ARTICLE: Trevor Minton

Evaluate your UX design tools to amp up efficiency and innovation

Your EdTech company’s UX team relies on digital tools to do their jobs, from design work and prototype creation to UX testing and managing internal workflows. Chances are, your team is fully dialed into a suite of tools that works reasonably well for them. Sure, your tools aren’t perfect. But the familiarity you’ve gained with them enables your team to create smooth, efficient workflows. 

Or do they?    

Stop and look a little closer. Your team may be using more workarounds than any of you realize — workarounds that are so deeply ingrained they no longer even seem like workarounds. If that’s the case, then your existing tools may be a lot less helpful than you think. They may be subtly eroding your team’s efficiency and keeping them from reaching their maximum potential. 

Remember: Your technology doesn’t just facilitate your work. It meaningfully shapes the way you work. With a little digging, you might find that some of your team’s ongoing process pain points and troublespots can be wiped away with new tools rather than new workflows.

Why UX Teams Settle for Suboptimal Design Tools 

No UX team sets out to assemble a suite of less-than-ideal tools. At the time your UX team selected your current technologies, they were the best of the best. Over the years, new and better options have almost certainly arisen. Yet the investment you’ve poured into your current tools (and the workflows they support) mean you may have been reticent to make a change.  

All organizations eventually succumb to some level of “tool inertia.” After all, the process of evaluating, selecting, learning, and migrating to a new tool represents a pretty major lift. One that falls outside the bounds of your day-to-day work responsibilities. 

As a result, your UX team may make do with the same set of suboptimal technologies for much longer than they should. They know what they don’t love about their current tools. And they’ve invested energy in adapting “good enough” workarounds that, before too long, seem like inherent parts of the process. They realize they could probably be more efficient or effective with an enhanced toolset. But they stick with the status quo, anyway. It makes sense. Doing so is cheaper, less disruptive, and less time-consuming. 

Don’t be lulled into complacency. In the long run, tool inertia exacts a heavy toll in the form of inefficiency and unrealized innovations. 

Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain: How New Tools Can Drive Efficiency and Innovation

The main reason you shouldn’t be overly loyal to any one tool or technology is that, in doing so, you unintentionally limit your team’s capacity in ways that won’t become fully apparent until you make a change. 

In part, legacy tools can only hide inefficient hacks and workarounds to the extent that your team exerts the energy necessary to make up for them. The fact that your team is excellent at solving problems on the fly enables you to make hay in spite of disappointing tools. But that same admirable quality may be masking deeper problems. 

Migrating to a new set of tools will almost always equal short-term pain. You’re bound to experience some friction while you are making the shift. That’s true even if you know that you’re ultimately upgrading to a better solution. 

But that short-term pain will pay off in the form of long-term gains in both efficiency and innovation. 

Of course, you’ll likely gain efficiencies simply by virtue of using a newer, better tool that offers baked-in capabilities that your legacy tool didn’t offer. But that’s not all. The process of transitioning to a new tool (or tools) represents a unique opportunity to review your team’s existing processes and workflows. Simply reviewing alternative technologies may uncover workarounds and hacks that you didn’t realize your team was making. This gives your team the opportunity to not only adopt better tools, but better practices, as well. Finally, when you eliminate the time your team spends compensating for inadequate tools, you can apply that valuable energy to project work and innovation, instead. 

Our team experienced this very same phenomenon when we switched from Sketch to a newer design tool called Figma. Because Figma allows for a more collaborative design process than Sketch (or its predecessor, Photoshop), we found that our team was suddenly able to more efficiently collaborate internally and more effectively communicate with stakeholders, too. The short-term pain of migrating to Figma was well worth the headache of learning a new tool. 

Plan to periodically review any new tools and technologies that are accessible to your UX team. This will enable you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening and identify the right time to make a switch.

Your Most Pressing Process Pain Points Could Be Addressed with New Tools 

Most UX teams are aware of their existing tools’ limitations. But they may be so accustomed to making do with the tools they have that they don’t know the extent to which those tools are really holding them back. If your UX team is plagued by any of the following issues, it may be time to seriously consider your technology options: 

  • Scattered files. Are your files scattered across multiple locations, source applications, or steps of the process? For example, are you using one tool to create a source file, another to facilitate team collaboration and sharing, and yet another for interactive overlays and prototypes? Perhaps it’s time to check and see if there’s an all-in-one tool that enables you to do all of the above. 
  • Version control and compatibility issues: Installed desktop software introduces a lot of risk in the form of version control and compatibility issues. If your tools need to be manually updated, you may experience turbulence related to out-of-sync updates across team members. This threatens the security and stability of your team’s files and can even lead to lost work. Might another UX software tool eliminate this issue altogether? 
  • Low-fidelity prototypes that require too much explanation. When your UX team shares prototypes with stakeholders, are they using more hand motions than a game of charades? Do they frequently ask stakeholders to imagine various actions taking place rather than actually producing the intended effects within their prototypes? If your UX prototyping tools don’t allow your team to demonstrate the intended flows and functionalities, you risk confusing stakeholders and undermining their confidence in the final product. For the same reasons, low-fidelity prototypes that require too much explanation can stand in the way of getting the most meaningful user testing results
  • Your design team is working in an isolated silo. Many UX teams find that while a project’s initial, exploratory phase is highly collaborative, everything changes when the design team starts to execute UI details. Of course, some degree of isolation is inherent to the design process. But your tools may be exacerbating it into a problem. 

Your UX team’s considerable talent — not your tools — should be the limiting factor on communication, collaboration, and innovation. By ensuring that your team doesn’t succumb to “tool inertia,” you can safeguard your EdTech company’s place at the front of the pack.

  • Photo of Trevor Minton
    Trevor Minton

    As Vice President of Product Experience at Openfield, Trevor collaborates closely with our clients and ensures that our team delivers world-class design thinking and execution that results in strong emotional connections between users and digital products. He is passionately enthusiastic about music, local and international soccer, automotive design and racing, and getting under the hood of his old but new-to-him BMW to keep it on the road for another couple of decades.

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