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How to Build an Effective Collaborative Design Process

May 24, 2021 by Nikita Verkhoshintcev

Designing a new asset such as a website or application is never easy. Even the most detailed of creative briefs requires strategic teamwork to be successful. Fortunately, there are tried-and-tested techniques available for streamlining cooperation. Collectively, they are known as collaborative design.

What is collaborative design?

Collaborative design is the gathering of designers, developers, content writers, project leads, and other creative professionals to deliver a well-crafted asset. The participating creatives work together closely, collaborating on everything from brainstorming to collecting and acting upon feedback.

The process is multi-layered and grounded in a commitment to research and analysis. Indeed, rather than working in siloed teams to see a particular aspect of the project through to completion, creatives involved in collaborative design will come together at regular intervals to review and approve each other's handiwork.

If a project manager is unhappy with a color scheme, for example, they have the opportunity to communicate their reservations early on in the project. By discussing issues openly and honestly throughout the design process, workers can avoid late-stage conflicts and substandard results.

Without a sustained collaborative design process, teams are likely to make cliques or bubbles. If a designer decides to follow their own vision without gaining approval from other workers, the entire project may require last-minute revisions. In a worst-case scenario, failure to collaborate could cause compliance issues and force teams to start over.

Restarting a project is, of course, a huge drain on time and resources. To ensure you deliver assets smoothly and satisfy clients, collaborative design is a must.

Why do you need collaborative design?

Still unconvinced of the need for collaborative design? While it may sound tricky to implement, the benefits could astound you. Here are just a few reasons to use collaborative design today:

1. It unifies team members

Working with other people is a fine art. If you don't know the people you're working with particularly well or fail to appreciate their expertise, your project will likely fail. With a collaborative design process in place, you can ensure employees unite in working towards a shared goal.

Forget passive-aggressive emails and poor communication – collaborative design is all about respecting and helping each other. As well as helping your project run smoothly, this generous approach to teamwork could enhance your company culture.

2. It gets the creative juices flowing

Collaborative design allows employees to dip their toes into new professional spheres. A content designer, for example, may relish the opportunity to offer feedback on web design or video assets. They may discover creative talents they never knew they possessed, thus boosting your company's potential for innovation.

3. It prevents creatives from giving up

When a team is united and enthusiastic about a project, they can overcome problems and deliver a fantastic end product. Remember - most projects involve setbacks at some point. If a team member's heart isn't in it, they may feel tempted to give up or walk away. With collaborative design, workers won't want to let each other down.

When should your team implement collaborative design processes?

It is up to project leaders how often and when teams should convene to discuss the project. As a guide, however, most collaborative design plans involve meetings and discussions at the following stages:

  1. When defining the scope and vision for the project
  2. After you have drawn initial designs
  3. When problems arise, or teams lack inspiration
  4. When clients or project owners ask for feedback
  5. During the review and approval stage of the project

Discussing strategies at these crucial moments will help to keep the project on track.

Building an effective collaborative design framework

New to the field of collaborative design? Don't worry – it's even easier than it sounds once you have a framework in place. Here's how to build a collaborative design strategy and timetable creatives will love:

1. Do your research

What are your design objectives? What does the client or project owner expect to achieve? If you're not sure, you must do some preliminary research before going ahead with your project.

Once you have outlined your goals, you can start formulating a project strategy. Consider questions such as:

  • How many people need to be involved?
  • When is the deadline for completion?
  • How much is the project going to cost?

Answer these questions using solid data gathered from your clients, designers, and any other knowledgeable parties.

When analyzing the data, look for patterns and trends that your asset will need to encompass. Remember to obtain input from every individual working on the project and key stakeholders to ensure the process is democratic.

2. Brainstorm some preliminary designs

At this point, your teams can start transforming data into concepts and preliminary sketches. You may need to set aside an entire day to discuss ideas, making sure to include backend engineers and technical designers in the process. Welcoming technical people into creative spaces will ensure initial designs are realistic given your time constraints and limited resources.

3. Create a mockup of your asset

Next, developers can start fleshing out your agreed concept using mockups. Once they have completed a mockup, you must hold a project meeting to review the asset's color scheme, typography, textures, imagery, and more.

4. Continue to schedule design reviews

Next, your teams can focus on their own responsibilities. Just remember to hold regular review sessions to ensure the process remains collaborative. Ask questions such as:

  • Are there any design flaws in our current model?
  • Does the design meet the client's brief?
  • What is working well?

5. Obtain feedback from external testers

When your asset is functional and ready to be tested, gather feedback from people not involved with the project. Ask them to assess the usability of the product and identify any design flaws. This will help guide your teams when they're making the finishing touches to the project.

6. Complete the approval stage

Congratulations – you've completed your project! Now, you need to ensure the client is happy with it. When showing them the asset, try to explain the logic behind your design and present them with positive user data collected during testing. This will boost the chances that your work is approved.

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