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Redesigning Production Flow

We all want to spend more time refining our craft and less time explaining the mundane details behind our approach. Three new tools make the production flow easier.

A prototype is worth 1,000 meetings. This statement comes to us from Ideo and it sums up a growing reaction to a development environment that can become crippled by process. Meetings are of course a natural starting point for building concept, strategy and goals. Although this time is initially necessary and productive, it can soon become an impediment at best and a cure for insomnia at worst. The conversation can retain its value not by talking repeatedly about how and when something could be done, but about what is done and how it can be improved.

Designers are finding themselves in teams that include a growing variety of disciplines, while delivering work that is increasingly dependent on research, metrics and validation. Delivering fresh iterations quickly in a format that most closely resembles the intended final product is crucial. As designers, we’re pressed to turn simplicity and usability into enjoyable experiences. Wouldn’t it be nice if our tools also embraced this philosophy?

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Sketch is the most promising design tool for the modern product development environment. At its core it is built for the needs of user interface designers. Whereas industry standard software that was intended for photographers and digital artists gets more feature-heavy, Sketch brings the same demands for simplicity and usability of the final product into the working environment

Some of the key features include:

  • Fully vector environment – suitable for building product flows that work in different resolutions and platforms
  • Smart guides – build and move objects around mathematically, ensuring pixel perfection
  • Pages and art board layout – design screens but also connections and transitions
  • Shared styles – helpful for sourcing elements from a pattern library
  • Web filters – styles that reflect the capabilities of CSS
  • Exporting window – easily export multiple sized assets simultaneously
  • Sketch Mirror – native design view on mobile devices

Sketch is very helpful in increasing the speed and precision of design deliveries, but it also can begin to create a more efficient designer / developer relationship. Typically, a designer will deliver a PSD file by which the developer deconstructs in order to extract the assets and values needed. Lengthy specification documents are often needed followed by numerous rounds of revisions in order to get the live version up to the standards of the original intent. This can be a very irritating exchange for everyone involved, but a new plugin is poised to calm the nerves of everyone involved.

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Zeplin is a collaboration tool that extracts Sketch art boards and allows developers get all the details they need to begin development. Simply by selecting elements, values related to colors, fonts, positions, dimensions and margins are all readily available to the developer and much of the guesswork which often accompanies realizing a design in code is taken out of the equation.

Zeplin helps designers and developers sync on a visual level, which ultimately helps to build understanding between the disciplines.

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We see this merger clearly in the most recent release of Xcode, Apple’s development environment. The software and accompanying Swift language is much more approachable for designers, giving them an easy platform to begin understanding the tools that bring their work to life. Designers can now build basic prototypes focusing on graphics and animation and have developers take it and continue with the next step. This means the prototype is effectively a first version, cutting development time while ensuring more steps in the process relate to the final product.

We all want to spend more time refining our craft and less time explaining the mundane details behind our approach. Showing what we have in mind is often more effective than a verbal explanation, and rapid iterations will reduce documentation and miscommunication. What’s most important however is how our tools combine with how we relate to our team members. We’ll need to be able to share work more often at various stages of completion. We’ll need to become more comfortable with frequent feedback. Meetings are unavoidable, but with a revised production flow they can be more productive, and brief.

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