Our design practice at Sourcegraph relies on design collaboration and review to help us create better, more effective design outcomes, and to maintain a cohesive, sustainable, and inclusive product experience.
By having clear process and goals for design collaboration and review, we can do these things consistently and predictably and keep growing as a design team.
We feel it’s useful to think about design collaboration and review as two distinct things with different goals. Ultimately, both are about sharing design work, feedback, and helping each other grow and learn and drive decisions towards business value and better design outcomes.
Design collaboration comes early, often, and throughout the design process. The shape of design collaboration is fluid and adaptive.
Design review comes later. The shape of design review is more specific and established.
Design collaboration is our chance to work together as designers on design efforts.
Every design effort has a design owner. This person is usually the designer embedded on a product or feature team carrying out the effort.
This design owner should identify a design collaborator near the beginning of the effort. This tends to make the most sense once the effort has gone through initial discovery and there’s a clearly-defined problem statement, and design exploration into the solution space has begun.
While the design owner is responsible for the design project end-to-end, your collaborator is your co-designer. They’re the person you can go to, along with your first team of engineers and product managers, to seek feedback, explore ideas, and challenge each other.
Having design collaborators makes us a better design team:
- It naturally increases the team’s understanding and ownership of the whole Sourcegraph product, not just the areas owned by a designer’s first team.
- It brings another design perspective into a team that typically consists of many engineers and only one designer.
- It creates more opportunities to connect with each other as designers and individuals in our remote environment, through the craft of design.
Having design collaborators helps us to deliver a better product:
- With more design perspectives contributing to each design effort, we’ll reach better, more thoughtful design outcomes than any one designer can achieve on their own.
- By collaborating early and often, we’ll create more opportunities for new ideas and directions along with the time and space to explore those directions as part of the design process.
- We will save time later during design review by catching gaps or challenges, problems, or misalignments earlier.
- While anyone can be a design collaborator, the best collaborators will be those whose product areas are most likely to be influenced by a design effort.
- It’s best practice to check in with your potential collaborator ahead of time to make sure they have the capacity and availability to do so!
- Prioritize sharing and requesting thoughts and contributions from your design collaborator early. use whatever tools make sense, whether that’s Figma comments and prototypes, Loom videos, or Slack messages.
- There’s no such thing as sharing a design “too early.” The best time to collaborate and receive feedback is early in the process.
- Follow our guidelines for seeking and giving design feedback.
Every design effort goes through design review as part of the process.
Design review is an opportunity for the design owner to share design work with the broader design team and product and engineering organizations, to grow and learn as designers, and to help align on vision and strategy.
Having design reviews makes us a better design team:
- By sharing design intentionally with the broader design team, it helps the entire team get a glimpse of what each of us are working on and the progression of projects over time.
- Through structured design reviews, we’ll help each other improve our skills around seeking and giving feedback in a mutually supportive environment.
Having design reviews helps us to deliver a better product:
- While design collaboration helps us explore ideas with more perspectives, design review helps us to maintain a high quality and sustainable product experience while avoiding design debt once we have a high level of confidence in our design direction.
- Regular design reviews give us better sense of how our product is evolving holistically and where there may be gaps or future opportunities for design contributions.
- Design reviews have the biggest impact in “inflection moments,” where a design effort reflects a concrete, high-confidence proposal or direction.
- In our async-first environment, designers seeking design review should be thoughtful in how they approach framing the review, what tools are used to make communication as clear as possible, and specific in where and how they’re seeking feedback.
- Follow our guidelines for seeking and giving design feedback.
Good feedback is a product of an intentional environment with positive feedback loops. Every time we go through design collaboration and review, it’s an opportunity to improve how we seek and give design feedback.
- Always be participating. Be prepared to contribute and share throughout the week in whichever formats make the most sense. Sometimes this will be async, other times in structured syncs.
- Help others to improve their feedback skills. Seeking and giving feedback are skills like any other. Design collaboration and review is a coaching and teaching opportunity to help each other grow in these areas.
- Lead by example. As a design team member, you play a part in creating an inclusive, productive environment where all team members feel safe and encouraged to seek and give feedback.
Seeking design feedback is more than doing a walk-through of your design work. It’s about providing the full picture and focusing attention where it’s most needed.
It’s important to:
- Provide context. Make sure the specific problem and goal is clear. What does success look like? What constraints influence the decisions? For whom is this being designed?
- Specifically say what kind of feedback you’re seeking. A thumbs-up, thumbs-down? A gut call on the better of two approaches? A detailed critique?
- Ask specific questions that you want feedback about. Divert attention away from things you don’t. State where you want the feedback, if that’s not where you’re requesting it. Example: you’re requesting feedback in Slack but state that you want comments in a Figma rather than a threaded Slack reply.
- After receiving feedback, follow up. Recognize contributions and share how you will move forward.
- Tell stories. Seeking feedback is an opportunity to practice storytelling: instead of showing an outcome, walk through the context, rationale, and how it will impact our users’ lives.
Giving design feedback takes thoughtfulness and care. When sharing design feedback, one needs to fully understand the problem, clarify their own understanding of the solution, and provide actionable feedback in an inclusive and respectful manner.
It’s important to:
- Make sure you understand what kind of feedback is sought. If it’s not clear what kind of feedback is sought, clarify before giving feedback.
- Ask clarifying questions. Avoid making assumptions.
- Focus feedback on the specific feedback sought. Other feedback may be valuable, but should be separated into a distinct conversation.
- Always start with why, not how. Potential solutions can be useful to clarify your feedback, but aren’t feedback in themselves.
- Clarify where feedback is coming from: is it based on a heuristic or best practice? Is it from a previous decision? Is it rooted in personal opinion?
- Focus on the work, not the individual.
- Evaluate designs and speak in term of their effectiveness from point of view of user needs & project goals.
When design feedback happens synchronously, it can be valuable to have someone take the role of facilitator. Creating an intentional environment is critical (get it?) to keep the feedback session focused, positive, and useful for everyone.
Some things that the facilitator does to achieve this:
- Create an agenda. Ask participants ahead of time what they want to present, how much time they need, and what kind of feedback they’re looking for.
- Keep time. Set a timer and stick to it, so that everyone has a chance to share their work. If an effort needs extra attention, encourage the presenter to have a separate deep-dive just for this effort.
- Assign a notetaker. When seeking and giving feedback synchronously, it’s hard for presenters to keep notes along the way. A notetaker makes it easier for everyone to focus on seeking and giving good feedback.
- Maintain an inclusive environment. The facilitator should step in if they feel the feedback is going in a direction not conductive to constructive feedback.
- Keep on track. Remind participants what type of feedback is sought and what reviewers should focus on.
- Onboard newcomers. As our design team continues to grow, the facilitator’s role is to bring new team members up to speed on best practices for seeking and giving feedback.