Adopt some of these design tools, improve your work environment and process to increase overall efficiency.
Design tools worth consideration:
Find the right UX method
Design Research Technique is a huge repository of design techniques for every project stage. 18F Method Cards has a collection of tools to use in a design project. Each card presents the what and why of the method, how to use it etc. This is an open source project you can contribute on Github. There are more like Medialabamsterdam with a toolkit of methods, IDEO design kit, Servicedesign tools, Hyper Island toolbox, UX Process, and Gamestorming that has several games/tools for co-creation sessions.
User testing and recruiting
Usertesting.com is the most used at present but Usertest.io is showing more potential because you can test competitors as well. You can also use UsabilityHub for less complex, inexpensive and fast user testing. There are other tools for specific uses. For example, UXCam can be used for watching how users use your app and analyze the information.
Mouseflow– It helps see visitors’ behavior and fix pain points with recordings, heatmaps, funnels, and form analytics. Hotjar is a good fusion of Clicktale, Qualaroo, SurveyMonkey, Ethnio and Crazy Egg for Heatmaps, Visitor Recordings, Conversion Funnels, Form Analytics, Feedback Polls and Surveys in One Platform.
VWO is easy to set up and test. It helps you conduct visitor research and build an optimization roadmap.
GA Experiments or Google analytics experiments framework is expected to grow into a smarter tool in the future. It enables you to test almost any change or variation to a website or app.
Reflector is a wireless mirroring and streaming receiver. It works with mobile devices, desktops and both Mac and Windows OS.
CamStudio has been around and popular for screen recording. It is free but has not evolved in the last decade. It still has an option to export at .swf file 🙂
User Journeys and mapping
The complex user journeys that used to take a long time can now be done quickly using a tool called Smaply. I have found this tool to be really good. StoriesOnBoard is a useful app for agile planning and mapping each feature in your UX project.
Coggle is a freeware mind-mapping web application. It is easy to use and you can collaborate in real time with the team.
Morae is good for focus groups and usability studies. You can record and remotely observe user interactions, analyze results and share your findings with the team. UX Check is a Chrome extension that helps conduct heuristic evaluations on a website.
BugHerd is a visual bug tracking and project management app that lets you report issues directly on a website with a simple point and click. BugHerd automatically grabs all browser data and even takes screenshots for you.
Time and cost estimation
UX Recipe is a simple tool to estimate project costs based on the process steps being followed.
If you are a Sketch user, you already know that plugins are a huge blessing making work so much faster. And of course the popular Invision for prototyping and Invision Studio as a competitor of Sketch. I have tried to stick with Invision for prototypes even though there are many tools like Flinto, Marvel, Framer etc out there. Consider using Noun Project for all your icon needs. Get a NounPro subscription so that you can install its plugins and apps. Iconfinder is another option but it is not free or has a trial period. Unsplash and Pexels are useful for free stock photos. Adobe Color CC and Coolors are a good place to explore color combinations for designs. Zeplin is useful for collaboration and handoff for UI designers/frontend developers. Freeble is a good place to find design freebies created by Dribble users. Skala Preview is useful to preview designs from your Mac to iPhone to a mobile device.
Design inspiration and knowledge
There are many sites and blogs that can be listed here. But will only list a few. I am a regular visitor of GoodUI. It is a great site to learn about UX patterns are ideas. Pinterest, in my opinion is a good place to get inspired when looking for something interesting within a subject area. Awwwards, Design Inspiration, UI Movement, and FWA are good sites worth visiting to get inspired. I have found UX Companion mobile app to be useful. It is a glossary of UX theories, tools and principles available for reference. Pttrns is a good site to look for mobile UI patterns. It does not have enough patterns yet, but hopefully, in the near future, it grows. Medium is another source of good articles you can visit. There are some design publications like UXDesign.CC, Prototypr, and Muzli I typically visit and subscribe to their newsletter. There are some Slack channels one can join. My experience has not been great with channels. Most users are students or early stage designers. The conversations tend to be basic and sometimes sharing their work for feedback. You can explore Designer Hangout and The Designership. Smashing Magazine is a very popular design magazine worth visiting once in a while. Other notable are UX matters, UX Magazine, Web Designer Depot,
You can also follow some thought leaders like Khoi Vinh at Subtraction or Neilson Normal Group on their websites. On Twitter, you can follow Luke Wroblewski, Andy Budd, Jared M Spool, Aarron Walter, Paul Boag, Joshua Porter, Whitney Hess, Alex Morris, Nick Finck and Chris Messina.
