Design collaboration tools & actionable strategies to collab
Collaboration is great when it works.
Design teams share diverse perspectives with creative teams while iterating prototypes, wireframes, and mood boards. They use collaboration tools to capture design feedback from project managers and refine ideas. It leads to greater efficiency and improved innovation, both helping creative professionals deliver outstanding results.
Collaboration stops working when organizational silos come into play. Team members spend all day going back and forth, projects are hindered by lengthy approval processes, and confusion over responsibilities leads to slow progress. In short, it’s a nightmare.
So, how do you overcome collaboration challenges, improve task management, and streamline project delivery as a UX manager?
In this article, you’ll learn to optimize the collaborative design process and discover the best design collaboration tools for your team.
How can design collaboration benefit your organization?
Design collaboration leads to better outcomes, more innovative solutions, and increased efficiency.
A recent survey among office workers from the US, UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Australia found that 64% of employees believe better collaboration improves innovation, creativity, and engagement. Not collaborating isn’t an option, especially in today’s distributed work environment.
Let's look at what creative collaboration brings to the table.
It helps you gain fresh perspectives
It’s very easy to focus on one approach without considering the ins and outs of others. Tunnel vision can often hinder a designer's ability to stop and think: is this the best way we could do this? Brainstorming sessions with other team members help them think outside of the box and evaluate design ideas early on.
It improves client buy-in
Collaboration can also be great for keeping clients in the loop about design projects—design collaboration isn’t just for collaborating with other teams within the organization.
Including clients in the design collaboration process means design teams don’t have to wait till the end to receive design feedback and make changes. This real-time feedback is key to making iterations at different stages and delivering design solutions on time.
It fuels innovation
Every designer has a skill they are strongest in. It can be anything from header design to animation theory to wireframing. Incredible things happen when these designers join forces to work toward a unified goal. This is also the case when considering skills and processes across teams—you get fresh perspectives.
Designers not only learn from each other but also start connecting dots in new ways for more efficient problem-solving. The entire design process becomes much stronger as cross-functional teams analyze design concepts from different angles and provide feedback.
It delivers better outcomes
The true power of a collaborative design process lies in its ability to move beyond the power of one. Imagine your design team using creative collaboration software to discuss ideas and receive feedback from multiple stakeholders. They’ll not only be able to solve problems but also expedite task completion and deliver outstanding results.
Now that you know why collaboration matters, let's look at how you can create a collaborative design process.
The 5 phases of the collaborative design process
A collaborative design process brings together different stakeholders to review ideas in real-time and deliver iterative feedback.
Let's explore the stages you can follow as a UX design leader to ensure efficient design collaboration.
Conducting brainstorming sessions to generate ideas isn’t anything new. Your team’s likely done it many times before. The only difference here is that you’re trying to solve clearly defined design problems in collaboration with others in a free-thinking environment.
Brainstorming with other teams and stakeholders helps you understand design problems better and find potential solutions from a wide array of ideas.
2. Design Research
Brainstorming gets you started, but design research dives deeper. This phase involves gathering qualitative and quantitative data for analyzing user needs, desires, and challenges in order to create the best possible solution.
The ultimate goal here is to capture and use customer data from user interviews, surveys, and exploratory research for driving design decisions.
Designs should be created and tested on a continuous loop. That’s why design collaboration uses an iterative process to improve the outcome with short yet regular bursts.
The goal here is to drive the entire design process forward by tweaking designs and improving the outcome incrementally. Some companies also use collaboration tools to run design sprints—time-boxed iteration cycles—to deliver the solution faster.
Design feedback is a part of the core design process. This is when designers send the final deliverables to clients and other stakeholders for feedback. User feedback aids designers to learn what’s working, what’s not, and what to improve.
Using design collaboration tools makes it easier to receive real-time feedback and communicate iterations. As a result, you’re better able to hit the deadline and get approval from clients.
The development phase is the last stage of the design lifecycle and begins after receiving client approvals. Now that you've got the final idea locked, it's time to put all the design elements in place.
While nothing is set in stone, design collaboration works well when you set crystal clear OKRs (objectives and key results), communicate effectively, and listen to ideas with an open mind. Having the right tools makes it even easier to connect with people and master the art of collaboration.
11 Tools to Support Collaborative Design
Not every design team can say that collaboration is in their DNA. If you’re looking to build a hyper-productive team with a collaboration-first mindset, we’ve picked the best tools to help you get there.
Getting other teams involved in the UX design process can often be tricky because of one key issue: other teams don’t have a clear idea of exactly what UX design is or does. UX knowledge is often the missing puzzle piece that stops teams from learning from each other and growing together.
Uxcel’s online team learning platform is the perfect way to overcome this hurdle. The online lessons, courses, challenges, and more help upskill both novice designers—such as stakeholders from other teams—and more experienced designers—such as your existing design team.
The platform visualizes team strengths with skill tests that create skill graphs for each member of your team. This effective design education empowers your team to learn faster and collaborate better on design projects.
Want to give it a shot? Start your team’s 14-day free trial today and help them improve their design skills.
