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How MessageBird’s design team used Abstract to make productivity soar

Streamlining process means more time for design
How MessageBird’s design team used Abstract to make productivity soar

Since 2011, MessageBird has sought to build fast, automation-centric communication tools that customers use every day over an increasing number of channels. Today, the company employs nearly 400 workers across nine offices across the globe.

Despite this vast footprint, MessageBird maintains a tight-knit design team, with 20+ members reporting to its Amsterdam office. The team is divided into five clusters, focusing on product, branding, content, research, and DesignOps. 

The design team builds MessageBird’s entire customer experience, aiming to make it as seamless as possible. As the company’s reach has expanded, so too has the design team’s scope and workload.

Today, MessageBird’s design process is more streamlined than ever, but it wasn’t always this way. As recently as a year ago, the team struggled with sprawling deadlines and convoluted feedback processes. Here’s how they’ve used Abstract to improve their design process and productivity many times over. 

Before Abstract: False starts with reforming feedback

As MessageBird grew, cracks began to appear in the design process. They were hard to detect in real-time, but eventually, they became impossible to ignore. Head of Design Lavi Santos says design reviews to stakeholders started to grow more and more painful over time. What they lacked was a single place to consolidate all of their feedback. “There was no link we could send for people to see what was going on in real-time,” he says. “Providing comments and feedback just wasn’t working.”

It had become difficult to determine when a project was finished, and there was no way to see the evolution of process in the team’s design projects.

“It was hard for us to understand, from a design standpoint, where a project started and ended,” Santos says. “We had no framework to tell us things like, ‘What’s the difference between Draft 1 and Draft 2? Is what I’m looking at now the final design?’” 

He finally went in search of a tool to help solve this problem but had some false starts before settling on Abstract. One solution he tried swung too far in the other direction. He tried the product on a small project but found that when a designer activated a public link each stakeholder could see it in real-time. So when feedback came in, it was unstructured and not aligned with the design flow.

“It was overwhelming,” he says. “Sometimes designers had activated the link just to save it, but they weren’t ready to share it and receive feedback for it yet.” 

Santos knew they needed a more sophisticated solution that would help harness version control and give designers the power to decide when their work was ready for review.

Using Abstract to ignite real change

Santos had heard about Abstract from other design leaders in the industry, and it sounded like a promising solution. 

As with the other design tools the team has piloted in the past, the team first tried it on a small project. “We shared that link with the project stakeholders, and it was clear right away that this was a better way to get feedback from them,” says Santos. “Immediately, we could see how it was going to help us consolidate feedback and move forward. It helped us agree about when a project was finished.”

Not only did Abstract help the team streamline the final stages of the design process, but it also allowed them to hit the ground running faster on new projects. “It was easy for new designers to get onboarded. We added feature documentation and design documentation to Abstract,” says Santos. This, he adds, made it much easier for new team members to refer to brand guidelines and understand the specs of any project on which they were working. 

“Abstract helped us to get designers in faster with the way they manage different projects,” says Santos. “In the past, one designer would work on one project, and the deadline would just keep moving out with all the interactions and stakeholders involved. Now, because we have that source of truth, it’s easy for designers to start and manage more projects in parallel because they don’t have to manage the feedback so closely. The productivity of our designers has increased because we spend less time getting everyone up to speed.”

Because we have that source of truth, it’s easy for designers to start and manage more projects in parallel because they don’t have to manage the feedback so closely. The productivity of our designers has increased because we spend less time getting everyone up to speed.

Lavi Santos | Head of Design, Messagebird

Santos says the most significant benefit to using Abstract has been providing visibility into the design process. 

“Before, a lot of our stakeholders had the impression that things just pop into existence,” he says. “They didn’t realize the whole feedback process of iterate, improve, and build. Abstract helped us bring those stakeholders into the process and evangelize design.”

Moving forward with confidence

Abstract helped MessageBird fix the problems they were facing, but it also allowed them to find new solutions to the ones they didn’t even know they had. 

“Someone from my team had the amazing idea to connect a webhook in Abstract with Flow Builder (one of our key Products), so that every time we merged to Master, the design team would get a notification. This helped us become more aligned and connected about the status of projects across the team,” says Santos. Now, there’s more visibility into what they’re achieving and working towards, and they can celebrate what they’ve accomplished as a team.

Having this visibility and a sense of working together has been invaluable as the team has remained remote due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our offices are closed and we’re remote until further notice,” says Santos. “But now it’s so easy to just jump on a call and go through project feedback. You can throw in a comment, and someone will get notified right away.” In other words, they have the checks and balances in place to ensure there’s no loss of communication due to physical distance. 

If anything, Abstract has allowed the design team to get even more work done, even with the limitations of working remotely. Santos says it’s gotten easier to manage multiple projects at a time. 

“Our design leads can manage two to three big products or features at once, and our speed has increased,” he says. “The cognitive overload we were experiencing before, trying to keep track of feedback and figure out which stage our projects were in is gone, and now we can manage these macro interactions instead.” 

Whatever the future brings, Santos is confident about moving forward with Abstract in his team’s toolbelt. Not only can their processes and projects continue to evolve, but so too can their roles. Abstract has allowed each designer to see what they’re capable of achieving without getting dragged down by an inefficient feedback process.