Collaboration Tools

Panel: Collaboration Tools
Abby Covert, Staff Information Architect at Etsy
Jenny Loza, Senior Product Manager at Atlassian, Inc.
Tomer Sharon, VP and Head of UX at WeWork
Marcin Treder, CEO at UXPin

From the Design Operations Summit website:
We have all heard the old saying “communication is key” but as the landscape of technology widens so do the options we have for communication tools using that technology. To talk about the challenges and opportunities that our organizations face when solving the communication conundrum, we have invited three people working in three different areas where communication is key for organizations with designers: research insights, workflow management and design systems management. Facilitated by Abby Covert.

Tomer is head of UX at WeWork, and he was at Google before that. He is going to share his work on Polaris – which changes the atomic unit of research. Jenny is senior product manager at Atlassian. She is sharing her experience working on Stride, which is a new communication tool that turns talking into doing. Finally. Marcin shares his experience working on UXPin. Lou facilitates.

If you had a magic wand to change one problem 0what would it be and why?

Tomer – He would like to make one system.

Jen – The amount of noise. A lot of itme these tools bring more noise. IT’s hard to stay up to date, concentrate, and make time to get your own work done.

Marcin – To him that means true professionalization of their field. There is translation – we are always trying to go from images to code. Try to eliminate that translation. ANd the second would be how to connect design activities to research – that is a crucial problem.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned?

Marcin – Seven years since we started, and back in 2011 we had a romantic vision of collaboration in design. But they learned that (especially in big companies) there was a need for control over collaboration. So they launched an approval / sign-off feature. And people still want comments that are only visible to a sub-set of users. So permissioning. HE was suprised about the desire of a measure of control in the process.

Jen – Control in the feedbac process, too. YOu think that you have something that makes sense, so you open it up for feedback. INitially, it felt like we woudl ask for feedback from a specific subset of people – design and engineering leads, for example. But having more collabortive tools has opened the feedback loop up for everyone. People are excited, feel a sense of greater ownership that they can get feedback at every phase.

Tomer – suprprises him that there are design or reserach facotires. But there is no one intent to go above the daily work, to make meaning ouro f different htings that your’e learning – innovate or dcome up with new designs based on that. Everyone is tunnel visioned into what they do. There are very few places where there is broader lense.

Does the process drive the tool, or does the tool rive the process?

Tomer – it doesn’t really matter to him, as long as things change.

Jen – The best tools will push you to an idealised process. And they can help shorten the lifespan of what you are trying to do. For exmaples, teams workign in Waterfall or Wagile. YOu work together, then people go off and do their own thing. THe best tools cna keep that cycle going over and over. But the tool in this space don’t effectively timebox the discussions, so people can produce.

Marcin – to comply or inspire – that it the question. The closer we are to the balance, the better the comnpah will grown and satisfy customers. So we tend to think abotu where industry can / shoudl be going, so we wan tto push that further, help companies scale their design practice. But in pratice, when the team is focused on optimization … we also look for trends in the research. For example, design syste4ms emerged two yeuars ago.

What are the themes that you hear people asking of collaborative tools?

Tomer – some people just want answers, so we need to barter with them. But they ask to not have to use the tool.

Jen – what people are asking them most for is to hep them get to what really matters. Making sure that people who are using collaborative tools have a way to filter out the noise and get the information they need to get their day-to-day job done. Collaboration is not a goal in and of itself – it’s an enabler. So they are looking to get to their goal, getting their interfaces implemented (if they are engineers). How to look at a mountain of information, distilled down just to what I need for my job.

One of the great things about Agile and collaboration tools, you can separate the work out into different phases. something like Slack – they are in different phases of what they are doing here. There are people who prepared content ahead of the event, we can control access. Her team is very heads down getting the last bugs squashed before her product ships in two weeks. As a product manager, she is looking ahead to the next feature – and keep them sheltered them for that.

Tomer – he didn’t have a lot of support to do work that was not core product.

What kinds of objections do you face?

Marcin – most collaboration tools are cloud-based, so there were concerns about security. But he is seeing less of that now. But there are a lot of issues about control. Collaboration in agile is a dream for them all but realization of the dream. Average tenure at Google, Facebook Twitter is 8 months. But under those conditions it is difficult to require trust, and agile requires that.

