Image credits

Do your tools complement or hinder your process?

In this article I’d like to share some of my believes on tools. Especially the problem of acquiring more, when reviewing them is more suitable.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS)

A tendency to buy more equipment than justified by usage and/or price.

I like to look for common traits in UX design and photography. A collector of vintage cameras myself, I’ve fallen victim to buying yet another camera when I find one. Only to find myself checking off an item on a list.

When trying to become better at what you do, it’s easy to look for better tools. “If he uses this tool, and shoots pictures that look that good, I’ve gotta have it as well!” But man, what a disappointment. My photographs weren’t getting any better. Perhaps I don’t need another camera?

The thought of replacing certain gear with better/more versatile gear, does cross my mind. Although I never seem to finally do so. I’d like to think that over time, I became too focused on the tools, rather than the problems they solve. I fell in love with the outcome, not the process. Any tool can make my product look shiny and polished. But only my ability to tap into other parts of the process, make a product better.

As a UX designer, I act all the same.

“20 UX tools that will help you rule the world!”

Yet another e-mail with a list of tools, to clutter my inbox. Sure, I will check some of them out. I download a new app, or open another browsers tab. Only to find nuances in the margins. Switching back to only a handful of tools I already used. I laugh: “we’re in the rectangle drawing business”, any tool can do that. But that’s only the tiniest part of our work.

I think to myself: “I always use Sketch and InVision. It does the job just fine.” Don’t forget ‘the job’ is never the same. Sketch and InVision (or X and Y) can not be my go-to for every single project. I happen to know how to control the outcome of my deliverables, with these tools. But I’m missing out on a couple of factors.

If we look at how we measure our success — outcome and aesthetics — it’s easy to forget one very important thing:

Our process

Having more (or different) tools won’t make you a better photographer or designer. Yes it helps you to be versatile and adaptive to the environment. But in the end it boils down to controlling your process. Control the tools you need, and be willing to switch up. Being aware of this is the way forward.

If we look at a classic (business) process components, it’s easy to see the parallels in our daily work flow:

  • Events
    Client presentations, kitchen reviews, team standups.
  • Tasks
    Our day-to-day work.
  • Decisions
    Decisions from various stakeholders.
  • Input
    The feedback we get.
  • Materials
    The files. Yes, we do love our .sketch and .PSD files.
  • Output
    There you go, the result of our love and labour!
  • People
    All the way down here. The people! The colleagues, clients and -oh yeah- end-users.

As you can see the materials we work on (and the tools we use to make them) are only one variable in this sum.

Do your tools complement your process?

I zoomed in om my tools. After that I came up with a list of things I ask myself before I start a project.

Will this tool…

  • Events
    …help me to present my work during client meetings?
    …help me to present my work to colleagues?
  • Tasks
    …get this task done the easiest way?
    …help my team to do this task?
  • Decisions
    help me to review decisions from various stakeholders?
  • Input
    help stakeholders to provide feedback?
    help me gather feedback?
  • Materials
    …be accessible in 1 year from now?
    be accessible to everyone in the team?
  • Output
    help me present the outcome?
    …help me make a realistic presentation of the outcome?
  • People
    help to connect the right people?
    be accessible to every stakeholder?

When reevaluating every tool you have, it’s flaws and strengths will become clear. There is not yet one tool to rule them all. The ability to evaluate which ones are fit a specific job, will make your design work a lot easier and flexible. Let the tools do the work for you.

Is your tool facilitating your process?

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of tools myself. I do want the tools to help everyone in the team to do their work. And I do agree on the following:

We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us.

John Culkin

We choose our own constraints. And we choose to either stick with them, or not. I started out wire-framing in Photoshop. Not using that anymore. Switched to InDesign. Not using that anymore. Used Evernote to document my projects. Not doing that anymore. Firing up Sketch every single time. Not doing that anymore.

Syncing designs to Miro from Sketch to gather client feedback? Yes sir. But next month? Perhaps not anymore.

Go ditch your tools!

Be willing to ditch a tool. Tools have limited options. It’s about facilitating you and your team in making something awesome. It’s a great idea to turn off the GAS every now and then.

Every proces needs different tools.

You shouldn’t be afraid to let go of some tools. Replace them with new ones! Be on the lookout for ways to do less and think more.

Align the tools up to the variables, not the other way around.

And if you like a certain tool, stick with it. As long as it meet your clients’ and teams’ expectations of your work. ’Cause that’s all that matters in the end.