Not all of us have begun our journey in a startup company, but for those who did, it may not have always been the most organised experience. It can be a jungle of communication obstacles and messy rituals that result in nearly unattainable deadlines, such as "I need the landing page design by today at 3:00 pm".
If you're a UX/UI designer working in a fast-paced startup environment, it can be challenging to stay organised while juggling multiple projects, priorities, and stakeholders. However, if you can beat those pesky obstacles with task organisation, you’ll discover you do have time!
In this article, I'll share tips to help conquer organisation and communication techniques so you can stay on top of your game and not let that fast-paced culture steal precious time from you.
Discover the Project Cycle and Develop a Routine.
In a previous article, Time management tips for designers, we shared the importance of discovering your work rhythm by learning about what distracts you and establishing a routine. We also covered time management skills that could save you a lot of stress. In this article, we will dive a bit deeper into project cycles.
No matter the company, startup or otherwise, teams and projects have cycles. In the beginning, they might not be as clear to you, but trust me, there is a pattern behind crazy deadlines or unexpected time warps. To get on top of things and learn a project's cycle, you can:
- Learn how projects progress within your team. Ask your team about the type of project management used in your company to learn more about the pace. If the environment is agile or scrum, they will likely have a sprint of one or two weeks depending. Don't forget to ask about the different stages and approaches the team has, including research, design, prototyping, testing, and deployment.
- Identify the timelines for each cycle using project management tools. After learning how the project progresses, check in from time to time with project management tools such as Trello, Asana, Jira, or Clickup. These tools have records of the start and end of certain cycles and are a great source for learning how fast priorities need to be delivered. If you're in a super early startup with just an Excel sheet to track tasks, talk to your team to discuss time-related boundaries.
- Prioritise accordingly by scheduling your tasks. After understanding what is expected regarding time, organise your tasks based on what is needed first. Remember that your work is connected to other people who also have deadlines, and priorities could be somewhat tangled.
Stay Consistent Using Naming Conventions and Design Systems.
There is a misconception that design systems can take away the creativity of designers. This is far from the truth. A fast-paced environment can sometimes forget about working smarter, and instead, emphasise working harder for seemingly endless hours a day to deliver something fast.
In case you don’t have time to build a complex design system, you can gather your assets to create a template that can help you navigate tough deadlines. You can also lean on some amazing resources designed by the Figma community.
As far as naming goes, the sooner you start naming your files and pages, the better. Think of it as using multiple spoons to eat your cereal. The more spoons you use the more you’ll have to clean later, and Figma is full of spoons (which you create of course)! The more you create and leave without a name, the more you’ll need to fix later.
To apply this tip you can:
- Use components during your design process. Start using components in your design as soon as possible. Components provide agility to change and adapt based on feedback by changing large groups of UIs instead of going through the designs one by one.
- Name everything from the very beginning. Name your files, pages, frames, groups, and components as soon as you make them. If you already started and have to name by bulk size, you can try integrating a plugin or use the Rename Layers feature in Figma.
- Keep the naming simple. Figma will organise your files in this order: “file/page/frame/name/” so consider short and sweet naming conventions to avoid repetition or convoluted descriptions. To express the status of a file or project you can use community standards like WIP, TBA, TBC, or TBD.
- Make a template out of global components. Components in one product can be used globally, meaning that they can be shared with other projects. For example, navigation bars, sidebars, profile cards, tables, buttons, and other components can be found across many products. With this approach in mind, you can create a template that gives you a head start on new projects. The time saved from having your own template can be invested in cleaning, maintaining, and organising.
Effective communication is critical for any team, and for designers working in startups, a lifesaver. To ensure that your work aligns with the expectations of your clients and stakeholders, it is essential to establish clear channels of communication and provide regular updates on the progress of your work.
How can we apply effective communication as designers?
- Practice active listening during meetings, especially those designated for roadmaps and task management. As previously discussed, project tasks are often divided into time chunks for product delivery however, there may be instances where a task, particularly in design, is not divided into more manageable pieces. This is an opportunity for you to shine! Explain to your peers why a task may be too large to schedule for quick delivery. This could be because a user story is very broad and other UX processes must be added such as confirmation modals, empty spaces, or validations.
- Add connectors and description boxes to your handoff. UX/UI design is about more than just having a high-fidelity design. It involves interactions that are prompted by user tasks and component processes. To keep journeys neat and understandable, you should add connectors to the flows and descriptions of what triggers the action of a certain component.
- Async communication is a game changer. Not everything requires a one-hour meeting. Use async communication channels proactively to ask questions and exchange ideas with stakeholders and teammates. If you have a lot of questions and doubts, write them down in Slack or whichever service your team is using, and ask at the end, "Do you think we can cover this on Slack or in a quick meeting?" If you value one-on-one conversations and meetings in person, you can also be transparent about this preference.
Being an organised designer can be a game changer for your development and career however, it requires self-study and cultivating awareness of your work environment. Developing a routine, design sets, and communication skills to cover all blind spots takes time, but once you do, you'll have enough time even in the harshest, fast-paced scenarios.
Do you feel like you're wasting energy because you need extra time to organise? Then take a break from documentation and ask yourself, "What is the minimum amount of text I can write to support communication? What is the smallest thing I can do to stay organised?" This might help you find the answer and create a minimal change that works best for you.
If you are dealing with seemingly impossible time constrictions, we also have you covered! Our team has experience working in a variety of intense scenarios so stay tuned for our article covering minimal viable organisation tips in part two of this series.