8 best ways to streamline your design flow

In 2020, the world saw a major shift to remote work, and collaboration tools took off. As a result, collaboration application revenue rose to $22.6 billion.

Collaboration involves teamwork, cooperation, and productivity. But in reality, achieving a successful collaborative workflow can be very challenging, especially when you have supervisors, marketing staff, creative team members, clients, and others all weighing in on the same project from multiple locations or time zones.

Here at Canva, we surveyed 500 owners of small- to medium-sized businesses, and 87% said that they wished the design process was more efficient at their companies. Whether you have too many stakeholders or your design process lacks direction and organization, modifying your collaboration methods with a few effective adjustments can make a world of difference.

With the right tools and streamlined processes, you can simplify your team’s design project workflow and make collaboration easier. To improve collaboration in your workplace, you need to understand the typical lifecycle of a design project and what needs to happen within your team to make sure everything comes together in the end.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Devise a written plan, blueprint, or creative brief
  • Monitor your progress and use automation
  • Review your work with limited distractions
  • Get approval from stakeholders
  • Refine and polish the design
  • Optimize the design for print or online
  • Send your design into the world
  • Give kudos!


1. Devise a Plan

A do and don’t graphic. “Do: Devise a plan. Create a written plan, blueprint, or creative brief.”“Don’t: Improvise. Don't make things up as you go along.”

Sit down with your team and develop a creative brief, which is just a written plan or blueprint for your design project. Sometimes a client or company will come armed with a brief already; in this case, review it with them and fill in any gaps of information. For internal work, you’ll create one with your team. Cover as many details as you can relating to both the design itself as well as the logistical stages of the design process.

Graphic design and marketing:

  • What is the overarching purpose or message of the design?
  • Who’s the target audience?
  • What’s the budget?
  • What’s the desired look or aesthetic?
  • Are there brand or style guidelines that need to be followed?
  • What are the physical specifications? (size/dimensions, color or black & white, required file formats, etc.)
  • Will this design be used in multiple media such as social media and print?

Pricing and logistics:

  • What’s the client/internal budget?
  • What is the scope of the project? (one or multiple deliverables, how many versions or revisions, any ongoing work or maintenance, etc.)
  • Is there a timeline or deadline? (And is it firm or flexible?)
  • Which stakeholders need to be involved in the design workflow?

After you’ve created a brief that everyone can agree on, use it as a reference throughout the design process. Whether you need to develop an Instagram post to promote an event or design brand merch, if you stick to your specified plan, you can avoid conflict and potential bottlenecks. You can also use this plan as a starting template for every new project you and your design team take on.

2. Monitor your progress

After you devise a plan, set up a process that allows you to review and check in on the progress of your design project and all those involved. According to research from Alight, 75% of people say that reducing or managing their stress is a workplace priority. Not only will defining a process help move the project along, but it will also help mitigate stress or conflict in the workplace.

One part of the process involves setting goals that keep your team on track. A common approach is creating “milestones”—small deadlines for when a certain stage of the project will be completed. Depending on the project, you might keep it simple, like a series of drafts—first, second, and final. Or, for a complex project, you might create a deadline for each piece of the design (initial design ideas, images, copy, and so on).

Automate reminders

Use automation tools to set reminders for yourself or others about upcoming deadlines, hand-offs, or reviews. In this way, you’ll be able to keep an eye on the progress of the project and make sure it’s staying on schedule. If you are a Slack user, consider using Slack bots that integrate with relevant project management apps and send you a notification when it’s time for your part in the workflow.

Automation can also help reduce the amount of time you spend on routine tasks. Whether you are onboarding a new member to your design team or hiring a freelancer to help with a project, setting up an automated approval process in advance will make the project much less stressful as you approach the deadline.

3. Review your work

Once you have a final draft, check for errors or anything that may have been overlooked. Go over it with meticulous attention to detail; in fact, have as many detail-oriented people look at it as you can—the more eyes the better. One person may catch what another missed. If the design is particularly text-heavy, you might consider hiring a professional, freelance copyeditor if you don’t have someone with those skills on staff.

If your brand has a brand kit, ensure that your designs include the right brand assets, fonts, and colors. Keep an eye out for typos or other spelling/grammar/copy errors, alignment issues, and conformity to the style guide (if applicable). Additionally, make sure the design matches the brief and meets all must-have requirements.

