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Best practices for nailing the collaborative design process

Here’s how to turn your teamwork into dream work

We know collaboration is key for great design. But if we learned anything in school, it’s that teamwork doesn’t always make the dream work. And that’s because successful collaboration takes a lot more than just getting a group of people together to work on one task. The good news is that there are plenty of best practices you can follow during the collaborative design process. And better yet — we’ll be walking you through them below.

Let’s dive in!

Foundations of collaborative design

For many people, ‘design’ and ‘process’ might sound like juxtaposing ideas. Process and structure are often the mortal enemies of creativity and expression. But structure doesn’t have to be stifling. In fact, simply agreeing on some foundational rules before starting the collaboration process can go a long way for you and your team.

Here are four essential best practices to put in place when starting the design collaboration process.

1. Establish communication

Yes, we all know how to talk. But our ability to listen and be heard varies depending on the situation. In a group setting, extroverts and those in senior positions are more likely to dominate a conversation than introverts or new joiners.

If you’re one developer in a sea of designers, you’ll also be less likely to raise your hand to comment on design matters. But the true power of collaborative design comes from what you can gain from those unexpected POVs. So, make sure everyone in your team has the opportunity to voice their thoughts and encourage discussion by asking follow-up questions.

2. Encourage a team mindset

In a previous post, we talked about the importance of switching from a “working for” to a “working with” mindset. Each person has unique abilities, but nobody can do it all on their own. That’s why it’s important to give everyone the space they need to excel in their areas of expertise, and then create opportunities for them to iterate and collaborate with others. And if you’re looking for an easy way to foster team spirit, get your team to think of itself as a sports team — or even a Dungeons & Dragons party.

Image of table football teams

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3. Set goals and expectations

Working in the same company or field as someone doesn’t always mean you’ll have identical expectations. For starters, people work and manage their time differently, so it’s important to be clear about what you need to get done, how, and by when.

Some teams like to organize themselves in sprints, others prefer setting weekly or monthly objectives. Either way, make sure to make room for frequent check-ins and collaboration opportunities.

4. Plan for chaos

People are messy. It’s what being human is all about! So plan for tangents, interruptions, ruts, rough patches, and bouts of inspiration that might derail or save your project. Let the creative brain do what it does best, but be ready to reel it in when it gets out of hand.

So now that we have these best practices in mind, let’s take a look at how we can build our own collaborative process.

What does the collaborative design process look like?

The process of collaboration doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. In fact, we recommend starting with some key ideas and adjusting to your team’s unique needs. To give you a sense of how you can create your own collaborative design process, we asked our Design Advocate Layshi Curbelo for some pointers.

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of her suggestions that you can follow step-by-step — they should apply to any project or team!

Step 1: Brainstorming

While we often think of brainstorming as a one-time session to get our creative juices flowing, we’re defining brainstorming as a whole host of processes that happen before you actually start working on a project. The key to brainstorming is to focus on communication — not so much on the format of a certain session or process.

Tasks:

  • Define the problem. Figure out what the design needs to accomplish, if there are any blockers or limitations to consider, and how much time you’ll need.
  • Recruit the right people. What roles do you need for this project? Will you have equal and diverse representation?
  • Ask for participation. Now that you have your team set up, encourage them to share their thoughts and become active participants in the brainstorming process.
  • Categorize ideas. All ideas are useful, but it’s important to choose which ideas to execute. Try evaluating them through a ‘value vs. viability’ lens. Out of the viable ideas, which bring the most value?
  • Assign roles. Keeping in mind each team member’s strengths and expertise, assign roles and tasks to move forward.

With Sketch’s collaboration tools, it’s easy for everyone to participate in the design process.

Step 2: Iterative sessions

Good design is all about iteration. It gives you a chance to receive and apply feedback from others, try out different ideas, and get to know a project better. So make sure you’re giving your team enough time to go through at least a few sessions. Curious about how iteration works? Here are a few real-life examples of how iterative sessions helped bring great products to life:

Step 3: Design feedback

Iterative sessions are great for pushing forward in different directions. Maybe you’re designing buttons, menu bars, and coming up with the best UX journey at the same time. But once you get to the design feedback stage, you can all take a step back and analyze the project as a whole. This step gives you a chance to get your design just right and ready to present to stakeholders.

Step 4: Delivery

Time for show-and-tell. You’ll get even more feedback in the delivery stage, but this time it’ll be coming from either stakeholders within your company or users who’ll already be using your shipped product. Sometimes, this stage might take you all the way back to Step 2 — and that’s totally fine! Try not to get too discouraged if things don’t go as smoothly as you hoped, and take comfort in the fact that you have a process and a great team to fall back on.

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TL;DR

  • Establishing communication, encouraging a team mindset, setting goals and expectations, and planning for the unexpected are some best practices to win at collaborative design.
  • An easy way to develop your own collaborative design process is to start with four basic steps: brainstorming, iterative sessions, design feedback, and delivery.
  • The key to collaboration is letting everyone do what they do best while also fostering communication and camaraderie.