How Abstract helps Instacart’s design team scale and delight

How does the growing company stay focused on its mission to deliver groceries across North America? By using new tools and collaborative ways of working.

We sat down with Instacart’s product design team to learn how they’re using Abstract to improve their collaboration and design workflows as they grow.

Instacart’s design organization is comprised of consumer, shopper, brand, and user research teams based in San Francisco and Toronto. For Instacart’s design team, the most challenging part of growing so quickly has been introducing practices and tools that optimize for both collaboration and efficiency.

As Instacart’s team grew, they found themselves asking questions like:

  • How do we handle quality gatekeeping?
  • How do we collaborate on files?
  • What should be platform-specific or -agnostic?
  • What about developer handoff?

To make changes quickly, they needed a more nimble, collaborative design system. Then they found Abstract.

Life before Abstract: file sharing & duplicative work

Before Instacart started using Abstract, the design team files felt disorganized. The team’s entire design system previously lived in a file sharing system and managing it was both time-intensive and burdensome. It was also difficult to broadly socialize edits across teams.

The file sharing system also lacked sophisticated collaboration tools and features. Every designer had their own set of files, with sometimes four copies of the same files. And this non-transparent process often led the team to duplicate their workstreams.

As the team continued to grow and change, things became even more challenging. Every time they brought a new designer into the fold, designers had to dig through the file-sharing system and pick and choose what files the new hires saw. There was little context on how decisions were made around each design component.

Instacart needed a way for new and current design team members to easily pull elements from the design system and seamlessly transfer them into Sketch.

Christopher Rudnick from Instacart
Tanaya Joshi and Christopher Rudnick working in Abstract

From closed curtains to transparency, alignment, and speed

The Instacart team can now design and iterate collaboratively. It enables the team to be purposeful about changes and updates and makes it easier to distribute elements, like typography.

With Abstract, Instacart’s team designs in the open and gets feedback early. Now, the designers work in an ecosystem as opposed to a silo.

Abstract allows them to iterate on designs, get alignment, and roll back when they do something they don’t end up liking.

I love having our design system, Snacks, in Abstract. I can make updates easily and have changes rolled out across all of our Projects.

Tanaya JoshiProduct Designer

Optimizing for collaboration

“Abstract helps me see how everyone is contributing to a project. Designers can request feedback, and I don’t need to Slack people; I can just leave comments directly on the files,” says Himani Amoli, an Instacart design manager. Prior to Abstract, using shared drives, it was easy for changes to go unnoticed. Those updated files weren’t always correct, and by the time it was discovered, it was difficult to decipher what the right thing was. Having a trail to follow back and show proposed and accepted changes, was something Instacart needed.

Senior designer Christopher Rudnick says, “I’ve become a lot more organized thanks to Abstract. I’m thoughtful about where my files are. Before Abstract, when someone wanted something, I’d feel dread. Now, I can tell new people that everything they’re looking for is right inside of Abstract. It saves everyone so much time.”

What does the future hold?

As it continues to scale and grow, Instacart uses Abstract to facilitate better workflows and speed up onboarding. Now, when a new person joins the team, they don’t have to go to multiple folders to find the design they are looking for; they can just go into the Abstract Project. And new people can also start contributing much more quickly than they could before.

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