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5 lessons on effective design processes from teams who use Canva

Whether it’s a pilot following a checklist to safely turn off a failed engine or a surgeon following steps to save a patient’s life, a predetermined process makes professionals more efficient at their jobs.

The same goes for the design industry: effective workflows and processes increase productivity and efficiency for designers. However, not every design team leader has an effective graphic design workflow. The switch to simple workflows that optimize production and collaboration with other departments can make a huge difference for a company.

In this article, we’ll look at five lessons on effective design workflows with examples from actual Canva customers.

Table of Contents

1. A single source of truth guides your design process

The first step for an effective design flow is to compile a document where all resources, guidelines, and information lives. Some design teams refer to it as a “design wiki,” while others may call it a design guide. The point is that it acts as a hub for everyone on your team or any stakeholders involved in your design projects.

Resources to include in your “one source of truth”:

  • Your company’s design principles
  • A brand guide with design specs
  • A brand kit that contains all your brand assets
  • A projects section with a link to specific design folders or documents

For design teams using Canva for Teams this main resource is helpful for developing smoother relationships between designers and marketers. When both teams have access to a resource hub, they can easily add and adjust relevant information as needed. For example, if a marketing team member takes a look at the design brief and notices that a key aspect of the marketing campaign is missing, they can address it immediately. Not only will this prevent unnecessary work for the designer but removing team silos will also improve communication between marketers and designers.

Create a “Table of Contents” style resource that includes all related design resources, documents, templates, a link to the brand kit, and other relevant information. Give access to everyone on your team as well as other teams involved in your project. Again, this is a working document that can be updated and adjusted in real time.

An example of a table of contents-style list of resources for the design team. It includes resources for design guidelines, brand kit and brand asset links, templates, and more relevant information.

A design wiki or resources page can be created and regularly updated with Canva.

A flowchart or workflow diagram is a good way to give your team a big-picture overview of design projects. A design workflow will outline the steps of the design process from the first brainstorm to the final product. This transparency into the team’s process lessens confusion across teams.

2. Templates maintain consistency and efficiency

Branded team templates will help you and your team maintain consistency and efficiency while reducing errors and increasing productivity. Templates that are designed to be quick and easy to adjust cater to both your design and management/task-oriented needs. Depending on the type of design project you are working on, your team may need multiple design templates.

Plan ahead with project management workflow templates

If you haven’t already, create templates for common administrative and project management workflows. For example, each time you have a new design project to work on, you’ll start with your design brief template. This fillable template will include space for the main objective of your design project, the target market, graphic design specs, links to your brand kit, and links to folders for other assets. You may also want to leave space for specific examples of dos and don’ts. Lastly, include a timeline that will let the team fill in a deadline for the project and all deliverable dates.

Other types of projects or workflows that may need templates include:

A screenshot of a Canva OKR template within the Canva platform.

Adjust a Canva OKR template to meet your team’s needs and designate it as a template for each new project.

HubSpot achieves brand consistency with visual design templates

Not only will pre-made visual design templates save your designers time, but you’ll also ensure consistency across campaigns and content types. HubSpot uses templates, along with its design guide, to convey a consistent brand image, but its team still generates novel designs from these templates.

Prior to using Canva, HubSpot’s design team had brand consistency issues. When they decided to build their design system in Canva, they saw major improvements in consistency, efficiency, and productivity. HubSpot used Canva’s brand kit feature and organized its assets into folders. This centralized brand asset system prevented design bottlenecks and slowdowns.

“There’s so much rapid scaling happening, the only way for a design team to keep up is to create infrastructure around design. Canva has been the perfect solution for that without having to build something custom on our own.” —Jenn Proud, Head of HubSpot’s Global Marketing Design

A screenshot of HubSpot’s Canva account showing its templates page.

HubSpot uses Canva to create templates and a brand kit.

