What the Neolithic Revolution can teach us about the benefit of Collaboration in Design

Cultural evolutionism, interchangeably referred to as sociocultural evolutionism, is the study of human cultural and social change over time. Moreover it is a set of theories used to describe the progression [the evolution] of culture through time. We use these theories as a basis for understanding how people learn, to draw conclusions about past events, and to make predictions about future social growth.

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Why should we, as designers, care?

UX exists at the crossroads of design and social science, the latter is what separates us from graphic designers, web designers, etc. The more we understand a variety social theories, the more we can leverage this side of our field to to make informed design decisions as well as the better the process through which we develop our products.

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The Neolithic Revolution

As far as cultural evolution is concerned, one of the most formative periods in human development was the Neolithic Era. This era is marked by the development of sedintism, meaning humans stopped being nomadic foragers and began living in permanent communities. Anthropologists often refer to this shift as the Neolithic Revolution. During this time, agriculture caught on and we began domesticating plants and animals so we would no longer have to hunt or forage.

Raising and growing our food, created two important changes in our daily lives. First, we no longer filled our waking hours searching for food. Second, we now how a huge surplus of food. This new living situation meant populations could be easily supported and civilization developed. This also meant that individuals had more free time to innovate. “The more people there are, the more likely new ideas and information will accumulate. If those ideas result in a larger, more secure food supplies, the population will inevitably grow”(http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_2.htm).

picture credit: http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_2.htm

What is so notable about the Neolithic Revolution, as far as designers should be concerned, is that this time marked the start of exponential technological growth in human history. Prior to the dawn of agriculture, cultural progression occurred at a much slower rate. Following sedintism, innovations occurred with increasing frequency, leading to the modern version of civilization we now know. This was because humans became occupationally more diverse. We then had time in our day to develop art, modern language, philosophy, mathematics, and commerce (agriculture is the original export).

That’s cool; so back to design…?

The main take-away here is when we pull our resources, productivity and progress increase. It is sort of like the idiom, “two heads are better than one.” An individual cannot consider as many possible solutions as two people can. Given that logic, seven people would then be even better than two. Individuals have their own strengths and insights, so when you bring that kind of varied knowledge together, it is safe to assume more ideas will come up in brainstorming and more options will be considered before a decision is made. The Neolithic Revolution is like the “OG of collaboration.” It could be argued that collaboration is nearly instinctual to us when it comes to solving problems and continuing progress. Applying this to UX design, there are two types of collaborative relationships we should be sure to maintain in order to meet the best possible result; that between designers and the relationship between designers and stakeholders.

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The collaborative relationship between designers.

In this article by Natalie Nixon, the Director of the Strategic Design MBA at Philadelphia University, we learn about how design-thinking business professionals use collaboration, emulated from design fields, to better their rate of business growth. “From a design thinking perspective, one wouldn’t go about designing a new transportation infrastructure or service delivery system for a fast food chain without factoring in others’ ideas” (http://www.inc.com/natalie-nixon/5-reasons-why-collaboration-is-essential-in-today-s-business-environment.html). She lists five reasons collaborative efforts are beneficial in design:

picture credit: http://www.inc.com/natalie-nixon/5-reasons-why-collaboration-is-essential-in-today-s-business-environment.html

The collaborative relationship between designers and stakeholders.

In another article, Janet M. Six interviews several User Experience professionals about the importance of collaboration between the design team and stakeholders (here, ‘stakeholders’ is inclusively meant to refer to business professionals and the client). The article reminds audience members that UX design is problem solving and so we ought to strive to use all the possible resources to reach the ideal solution. When discussing why collaborative design is so important, she breaks the answer down into three main points.

Ownership — This portion is a bit sticky as you need to understand the supply and demand of your stakeholders per project and how the collaborative process would affect your project. If you work completely separate from the stakeholders, then they have less investment in the product. As a designer, you want the inventment in the product to be there to maintain financial interest or desire to use your design; without investment, stakeholders stop being “stakeholders.” The flip-side of this is the over involvement of stakeholders means you don’t maintain ownership over the design as clearly. If a design is not clearly your’s then you cannot sell it.

Alignment — Collaboration between the designer(s) and the stakeholder(s) is important to keeping the same goal of the product in mind for all parties involved. To maintain a collaborative design/business relationship is to keep everyone on the same page about the needs and direction of the design.

Knowledge — Especially considering larger-scale projects, the stakeholders are the ones who truly understand the requirements of a product; the scope and use cases. Of course designers can recieve business requirements via documents, but this nothing compared to the actual involvement of stakeholders during the design process.

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Essentially, the point here is that if we are trying to understand the betterment of our designs and our processes, it doesn’t hurt to look to the past. Some things are recurring and can give us insight on how we, as humans, might be able to use our natural inclinations to benefit our design and business plans. Collaboration is a tool whose proof of importance can be throughout our history. Tapping into our instinctive means of development, or progress, can make all the difference between ourselves and our competitors. We know collaboration works, let’s use it to better our UX.