It’s About Time: How To Do More With Less
7 min read
recently ventured over to Birmingham for Canvas X — the tenth edition
of a renowned digital product conference. The theme this year was
centred around The Future of Product Teams. Whilst
product is not my bread and butter, it’s an important aspect of my role
as Head of Experience Design at Cantarus. Attending the event was a
great chance for me to brush up on my knowledge and learn from some
industry experts working for leading brands, including Zoopla, ITV,
Monzo, Lego, Gymshark and Bumble.
I’ve missed in-person
events a lot, more than I think I even realised. Pre-pandemic I was a
regular on the circuit; attending design conferences and talks was a big
part of my growth as a designer and helped to feed my passion.
largely an introverted person but getting out of my comfort zone and
connecting with like-minded people is important for me, I always enjoy it
once I get stuck in. Having been thrust into remote working for the
past 18+ months, I’ve come to appreciate how energising it is for me to
be around teammates. Attending Canvas with colleagues from London and
Manchester was good for the soul. I learned a lot and was inspired to
take some of those learnings into my day-to-day practice.
Having had some time to reflect on the various talks and the day as a whole, it has reinforced a long-standing belief of mine.
9/10 problems can be avoided with better communication.
applied this thinking to all kinds of situations over the past few
years and it’s something I really stand by. Whilst it may sound simple
enough, time and time again things can slip between the cracks. We’re
all human, we’re all busy, and we all want to make the best work
possible. Putting in a little more time to communicate better saves a
lot of time in the future. It’s the best investment you can make. Did
the client hate on your work for no good reason, or did you not
articulate your rationale clearly enough? Did your meeting flop because
people were uninterested in it, or were the attendees unprepared because
the agenda gave little context? Let’s look at two parts of a typical
project delivery process that rely on strong and clear communication to
a creative brief in place is a vital part of any design process.
Getting it right (or wrong) can make a massive difference to the success
of a project, and the sanity of those involved in it. Was the brief
well written? Does it contain enough information and context from the
research and discovery phase, without overloading the designer with
detail? Are the parameters of the project made clear within it?
Ultimately, does it inspire creativity?
all of this right and you’ll set designers up for success, empowering
them to deliver amazing and memorable work that’s on brand, to spec, and
within budget. Get it wrong and you’ll leave a lot of people
frustrated, waste time and money…not a great business model.
great way to health check your briefs is to ask for feedback on them.
Some creatives tend to suffer in silence, wrestling with a briefing
document that’s full of holes rather than raising their hand and asking
for more information. Speak with the intended audience of your brief and
shape it around their needs, it’s useless otherwise.
and developers should be in regular conversation throughout the
project, most crucially at the point of handover to the build phase.
Creative dissemination should be simple enough…You know the work inside
out and have been talking about the project with your teammates and
clients non-stop for weeks. However, you can easily fall into the trap
of siloed and assumed knowledge. An expected user interaction may be clear
and obvious to you, but it may not be to the developer working on
building it. She needs to know what’s in the creatives head.
strong and transparent relationship between designers and developers
will always improve the output of your team. Were they on the same
wavelength throughout the project? Was all expected functionality
explained clearly? Was the designer sympathetic to the time and
technology constraints of the brief? Was the developer open and honest
about the art of the possible during ideation? We’re all in the business
of making amazing digital experiences; designers and developers should
talk often and work together to ensure we deliver exceptional outcomes.
How to do more, with less
communication tools we have are fantastic, ubiquitous, and integral to
modern workflows. I use Slack, Zoom and Miro heavily in my day-to-day as
I coach my reports, collaborate with teammates, and work with clients
all across the country. This ever-flowing sea of communication across
multiple tools makes us hyperconnected and truly in control. At least
that’s the idea.
Canvas gave me the rare chance to go on airplane mode and be in the
moment. No work messages. No doom scrolling social. No group chat gif
bombardments. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the day so much. The event was
held at an IMAX theatre, so fittingly I felt that familiar sense of
being at the cinema and becoming engrossed with the show.
led me to think about a recent change to my own work process which
allows me to focus on achieving one great thing every day. I call it Do Less, Better.
few months ago, I decided to take some control back of my working day
to help me better support my team, in a smaller window of time. I
achieved this by blocking out some time in my diary every day to ‘Get
Stuff Done’. Before 10am and after 4pm I turn my Slack notifications off
and say no to any internal meetings so I can dedicate my time to a
specific project or task.
readily available to my colleagues and reports is essential, especially
when working remotely, but blocking this time out to Do Less, Better
has really helped me. Folks know not to bother me unless it’s
business-critical, and I can devote my time to Slack/calls/emails as
much as needed 10–4 without fearing I’ll run out of time for key
deliverables. By making sure I achieve at least 1 important thing every
day, I can look back on each week knowing that I’ve delivered a bunch of
important stuff really well without neglecting the needs of my team.
back on some quotes and stories I scribbled down from the conference, I
saw these themes of better time management and improved levels of
communication emerge time and again.
“Discover the future 60–70% of the time”
Jones from ITV made his views on the role of a Product Manager clear.
They need to dedicate a significant portion of their time to research
and discovery so their team can build the right product features. This
discovery work also needs to be communicated clearly and effectively to
the team for it to be worthwhile. Spend a good amount of time on the
right task and communicate the outputs of that to empower other people
talked about how they are building a ‘Shared Vision. Shared Services.
Shared Design Language.’ This is something we’re working towards too at
Cantarus with a Figma-led design system for an app product that places
accessibility at its heart. It’s clear that these 3 key deliverables are
vital for the truly connected customer experience that Gymshark want,
and for their various departments to collaborate effectively. The
emphasis is on ‘sharing’ and this can only be done through strong,
transparent, and clear cross-team communication. For a company that has
scaled as aggressively as they have, these values, ways of working and
design patterns have to be easily accessible and instantly
Aro, VP of Design at Monzo, shared some interesting insights regards
communication at their organisation. Their team are encouraged to
produce Design Logs — a highly detailed
one-stop-shop collection of project notes. The depth and quality of
these logs are championed and awarded, actively pushing designers to
document their process better. This goes back to that Handover topic I
discussed earlier. Vuokko also shared the creation of a Slackbot,
intended to gently sway company culture to be more inclusive by
dissuading the use of the term ‘guys’ in messages. If teammates are
regularly being made to feel isolated by some of the collective terms
you are using, that’s such a simple change to make that could really
boost someone’s workday. Empathy goes a long way in the workplace.
Here are some key takeaways from this article…
Do Less, Better
are you have a million things that you both need and want to do, every
single day. Think about what’s truly important for you to do in your
role to enable others to succeed. Find time in your schedule to focus on
completing one important task. Do this every day and you’ll guarantee a
productive week, no matter how disrupted it might have felt.
Invest in Communication
more time in your documentation, handover, and meeting prep today can
save a lot of people hours further down the line. It’s the best
investment you can make. You’ll minimise risk and increase the chances
of a project or task going well the first time.
Make Time For People
works in different ways, and we should respect other people’s time and
space. It’s important to connect face to face regularly too, whether
that’s in work, over a video call, or out of the office somewhere. It’s
amazing how many unexpected things come up when you do. Get some issues
off your chest, laugh about the little things, be open, honest, and
transparent with each other. Relationship building is a big part of our
jobs. Switch off the noise every so often and focus on what matters.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw hit the nail on the head…
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”