Design is problem solving. Most modern products are highly complex projects that present companies with problems that a single person cannot solve. That’s where design collaboration comes in. It's much easier (and faster) to solve the problem when a team of people from different fields works together on a solution.
Design collaboration is an integral property of a good design process—the diversity of opinions helps to find a better solution to a problem, and it only happens when people collaborate effectively.
In this article, we’ll discuss what design collaboration is, share essential information that product creators should know about successful collaboration in the workspace, and look at what collaboration means specifically when it comes to web design.
What is design collaboration?
As the name suggests, design collaboration is the collaborative work of people involved in product or web design. It's a process of co-creation, conceptualizing a design idea. But there are two common misconceptions about this term.
First, the word “design” might give you the false impression that this type of collaboration is solely about designers. That's not true. excellent product design results from the work of people from various departments, including designers, developers, marketing and sales specialists, UX researchers, stakeholders, and even end users.
All of them should work together from the early stages of the design process till the product launch. People involved in the design process go on a journey from when they have an abstract idea of what they want to build to when they release the intended product to the market.
Another misconception about design collaboration is seeing it as a phase in the design process. Collaboration is not a single phase, but rather a foundation upon which the future product is being made.
Practicing an iterative design process together with good collaboration activities between people involved in product creation helps to achieve a global goal—make a product that satisfies the needs of users and businesses. That's why collaboration is an integral part of design culture in an organization. Most of the time, the ability to collaborate successfully will define the success of a design.
Why is collaboration so important in design?
Here are just a few benefits that collaboration brings to product design:
Collaboration unlocks creativity.
When different team members work on a design together, the result is often more holistic, making for a better end product. A recent study from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that the best solutions come from engaging diverse voices, whether it’s from across your organization or from input via external clients and customers.
Unifies the team around the shared goal.
Collaborative UX design process helps team members to understand the ultimate goal they want to achieve with a product. This goal becomes a north star that motivates people to work together on a problem systematically.
Creates a better sense of ownership.
When team members participate in creating a product regularly, they start to care more about the outcome. As a result, they are more willing to deliver their best work.
What are the 4 types of collaboration?
It's possible to define four types of design collaboration:
1. Team collaboration.
Team collaboration is the most common type of business collaboration in the workplace. Members of a particular team interact with each other to achieve a specific goal. For example, UX and UI designers interact with each other to create the best possible look and feel for a future product.
2. Cross-department collaboration.
Different teams within a specific organization interact with each other to complete a particular task. For example, the design team interacts with the sales & marketing team to create a better look for product packaging.
3. Community collaboration.
People join a community because they have one or a few shared interests. People in the community can exchange ideas and experiences—for example, design community members can share their expertise in product design.
A community can be internal (membership is limited to a particular organization) or external (members of different organizations can join the community). Indie Slack communities like Designer Hangout and Nomads Talk, or professional associations like AIGA, can be great communities for any creatives to join.
4. Strategic alliance.
A strategic alliance is a type of collaboration that occurs when two or more organizations share the same goal and work together toward it. This type of collaboration typically happens between teams that belong to those organizations. For example, designers from organization A interact with designers from organization B because the organizations want to integrate services that A offers into a product offered by B.
What is a collaborative website?
The rise of remote work makes product creators reconsider the ways they collaborate. Instead of offline, face-to-face collaboration sessions, product creators rely on collaborative websites to have those same kinds of communications virtually. A collaborative website means designing a website while allowing users to work collaboratively in real-time. Users can provide their input—exchange files and messages, have a text or video chat, etc.
Collaboration isn’t limited to communication, it's also about co-creation. In order to make this level of design collaboration possible, the team of designers will need to work with a CMS platform like Editor X that allows for collaborative work and custom permissions. (We’ll review some more popular collaborative websites below.)
Design collaboration tools
For design collaboration to be effective, the product team has to have effective processes and the right tools, which will help them track and facilitate collaboration.