Viewing award-winning work is also very helpful. Check out Cannes Lions, One Show, D&AD, Communication Arts, UX Awards, etc during your down times to get inspired by the best in the profession. The most important mantra to keep in mind is to keep learning. Learning should never stop to keep improving and widening the ‘T’ in your T-shaped skillset.
Additional design tools
If we’re able to skip the less-liked parts of the process, automate repetitive activities, we can gain more time to focus on creativity and ideation. For example, Landing Pages by Viral Loops lets you save time designing a well-performing landing page. Avocode helps teams turn Sketch, PSD, XD, and Figma designs to the Web, React Native, iOS, or Android code. Futuramo Icons lets you easily personalize entire icon sets accordingly to your visual identity. FlowMapp lets you create intuitive sitemaps so everyone on your team can see workflows at a glance. I have found Trello to be very useful for collaborative planning and project management. While I am happy with Google Docs for basic needs, recently Dropbox Paper is getting attention.
Redpen is a useful tool for commenting and feedback. Shortcuts.design is a huge time saver to switch between the apps using keyboard shortcuts. Craftwork Marketplace is a great place to get UI Kits, landings, mockups, wireframes to get assets for designs. Case Study Club 2.0 is a great place to find interesting and inspiring case studies of design projects. It helps designers learn from previous experience and expand their knowledge by researching on other professionals’ accomplishments and ideas.
Process and environment improvements
Being an efficient design manager
In design agencies, design managers running the firm also have a role to play to create an efficient work environment. To avoid employees getting stressed and overworked, finding a balance and seeking employee feedback for improvement is important. Boosting morale is management 101 practice we sometimes forget when we are in a design manager position. Efficient workloads management needs the deep understanding of team’s possibilities and limitations for a design manager.
A demotivated designer cannot be innovative. Encouragement, Opening up, building trust through workshops are useful in creating a liberated workplace.
A difficult time is a testing time for any design manager. Some small tips to have the team overcome this are reinforcing confidence, recognize small wins, give credit and be thankful for contributions, demonstrating trust in employees, facilitating recognition of employees by others.
There is a trend to work late in design firms, to impress the manager. In some firms if the manager is working late, employees will too. Sometimes employees send out emails very late in the night just to impress the manager. Late night work and sometimes all night work is forced by the managers for new business pitches or to meet deadlines. This is not efficient. It will not encourage creativity. It will simply get the work done at the cost of designer’s physical, emotional and mental health. Overdoing it will end up in the employee leaving the firm for someplace better. Design managers need to change the mindset and stop thinking employees as ‘resource’ and ‘workforce’. They are human beings with tremendous creative talent and emotions. Each experience in the workplace will contribute to their creative output. Happiness cannot be bought. Increase in salary does not necessarily make an employee happy. But creating a work environment where the employee feels happy to come in every day, create, grow, learn, and leave on time with a sense of fulfillment will definitely make the firm innovative.
Time management is an important practice that each designer as an individual and as an agency should be looking into. Workplace time management is a real challenge. Emails, texts, phone calls and even snack breaks prevent us from focusing on and effectively executing a single task at a time. Pomodoro technique improves work and project productivity. I recommend Be Focussed app on your mobile device to ensure you can make use of every minute at hand.
