Since it was founded in 2015, Fifth Beat has grown to a team of 40 people in Rome, Milan, and Berlin, as well as the United States. Clients come to the agency to help them with everything from strategy to production and execution. Depending on the client’s needs, deliverables can range from visual design to high level strategy. For the team’s head of design, Francesco Vetica, the opportunity for design to solve business problems is always the most exciting.
Since implementing Abstract in 2017, Vetica says, “We’ve been using Abstract every single day.”
Before Abstract, Vetica’s team struggled with a common design challenge: the inability to track the latest version. Shared libraries were also a problem because “you need to update it every time.” But in addition to these pain points, Vetica’s team has found that Abstract has delivered in bigger and unexpected ways, too.
Shortening review cycles with a more refined workflow
“We started using Abstract as an experiment,” says Vetica. “We asked everyone to jump in and then kept track of how long it took people to go back and forth. We could see the gaps immediately. We started asking ourselves: How many reviews could we save? How many times did we need to change something?”
After using Abstract on two projects, they went all in.
“Our workflow is so much more refined now,” says Vetica. Now, every file is opened in Abstract and all user flows, wireframes, and information architecture resides in Abstract, too. Designers can work in parallel — in branches — regardless of where they are in the world. And they’re able to save time and reduce friction by setting standards and establishing governance using shared libraries. “Abstract is core to our ability to execute,” says Vetica.
At any given time, Francesco can see how many branches are open and have a clear understanding of how much time is needed to complete each design, saving each designer at least an hour of time per day previously spent on pinging designers for status updates.
Accelerating new project ramp times by 20%
Because Fifth Beat is a distributed team, maintaining a smooth workflow and clear governance is critical. “Abstract has decreased the amount of time we spend ramping up on new projects by about 20%, particularly in a newly-remote world and with internal and external team members,” Vetica tells our team.
As soon as a new team member joins the company, their workflow is already set up in Abstract. They can jump right into the work, circumventing an otherwise time-consuming period of onboarding.
“We sit them down to explain how it works and people are frankly amazed. I’ve had a lot of designers tell me that they were ‘doing it wrong before.’ Seeing their projects evolve with Abstract is so satisfying. Managing libraries, files, and communication is just so much smoother,” says Vetica.
In Abstract, you can just see all the updates in the Activity Feed. You can see what’s changed, the history of comments. It’s important to set up a process for starting new projects and establishing guidelines.
Says Vetica, “We don’t have a strict policy on merging, for example, but we have naming conventions for commits. When I change something, everyone knows what and why (without the phone call or Slack message).”
Project teams work on a maximum of two projects. Pre-covid, some teams collaborated in the office. Now, everything is remote. Documentation at the commit level has become more thorough and Abstract serves as a centralized review tool. Depending on the scale of the project, branches can stay open for weeks and merging to master doesn’t happen until changes are approved by the business. For other projects, they create new branches daily. With Abstract’s transparency, project members thousands of miles and timezones apart can follow the work and pick up where others have left off.
Reducing costs and increasing speed to market
“In the first phase of our work, we’re trying to understand a client’s design maturity. In order to make a successful project, we need a baseline,” says Vetica.
One of the biggest areas where Fifth Beat has seen measurable results is around communication. The team no longer has to ping designers asking, “Did you save? Did you update this? Can we have a call?” Clients hire Fifth Beat for ongoing and one-off design projects, but inevitably, a chunk of their allocated budgets (often 15% of the total) go toward the seemingly endless back and forth communications around the work itself.
“The back and forth helps us find alignment with the client, but it doesn’t bring value to the client,” says Vetica.
With Abstract, the team minimized these communications into a new, more streamlined flow that included inviting clients to observe the design process, and enabling both developers and designers to work in a centralized place from the start. Now, they can shift the part of the budget traditionally allocated toward communication towards something value-added (vs. email threads and status calls).
Demonstrating the speed and output of design to clients
Leveraging the visibility of work inside of Abstract has also made it easier for the team to work remotely and offer mentoring services to in-house designers.
“A lot of big organizations are building design teams in house. But not all of them have strong design expertise. That’s where we can come in. We’re able to mentor in-house design teams, helping them set up tools, processes, and governance,” says Vetica. “With Abstract’s transparent workflow, we’re better able to mentor our clients and prove value beyond outputs like visual design.”
With Abstract’s transparent workflow, we’re better able to mentor our clients and prove value beyond outputs like visual design.
Francesco Vetica | Head of Design, Fifth Beat
Ultimately, Abstract has also unlocked another huge benefit: the ability to really “show” the value of design, beyond the final screens. After being added as a viewer in our Abstract organization, one client told Vetica it was the first time they really understood the effort in design. They were amazed at the speed, the output of work, and the day-to-day process of design. They were able to see the structure of the files (even in view mode).
“Abstract is helping us make design less obscure and really educate our clients what goes into the work.”