One of the special learning approaches at the Global Design program at ALBA is working on projects with real partners helping us, the students, to get real-life experiences and prepare us to work with future clients.

Through the different studio projects, we had the opportunity to engage with partners from different sectors and scale. Each project had a different set of objectives and a closure. However, we still followed the same process starting with a project kick-off, a full meeting with the partner to understand better the project and kick-off the work.

Most of the time the meetings happen with people from the upper management, a CEO or a senior manager. And usually, these are the same people who initiated the collaboration with the department. At this point, almost everything is clear and both parties understand the value of the collaboration and its objectives.

Once we are ready for the research and when we start the field-work, it is at this point when we meet with the employees of the company or organization from different levels and especially those at the front, who are in direct contact with people (end-users and/or customers).

There are two important issues to consider when starting a project and meeting our partners:

  • Explaining what we do to our partners, as design researchers. I wrote about this here.
  • Engaging them in what we do. Which I will talk about in this post.

Regardless of the phase of the project, whether at the discovery phase, or research or at the ideation and design phase, it is highly needed to work hand in hand with our partners (or clients in another context), and here is why:

They have been there before us

When approaching the employees and introducing what we are here for, especially when it is about problem-solving, there could be a chance where we might appear like a threat to them. At the end of the day, we are outsiders and they have been there for a longer period trying to do their best and sometimes they are in charge of what we came for. Our role here is to ensure we are here to support and build trust to get their early buy-in.

They are the experts

As design researchers, we are experts in the process and we count on our partners’ expertise to guide us and to learn from them about their field of work. It is important that we allow space for knowledge sharing by bringing our partners into the process as valuable sources of information. By working closely with them, we get diverse input and experiences from different perspectives, especially when working with people from different departments. This will enhance the relationship between us and it will save us time by accessing data and information faster.

They are creative too

A partner is not only someone who could help us define the scope of the project and approve the design solutions but rather their input is needed in the whole process. By including them as active participants in the different phases of the projects, when collecting data or sharing ideas, we ensure they feel ownership over the decisions that we both make together and eventually we ensure the sustainability of the solutions implemented once we leave the project.

It is their project

Engaging the partner in the process will also allow us to understand better their needs, the objectives of the project, and what are their expected results. This will lead to better decision making and help us deliver real value that fits their expectations and needs.

There are different tools that can be used to ensure the partners’ engagement. I would be sharing more as we go in the projects.