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How to pilot Abstract Branches with your design team

How to thoughtfully introduce Abstract into your design workflow.
How to pilot Abstract Branches with your design team

A few weeks ago, we taught you how to pitch Abstract Branches to anyone in our first post in a series we’re calling “The Champion’s Toolkit”. If you’ve already spread the good word of Abstract, the next logical step is to get a few folks on your team to start using it, together.

In this post, we’re sharing our best advice for piloting Abstract with your team. We’ll teach you how to thoughtfully introduce Abstract into your design workflow, over a two week period of time. You’ll learn how to get you started and—most importantly—how to get everyone else on your team rolling with Abstract as well. By the end of your trial, you’ll be branching, committing, merging, and setting yourself up for a more collaborative design process.

T-15 day(s): Recruit your design friends

While Abstract Branches is helpful for your personal design work, it’s a game changer for collaboration. Aha moments pop up as you’re working in Abstract Branches:

“Cool! I can see what Shannon’s working on.”

“Wait, why did Andrew do that? Oh, right, okay, yeah - he explained it in his commit message…”

“WHAT?!? KIMBERLEY DELETED EVERYTHING. Oh, what’s this restore button…?”

We recommend recruiting 1-2 fellow designers who are also design tool nerds excited about Abstract Branches.

T-10 day(s): Pick a project

To get the most out of your Abstract Branches trial, you’ll want to start with a specific project (and specific design files) in mind. Look through your design ticket requests and choose 1-2 that follow the guidelines below.

Finite and new

Choose a project to work on in Abstract Branches that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. While it’s tempting to jump into Abstract Branches with two feet, you can learn the Abstract Branches design workflow best when you’re not stuck wading through old explorations or overwhelmed by defining a new design direction.

Few stakeholders (and preferably not the cranky ones 😅)

We recommend choosing a project with a few stakeholders who are down to try something new. This means don’t start by pulling the redesign of your entire website into Abstract Branches. Instead, start with a small update to the Account Settings page, or something similar in scope.

Learning a new tool is enough to ask, without the external pressure of tight deadlines.

Shared with the other trial participants

Pick a project that everyone participating in the trial can contribute to.

T-5 day(s): Understand how Abstract Branches works

Once you’ve found 1-2 other designers and picked your project, it’s time to lay some groundwork to understand just how Abstract Branches works. Before you kick off your trial with your team, all trial participants should:

✔ Watch the 60-min Abstract Branches 101 Webinar

Test drive Abstract Branches with sample files

Once you finish these two items, you’ll have a great foundation to start your trial.

T-1 day(s): Cherry pick the library files and design screens you’ll import

Now that you know which project you’re going to be tackling with your Abstract Branches trial, figure out which library and design files you’ll need to complete your project and locate them. You’ll need them when you start your trial for real.

If you’re anxious about bringing your design files into Abstract Branches, rest assured that Abstract Branches essentially creates a copy of your files within Abstract Branches. Your original files remain untouched  wherever you originally stored them.

T-0 day(s): Kick-off Abstract Branches trial at the start of your design sprint

Today’s the day! It’s time to sign up for Abstract Branches. On day one you should aim to:

Download the Abstract Branches macOS app

✔  Install all latest Sketch & macOS updates

✔  Invite your 1-2 fellow trial participants to join your new Organization

✔  Create your first project
Don’t worry about whether your first project is set up to scale perfectly with the rest of your team. Name the project for the platform of the project you’re tackling in the pilot, e.g. Website.

✔ Add your first files to your new project
You can either build brand new files (recommended) or import just the design screens you need. Make sure you name these files based on what they are, not based on who’s working on them, e.g. Account settings vs. Alden_Account settings page_V5_final.

Import your Library file(s) to the new project
Don’t worry about creating a separate Design System project just yet. For the trial, use your new project as the container for both your design files and your library files.

T+1 day(s): The Abstract Branches design workflow

Now that your files, Organization, and team members are set up, you’re ready to try out the Abstract Branches design workflow: branch, commit, review, and merge.

If you watched the Test Drive YouTube playlist, you’ll understand that in order to edit a design file in Abstract Branches, you’ll first need to create a branch. Do that, and then open your file in Sketch to edit.

Make some edits, and then click File > Save in Sketch. At the bottom of your screen, you’ll be prompted to commit your changes. Do it. Commits are like super-saves, but better. When you commit in Abstract Branches, you’re creating a version of your files that you can return to. What’s more, you get to add context around the changes you made in your Commit summaries, which capture the thought process behind why changes were made.

