When you add collaboration to a design project, it magnifies the end result, bringing it to another level. Collaboration isn’t the same across the board, however. It varies based on the goals, the team members and the available resources. But, there is one factor that is consistent: the human element.

Let’s explore the basic principles of design collaboration and the keys that are needed to succeed. It’s harder than it looks, but it can be done, and you can achieve better results! Two heads are better than one, after all!

Brief Introduction to Design Collaboration

Traditionally, the design process gives a single designer or design team the responsibility of coming up with a design and then creating a finalized product. A collaborative project is different because it involves an entire team of individuals – all with different skill sets – that all play a role in the product’s design.

Let’s make one thing clear: the collaboration process in this instance includes people with all types of backgrounds and experiences, not necessarily design professionals. Anyone can take part in the design process, and they don’t need to possess the skills of their professional counterparts. These individuals may not be able to guide the design process, but they can be included in it.

Ingredients Needed for Collaboration

Chances are, you’ve worked many times in a collaborative fashion, and it’s not exactly easy. While it’s nice to bring people together to discuss ideas, it’s much more difficult to agree on concepts and put them into action. Everyone has an opinion, and it’s important that each member of the team feels heard and valued. At the same time, some giving and sharing need to take place.

So what types of ingredients will help make the design collaboration process most effective?

  • Motivation. Each person on the team needs to be motivated to make a difference. They should want to contribute to something meaningful and believe that they have something to gain from the process as well.

  • Communication. Communication is a key component in any collaborative setting, so everyone needs to do their part to speak up, share ideas and listen to others. Give information on the project and its goals early on so that people can decide if and how they want to participate.

  • Diversity. Professional designers have a lot to offer, but the purpose of design collaboration is to diversify the thinking. Reach out to a diverse group of participants that have a wide range of skills and backgrounds.

  • Sharing. The members on your design team must be flexible with the ideas that are presented and who gets credit for them. In other words, they must be able to “share” ideas. Individuals can and should be given credit for what they bring to the table, but there also needs to be flexible sharing. There’s no “I” in team.

  • Support. A large benefit of being on a team is the support that is available. Design projects can come with hardships and unexpected difficulties, and everyone on the team must be willing to support each other and offer additional help.

  • Problem Solving. A final ingredient to successful design collaboration is problem solving. This doesn’t come natural to everyone, but your hope is that you have a few good problem solvers on your team. These individuals should work together to solve issues and change directions if something doesn’t work out.

Open vs Closed Collaboration

When launching a design collaboration project, it’s important to define what type of group you want to establish.

An open collaboration means that anyone can take part in the design process. You might start with an open problem, and anyone who is interested can contribute to the solution. To make this type of arrangement work, it must be easy for participants to contribute their ideas and opinions.

Closed collaboration is different because the participants are chosen by the manager of the project. Since the members are hand picked, it tends to be a smaller group of people compared to open collaboration.

Following a Model for the Design Process

There are many different models for the design process, and one of the popular ones is the Design Council’s Double Diamond model. This model has four stages:

  • Discover. This is the start of the design process and usually involves identifying a problem or a need for new services.

  • Design. This is the brainstorming stage where ideas are chosen for development.

  • Develop. Feedback is gathered, and sometimes, more brainstorming is needed. Typically, the concepts are narrowed down at this time as well.

  • Deliver. In the final stage, the design is tested and improved so that it can be approved by the team.

When it comes to design collaboration, keep in mind that you don’t have to exclude others just because they aren’t professionals. Work together to launch projects that you can all be a part of, but remember that you are the expert and you hold the key to success.