Canvas team design sprint - Abstract customer

Building a design system from the ground up

Canvas’s mission is simple: reimagine car ownership to meet the needs of the modern-day driver. Canvas offers flexible, month-to-month subscriptions to pre-owned Ford vehicles. All of their cars include insurance, maintenance, and warranty coverage. Drivers order a car online and Canvas drops off the vehicle at the driver’s door and picks it up when they are done using it.

Starting from nothing

When the Canvas team was building their beta product for launch, they had no design ops system. No design library to leverage. They had to build everything from scratch. They had to take a number of things into consideration. The team was building a customer-facing product, an internal tool for their operations team to manage customer experience, and they had to ensure a consistent online and offline experience for their drivers.

Workflow before Abstract

Max, Lead Product Designer at Canvas, said that before Abstract they used Google Drive to store all their Sketch files. They used to save these Sketch files with the designer’s date and initials.

“We were so busy building, we didn’t think about our own work process,” he adds. When the team was just two designers, it wasn’t too bad, but there was no recorded history and no easy way to know how the other designer was progressing without a conversation. “No Commits, no notations… I can’t imagine going back to a time when we couldn’t use Abstract,” says Alex Bloom, Product Designer.

We really value transparency with our customers. So we had to think hard about the implications of the decisions we were making now and how they would affect our product down the line as we grow.

Max ChenLead Product Designer

Testing Abstract

The team was not afraid to experiment with Abstract. At first, they all had their own Projects but they quickly realized this wasn’t a great approach. Then they created Projects for each area of the product they were working on – registration, checkout, inventory, etc. This worked fine until they launched because they weren’t collaborating cross-functionally very much. “But after launch, we thought hard about how to set up Abstract and did some major clean up,” says Scott Hutter, Product Designer.

They set up one Master file for their internal facing operations tool. They combined all their smaller branches into a Master that served their entire consumer-facing product. “We don’t yet have an iOS or Android app. When we do, we’ll probably have separate Masters for those.” One Master schema has given them a lot of consistency and control over their work. “The quality and consistency of experience across our product has dramatically improved because of Abstract,” adds Alex Bloom, Product Designer.

Bringing others on board

All product designers at Canvas are using Abstract. Engineers found it easy to adopt and PMs got on board as well. “Our FE engineer loves it. We move so fast and we (designers) are well ahead of engineering, so it’s super easy for our FE engineer to jump in, see our Commit history and our progress.” They also put in a light weight process where PMs and engineers can Branch but only designers can Merge to Master.

Improved collaboration, reduced friction, saved time

At a fundamental level, using Abstract helped the team to know exactly what version of the file they needed to work on. “I didn’t have to dig around to find a time stamped, initialed file in the depths of Google Drive or Dropbox,” laughs Scott Hutter, Product Designer. Abstract also helped cut out hours of time spent on communicating progress.

  • Designers Commit frequently and Commit history allows them to see progress without having to meet and share.
  • Annotations and comments enabled PMs, designers, and engineers to add their feedback in a timely manner.
  • Merging Branches allows the designers to integrate changes into one file easily.

It cut out hours of pixel pushing work that would be manual in any other software.

Alex BloomProduct designer