Jen – to put the Ops into this. Something that has really changed is that there is a top-down process where there was a giant IT organization that determined what tool(s) you used. But cloud-based tools now enable teams to find things that work for them, bottoms-up. Things aren’t as prescriptive, IT drive as they were. But Ops hasn’t killed IT. There are companies have to have some control about technology spend, consistent usage.

It seems that we might default to design teams making decisions, which spread. But it seems important to bring cross-functional teams together?

Tomer – designed it so that anyone doing something that needs a user can learn more. We have tons of architects, interior designers. But there are others in their technology group.

Jen – the teams she’s worked on in the past have lots of different consumers and the outputs of those tools. And each has very different needs. But designers want to have a big picture view. They learned things like engineers want to be able to copy and paste things, they want to see the delta but not all the details. Quality team needs to know how something is supposed to behave and show them. Documentation needs to know that too, to write user guides. What things should they be highlighting.

Marcin – design is not only limited to designers. Their biggest teams have non-designers in them – a team of 200 business analysts. And they should – with the help of designers, of course. They are part of the creation process, they should be able to work together.

What’s the toughest nut to crack, that you wish you knew the answer to?

Marcin – on the technology end there are some real challenges. Some teams have made a ton of progress – Airbnb. But it’s something hard to do. And he would like to see agile development be more prominent in large organizations. But there is no one tool that enables that. Many teams want to be agile, or more agile, or more cross-functionally close. Tools will eventually get there. But they have to be supported by executives and that is the hardest nut to crack.

Jen – it’s hard to get people to stop once they start. People working on the same things all the time. When do stop talking about it, and when do we start doing it. When do we declare it done?

Tomer – understanding what matters. Building and launching another system in parallel to Polaris. They have a UX score. So they can score the experience of using coffee, and then you can see a YouTube list of people talk about coffee. But we work on hundreds of things. Does that matter? Some people couldn’t care less – they wouldn’t even answer your question. At WeWork what is important to measure – and then how to measure.

How to help Pinterest with their many collaboration tools?

Jen – The best things will bubble up to the top. Don’t be afraid to give feedback. She gets on Twitter and listens to people complain about her product.

Marcin – they had to decide between two chat apps. We have the coordination of multiple inboxes and tools, and it becomes hugely problematic. At some point Pinterest will have to choose.

What is the biggest future opportunity in the operations space?

Jen – having time to focus to get the work done. We are all inundated with information, so it needs to be distilled for what is relevant for me to do my (core) job.

Marcin – there is a revolution is already happening. Design tools need to recognize the need for design systems, and they are easy to create. Or, with design libraries. We are hearing the need to bring design and code together. And then bringing research and design closer together. If you have all these tools, will we be able to use AI / assistive technology to do the work in a different way.

Tomer – systems and machines. Polaris is a why machine. And the scoring is a what machine. How the organization chooses what to do is key. If we understand through the what machine that there is an unhappy user, the why machine helps us act on it. And if it’s a machine, it should be happening instantly so we can address it. There are opportunities like that everywhere.


Each team works differently. We have talked about culture and workflow – you need something that fits the team. That blurs into tools. JIRA allows a high degree of customization. In his company there are people that just build custom workflows for intake. Will design tools have a single process, or will they be flexible? Can we bespoke the tool itself?

Jen – great question. Yes, tools need to be customized not just to their workflow, but for the consuming organization as well. Being able to view and comment on a screen in Sketch is important. Tying different tools together in a way that enables your team to work in the ways that they want to work.

Marcin – Sketch is popular in part due to the ability of developers to customize the tool (that, and the end of Adobe Fireworks). Team workflows are complex, and need to be supported. Do we comply or inspire? Every tool company needs to find that balance. That is one of the biggest challenge. We want to inspire, but we want you to feel comfortable.

How about AI and Machine Learning? How might it impact design collaboration tools, now and in the future?

Design has similar structure to a language. And with design systems we can see that in action – nouns, adjectives, sentences. You can imagine a design system that exists on a meta-level. It doesn’t have well designed adjectives, but it has structures of experience. So AI could bring those together. But to do that, we would need to test and digest research. So first we need design systems tooling. and then we need to connect it to research and tell the machine to make sense of that. I want a sign-up form, and maybe the machine goes and retrieves the information it needs to create that. It might suck to be a designer at that point. DIdn’t say anything about the timelines, though …

Tomer – I am a sceptic.

Jen – Having a system that knows when I am wanting inputs, versus when I am heads down and don’t want to be interrupted. And then being able to do the same for those we collaborate with.

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