Cultivating a design collaboration mindset
By Sarah-Jayne Shine
We recently picked up a very exciting piece of work. Bigger than normal for us admittedly, but still very much within our scope. Especially as we have recently aligned ourselves with some of the best brains in the region.
In fact we’re in residence with them now in our very own shared workspace; The Other Side - A collaborative creative space for dreamers and doers in Horowhenua.
Helen Lea Wall & Karlina Mitchell at The Other Side creative co-working space.
And the great thing about being under the same roof as other like-minded go-getting individuals?
Collaboration. You’ll hear that word repeated often in this blog.
But what is collaboration? Put simply:
The action of working with someone to produce something.
The Other Side is a creative space with a look and feel to inspire our best work. We feel at home here. There’s an energy that comes with the other residents and our collective creativity oozes through the walls. So, when we pitched for and were commissioned a piece of work that would normally be too big for us, we weren’t phased. Quite the opposite in fact. We were enthused.
Why? Because we needed extra resources for this project. And all we had to do was holler down the hallway!
A photographer TICK already in residence
A wordsmith TICK already in residence
A videographer – the photographer knows one of those too so there’s another TICK as good as already in residence.
Add these brains to what Lemonface already has – a strategic designer (moi) and a project Manager (Sean) and we’re good to go.
Sean O'Neill, Karlina Mitchell & Sarah-Jayne Shine working away in the sunshine in Horowhenua.
And the benefit to our new client? – They get the team members they need on their side, without the overheads, without the baggage but most definitely with the passion and loyalty. We’re small enough to be personal, but big enough to offer a full agency service.
We’re one month into the four month project now. We bounce off each other, we listen to each other. We each add our own individual flair but we work collaboratively. AND. IT. WORKS.
Drilling down a little deeper now – what is collaborative design?
Why Design Collaboration is Important
You can design a product without collaboration, but it takes a collaborative design process to make that product great. That's why design collaboration is so fundamental. It puts minds together, combining separate, specialised expertise to create solutions that tackle a shared goal. Instead of coming at a problem from one angle, design collaboration places that problem in front of all experts, forcing them to consider new perspectives and possibilities.
Cultivating a Design Collaboration Mindset
The right mindset goes a long way in establishing effective collaboration in the design process. It lays the guidelines for who collaborates, how, and to what end.
Collaboration benefits clients
Collaboration with our client is as important as collaboration with other designers and team members. We keep OUR clients involved throughout the creation of THEIR project. We take our time to explain options and have discussions with the client to make sure we understand their thoughts. This enables us to get client buy-in from the outset and work from clear beginnings and ends. Larger reveals aren't big surprises, and no one gets to the point where they're seeing work for the first time. It's easy to get caught up in your role and ignore the big picture. By collaborating with our clients we’re fostering closer connections and cultivating a shared responsibility and interest in the success of the product. It’s their journey after all, and the least we can do is walk alongside them!
Collaboration is contextual
Clients come to us with complex challenges and goals.
By adopting a context-first approach, we ensure everyone is at the highest level of knowledge. This enables them to make the most informed decisions as they work on the product. To accomplish this, we keep everyone updated on relevant information by bringing in all team members early, documenting and recording meetings, establishing some overlap, and treating the next team member in the process like a customer.
Context is just as important on a case-by-case collaborative basis. Follow these guidelines to keep context first in collaboration:
- Provide context before showing your work.
- Describe the problem you're trying to solve or goal you're trying to achieve.
- Present your work as it relates to the problem at hand. Explain your thinking and why you made certain decisions.
- Be specific about what you want feedback on.
The Emerge group - Anna Colville-Smith (ACS Marketing), Jess Deacon (Deacon Rd), Steph Bradley (Village Real Estate), Lorraine Hamilton (Coach School) & Sarah-Jayne Shine (Lemonface Design at Lorraine's book launch.
Collaboration is open, honest and fearless
It isn't easy to put your work (and yourself) out there. Emotions can get in the way of providing open and honest feedback, especially when you're worried about hurting the other person's feelings.
That doesn't mean there's no place for emotion in collaboration. How something makes you feel is important in design. We think of and create solutions for people... people who are emotional, and who use emotions in their decisions. Leaving emotion out of the conversation might short-change a potential idea or solution. At best, having a pragmatic discussion around facts and data won't provide the full picture. At worst, it may be a red herring or provide a false narrative. We empower our team to be “fearless” about receiving feedback. This means letting go of any anxieties about being judged for what we create. It also means understanding that we are stronger together and stand a greater chance of creating something great. In being fearless, we better trust and empower each other to give honest and thoughtful feedback.
Feedback should be constructive. Instead of saying you don't like something, frame feedback to point back to the problem you're trying to help solve. Provide actionable steps on improving the work or at the very least the reasoning behind your thinking. And don't forget to express what you like and why.
Collaboration is more than new ideas
One way to practice this is to become a better listener.
Often, during a conversation with others, we think more about what we are going to say next rather than what others are saying. This impacts the feedback process, especially in design, because we often know what we want to say before hearing another opinion or solution.
When you choose to listen first and react second, it allows you to fully understand the feedback someone else is presenting and sets you up to go deeper — what is the perspective they're using and the place they're coming from? Chances are this is a perspective you didn't consider during the creation process. By listening to and understanding the context and reasoning behind the feedback you're receiving, you're opening yourself to more ways of looking at, thinking of, and experiencing your design. You can then test these new perspectives against the challenges, goals, and use cases you're designing for to see if they better suit the user.
It's easier to be more receptive of feedback when all collaborators practice active listening. Ultimately, the skill of giving great feedback comes from learning how to receive it. As we make an effort to be better listeners, we also find ourselves becoming more humble and, in our opinion, better designers.
Collaboration over competition
At this point we should really put your mind at rest over something that may be niggling you here. Some may think that collaborating with others in the same light as competing against others for clients. Stepping on each other’s toes if you will.
The competitive spirit is a central element of human nature. Sure.
Competition is not inherently bad,but it can hold us back from achieving our greatest potential because it is inherently divisive. Collaboration, on the other hand, is all about progressing as a whole. There is no winner unless the entire group crosses the finish line together. In that light, collaboration is bigger than one person. It’s a culture. Any staff member, department, or organisation that wants to prioritise collaboration over competition needs to weave it into the very fabric of who they are. Collaborative environments also drive results, but by way of positivity, teamwork, and creativity. There can only be one winner. Collaboration.
It takes design collaboration to tackle the complex, crucial problems that come along with building great products and experiences. By leveraging the specialised expertise of multiple team members across disciplines, design collaboration makes sure teams meet challenges from all perspectives and come to better solutions. With the right mindset, tools, and process, design collaboration empowers teams to go deeper with creative thinking and execution.
Photos by The Nomad Creative