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Introducing Notebooks

Better design collaboration starts with capturing context around decisions
Introducing Notebooks

I’ve been fortunate to be on both sides of the software production process—that is, design and development—for the last decade or so. What I’ve seen during that time is that developer tools have come a long way. Tools for product designers beyond screen design, however? Not as much.

Take Pull Requests as an example, they revolutionized how software development teams work together. When I try to think of a parallel for product design teams, I seem to come up short. Until now.

Abstract Notebooks is a new designer-specific platform where cross-functional teams can gather requirements, review designs, and continuously measure what works, all in one thoughtfully-built space. We built it to help design teams manage the work around the work, meaning all the parts of the design process that aren’t directly related to producing visual assets. 

Although expectations for the results of design work have grown tremendously, traditional design tools focus mainly on the visual aspect of design, as our CEO Kelly Watkins put it in her blog post. She and I share a deep curiosity around collaboration and how to optimize it for teams of all sizes. We want to create better tools for creators. Here’s a look at what Notebooks does for product designers and their counterparts in engineering and product management.

A place for your whole process 

Notebooks make it possible to close your email, Google Docs, JIRA, Notion, and Slack, and start with your Notebook instead. A rich and real-time document editor lets you draft and capture critical information from the very start of your process so you can get everyone aligned on the purpose of a project from day one. 

Use one of the preset Notebook templates as an outline or begin with a blank page to organize your thoughts, plan out your work, and get right down to easily delivering, not endlessly discussing. And, as you move into later stages of the design process, your team can stay up to date with flexible statuses, which you can update to keep everyone informed of your progress and on track with your journey.

Design reviews, but better

We spoke with thousands of product designers about where they experience the biggest inefficiencies in their process. Managing feedback was a particularly sore spot. Product designs and user flows can easily encompass upwards of 20 screens. Feedback and reviews often take place in a series of endlessly recurring meetings that often lead to delays.

With Notebooks, you can instead import artboards, frames, and components directly from tools like Figma and Sketch (or drag and drop multiple image formats like PNGs and GIFs) and then request reviews as frequently as you need them. Using the prose and context in your Notebooks, you can better guide viewers and reviewers through your work—whether that’s a fellow designer or a member of the product team. Finally, with the ability to tag reviewers directly and automate the feedback process through a robust notification system, you can know what your reviewers are up to in real time, while the design is happening. No more drive by comments or random interjections: Notebooks keep everything important out in the open, and let you work in peace.

As the work unfolds, and particularly at scale, design teams should have an established track record of conversations, but there hasn’t been an easy way to keep track of these conversations in context with the work. Teams who rely on Notebooks can build their collective knowledge, capturing design decisions, enabling new members to get up to speed faster, and increasing transparency for everyone. Having access to this kind of history is absolutely critical to helping everyone understand when, where, and why specific decisions were made.

Integrates with modern development and collaboration tools 

Beyond connections with popular design tools, integrating with GitHub from the get-go was important to us, as we wanted to ensure that Notebooks help you track an idea all of the way from concept through to production. Once you’ve linked your GitHub account, it’s as easy as copying and pasting a link to a GitHub Issue or Pull Request, and Abstract will automatically grab the related metadata and keep it synced as the software development process unfolds. Now all of your project status is in one place - your Notebook. 

We’re also rolling out integrations with other tools used in the product development process, like JIRA and Slack, so that you can update everyone from one place and keep unnecessary and redundant communication to a minimum.

Intelligent insights for design leaders 

From a leadership point of view, understanding a design team’s core competency and capacity can be extremely hard given that design work today can be scattered across teams and tools.

Notebooks offers an insights dashboard that teams and leaders can use to understand what’s currently in flight for their teams and whether they’re spread too thinly across too many projects. The dashboard also helps leaders see how their teams are spending the majority of their time: For example, are they focused on updating or discussing designs? Are there specific parts of our process that move faster than others? Are designers getting the feedback they need on time to meet deadlines? And more.

With this level of information, leaders can find best practices with data and ensure all of their teams benefit. As a result of improved processes, they can reduce time to market and ultimately increase their customers’ happiness. 

Notebooks make design work 

Product designers deserve modern tools that are flexible and substantive enough to facilitate the complexities of the product development process. Notebooks make it possible for you to execute as an organization beyond your current capabilities -- because fractured tooling and excessive circular talk wastes time. We can’t wait to see what you build. 

Try Notebooks on your next project. And while you do that, we’ll use your feedback to keep improving Notebooks for the future.  

If you’re interested in building a better process with Notebooks, chat with our team.

Want to know more on how Notebooks work? See our help center for documentation and guides. 

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