Lining up the skills & insights for interdisciplinary teams


February 6, 2020

Recently, we’ve been working with Rostrum Medical Innovations for their new health monitor. The project is a mashup of hardware & software engineering, business objectives, UX design, and industrial design, all with their own moving pieces, process-based discoveries, timelines, and goals. It can be difficult to make sure we keep track of it all and create an environment where insights and skills can flow as unobstructed and naturally as possible, all while sticking to set budgets!

This is the interdisciplinary environment of most projects today. When two, three, or four projects are added into a workday in parallel, all at different stages and all involving unique client formalities, you can imagine the complexity that starts to pile up.

Half of the project work is building good workflows, selecting the right tools, running smooth communications, and making sure the client can follow along without creating too steep of a learning curve. For every project, we are temporarily expanding our own team and working with our clients as new colleagues — we try to make this as pleasant, rewarding, and insightful as possible in order to achieve the most successful of outcomes.

Here we’ve listed some of the tools and methods we use to keep sane and focused on the right details, at the right time! 

Internal team alignment with Sketch
Each member of a team has different strengths and elements that they contribute to a project. We rely on quick handovers between team members to easily pick up where someone left off, and consistently have each other’s backs if we need to project pivot. We’re a Sketch-loving team that enjoys applying Atomic Design principles to our projects to streamline our work. It is quite the meta environment when we are working on projects covering topics like cellular biology, but it works for us!

“We rely on quick handovers between team members to easily pick up where someone left off, and consistently have each other’s backs if we need to project pivot.”

File Management to a T - design filing tips
  1. Maintain a strict naming convention for all files
  2. Use a Working, Proof, Art, and Master structure as files progress through the design process
  3. Always include the date!

There is so much to say about filing and so many examples and resources out there. The first step is to just do it — take the time to sit down and discuss the filing conventions for the team and make sure that everyone learns it the first week they join the team.

Slack Channels
Stick to the channel! Each project has their own Slack channel, with their key documents and information accessible via the channel topic field. Despite sitting right next to each other in the studio, this ensures that all involved team members stay up-to-date and have easy access to integral information.

We use Asana for our project management needs, whether it be assigning each other tasks, setting deadlines, keeping track of timelines, or jotting down quick fixes for projects in development. It’s always a great feeling to check off the tasks as we accomplish them!

Google Drive
Our Google dependency runs deep. We work with Google folders, sheets, and documents to set up filing structures for assets and to track copy, content, timelines, and scope lists. We colour-code timeline stages and create spreadsheet cells with checkboxes for task sign off. Any document can be configured to support a workflow with minimum learning curve! It just takes that extra effort to get everyone started on the right foot from the get go.

In our attempt to tie the whole process together, from client feedback throughout design refinement stages to a one-stop-shop for all of our development components and schemas, we use Zeplin to organize key delivery milestones. It takes feedback into a shared and unified space rather than the back and forth of email threads, which is crucial for cross-collaborative teams. We’ve also discovered that, if your client is a Led Zeppelin fan, compliance is a nonissue!

Emails - rule of thumb!
When you start a new topic, start a new email chain! Sigh... There is nothing more messy and complicating for the process than replying to the last email received and introducing an entirely different topic.

Design Briefs
The design brief is never what we saw examples of in design school. Briefs can be as messy as phone call notes and fifteen emails, to comprehensive walkthroughs of a brand. More often than not, they are the former! Despite this, we still structure the design brief as best as possible, breaking it down into phases and making sure to include workflow iterations, key milestones, reviews, and deliverables in each phase. The brief becomes the blueprint by which you quote, set up your tools, and plan your collaboration.

Meeting Minutes
Always bring at least two people from the internal team into a meeting, and always have a designated note taker. As subjective beings, we notice, emphasize, and interpret things based on our own experiences, skill sets and cognitive biases. It is also impossible to engage and gather information without looking people in the eye, seeing their expressions, and truly listening — a key skill needed in those first design meetings.

Communication is Key
Speak without jargon, abbreviations, academic expressions, or other language devices that can alienate, intimidate, or confuse people from the core goal or concern. Alienating people through language will only cause a loss of insights. Design is not in everyone’s comfort zone and, more often than not, people are insecure about their lack of language fluency around design. The closest they may have come to design language is to “pick their favorite colour” from a set of swatches. Be mindful of this, and use as many language styles as you can — visual, verbal and audio — to connect with different people through their individual preferences.

Useful Links
Data & filing best practices
Slack Channels
Cognitive biases