How Our Designers Successfully Collaborate
An essential critical exchange approach
Design is rightfully becoming a more and more essential part of modern software development. User-centric products are far more successful and build upon a foundation that supports success in the long term. While a comprehensive analysis of this development would deserve its own blog post or even PhD thesis, the brief summary would be as follows. While for a long time, it was easy to be the first mover with a new innovation, these days digital products become more and more individualised or have to compete with numerous others that attempt to solve the same or a similar problem. This is why each problem we encounter needs a solution that fits the product individually, but finding the best solution isn’t always easy.
We at somethingcreative are dedicated to delivering exactly that — the outstanding, differentiating quality of user experience. This is why we constantly work on ways to improve the quality of our own work and never settle for what was the best we could deliver yesterday.
Every single one of us puts in every effort to stay at the top of our industry. We are trying out new tools to fasten up our work or simplify processes. We learn new skills to add new layers to our creative work. We explore the possibilities of modern technology to find new ways of how we can interact with the world. We read specialist literature to dig deeper into topics. We invest in experiencing the world around us to see it from different perspectives. All of this helps us expand our horizon, but the things we do individually are only one part of the equation.
Probably, the most important part of delivering the best possible solution is something we do every day: Critical exchange. We use a set of concepts to improve the quality and frequency significantly for how we exchange our work and ideas.
Before we take a closer look at these concepts, we first have to establish how we set up projects. Depending on the budget and complexity of a project, we assign one, two or sometimes even three designers. This constellation isn’t set in stone, and we dynamically allocate resources based on the project’s needs. When two or more designers work together, we divide the work that has to be done into several parts and split it up between the designers. This way, we can ensure the optimal use of our resources. The designers give feedback regularly to each other and lend each other a hand if needed.
We do this by using, among others, the following formats:
Pair designing is a concept where we took inspiration from a common technique of agile software development: pair programming. For this technique, two developers work together on the same workstation. One developer, called the driver, writes the code and the second one, the observer, reviews every line as it is written and ensures that the written code won’t cause issues in the future. This method is very intense on resources as it increases the number of working hours needed to finish a task. Still, it dramatically decreases the number of problems in the future and therefore saves a lot of resources and money in the long run.
For pair designing, we follow the same approach. Whenever we are encountering a particularly tricky problem, we bring two designers together to work on the same feature at the same time. While we still have the roles of the driver and observer, those roles aren’t as narrowly defined, as both parts actively design. In this mode, the designers can have very in-depth discussions and rapidly try out new solutions.
Pair designing isn’t meant to finish a feature or task. It speeds up the process of finding the best possible solution and gives direction to the driver. This way, we can significantly improve the quality of our work, minimise issues in the future and make the best use of our resources.
It is not always possible to have multiple designers work on the same project for different reasons. For instance, a project simply doesn’t need two or more designers at the moment. In these cases, we appoint a designer for quality assurance to have critical exchanges with the responsible designer.
The QA designer themselves aren’t directly involved in the project. They usually don’t work actively on the design for this project, but still have a profound understanding. They are aware of the ins and outs, understand the limitations and know where the project is heading.
This way, the QA designer can give feedback to the responsible designer while only spending a few hours every week on this project. This feedback is of high quality because the QA designer understands the project without being pre-occupied from previous iterations. They can ask critical questions about the essential parts. They can give inspiration and direction that brings the project forward. They ensure that the work we deliver meets our quality standards and requirements.
Team Design Review
The last of our concepts is a fairly established method for design agencies and product companies around the globe: Team Design Reviews. All of our available designers come together at least once a week to present their work and have a critical exchange about the problems they encountered.
In contrast to our other techniques, the participating designers only have a rather basic understanding of the other designer’s projects. They don’t need to know all layers of a project or fully understand the ins and outs. Their job is to give the perspective of an outsider, while still being a professional.
During our team design reviews, we discuss the direction a project took. We ask critical and naive questions. We discover problems that were potentially not noticed before. We give insights into the issues we encountered ourselves. Our team design review is all about throwing different experiences together and learn from each other.
A critical exchange of our work is essential. Only when we critically deal with our work, we can see the shortcomings and ensure that we deliver the best solution. Giving feedback and being able to handle feedback is one of the most important skills a designer can have.
All of these methods help us to be better designers tomorrow than we are today. Nobody is perfect and it is impossible to always think about every aspect or viewpoint when working on a project — That’s why we work together to complement each other and improve our work. Learning and growing is an essential part of our work and life, and we do everything to help each other on this way.