Why design needs version control
Version control is communication, transparency, and consensus
Design is an iterative process that’s increasingly becoming more collaborative and cross-functional. Designers used to live in the world of “creative,” tucked into a cramped back office, with processes that were largely subjective and rarely codified. That world is gone. We've grown up a lot.
While our teams and our toolkits have expanded, we’re still facing a common workflow bottleneck that looks something like this:
- Design teams are working on multiple different file versions.
- Files get exported from one tool and imported into another, duplicated, and renamed. 🏓
- Work is lost. 😩
- Feedback isn’t gathered on the design file, and doesn’t get incorporated.
- Engineers and other stakeholders don’t know what’s changed from one version to the next, and why.
- Time is wasted. Hair pulling ensues. 🤯
- The project ends 📕 and with it, all past work history, decision-making, and commentary is lost.
What would we gain if we reimagined our workflow? Time, creativity, collaboration, increased quality of output, shared institutional knowledge, and more. These are just a few of the reasons why we need version control for design—one place to manage and collaborate on files— and why we’ve made it our mission to redesign the design process.
Version control is the foundation of a modern design workflow
As our design teams grow, we need a predictable workflow to ship great products. Yet, the design tools that were created to make our lives easier still leave us jumping through hoops. We spend countless hours trying to identify which design files are the most recent, which have been approved, what changes were last made, and why.
When designers can’t collaborate on the same file, work ends up fragmented, often accidentally getting overwritten. Feedback gets lost as we try to consolidate it across disparate tools and stakeholders have little insight into when or where to chime in. There’s no clarity, transparency, or consensus.
All modern work hangs in the balance of timing and context. To deliver a great customer experience, design, marketing, and engineering have to be able to speak the same language, in one place. As things stand today, the communication flow between design and other stakeholders can be improved dramatically.
In the last few years, the design tool space has expanded faster than most of us imagined. New tools for screen design, prototyping, generating code, wireframing, and more, have given us the ability to create more things, faster. But this proliferation of tools has actually increased the complexity of cross-functional work, in a time when the creative process is becoming more collaborative.
What would a better design workflow look like? We think it would:
- Allow designers to work collaboratively on the same files, without fear of overwriting or losing work.
- Allow designers to view teammates’ work in progress and explore new ideas from those ideas, without the fear of overwriting the original designer’s work.
- Allow engineers to view and export design specifications directly from approved design files.
- Give designers, engineers, and other stakeholders insight into what’s changed from one version of the design to the next, and why.
- Let designers organize and share designs with stakeholders to gather feedback directly on the design files when they need it, so they can keep working.
- Give designers, engineers, and other stakeholders full access to view and comment on design work in progress.
- Give organizations the ability to onboard new team members faster by reviewing all past work history, decision-making, and commentary in a single location.
- Empower organizations to maintain institutional knowledge as employees leave and teams change, allowing them to remain agile in the face of market demands.
On a very fundamental level, it would allow designers to work together in parallel while maintaining a centralized source of truth that anyone in the organization can access. Version control lets us preserve contextual feedback and surface what’s important, making it easier for us to collaborate with business stakeholders, and ultimately, scale our design process.
Version control for design is collaborative by default
Design requires talent. But it isn’t magic. By introducing transparency and a predictable workflow, we can bring others into our process, helping them understand the intentionality that goes into designing a great product. This requires a major cultural shift for you, me, and every designer you’ve ever worked with. Adopting a version-controlled workflow turns “my files” into “our files.” It’s a “we not me” way of working. And we all have so much to gain from it.
Giving stakeholders more insight and context into our work will make review cycles more efficient. Collaboratively working on the same files with other designers can increase the quality of our output, not to mention, increase consensus and decrease potential blame. Maintaining a centralized, version-controlled source of truth for our work will propel us into a new age of design—one that leaves room for both creativity and productivity.