Design collaboration tips for working better together

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Collaborating effectively with clients and team members in an increasingly pressing skill for designers. Here’s how to do it right.

6 min read

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Collaboration is on the rise across organizations and studios.

There are many factors contributing to the growing importance of teamwork in the design industry, from, user-centric approaches to design to agile ways of working like cross-functional teams or innovation hubs. There’s also increased globalization and changes in technology, that are presenting companies with problems so complex that no one person has the ability to solve them.

With the recent shift to remote work, it’s more important than ever for teams to collaborate effectively. Making the best out of working together can help teams produce better ideas and more exceptional products.

Why collaboration in design is important

Great collaboration can make the difference between a product that delights its customers and a product that doesn’t quite solve a need. In fact, experts claim that the best solutions come from engaging diverse voices, whether it’s from across your organization or from input via external clients and customers.

As a designer, you might be working with developers, researchers, writers, marketers and managers. Or you might be collaborating with clients, customers and domain experts in an agency or freelance setting.

When different team members work on a design together, the result is often more holistic, making for a better end product. Borrowing from their different backgrounds and areas of expertise, team members are usually able to come up with more ideas, identify better solutions, and allow the design process to run smoothly so that each person can focus on what they excel at.

Whichever way we work, collaboration can help us grow tremendously. We’re able to better understand different perspectives and to navigate challenging conversations when they arise. And seeing how others work exposes us to new tools and methods that can help us become better designers.

It’s never too early to start collaborating. In fact, even abstract ideas can benefit from different perspectives.

Tips for better design collaboration

Collaboration is a way of working that requires constant nurturing in how we interact in a team environment, and how we produce work. Below are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Embrace feedback and design critique

Holding regular feedback sessions and critiques can help us produce better work and become better designers. The key is knowing that your collaborators will have different, at times better ideas on certain things.

When we spend time pouring over the details of our work, it can be easy to miss something obvious. A fresh perspective can also help ensure that our ideas are expressed clearly, and that the design makes sense for users.

Plus, whenever we think our work is good as it is, feedback can help push us to create something even better. When we set aside our egos, we can use these suggestions to improve ourselves, personally and professionally.

Through collaboration, we enjoy the benefit of building on other people's thought processes and ideas. even when those are different from our own, there's value to be gained if we stay open to hearing them, even when they take on the form of negative feedback.

Different perspectives push creative work forward

2. Align on terminology to streamline communication

Having a shared language is key to effective communication. Especially when collaborating cross-functionally or across industries, it’s always a good idea to clarify any acronyms and project-specific language early on.

It’s usually a good idea to keep terminology as simple as possible, especially when it comes to collaborating across countries or cultures. Try minimizing the use of confusing expressions, or anything that might get lost in translation.

A shared language can extend beyond words, into larger concepts. For example, if you’re crafting something for a specific audience, it helps to have a shared understanding of who that customer is. This type of knowledge can be expressed visually, such as through a persona.

If your work involves branding, it’s important to solidify a shared understanding of what the brand looks and feels like. In this case as well, it’s great to have visual resources for aligning collaborators on larger concepts and languages, such as a brand book or a design system.

Establish a shared language