If you work in the creative or technology industry, whether you are a developer, marketer, engineer, project manager, client, or something else, chances are you will have to collaborate with a designer sooner or later. It could be over creating an advertisement, designing a product, or establishing branding guidelines. Working with designers is a fundamental aspect in these industries, and sometimes, it can be tough, as designers have their own unique responsibilities, their own process of tackling problems and accomplishing goals, and a way of thinking that a non-designer may have trouble understanding.
As a designer myself, I have experience working with designers and non-designers alike. As such, through my experiences, I have recorded a list of tips to help anyone effectively collaborate with designers, so that the best results for a project can be achieved.
A common issue in team settings that contain people from different backgrounds is something called the ‘curse of knowledge.’ Simply, it is a cognitive bias that occurs when a person, interacting with other people, unknowingly assumes that those people have the knowledge or background to understand what they are talking about. In the workforce, an expert in their profession may be so familiar and skilled with the concepts and technicalities of their job, that to them, it seems so obvious and straightforward that they assume everyone knows those concepts as well, when in fact they do not. As such, this can cause friction when collaborating if a marketer assumes a developer knows about advertising principles, or a developer guesses a client understands the basics of coding.
As a non-designer, chances are that the designers you work with will have little knowledge of your professional perspective. Therefore, to prevent any confusion or miscommunication, be conscious of the terminology associated with your job, and avoid using it. Stick with common words and phrases that everyday people will understand. Ask if they need certain concepts explained to them. You want a designer to be comfortable, and not feel stupid, and ensuring your communication is as simple as possible is a great way to avoid making them feel awkward or inadequate.
The same principle works in reverse too. Designers have their own terminology, and way of thinking that may not make sense to you. If this happens, find the right opportunity to politely ask for clarification, and do not be afraid to ask questions. Chances are they will be understanding, and happy to help.
Similarly, to the last point, effective and clear communication is one of the most important elements that should be implemented to guarantee successful collaboration. At the beginning, ensure everyone understands the deliverables and what is expected of them. Explain what the goals of the project are, convey the deadlines and establish the boundaries when designing. The objective is to ensure that the designers are on the same page and understand what they should and should not be doing.
At the same time, communication is a two-way street. Encourage designers to ask questions and create a space where they feel comfortable sharing their own ideas for the project. As they come from a different background, designers may be able to bring a perspective that will improve the results. Have an easy and fast way to contact you, such as by setting up a group Slack channel. Overall, fostering healthy and open communication can only benefit team morale, and positively develop the project being worked on.
While it may be difficult to trust a new designer to complete a task correctly, it is imperative you do. As previously discussed, designers have a way of thinking and working that may be unfamiliar to you, but it does not mean it is ineffective.
For example, I once had to work with a developer on an app with no design experience. As a designer, I oversaw creating the pages for the app. I did extensive user research to identify the needs of the target market as best as possible. My goal was to create an app for the user, which meant when I was designing it, all the design choices were very specific and always deliberate with the user in mind. However, when it came time for the developer to code it, he disagreed with certain design choices based on his personal preference, and not on the user research. Instead of consulting with the designers about what he did not like, where I could have explained my decisions, he went ahead and coded the pages with completely different designs that ultimately provided a poor user experience. In the end, we were able to come to an understanding, and part he coded was changed to reflect the mock-ups I helped with, but his lack of trust in my expertise resulted in frustration and time wasting. Trust that your designers know what they are doing, and if you have concerns, bring them to their attention before acting.
Any professional designer knows they are not perfect. They know that they will not get the designs right 100% of the time, and that changes will likely have to be made. Therefore, they know not to get attached to their work, and know not to take it personally if people do not like what they have done.
At the same time, this obviously does not mean it is okay to make criticism towards their designs mean or personal. They are human and take pride in their work. Like with every situation in life, make the criticism constructive, and give useful feedback that designers can work with. Avoid saying anything that can be taken as a personal insult to the designer’s skill and knowledge.
When giving criticism, a good way of doing so is by explaining your concerns, but not telling designers what to do. For instance, if you feel like a design is too cluttered, positive feedback could look like “this page feels too overcrowded” while a harsh criticism looks like “remove this picture” or “remove this button.” By telling designers what to do, you are limiting their creativity and undermining their expertise. In most situations, the designer failed to get it right the first time due to not understanding the vision completely. Chances are if you tell them what does not feel right, but refrain from telling them what to do, they will be able to create something better than you imagined.
Often clients or co-workers have a vision of what they think a design should look like. However, it is difficult to convey how something should visually look with words. As such, a good way to clearly illustrate yourself is through visuals. Create a collection of photos, colours, graphic, posters, logos, mood boards or just anything visual that you would like reflected in the project. By doing so, you are giving your designer a better understanding of the look and feel they should be creating, thereby decreasing the chances mistakes being made.
Much of time, clients and partners have a strict idea of what they want a final product to look like. However, designers are experienced in their field, and likely know things you do not. What you have in mind may not be realistic in the time available, or chances are the designer will be able to make suggestions that are better than what you suggested. Remember, design is a subjective and creative field, where there are different solutions to a problem. As such, have an open mind when interacting with designers; let them have a chance to come up with something on their own, and be open to what that is. It may just end up being better than anything you could have imagined.
Working with designers is an inevitable part of the work for many people. However, at the end of the day, they are only human, just like you. If you make the effort to make them, feel comfortable, respect them, trust their expertise, and communicate effectively with them, you are likely to have a fruitful relationship that will result in a final product that surpasses expectations. As a last piece of simple advice, treat designers how you would want designers to treat you.
September 20th, 2021
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