web-based design software, which means installing software isn’t required to access the design. Figma allows you to quickly share the design with clients and teammates.
  • Fast prototyping
    The prototyping features in Figma are quite impressive. The learning curve is relatively flat, and you can build prototypes as you design without jumping between platforms. You might not be able to achieve complex animations or micro-interactions as it doesn’t have advanced animation features like Principle or Marvel, but you are able to get a reasonably decent prototype that can be used for any usability testing. I’d say it has well-balanced prototyping features that sit somewhere between InVision and Principle.

Build a design component library

I’ve worked on a number of projects, and to be honest, building a component library was not seen as a necessity for all of them. Sometimes designers skip this process, as some believe that the benefits don’t outweigh the time and effort required to build one. However, the library really shines when you get to the iteration stage. When you consider how many design updates and iterations are required throughout the entire product development process, it is not difficult to see that having a well-constructed component library can help automate updates and fasten the process. It also helps the engineers to develop faster because a component library can be a shared vocabulary between design and engineering that can be used to speed up the development process. For example, they can just build and modify a few components, rather than creating new components each place they’re used.

If you want to build fast, invest time in library construction. Building fast requires fast iteration, and a component library will help increase overall design consistency and make the iteration process faster and easier.

Be flexible during the design process

There is no singular, universal UX process that can be applied to every project. You have to learn to be flexible when planning out your design process by considering different key factors such as the project’s goals, plan, and timeline. Being able to prioritize certain items based on the scope of the project can optimize your design time. For example, if you think producing wireframes isn’t necessary for a certain sprint, you may take a shortcut and jump right into high-fidelity design. However, don’t skip a design stage just because you don’t have enough time to do it. Carefully measure its potential outcome and impact on the product and talk to your team about your decision.

Get feedback early and often

Collecting feedback is often a time-consuming process. Planning and facilitation usability testing requires time and effort, and having a formal design critique is hard to facilitate when your teammates are busy. Here are some tips for getting quick feedback:

  1. Make your feedback process short, frequent, and fast
    Setting up a formal design crit and usability testing requires time and effort. Therefore, in order to build fast, keep the sessions short. For example, I used to ask my team for an extra 5~10 mins for a quick design review during a team standup, which saved us time and fit with the team’s work cadence.
  1. Limit the options
    If you’re showing multiple options, limit the number of choices available. Focus on quality over quantity to get specific and actionable feedback. 
  1. Consider various ways to collect feedback
    Having in-person design crits is great, but it is hard to reserve time when people are busy. Try using collaboration tools that allow people to view and comment on the design. In fact, it’s often a more efficient way to collect feedback.
  1. Announce the type of feedback you want
    When asking for feedback, state the type of feedback you need so that reviewers can focus and provide the type of feedback you are looking for. The Feedback Tango from Ideo explains well about the types of feedback you might want to collect for different stages of design.

Lastly, continue to be creative

As a designer, always try to come up with creative solutions to user problems and progress product impact. Present your best ideas, but have a backup plan. It is okay if your ideas get pulled by the team due to the feasibility or short timeline. Your ideas are still valuable for future implementation, progressing the product vision, and inspiring others — and people will appreciate your creativity and enthusiasm for product success. Remember that building fast doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing ideas and looking for the easiest and most effortless features to build. Always keep the user first and build a better product mindset in order to build better products.

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