I am a designer in an Arranged Long Distance Relationship

A reflection: I never thought I would be the one in an arranged long distance relationship

A couple of weeks back, I was got some news, terrible news. My relationship was turning long distance. Let’s go back a bit. Last October I met my now ex-partner. I was given a week’s notice, but I remember at the time it put me into a bit of a frazzle. Would I like her, would she like me? Would we get along? Would she share my strong love for cheese? Would it work out? Would I be able to understand her Canadian accent?

‘She arrives in a week’.

It felt like a mail-order bride, the way it was said to me, but I’d never heard of a Canadian mail-order bride,unless Maple Syrup was no longer holding the economy afloat and they had taken drastic measures. I kept my cool, and waited for my arranged partner to arrive in town. She flew over from Canada, and within a day we were getting on like a house on fire. We discussed the future, and all it had to offer. We found out we had a common interest in food (which designer doesn’t) and it didn’t feel like an arrangement at all, although it was. During our time together, Lindsay Auchinachie taught me so much, she was a mentor, partner and great colleague. I felt like a freshly opened sponge being plunged into a warm bath, you know?

After a couple of months though, we had to say out farewells, and bid each other adieu. We’d had a great time, and I learnt a lot from her, but as all arrangements go, we ended cordially, and I told her that if she was ever in Berlin again, we should meet up.

Then, earlier this year, I met my second partner. She was different to my dear Canadian although has the same vibrant spirit. Nina Mehta hailed from the U.S, and had a swing about her when she voiced her opinions. With every new partner, you start to see the similarities and differences, what’s important is that you don’t compare, but appreciate and learn from your #pair (I think I could be a Rapper, should I quit my day job?). Design pairs are much similar to normal relationships… except for our love for cheese. Mmm, cheese.

It happened slowly, yet surely, but over a week, I was told that we would have to move our cheese-binding relationship long distance as I would start having to work remote. We have been trying to make it work, but there have been very many hiccups along the way.

What we had was great, but making the move to do long distance isn’t an easy one. #Designpairing is hard work; it’s about collaborating at full speed for short intervals with baby-like breaks. This means that #remotepairing can be draining, so it is about using the right tools and methods to get through design work in the least draining way possible for each party involved. Staying alert is a must, and whilst it can be fun at times, looking at your computer rather than your partner’s real face can lead to exhaustion — keep the liquids and walking up too. What I mean to say, is that there is a way to get through Remote Pairing, and here is some questions and realization I had along the way #remotedesignpairs.

Appear.in getting us through the day

Do I need to stay in contact?
Absolutely. Programs like appear.in and Screen Hero are life savers. Being able to stay in constant contact is important to ensure that pair decisions can be made together, and on the fly. It will always be difficult when you aren’t together 24/7, but trying to keep contact lines open will help in the long run. Screen Hero is actually merging with Slack at the moment, but if you are looking for an invitation, I can try and hook you up — and also have a virtual conversation with you! What I love about Screen Hero is that you are able to use the mouse of your partner as though you were next to them! Combining the two allows you to both see your partner pair, screen share with them, and also use their mouse!

Tell your partner you appreciate them
Tensions can arise when both parties aren’t in the same room, being able to look over designs in person. A bulk of information can be lost in translation via technology due to lack of body language, so it’s important to tell your partner you appreciate their work.

Take Breaks
Pairing is tiring, as mentioned in a previous article I wrote here, so it is important to let your partner know when you need to take a break, and take it.

Share the load
As there is always a driver and passenger, and it can be draining work, take care to swap between taking the role of a driver and passenger throughout the day.

Get Organised
Get into the habit of being organized. Web-based programs such as @tre are a great way to do this, and keep a digital documentation of what needs to be done that week. Each Monday as a pair, we referred to the Trello board to note down what we wanted to achieve for the week.

As Experience Designers, we tend to do quite some User Interface work. Plan what programs you’ll be using with your pair, and if it is possible make sure you both have a fairly good handle on the programs you’ll be diving into. This means programs such as Invision, Sketch, and Zeplin feel comfortable in our hands. It also means that filesharing platforms such as Dropbox, Google Drive and WeTransfer are our best friends to ensure updated versions of work are always available. Just make sure that you resave work under a new title if you are both planning on working on the same file.

Saving files under file names and folders that you can find is always going to be tricky, but try and keep to a similar naming system so things don’t get lost! You can try out different formats and see what works for your team. We found that something simple like Date_projectname_Version worked a charm.

Be part of meetings
Remote pairing can be lonely. Especially when you’re used to constantly having your pair around you. Although it is difficult to be physically available, push to be part of meetings; whether they are user tests, morning stand ups or product decisions. Whether it is via Google Hangout, Skype or appear.in try and make a point of being part of the conversation.

Is it the end?

Remote pairing is difficult work, however it is easier when you can see an end in sight. Try keep spirits high, and share a joke or two. It will always help. I am no pairing queen, but I felt like I’ve learnt a lot through remote pairing, and think it is important to share. Do you have a remote pairing story, or perhaps a soft spot of cheese? Perhaps there are programs you love to use whilst remote paring. I would love to hear it!