It's possible to define a few critical categories of design collaboration tools:
Project and task management.
Online knowledge base.
Tools like Notion help organize information in an easy-to-digest manner. The online knowledge base becomes a single source of truth for the entire organization.
Whiteboard is a tool that everyone knows from offline brainstorming sessions. The digital whiteboard quickly becomes a good alternative to a physical whiteboard. Tools like Miro and Mural allow people to collaborate in real time and share their ideas and opinions.
Group chats and videoconferencing.
Chat tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams allow team members to communicate with each other in real-time. While Slack and Microsoft Team also offer video conferencing, many teams rely on separate tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts to meet online.
Prototyping tools like Figma offer a collaborative mode in which team members can work together on a future product design.
What is remote design thinking?
Design thinking sessions are brainstorming sessions where team members practice user-centric problem-solving to satisfy the needs of users and businesses. Session participants aim to step into users' shoes so that they can understand their target audience on a deeper level.
For a long time, design thinking sessions were solely in-person workshops where team members gathered in the same space (i.e., conference room) to discuss the problem they wanted to solve. The shift to remote work changed how we organize our work routine, including design thinking sessions.
Nowadays, design thinking sessions often happen online, and collaboration tools (mentioned in the previous section) can help team members work together effectively.
Smooth collaboration during design thinking sessions is crucial. That's why the role of a session facilitator becomes even more critical for remote design thinking sessions. A facilitator needs to create the right mood so everyone can participate in the session effectively, wherever it happens.
How to design a collaborative workspace
What does it take to have a team working better together? First and foremost, design collaboration is about creating an environment that helps people work with each other.
Indeed, creating a purely collaborative workspace is not an easy task. Not only do you need to establish the right processes and find tools that work for your organization, but you also need to foster communication and motivate people to interact with each other regularly. There are no hard and fast rules on how to establish design collaboration that works for all organizations, just a few common recommendations you can follow:
1. Create a collaboration space and ensure it's comfortable.
Your team’s collaboration space can be a physical space (i.e., conference room) or a recurring online meeting. No matter which medium you choose, you need to ensure that it satisfies the needs of your audience. The space should have essential tools (i.e. sticky notes, whiteboard) as well as proper moderation (everyone should be heard, not just the loudest voice in the room).
2. Plan collaboration sessions.
There is no point in inviting people to join together just for the sake of gathering. Have a clear agenda for each session you want to organize.
3. Show participants the importance of their voices.
When people know their collaborative work is valuable, they are more willing to participate in collaborative activities. It’s possible to motivate people to share by offering examples of how some ideas from previous sessions turned into valuable solutions.
This is vital for collaboration between designers and developers, because the opinions of both departments can have a significant impact on a project (check how to work with a developer as a designer).
How to collaborate with other designers
Design 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:
Embrace feedback and design critique.
Holding regular feedback sessions and critiques can help designers produce better work. The key is knowing that your collaborators will have different, at times better, ideas on certain things.
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.
Pick the right tools.
The right collaboration platforms will support your team’s way of working. For example, if you’re holding a team brainstorming session or sprint cycle, the right tool might be one where you can virtually track and organize all of your team’s ideas.
Schedule regular check-ins.
Regular check-ins are vital to ensure collaborators are excited about the project and have a clear path forward. Check-ins can come in the form of weekly team meetings or daily stand-ups, depending on the pace of a project.
Create spaces for social connection, particularly with remote work.
With remote work, it’s important to provide digital spaces where team members can nourish their social relationships and feel like they’re a part of a larger community. This might take the form of dedicated Slack channels for posting news, inspiration, and personal updates.
Collaboration leads to better products
Design collaboration is vital for crafting exceptional products and services. While collaboration requires continual nurturing of the collaborative process and focus on building strong team relationships, your efforts will ultimately lead to products that provide more well-thought out experiences for your end customers.