Meeting black-out day
Meetings one after another erode away time and focus on the work a designer might be doing. If meetings are scheduled at various times during the day, we are not able to provide enough undivided attention to the actual work we want to do at a stretch. Some firms have devised a rule where once a week, say Wednesday there will not be any meetings scheduled on the calendar. Additionally, employees are allowed to work from anywhere that day. Designers can work from home, coffee shop, outdoors or office to overcome cognitive rigidity.
Design thinking as a corporate culture
Design thinking principles around Agile, iterative, collaborative and practical methods helps designers rethink business models and develop new products. It allows a diverse team to develop products with a quick turnaround time. This process is inspiring corporate culture in companies today based on the formula of Immersion, Ideation, and prototyping and to think like a startup. Speed and innovation need to go hand in hand to survive in the competitive world. As per Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon — “If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness.”
Innovators can use this process to not just do rapid product innovation, but also for business planning and campaign development. The lean startup model described on MIT’s ‘Deploy or Die’ helps accelerate the business transformation process. According to Gartner “By 2021, more than 50% of established corporations will be leveraging lean startup techniques”.
This design thinking is being adopted more today to break down corporate inertia and accelerate innovation. It helps stimulate employee creativity, deliver practical user-centric solutions, avoid reworking, save large sums in product research, encourages circulation of ideas and win over internal allies by including employees and their subject matter knowledge. All of these are key facets of the Efficient Design process.
Efficiency also comes with designing personal spaces. Messy desks, homes, and offices reduce productivity. Mess and disorder lead to disorderliness of mind. Designers get inspired and are more productive when workspaces are clean and simple. Designmodo has some inspiration for designers to arrange their workplace. Deskhunt is a popular destination for designers looking for inspiration to become more focused by designing their workspaces.
Designing your workspace is not just creating a pleasing visual experience. It needs to create a good experience for all your senses to allow for better focus in your work. The flow of air, lighting, sounds around you and the smells matter. Each sense of our body should be at ease in order to stay away from distraction. Creating a good environment in your workspace helps reduce stress levels and allows for more creativity. Complete silence or soothing music is helpful to help the mind focus. But it will work best if you are used to some form of meditation in your life.
What a lovely thing a rose is
It is said that the fragrance of rose removes the thorns in life. Rose is more than a flower of love. A small tip here is to use fragrant rose flowers or natural rosewater to enhance your workplace experience. It is an Ayurvedic remedy to reduce stress. The natural fragrance of the rose flower is very soothing, it calms our aggressive nature, reduces tensions to help us focus on the design work.
Rosewater, when mixed with sandalwood paste and applied to the forehead will give relief to a headache that is a common ailment when we work under stressful environments, long hours and tight deadlines. You can try applying this paste before going to sleep and will find comfort in deep, uninterrupted and dreamless sleep that will refresh you the next morning. In the yogic traditions, people apply this on their third eye between the eyebrows. Activating the third eye chakra helps to become a designer more insightful and creative. As they say, love the rose flower and your world will turn sweet!
More firms will benefit from creating pleasing natural environments, quiet spaces or rooms and implementing meeting black-out days in the offices. Encouraging meditation as discussed in part two of this series in office spaces would create a more relaxed and open mindset conducive to creativity. The process of UX design is very much like meditation. In both, we objectively look at our thoughts, past experiences and do not get carried away. We calmly look at the problem, reflect on it and assess it before considering solutions. This clarity of mind helps us focus and find the creative spark within.
The tools listed in this article are simply tools. They do not solve problems or give ideas. These tools will only shorten the timeframe and improve the output. Design solutions have to come from the team with the designer at its nucleus. Thus designers should involve users, stakeholders, partners, internal teams and developers in the process as needed. This ensures everyone is on the same page and contributes his or her ideas, skills and feedback to the project regularly.
Hopefully, the resources mentioned in this article will help and inspire you to be more efficient and keep learning.
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