Abstract commit

When you’re ready to get feedback from your teammates, request a review from them. They’ll be able to practice leaving you comments and annotations, and even approve your designs.

Got sign off from all trial participants? Merge your changes to Main.

T+3 day(s): Role play different use cases with Abstract Branches

When you actually use Abstract Branches with your team, you’ll have designers, engineers, stakeholders, UX writers, and more interacting within Abstract Branches. Task each of your trial participants with acting out one of these scenarios.

✔ How would you get feedback from a non-designer stakeholder? Send them a collection and use annotations to ask for specific feedback.

✔ You need to handoff your designs to an engineer. Send them a link with Inspect and assets included.

✔ Designs are done, but copy needs some ❤️. Pretend you @mention your copywriter in a comment on the layer detail to get their input.

✔ You’re ready for your fellow designs to review your designs. Show them two design directions by creating a collection for each version, and turning off auto-update on both.

T+5 day(s): Dive into Abstract Branches, together

The thing about Abstract Branches is that it’s made for collaboration. Nothing ever gets overwritten. There’s almost always a restore option (just be careful about deleting ❌). And you’re notified anytime one of your teammates impacts your work (by updating a Library file or updating Main by merging).

Try out some messy situations in Abstract Branches, and see just how anxiety-free collaboration can be:

✔ If you like the direction your teammate is going, you can create a child Branch off of their Branch and riff off of their ideas.

✔ For fun, try updating a library file slightly. All of your teammates will receive a notification that tells them Library Updates Available. Never again will anyone have to export / import new library files when updates are made.

Merge your Branch to Main, and watch while your teammates are notified that there has been an update to Main.

✔ Pretend like that last merge was a mistake. Restore Main back to the Commit prior to your Merge.

T+10 day(s): Do a retro + clear up any misunderstandings

Did Abstract Branches work for you? Did it not? At Abstract, we host post-mortems and ask:

  • What worked well?
  • What did not work well?
  • What we would do differently?

Here are some common misunderstandings first-time Abstract Branches users face:

“Why can’t my teammates see my edits?”

At any time, your teammates can go into your Branch and see what kinds of design explorations you’re working on. Projects are open and transparent to all Organization Members. But your teammates won’t see changes to Main until you actually merge your Branch to Main.

“How do I export and save different versions of my Abstract Branches files?”

Many people make the mistake of trying to treat their files in Abstract Branches the same way they treated them before implementing Abstract. Where you used to export files and save different versions (e.g. Alden_Account settings page_V5_final), now you simply commit your changes in Abstract Branches and a “version” is saved. Where you used to backup your files to Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box, now all your files, and your entire design workflow, live in Abstract and are backed up on our servers.

“I don’t want to merge all my files together. I want to keep them separate!”

The language of "merging" can trip up some Abstract customers: When you merge in Abstract Branches, you are not merging files together. Rather, you’re merging the changes you made on your branch to Main. Your files keep their same architecture, and the changes to the file are merged.

T+14 day(s): Roll it out to the rest of the team

Once your trial team is confident that Abstract Branches is right for your team, it’s time to roll it out to the rest of your teammates. Here are our recommendations for a thoughtful, frictionless rollout:

✔ Set up your organization in a way that makes sense for the rest of your design team. Maybe you create projects by platform. Maybe you create a Design System project. Set up sections, where appropriate. The more you can do on the front-end to set up the Organization architecture, the better.

✔ After you’ve set up your organization architecture, run your team through a demo of the work you did during your trial. Make sure to include your retro insights, with recommendations for how your team could best move forward. Use our sample deck as a jumping off point.

✔ Need help getting buy-in? Take a look at our guide for how to pitch Abstract Branches to anyone.

✔ Plan a natural transition time. Choose a window of time (we recommend a month) during which everyone can finish their last project, and naturally transition to Abstract Branches with their next project. The less friction the move to Abstract causes, the more likely it is that your team will actually adopt it.

✔ Work through our “How we use Abstract” Worksheet with your design leaders. Thinking through the questions in this worksheet can streamline the Abstract Branches roll-out.

✔ Create a Google Calendar event for “Abstract office hours” each week for about 45-min and invite your whole team. You can also create a Slack channel or email alias where your teammates can ask questions about Abstract Branches.

Let us know how your trial and team onboarding are going on Twitter.

Read more of The Champion’s Toolkit

  1. How to pitch Abstract Branches to anyone
  2. How to pilot Abstract Branches for your design team — you are here 📍
  3. How to bring your files into Abstract Branches