3 Steps to Painless Design Delivery—According to Zeplin’s CEO and CMO

August 10, 2021

SaaS is a world populated by makers. From UX people and engineers, to product designers and copywriters, we’re all here because we love to solve problems by building things.

But it’s no secret that it can be a little tricky getting from design creation to design delivery. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of different teams that all need to come together to make the magic and ship the product.

Luckily for SaaS teams everywhere, there are people out there making tools to help ease this process. OpenView Partner Blake Bartlett recently got to speak with two of them for the OV BUILD podcast: Pelin Kenez and Naman Khan, who are respectively the CEO and CMO of Zeplin, a tool that’s all about making design delivery faster, more efficient, and less painful.

The main problem with the old way of handling design delivery is that, traditionally, the Venn diagram of design and delivery has a tiny area of overlap. The two functions are completely siloed—someone does the design work in a design tool, and then they send the design files or PDFs to the development and engineering teams via email, Dropbox, or some other collaboration platform. The files are accompanied by “red lines,” which include specs on spacing and other information to help explain the design intention.

Anyone who has survived this process can tell you that it isn’t very efficient. Not only is it inherently clunky in terms of communication, it also fails to address the biggest challenge: constant iteration.

To help teams get a grip, Pelin and Naman shared Zeplin’s approach to creating a better kind of design delivery. Learn their three-step approach by listening to the episode below—or scroll down to read the summary.


Step 1. Finalization of the design

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a file named Document-Final-ReallyFinal-Approved-v2.7d. And still, we have to ask, “Is this the final version? Really?”

The truth is, there’s no such thing as “final.” In the SaaS world, you’re always iterating. Think about the apps on your phone—are they ever final? Of course not. They’re always being debugged, updated, and expanded. They evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of the people who use them. As Naman points out, the app you used to book a hotel today probably looks completely different than it did six months ago.

This is why it’s so important to be able to quickly, easily, and reliably tell the developer which is the “locked” version of the design. Because everything is in a constant state of iteration, you need to clearly and definitively identify which version is approved to build and publish. Getting that one piece of information wrong can derail your whole project and cause a lot of wheel spinning and rework.

Zeplin provides the single source of truth in a locked version via handoff+, which not only makes it crystal clear which version is approved to build, but also provides an efficient and thorough way to provide tailored technical specs to developers. The right design + the right specs = smooth sailing ahead.

Step 2. Inclusive collaboration

The second critical piece of good design delivery is the ability to bring an incredible variety of disciplines together in a workspace that actually works for everyone on the team.

This workspace needs to span all the different functions, each of which will have unique needs and concerns. Pelin offered the example of a team working on a login screen: “The developer needs to understand the layout and identify the react components. The engineer is focused on making sure the screen behaves correctly on different devices. And the copywriter needs to understand the context to communicate well with users and manage different variables like localization.”

Like we said before—there are a lot of moving parts.

A workspace that provides truly inclusive collaboration between everyone does more than just address all these disparate concerns. It makes it easy for each team member to do their job by providing a welcoming interface and the specific context and specifications they need to move their piece of the puzzle forward. This is why Zeplin’s multidisciplinary collaboration focuses on delivering an experience that doesn’t require any supplemental training—everyone can just jump in and get to work.

Step 3. Automation and scale

The third piece of a better design delivery approach is about eliminating duplicate work so the team can work smarter, not harder. Too often, a developer winds up coding the same layout multiple times before realizing that it’s the same layout. That wastes time, effort, and budget. (It also aggravates the developer.) While the industry has made great progress—for example, with design systems—that progress isn’t always reflected in how things are done on a day-to-day basis.

The secret to translating broad design system best practices into a hands-on process is to extend them beyond the design phase and into the developer phase. “Design systems tend to be in the design phase where they help designers by allowing them to reuse design elements,” Naman says. “But those systems aren’t moving into the developer world. What we do is take things like design systems and extend them into the developer world so developers know immediately which elements have already been coded.”

Zeplin’s style guides use APIs and webhooks to help teams connect all the components from design all the way to code. To illustrate this, Pelin shared a use case in which a team used Zeplin’s APIs and webhooks to build and automate a workflow that maintains their style guide resources (colors, text styles, etc.) in their code base. When an asset is updated in the style guide (their source of truth for the design system), automation opens a tool request in GitHub to reflect those changes in their code base. Everything stays in sync with minimal back-and-forth between team members.

Design delivery: There really is a better way

Some days, it can be hard to believe that there really is a better way to handle design delivery, but Zeplin (and their four million users!) can attest to the fact that this three-piece approach really works. If you can find ways to wrangle design finalization, facilitate inclusive collaboration, and bring automation and scale to your process, you’ll save your team not only a lot of time and effort, but also headaches.

Meanwhile, to hear more detail about design delivery strategy as well as the inspiration behind Zeplin and the power of their community-driven model, check out the full episode.

Senior Manager of Creative Strategy<br>OpenView

As OpenView's Senior Manager of Creative Strategy Meg leads brand development for the firm. Obsessed with software, user experience and design thinking, she works to understand and scale OpenView's brand awareness through thought leadership content programs including: OpenView's podcast 'BUILD with Blake Bartlett' along with the video series 'PLG123' and 'Weekly Walks with Casey Renner'.