Answering your question - How I design
A few weeks back, I asked people who subscribe to my newsletter if they would be interested in joining a Slack channel with me and others from the newsletter. I really didn’t have a plan for what would happen next other than I would get to know some people from my mailing list a bit better. You see, having a mailing list is great, but it can sometimes feel like shouting in a forest. Is anyone actually listening? Who are you? Why are you listening? I guess you could say that I wanted to do some user research (so I could better serve subscribers). Even though this started small (we’re just about 20 in the Slack channel now), it’s fascinating to see how there’s people from all over Europe, Australia, the US, and Asia. Most seem to work with UX in one way or another and there’s a healthy balance between males and females.
Writing regular blog posts is difficult. Coming up with a topic/problem, researching it, seeing it from your audience’s point of view and, most importantly, finding something that resonates with the readers. So being able to ask readers what they want to know more about is super valuable to me because I know that the topic will resonate with at least one of my readers (and most likely more than one).
So a couple of days ago I asked if there was anything specific that they were curious about. I’ll continue to do this, so if you want to ask me anything, just sign up for my newsletter and join our Slack!
Johan wanted to get a more detailed look into some of my work from a design perspective and, more specifically, what tools I use. I’ve previously outlined which tools I use (and I do my best to keep that page updated), but more specifically when it comes to design, there’s a short and a longer answer. The short answer is unfortunately just as ambiguous as when Maureen (who is also on Slack!) asked me what kind of work I do as a UX-designer.
The work defines the tools, never the other way around
The work I do varies the tools I use. So let’s look at some of the project work I’ve recently done.
Writing user stories
Part of my work at the moment is to define the process of users interacting with a tool. I enjoy writing user stories because they’re an easy way for me to understand not only the process, but also where there are what I refer to as ‘unknowns’ - things I don’t know or understand at this point. This makes it easier for me to ask relevant questions and highlight parts of the process that we need to define in more detail. An unknown is also related to assumptions I make in the user story. Let’s say I write that Cathy (my user in this scenario) completes the survey in 15 minutes, I’ll add an unknown asking whether 15 minutes is a reasonable time.
I’ll usually use Dropbox Paper (although I’ve moved away from Dropbox) or Notion depending on if the team has a preference. The most important thing for me is that the writing experience is focused (I can’t write in Google Docs) and that the team members have the ability to comment. I’ll add comments for sections that I need to flesh out even more.
For larger projects, I use the user story to define what key pages we need and what components I think each page will have. This makes it possible for a designer (if there’s someone designing other than me) to start playing around with components and trying out styles. Either way, the user story is a good way to define the story of the product before moving over to…
To be honest, since I’ve started working more and more with design systems, I’m a bit conflicted when it comes to wireframes. With a well-defined design system, wireframes can often feel like an extra and unnecessary step.
There is value with wireframes though in the sense that they’re so quick to make, you can try out different ideas without ending up stuck on type sizes, colors, or even image treatments. I try to make my wireframes as loosely defined as possible so there’s freedom in the design process. I hate it when the final design feels like they just colored the wireframes.
I’ll usually begin with pen & paper to try out a couple of early ideas. I find it easier to try out different things on paper as I don’t have to think about straight lines or even ratio. I guess it helps that I’m a terrible at drawing so I have very low expectations on my pencil drawn wireframes!
Eventually, I’ll move into Figma, my design tool of preference. I found so many positive outcomes from working in Figma over the last years that I never would have anticipated (more on this in a later blog post). The fact that everyone can view the up-to-date design in their browser, comment on specific areas, or even chime in with copy edits, etc. This is a god send when it comes to collaboration.
Because I use objects in Figma right from the start, when the wireframes get approved it’s easy to begin designing components and see the design come to life.
So for visual design, it comes as no surprise at this point that I love Figma. The addition of plugins was a real game changer and I’m still trying to figure out how to best work with Auto layout, but it’s clear that there’s potential there too. At first I was a bit concerned that all my files were just accessible through Figma (no local files), but I think this is more a mind-set change than an actual concern.
As for extending Figma, I’m a big fan of Unsplash, Content Reel and Stark. Three plugins that speed up my workflow enormously. If I’m designing something from scratch without an existing visual identity, I’ll use Fontstand to try out different typefaces. Even though Figma comes with Google Fonts, I like to play around with options that aren’t as widely used. The ability to try out professional typography is amazing!
Thanks for the question!
So Johan, what tools I use? Well I guess the short answer is Figma, but I hope you enjoyed my detailed answer!
Do you have a question you’d want me to answer? Just let me know.