Later, HubSpot streamlined and organized a list of 600+ templates that the company then shared with all its marketers. These templates are used for social media, email, webinars, landing pages, and more. As a global company, HubSpot uses Canva to organize a design workflow with localized templates. This process allows teams around the world to be more self-sufficient and avoid continuous requests for content geared toward multiple target audiences.

The company also uses Canva’s role designation feature and template locking options to prevent unwanted changes. The company also opened a Slack channel for troubleshooting and template requests.

Ideally, your templates will cover the breadth of your content types and needs. But the larger your organization and the more project variation you have, the more likely template creation and adjustments will be necessary. Develop a system for capturing template requests and needs as they evolve and as you experiment with workflows for your design team.

3. Brainstorming with real-time, collaborative graphic design tools leads to better ideas

When you brainstorm with your team on a design project, a real-time collaborative tool helps you create rough sketches, outlines, or mood boards for your design ideas. Depending on the type of project, you might create mockups of the final product/design or create a blueprint (wireframe) of the web design or larger project. If everyone involved has access to the same design—even as it goes through different iterations—you can make progress quicker with less back-and-forth communication.

Hero Creative keeps its arsenal of tools simple with Canva

Real-time collaboration becomes even more crucial as more and more teams work together remotely. However, if you use too many tools at once, keeping up with everything becomes more work than doing tasks solo.

For example, Canva customer Hero Creative used to rely on in-person collaboration. When your coworker is next to you, it’s relatively easy to quickly ask for files or other information. But when Hero Creative transitioned to remote work, collaboration became more challenging. For one, the company used too many tools that didn’t allow for teams to work together in real time.

In the foreground, a Hero Creative employee sits at his desk. On the computer screen is an image of the Canva platform with a mood board design.

The Hero Creative team creates a mood board on Canva to plan ahead for a design project.

Once the company switched to Canva, Hero Creative no longer needed multiple meetings or passed around different versions of its ideas. Instead, Canva allowed for real-time co-creation, design, and feedback.

“To say Canva is a game-changer is a massive understatement. It has reinvented how we communicate and express our ideas and opinions with people and our clients. It’s a vehicle and a vessel for robust storytelling, and it’s also transformed our ability to expedite projects on our end and do it very efficiently.” —Mark Davis, President and Creative Director at Hero Creative

The mind map technique keeps ideas organized

A mind map is a visual design configuration that will help you and your team organize your ideas during a brainstorming session. By making quick associations between concepts, you can generate a visual web of ideas. Get creative with your mind map with various design tools that make it easy for everyone on the team to interpret and build on your mind map.

For example, in Canva’s mind map templates, users can color code their ideas and create concept clusters in a product design mind map. In your mind map, choose consistent shapes, styles, and colors to organize your ideas. But keep in mind that this should be a working document. Team members can add or adjust the mind map design and its contents to develop new ideas. Canva’s commenting and tagging feature is a convenient way for users to leave notes and feedback right on the mind map design itself.

A screenshot of Canva’s mind map resources, depicting how you can adjust the colors of the mind map.

A mind map can help your team brainstorm new ideas and develop a plan for a design project.

Remember, your mind map should provide your team with a big picture of the idea, not an exact plan. Have fun with it, and use it to keep your brainstorming sessions on track.

4. A roadmap makes progress on tasks transparent

Design team leaders who track and share team progress are more likely to be prepared and productive throughout the entire design workflow process. Internal transparency has been found to increase resiliency to setbacks and enhance the equal distribution of knowledge and resources across an organization. An effective design process includes a collaborative roadmap that every member of the team updates as they make progress on tasks.

Your roadmap can be organized according to deliverable deadlines, individual task status, or a combination of both, along with other relevant progress markers. For example, if you decide to track according to task status, use categories such as “in progress,” “waiting for approval,” or “delivered.” Then, ask each team member to move their task along the roadmap with each step they take. They can tag you and include notes to update you and keep everyone on the team informed on their task progress.

