1 team. 100 tools: How to select the best software for your design team

Whether you’re a designer, marketer or engineer, you want to use the best software for your job. Tools that are a joy to use and designed to help you do your best work.
But sometimes it feels easier to put up with annoying glitches and less than perfect processes rather than onboard everyone to something new.
And it’s hard to really know whether adopting a new tool will be worth the effort, nevermind sorting through all the hundreds of options.
But wouldn’t it be great to know you’ve got the best software out there for your needs, working style and budget?
In the design team at Tangent, we decided to make that happen.
After trying to research what other agencies have done and coming up empty, we set out our own step-by-step plan to research all the possible design tools on the market and narrow them down to the best ones for us.
Here’s the process we went through and the key things we've learned that will help you if you want to do the same.

1. Understand your pain points

First of all, we mapped out our entire design process from ideation to UX to feedback, all the way through to development.
Then we looked at all the different programs we use and our challenges with them.
We were shocked to realize that we gather client feedback across several channels - from email to Slack to Excel documents to Airtable. Which can make consolidating it really difficult.
In a lot of the programs we use you have to save out files for people to comment on. Which makes collaboration difficult.
Software that would solve these issues was really important to us.
Takeaway: Ask your team what they struggle with in order to find software that will make your lives easier.

2. Establish your criteria

In order to actually find the right programs for us, we needed to be able to mark them against objective criteria.
We used our pain points as a starting point and generated a wider wishlist for capabilities.
Along with collaboration, we wanted all the tools we use to integrate with one another and be easy to use so we can onboard people quickly.
Value for money was another important consideration. We had to make sure that we weren't choosing software that was either out of our budget or just wasn't good value for what we were getting.
For us specifically, the ability to create good working design prototypes was also a big one.
Takeaway: Rather than relying on subjective impressions or random feedback, establish basic criteria you can use to assess potential software.

3. Narrow down your options

To kick-off, we literally listed out every single bit of software we could find - and there were a lot.
We didn’t have time to test every single one of them. So to narrow it down quickly so we used our criteria to see which had the right features - immediately discounting those which didn’t.
Takeaway: Have a rough idea of what features you need so you can refine a shortlist list quickly.

4. Test and score each software

So then we thought, well, what's the best way to actually review these tools?
We had good criteria, but how do we make sure that we're actually testing for it in a way that represents the way we work and our processes?
Just clicking around a program isn’t very helpful because it’s not until you start really working with it that you stumble across issues. As with user testing.
With that in mind, we decided the best way to test would be to actually undertake a project.
Two of the team designed a basic music app together to test each piece of software’s collaboration capability. One would begin the design, then the other would finish it, leaving notes and comments for each other as they went.
As we tested each piece of software with our mock project, we listed pros and cons and gave it a mark out of five against our criteria.
Takeaway: Get a few people to test with a real project so you know software is fit for purpose and give it a rating as you go.
Heres an example of our score for Figma:

5. Compare findings visually

We’re visual people, so it made sense to plot our findings visually - using a matrix against our initial criteria so we could clearly see which ones were really performing.
There were quite a few that were good, but as we suspected, our current software wasn’t stacking up well against the rest.
Takeaway: Creating a visual matrix is a good way to see which tools are working.

6. Create the shortlist and agree as a team

To choose the winners, we put together three different recommendations, which we presented to the team.
We wanted to be sure we’d be introducing tools everyone would feel comfortable with.
Our final choice was not only the best for collaboration but it turned out to be the cheapest too. Which was a nice bonus.
Although we’re still using a number of different programs, we’ve consolidated them and know without a shadow of a doubt that they all pull their weight.
Takeaway: Map out each recommendation and debate it as a team.

7. Transition slowly and onboard properly

We decided not to change our whole workflow at once.
When things are busy the last thing you want to do is learn a whole new suite of software overnight.
We’ve made small changes so everyone gets used to using new each piece of software before moving on to the next.
Takeaway: Make small incremental changes and give people time to get used to them.


No programs are perfect and no doubt our workflow wouldn’t work for other agencies.
Only you can tell which software would be best for your team but once you know what your priorities are, you’re able to choose tools that are right for you.
The result of this is tools that make your work more frictionless, efficient and more fun.
Alongside the software refining challenge, we created a new end-to-end workflow and checklist for every project.
This is to make sure everyone is handling each project the same way.
If any of us go off sick it means anyone can see where we are in the process, find the files and pick up our work. The fact that all our software is easy to use makes this possible.
This is all part of our move to Atomic design, which I’ll be sharing very soon.

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This aticle was created based on larger research document created by Maisie Macdonald and Laura Angus.