In an intense one-week sprint, Adobe’s International Design team recently produced a visual collaboration plugin for Adobe XD. Whiteboard focuses on collaborative whiteboarding to help distributed design teams innovate anytime, from anywhere.
With Whiteboard, teams can work together remotely with the help of popular design thinking and agile frameworks as well as freeform drawing, while taking advantage of XD’s real-time coediting.
The creation—and its quick turnaround—came from the team’s own need to collaborate during stay-at-home restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During a recent video-conferenced Adobe Design all-hands meeting, several of us chatted about tools that would be useful for whiteboarding and brainstorming in a remote meeting,” explained Lance Shields, director of International Design and lead of the team who created Whiteboard. “It occurred to us that this sort of tool was something Adobe should have—and with Adobe XD having just come out with coediting, or real-time collaboration, building a plugin was a cost-effective way to test this out.”
Whiteboard changes the game for designers interested in long-distance collaboration.
At a time when most people are learning to work at home, without all the tools they’re used to having at the office, it helps them participate remotely in design thinking. Taking advantage of Adobe XD’s new coediting feature, designers can collaborate, ideate, and visually brainstorm with their teammates from wherever they are.
Even better, they can do it in the same app in which they’re designing and prototyping. This means that they can work in a single document with multiple design artifacts, including brainstorm work, sketches, team management notes, wireframes, UI design, and prototypes.
“Being able to collaborate in real-time and seamlessly connect the dots between conceptualization, product management, and design without having to switch back and forth between software allows a consistent flow and focus in our design work,” said Lorenzo Buosi, design lead, “especially now that our computer screens are the only channel of communication with our teams.”
Design teams can use Whiteboard to help drive remote design sprints. It also enables collaborative UX flows, sprint planning, daily stand ups, and more.
Specific features include:
- Templates—design thinking frameworks (e.g., design tools like empathy maps, customer journey, flowcharts, and card sorting; and team management tools like daily stand ups, road maps, and Kanban boards) to quickly and easily start remote brainstorming
- Customizable elements like post-its, icons, flowchart shapes and connectors, and drawing boards
- Freehand drawing to give teams more freedom to think outside the box and to help in those time when a picture speaks louder than words
“Freehand drawing helps to express thoughts while whiteboarding, but it can also help in many other situations—like product sketching, annotating design, and more,” said Daniel Wagner, engineering lead.
A Productive Week
Adobe’s International Design team is small (five members) and geographically diverse—with members in San Francisco, Tokyo, Warsaw, and Los Angeles. With one out on maternity leave, just four colleagues created the first release in one week.
“We spent two to three days on templates and elements, two days on the UX/UI, one day on the brand and icon, one day on a fun demo video, and the entire time coding,” Shields said. “After launch, we spent two weeks optimizing it and improving it with feedback from both internal colleagues and the broader design community. And sharing it in social media has been key to get the word out.”
“This was an example of great teamwork,” Wagner said. “Everyone had their role—designing the app, designing assets, designing branding, creating instructions, etc.—and we did the ideation together. There were no conflicts on how to design things—and everyone helped where it was needed.”
The team didn’t have time to prototype, so they beta-tested with Adobe Design members while still polishing it and gathering feedback from teams who were trying it out and helping to discover bugs.
In addition to creating a useful product, the team gained insights that will serve them in the future—and that also offer lessons for other teams hoping to tackle similar challenges.
“Giving ourselves a very limited time energized the team and encouraged collaboration and creativity; the excitement drove everyone to create great work,” Shields said. “Also, having an engineer on the team allowed us to try out new ideas quickly, and his technical expertise fed into ideas for what was possible.”
“One of the most impressive skills I learned from Lance was to form an alliance with external and internal parties through early community engagement,” said Hao Jiang, product designer. “Lance engaged many designers through social media, which helped us get valuable feedback on Whiteboard’s design and facilitated the beta-testing. And internally, since many groups became aware of this project due to our community engagement, we also received a lot of marketing, implementation, and management support.”
A Swiss Army Knife for Design
Particularly in challenging times, focusing our talents to create something positive can give our spirits a boost.
“I’m proud to work at a company like Adobe that offers creative tools for all people—whether professionals, kids, or hobbyists—to express themselves in amazing ways,” Shields said.
Whiteboard won’t be a one-off project. The team wants to repurpose the plugin for other remote collaboration use cases—possibly a K-12 learning experience. Further, it is part of a larger project the International Design team is tackling to create UX design tools as Adobe XD plugins to unlock important designer workflows.
“These plugins can tackle different aspects of designers’ work and turn Adobe XD into a Swiss Army knife for design,” Shields said. “Stay tuned for these new plugins to roll out later this year.”
The Adobe International Design Team is a group of international designers, strategists and engineers. They work on Adobe’s own international-first products by rapidly exploring new forms of experiences, products, and business models — as well as extending existing ones. Learn more about Whiteboard on this Adobe Spark page and get the free plugin.