4+1 (design) tools that make a difference every day
What makes you a good designer? Degrees, experience, mindset, people, structure, tools? Maybe a little bit of everything. Maybe just a combination of two. For us, choosing the right set of tools will make a workday productive and smoother. At the same time, it is not that easy to make a choice, considering the countless number of tools for digital design and workflows out there. This is why we want to share our 4 best tools with you that shape our day-to-day tasks at Studio Lenzing.
Notion is one of the tools that we use most. It's a knowledge-base tool that helps you organize and structure tasks like Trello, but that is just half of the story. Notion helps you keep track of progress and store and organize all of your content and files, too. At Studio Lenzing, we basically use Notion for everything but building designs.
First, there are numerous kanban boards in our setup that help us track all stages of a process by using cards for work items, labels for individual projects, subtasks, notes, an assignee to every card and columns for each individual stage of the process. Then, there are multiple check- and to-do-lists that help us keep an overview and stay motivated at the same time. Moreover, we keep different individual wikis to organize our projects and all the content, information and data needed.
Besides, we create and use content templates within Notion, no matter if case study, newsletter or social media content. We also organize and evaluate user testings throughout notion as we can bring charts, notes, videos, findings and PDFs all together, giving access to every person involved and allowing anyone to look up or edit any information. We can create project roadmaps for stakeholders to keep them up to date and make comments, too, if desired.
And, the best part of it: No matter what purpose or topic — Notion allows us to individually customize a board / workspace to the specific needs of a project or subject. We can also share all or just parts of a board / card / list with external stakeholders, freelancers or photographers that we work with. Notion is also the place where we organize and (re)write all of our texts, be it for our blog, social media channels or web projects.
All in all, we think that Notion is a cool brand from head to toe. Nice website, friendly and laid-back tone of voice, great people and — most importantly — independent from big players like Microsoft and Co. We like Notion being quirky and full of character, yet smooth and customizable at the same time. The minimalist design allows projects and ideas to breath and (re)shape, the community and blog have ideas, tips and templates for any possible idea which makes it a lot of fun to invest time to get to know and master this tool.
Then, there is Miro. Miro is a digital whiteboarding tool that we use as interface between Notion and Figma (which we'll introduce and talk about in a couple of minutes). Compared to Notion, which is quite data based and text heavy, Miro likes to keep things easy and short and helps us to brainstorm and organize projects on a meta-level. Using Miro is like scribbling on a sketchblock, but digitally. You can use sticky notes and keep things clean, or draw and write by hand, e.g. on an iPad (which is quite fun btw.).
We use Miro for any workshop that cannot take place on-site, to involve our team or external stakeholders to the process. In doing so, Miro offers a special moderation function and basically gives you the complete feeling of an analogue brainstorming session. When compared to design tools like Figma, where we tend to work meticulously and detailed, Miro's basic design almost forces you to make sloppy designs — which is good, because at this point it's all about ideas, raw outlines and compositions of a project. In the end, you could say that Miro helps you separate between the conception and UI design process of a project.
At Studio Lenzing, we celebrate and honor transparency throughout any process. We like to keep stakeholders and external workmates up to date and involve them as much as possible. At the same time, in view of the experience we have gathered over the past years, we learned that comments and interruptions from outside can stop the creative flow and slow or even block the progress. So, sometimes we use Miro as digitale roadmap to involve non-designers, e.g. projectmanagers etc., in the process without losing our mojo and focus.
Of course, there is Figma, our design tool of choice. We started using Figma ever since founding our Studio, which was about 2.5 years ago. Before, Sketch was our main design tool, which was more than okay, until Figma came with this big moment of aha. To be honest, it kinda feels like there was a "before" and "after" Figma in our daily design life.
One of the greatest aspects of Figma is that it makes locally stored files or file services as intermediate storage redundant. Bye bye to the struggle of finding or asking for the newest version of a project file as figma combines and stores everything within a single tool. Figma makes any project accessible, any time, any place and for anyone. Since collaboration is a core element of Figma, different people can work on the same project at the same time and edit, comment and follow up any progress. No need to think about organizing and communicating the stages and structure of a workflow, because everyone can be involved all the time. Some days, we're 3 designers and 1 copywriter all working on the same screen, using and loving the multi-player aspect of Figma.
Before using Figma, there were different tools for different parts. Sketch, for example, for the process of designing, and a second tool, where the designs and ideas where pushed into for a handover, e.g. for developers or stakeholders to comment or work with. Figma unites any collaboration and covers practically anything a design tool should offer. Also, prototyping doesn't need to be a separate step anymore. Before, it was 1) designing and 2) prototyping. Today, thanks to Figma, we can make responsive content and design and prototype at the same time, and see and think about the tricky parts and gaps to fill. Figma allows you to design in a flow and design the experience, rather than building single static screens.
Similar to Notion, there is a huge community around Figma. Some days, you might look for UI elements for a mobile website in the community and find advice and adapt a given template which helps you save time and also gives a great feeling of being part of something bigger. Let's talk about the comment function for a last thought on Figma. At Studio Lenzing, we have weekly design critiques where we share and discuss the different projects we're working on. Rather than having one person recording everything said in a different tool or on paper, we can simply add anyones thoughts and ideas right to screen we're talking about without interrupting the flow of conversation. Yet, we use the comment function asynchronously, too, when someone is working from home or holidays and not here. Instead of looking for the specific screen or project, you can make comments and tag the parties involved who can take a look anytime later. Jeez, can you tell how much we love designing with Figma?
Slack is probably no news to you people. We still think it to be a very smart and productive tool and would love to take a little dive into how we use Slack specifically over here. Of course, there's everything around communicating with our people. Be it someone in home office or freelancers we're collaborating with, Slack is the easiest tool of getting in touch.
And, especially in times of Covid-19 and less shared time around the office's coffee machine, it's some sort of a social meeting place where we can all take little updates and chat about our thoughts and feelings, too. What we really like about Slack is that is easily connected and combined with other tools and platforms. For instance, we linked our Mailchimp account to Slack, where we have an own Mailchimp channel that tells us when someone subscribed to our newsletter. Just like that, we connected our Typform Survey to Slack, where we can directly see new responses and project requests. Other than that, we also like how easily someone can be reached through Slack, e.g. for a call. Clearly, it is important to keep a certain structure through scheduling calls and workshops, but at the same time, we find it even more personal and formless to go for a quick call when information is needed quickly. All in all, Slack has its ups and downs and definitely needs strong boundaries and an easy team culture without pressure and an attitude of having to be available 24-7, but luckily, we're quite good at that over here.
We know, we talked about presenting 4 tools to you people. Still, there is a little bonus tool that we would love to mention here. It's called Macro and is a very social and approachable add-on to Zoom and Hangouts which are the kings and queens of business calls these days. What is different at Macro? Macro wants to be the social video call addition tool per se. And right now, it looks like they will make it. The people from Macro spent quite some time thinking about how to make video calls more inclusive and transparent for all people - even those ones who feel rather uncomfortable in front of a camera.
Macro focuses on the aspect of togetherness, meaning: who is talking how much, who is interrupting when and why and how often? There are different little impulses and reminders that give a subtle push and make everyone rethink their communicational behavior and patterns. We also like the small and personal team behind Macro, which makes it a project and tool worth the effort of exploring and sharing. If you feel like trying, Macro is currently in beta and happy about any kind of feedback via discord.
In the end, we think that being a good designer is not just about having creative ideas but also knowing and handling the right tools. Hopefully, our thoughts will help you on your very own journey of becoming the best designer possible.