The designer should be looking for many of these things when finishing a final draft. But the designer shouldn’t be the only person to review a project for errors. It can be hard to look objectively at your own work; designers are likely to glaze over subtle errors since they’re so accustomed to looking at their design.

Limit distractions

Limiting distractions in order to focus is not a new revelation. But every once in a while, we need a reminder. In order to do your best work, you have to turn off all notifications and put your phone and computer on “focus mode.” As you review the design work you and your team have done, give it all of your attention. Research has shown that multitasking “takes a toll on productivity,” so focus on one thing at a time.

4. Get approval from all stakeholders

Make sure everyone who needs to sign off on the design has the opportunity to do so before the design is finalized. If there’s a client involved (whether that’s a customer, another department within your business, etc.), make sure to run the design by that person or group again, even if they’ve already signed off on the brief. Upset clients complaining that they never saw the final draft and requesting more changes (Oops! We changed our phone number and forgot to tell you…) after a design has printed or gone live online is never a good situation.

Transparency is key for open communication and reaching your goals. Throughout the design process, set a regular communication cadence that establishes trust and keeps everyone informed. This might be through emails or on a shared platform like Google Docs. Whichever tools you decide to use, both the project management side and the design itself should be accessible to all.

When you request feedback on designs, one way to avoid miscommunication is to ask for approval specifically. When you ask, “Is this approved?” it causes the other party to take another moment to make sure everything is as it should be. Compliments on your work are always welcome, but they should not be misinterpreted as final approval.

Meet in real time when necessary

At times, productivity tools and communications platforms just can’t substitute a real-time, face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) interaction. When you need clarification, talk in real time (either in person, over the phone, or through a video meeting) rather than emailing or Slacking back and forth. This can help you save time, build better working relationships, and ensure that messages don’t get lost in translation.

5. Refine and polish the design

Compile a list of changes that need to be made that came up during the review or approval processes. Communicate the changes to the designer all at once rather than mentioning them one by one as they pop up. This approach will be more efficient and less frustrating for your designer.

After this feedback has been implemented, you should be at a stage where you have a more or less finished draft, or proof, that’s ready to be finalized. Just make sure no new errors are created while making revisions!

You may also run into interdepartmental conflict. Perhaps a key decision-maker, or maybe a supervisor or someone with a lot of pull in your company, came up with some design changes during the approval process. But if that person doesn’t know a lot about design and the changes don’t really make sense, your designer may come to you with concerns. The revision process isn’t always a smooth one, especially when multiple people are involved. You may need to negotiate changes among your team, letting your designer explain why certain changes do or don’t work, to create the best possible final product.

6. Optimize the design for print or online

Once your design is finalized, you’re now ready to prepare it for publishing or printing.

At this stage, the designer should:

  • Make sure everything is as it should be—no missing elements, placeholder items, deviations from a brand/style guide, etc.
  • Save the design in the appropriate file format, resolution, and color space. (An experienced designer will know what’s needed for various types of projects.) If you’re curious about what goes into navigating technical specifications like resolution and file types, we’ve covered some of the basics here.
  • Double-check that the final product matches the specifications of its destination. If you’re sending the design off to be printed, the printer will likely have particular requirements. Certain browsers have limitations or quirks that also need to be considered for web design.
  • If you plan to launch the design via a social media campaign, schedule it ahead of time.

7. Send your design into the world

For print projects, deliver the finalized file to the printer. The printer may provide a proof of how the design will look in its final, physical form before printing it off. Your designer should take a look at this proof as a last safeguard against any unintentional errors.

For web projects, it’s time to post or publish your design online. If possible, it’s a good idea to test the design before making it public to check that everything looks right and functions correctly.

Ideally, your project will print or be posted online without any complications. But sometimes, your printer can get busy, equipment can malfunction, or web designs need troubleshooting. If at all possible, you should build some extra time into your project schedule as a precaution against these types of situations; then if, you don’t need it, you’ll finish ahead of schedule!

8. Give kudos: Acknowledge the team

The brief has been fulfilled, the design has been successfully completed, and another project has been added to your portfolio. You and your team should applaud yourselves for a successful collaboration and a job well done.

Feeling motivated to improve the design process in your workplace? Try Canva Pro.

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