Building a distributed design team: Is it possible?

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As we shift from ‘outsourcing’ to ‘distributed teams’, we have moved from cost based development to convenience-driven team structures. Today, no one wants to outsource. It’s just not in vogue. Distributed teams, on the other hand, divide work across geographic barrier, skill set, expertise or more.

Distributed teams seem to work in many organizations for development work. However, design has always been ignored. Since there are no logical steps nor an industry standard, a good design is just pleasing to the eye or involves a smooth user experience. Many argue that design being a creative process can not be distributed.

However, most design agencies or client’s in-house that we had the chance to interact with follow patterns like rituals. Most likely the pattern falls into 4 step cycle- understanding the requirement, brainstorming ideas, designing mockups and more repetitive designing.

Designers constantly juggle between creativity and productivity. There is the brainstorming where creativity takes centerstage, while deadlines keep coming back to question productivity. For any given senior designer, this balancing can be very stressful.

Our story with a concept of distributed design team started with an enterprise client. Their in-house designers always had stringent timelines and too many requests. Since we were involved with their development team, we could see how the continuous requests of design changes would hound them every day. They juggled meetings, mockups and what they called ‘inner pages’. Cautiously, we probed deeper into this concept with their UX manager.

Voila! We found that our team could fulfill their immediate need to create series of inner pages based on their initial mockup and style guide.

Yeah, so a one-off project, right? Wrong.

Being strictly a development agency, we never thought about design until now. We can only wonder about the numerous connections that we could have made. However, we have tried this ‘distributed design team’ with many more clients.

So yes, a distributed design team can exist. It is mutually beneficial to both the senior designer and team. If you are a design agency and do not believe me, here are some scenarios for you to consider.

1. Convert PSD/AI files into HTML:

Most designer work on Photoshop and/or illustrator to design and either convert it to HTML themselves or pass it onto a front-end developer. While it’s not rocket science, it requires precise handling. This is what everyone including employees, customers and stakeholders look at. In this case, our client had our front-end developer write HTML code in half the time and half the cost.

how to convert PSD to HTML

2. Create template mockups based on a single design:

This works when the designer provides us the main page and our team creates the template pages. For example, when redesigning a website, the senior designer created the first look post a brainstorming session while delegating to our team the inner pages like about us, contact us, media relations, press, jobs etc. Since this work does not require much creativity but can amplify the deliverables for a single designer. Here is an example of how we created about us, using content and just home page design.

creating internal page

3. Cut individual images from mockups to create design ready elements:

If you have in-house front-end developers or clients who do, you would need to provide sliced images to these developers. Now, add the responsive views, meaning 3 different sizes of each image, icons, buttons– you name it. Now add to these the various formats (jpeg, png) and tools used in development (Zeplin, Avocode, Jupyter, Nimble, etc). We work with agencies that need quick turnarounds on PSD/.AI files to development ready images for tools like Zeplin.

going from sketch to zeplinn

4. Produce responsive designs based on Web style guide:

Since responsiveness is omnipresent to web design, your designer can follow the mockup-inner pages conversion trick to mobile view of the website as well. We keep the look and feel of the website intact by following the stylesheet and using specified breakpoints, for example, using 375 px (portrait) and 667 px (landscape) for iPhone 6 while for iPad it is 768 px (portrait) and 1024 px (landscape). These need to be accurate to create a seamless experience for end-users.
responsive layouts for each device

5. Prepare clickable prototypes based on mockups:

Most designers go to Invision or Flinto to create a prototype. Well, there are hundreds of tools. However, when you are managing multiple clients/projects, getting prototypes ready can become a tedious task. Our team can easily help designers create clickable prototypes based on mockups.

Creating prototype in flinto

6. Build design test reports:

Though QA works on testing the whole application. A design test report preempts the design related problems that could snowball into application bugs. For example, we were working with UX designers to test their updates to an existing mobile app. While the updates were mostly back-end, the front-end UI wasn’t pixel perfect. Position mismatch, border size, icon size, font type were some minor issues that need attention to detail.

design test report

The most effective benefit that our clients often talk about is reducing the redundancy of designing each page. The number of auto-generated pages is limited to buying process or a gated dashboard. However, there are numerous other pages that are often neglected but essential to the completion of the project. No promotional campaign is complete without the T&C page or an E-commerce site without returns functionality. And a distributed team can reduce the workload considerably.

If you have worked with distributed teams or like the idea, feel free to reach out to us.