The concept of the solitary creative genius is a myth. When I first began as a designer, I felt like my designs had to be complete before I could show them to anyone. I think this vulnerability stems from a feeling that we as designers have to think through every element before we can call a design complete. As a result, it can be tempting to withdraw — to fully embrace the solitary designer stereotype — and assume the problems we’re facing are uniquely our own. But here’s the thing: usually another person on your team has dealt with similar challenges.
It can be nerve-wracking, vulnerable, and challenging at times, but getting out of our own heads and incorporating collaboration into our design processes can make us all better designers. Over the years, I’ve come to learn that designing collaboratively means putting your egos aside to make something that transcends the sum of its creators.
Here are six ways you can be more collaborative based on our process at Constructive:
1. Start a Conversation
I spend most of my days independently thinking through interaction concepts and visual executions with prototypes, wires, sketches (lots of sketches), and of course .jpgs, .pdfs and some .sketch files. When I get to a place where I feel comfortable that most chips have landed in approximately the right places, I usually first reach out to my fellow designers to get quick initial reactions, advice on how to elevate the work, and general tips on what’s working and what’s not. The computer can be the worst tool for problem-solving, so it’s critical to step away from your screen and talk through the work with another person to make sure your design intention is coming through and the system is intuitive enough for another person to use.
2. Embrace Internal Reviews
We always review internally before presenting designs to a client. This gives other designers on our team the chance to comment on the work. Talking through a design system with another person can be like a sieve for your own ideas. What’s working? What’s an outlier? What are ways we can extend the system? Usually after we talk through a problem, I get reassurance of how to go forward because I know how other people have interacted with the prototype. It’s easy to justify a system’s flaws in your head when you’re the only person who’s seen the design, so it’s critical to get a second or third or fifth opinion on design so we can make certain the system works and is helpful for everyone.
3. Incorporate Prototype Testing
A prototype can be anything. It can be a piece of paper, an interactive InVision board, a card sorting sitemap, or a general experience that’s used to test how a typical user engages with a product. When I’m uncertain about an assumption I have about a design, it helps to do some informal user testing with the design team and other colleagues. Testing with members of your team is a good exercise for thinking through basic user experience patterns because everyone brings a unique understanding of web accessibility standards and how to improve usability.
4. Schedule Weekly Design Huddles
We also have a weekly design huddles that allow us to get aligned on what everyone is working on and give us the chance to have a focused conversation on trends, processes, and inspiration. It’s important to come together as a group like this because it creates a forum for bringing up issues and opportunities that we’re experiencing as individual designers.
5. Share Inspiration
Browsing the internet is primarily an individualized activity — unless of course you’re forcing everyone around you to watch videos of thirsty pets. We try to share and keep an organized record of all the things we see online that inspire us. We do this by using slack channels and Dropmark to categorize links to sites we like. This is an important practice because it makes browsing the internet a more collaborative activity. It allows us to understand each other’s reference points. And since we’re continuously learning from new experiences, it’s important to share what speaks to us in creative, professional or personal ways. It’s also a good way to gauge what your competitors are doing and what techniques or trends are shifting the industry to new and exciting places. By keeping an inspiration library, we can easily reference industry-specific sites in project strategic briefs. It also helps us align as a design practice through having a shared knowledge base about our creative inspiration and aspirations.