Miro is a visual collaboration platform where teams collaborate to create whiteboards, workflows, and frameworks. Designers use Miro boards to organize research data, map user journeys, and build lo-fi wireframes.
This platform is also popular among marketers, product teams, and engineers for brainstorming, product roadmap creation, and scrum event organization. It’s an intuitive platform that enables real-time collaboration across teams and stakeholders.
Airtable lets organizations connect teams and create a single source of truth on a single platform. This collaboration tool streamlines manual work with workflow automation and preconfigured apps. Designers can also build custom interfaces to share design updates for clients and different audiences within their organization—without having to share every last detail.
Figma is a collaborative interface design tool for creating mockups, prototypes, and finalized designs. It can be accessed and worked upon collaboratively, helping ensure you get the key insights you need on designs. Besides offering powerful design features, the platform lets you automate and augment work with custom workflows.
UX teams can also use Figma to create design systems aka libraries where everyone can contribute icons, images, avatars, fonts, and more. It’s a must-have tool in a design team’s arsenal.
Mural is a visual collaboration platform that teams use to brainstorm, power up workflows, and work together on design sprints. It also features ready-to-use templates for visualizing project progress, product roadmaps, and more.
Mural’s intuitive digital whiteboard tool helps distributed design teams align on ideas, iterate designs together, and address feedback from one single platform.
Whimsical is another visual collaboration tool that helps teams with diagramming, whiteboarding, and wireframing. This tool lets you create a unified collaboration hub where you can store design assets, including flowcharts, wireframes, mind maps, and docs.
Besides offering templates, Whimsical offers in-built integrations for tools like Slack, Figma, Notion, and GitHub.
Asana is a popular cross-functional work management platform that eases collaboration and cross-team workflows. Organizations use this platform to track tasks and evaluate project progress against objectives.
Asana provides your whole team—and all other relevant stakeholders—with an overview of the project, deliverables, and deadlines. It’s an all-in-one project management tool that enables smoother collaboration between different teams.
InVision is an all-in-one collaborative whiteboard tool for design teams looking to unify work, people, and processes. The platform offers a multiplayer whiteboard where everyone can collaborate to brainstorm in real-time or async.
Moreover, teams can use organized workspaces and prebuilt templates to streamline design workflows. Designers can also turn ideas into tasks or collaboration opportunities with pre-built Google Docs, Jira, and Asana integrations.
Creately is a visual diagramming platform that lets you create journey maps, flowcharts, wireframes, and more. Designers use the diagramming capability of this platform to create data-linked visual workspaces for efficient planning and execution. Besides workflow rule customization, they can also create custom databases for clients and internal teams.
Whereby is a video meeting and conferencing app that lets you join online meetings without an app or software download. Teams can host or join video calls from a single meeting link instead of relying on hardware or account access.
This ease of collaboration helps teams run remote brainstorming sessions or even design workshops without the worry of technical incompatibilities.
Sketch is an all-in-one collaboration tool that designers use to create designs, prototype, receive feedback, and handoff projects. This Mac-based design collaboration platform lets designers create different assets, including prototypes, apps, illustrations, and websites.
Anyone can use the web app to leave design feedback and turn pixels into code for ease of development. Designers also use Sketch to organize files, distribute design systems, and streamline workflows.
Actionable tips and advice for improving collaborative design processes
Let’s face it: collaboration isn’t always easy. Opposing viewpoints from internal teams, deadline pressures from clients, and endless revisions affect the efficiency of your design collaboration workflow.
So, how do you keep everyone on the same page with all these challenges?
Create an action plan
An action plan isn’t just a checklist your team needs to complete; it provides your team with a roadmap to success.
Consider including target audiences, project scope, specific deliverables, and delivery due dates in an action plan. That way your team gets a clear sense of project direction.
Remember to allocate tasks to team members according to their strengths to finish the project quicker.
Invest in collaboration tools
Designers can't speed up delivery and you can't increase design workflow efficiency without the right tools. Choosing the right design collaboration tool unifies the entire process.
For example, a UX designer needs tools for designing, prototyping, and wireframing. A lack of tools negatively impacts your ability to run design ops.
Improve decision-making with progress tracking
Knowing where everything is at all times plays a key part in dictating the success of the design collaboration process. Projects are often hindered by slow decision-making caused by a lack of clarity on where each project is at. Tracking deliverable progress effectively—even when collaborating across teams—is essential.
Improve documentation practices
As a design team, you’re likely to have multiple files and folders on your system. Any file name or version error can be expensive for an organization. That’s why it’s crucial to develop documentation and version control guidelines for minimizing errors.
Design collaboration in your organization
Design collaboration is great… until it isn’t.
A lack of clarity when it comes to communication and responsibility are typically the primary suspects when design collaboration fails. Having a standardized collaboration process with clear roles and responsibilities is the way forward.
It’s also a good idea to ensure everyone’s speaking the same language—the language of UX. Improving your UX team with Uxcel is an easy way to get people on board and up-to-date—try it for yourself with the 14-day free trial.