A screenshot of a list of team tasks as they progress along a roadmap indicating which tasks are “in progress,” “waiting for approval,” in “final stages,” and “delivered.”

Use a Canva template to create your team’s task roadmap and keep everyone on the same page.

In Canva, when team members reach project milestones, they can directly link to the corresponding design or updated file. Then they can use Canva’s commenting and tagging feature to address their lead or the next member of the team to provide feedback.

5. Quality design feedback makes the team better

Use Design Approval workflows directly in Canva to ensure your team’s designs are reviewed and approved before they’re published.

Regular quality design feedback helps you and your team improve processes and designs. Your feedback process may differ according to the specifics of your project. For example, the approval process may involve multiple stakeholders that need to get their eyes on your design at different points throughout the project.

But whether you are midway through a project and request feedback on a deliverable from a manager or are ready to present a final product to a client, the process should follow a similar formula. It will look something like this:

  1. Explain your objective and what will be reviewed.
  2. Share the design and reasoning for your design decisions.
  3. Find out if the reviewer needs any clarification.
  4. Present the questions you’d like the reviewer to address in their feedback.
  5. Review the feedback.
  6. Ask clarifying questions.
  7. List next steps for revisions based on feedback.

Quality feedback requires designer preparation

As is evident in the steps above, a design feedback process is not simply an open-ended request for feedback. Prior to requesting feedback, follow these tips to avoid receiving feedback that steers you in the wrong direction.

Communicate the project’s objectives: The goal or problem you are solving with your design should be clear. Without clarity, the feedback you are given may not lead you in the right direction.

Limit options: If you want feedback on the size or color of an element, don’t offer unlimited options. Instead, narrow down your choices to a top two or three and only include those options in your request. This will make the decision easier for the person giving feedback and your team.

Ask for specific feedback: The type of feedback you need will depend on the design stage. Ask specific questions to prompt actionable feedback that gives you clear direction. In other words, if you want feedback on color choices and you simply ask, “What do you think?” you might get feedback on the typeface instead.

Support your design decisions: Be prepared to answer questions that will address the reasons behind your design decisions. Whether you need to provide research, examples, or other information, prepare ahead of time and be confident in your choices.

Seek out constructive criticism: Find out what is unappealing or could be improved about your design from experts or people you trust with design knowledge.

Skyscanner’s rebrand prompts a public form of feedback

Design teams cannot always respond to feedback from their audience. However, in the case of a rebrand, the stakes can be high to get it right. When Skyscanner decided to go through a rebrand, they used Canva to create a new brand aesthetic and tone of voice.

“The results were a successful, on-time launch of the new brand with a public response that skewed positive — a rare thing for major rebrands, the negative backlash is often dominant and loudest.” —Judson Cowan, Senior Design Manager at Skyscanner

With each new design iteration, Skyscanner took advantage of the Canva commenting and tagging feature to give each other feedback on the design process. Rebrands are always incredibly challenging, but the graphic design workflow and feedback process Skyscanner implemented with Canva provided a smooth process from start to finish.

Had Skyscanner’s rebrand gone poorly or received negative feedback from its audience, the company might have chosen to reevaluate its branding decisions. In the same way that your design team processes internal feedback and iterates on it, your team may need a plan of action for certain major responses from your audience.

Stick to the workflow design process

As you and your team get more accustomed to your design workflow process, it can be tempting to skip steps or put them off until later. However, if you want to improve productivity and avoid errors in your work, create a checklist for your workflow and make sure that you stick with the design process so that you don’t go on autopilot and accidentally miss an important piece.

If you find that shortcuts or omissions would enhance efficiency or productivity, suggest a revamp of your team’s workflow steps. You can always improve your current graphic design process. Just make sure you’re not cutting corners for the sake of saving time. You may find that time saved now turns into wasted time later and a whole lot more headaches than you expected. Sticking to your design workflow will help your team supercharge productivity and deliver to the utmost of your capabilities.

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