Sep 11, 2013

Dear Designers, It’s Not About You

Chris Bobbett

Chris Bobbett

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The age of the lone designer is over. The kind of designer sequestered in a room all alone steadily working to address a client’s specific design challenge. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, recently posted a brief article on LinkedIn highlighting the end of the lone designer as a new era of “design thinking” begins. Moreover, the design firm Cooper has been discussing this reality since 2009 and continues to raise the topic at industry conferences. They recently proposed a panel topic called “Gettin Bizzy with Pair Design” for SXSW Interactive 2014 extolling the benefits of pair design. While this panel topic focuses on working with another designer, their point is still applicable here – better work can be produced with others rather than alone.

What they are saying is true, especially in the software industry where collaboration across disciplines (product management, product marketing, engineering, IT, QA) requires designers to work with many non-designers. With this in mind, I’d like to offer some advice to those who may be entering this type of work environment for the first time and encouragement to those who may be struggling to adjust.

1. You Are Not What You Do

Your design work will be criticized, picked apart, and challenged. That doesn’t mean you are rejected. It just means the design isn’t where it needs to be yet. This is just part of the design process. Remember, for the most part, everyone at the design table wants to arrive at a good solution and participate in the process. They are not there to tear you down and put you in your place. If that is their motivation, then the project will likely never succeed anyway and you should move on. So practice separating yourself from the work you create. I know this is easier said than done but I promise it will save you a lot of emotional turmoil throughout your project and career.

2. Remember Why You Are There

The client hired you to help address their challenges. You are not there to design the most amazing portfolio piece for yourself. It’s about them. Not you. And believe it or not, you should be prepared to make design concessions. At the end of the day your client needs to be overjoyed at the final product. By the way, the more they get to participate in the design process, the easier this is to achieve. This doesn’t mean you just execute everything they want. You still own the design role and you need to provide wise counsel and apply your best design thinking to help them win. I repeat, help them win.

3. Keep Your Ego in Check

Unless you are super human, you need to keep in mind that you don’t hold all the answers or ideas. And if you do, be prepared to convince others of it. They will not subscribe to that presupposition. Rather than assuming you have a lock on the good ideas, I’d recommend you be in a constant state of listening and synthesizing what those in other disciplines are communicating. Consider what they are saying and decide if it’s something that can further inform your design. If not, there is no harm in listening. People like to be heard and it builds good will. Be open and listen. I promise you’ll learn something new. It may not be design related but you will learn something.

More on Serving Clients Well

A side note for those who offer design services within a consulting capacity: At Credera we are encouraged to read the book, Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni, and I highly recommend it. The book is an entertaining read and offers additional advice on serving clients well, some of which relates to points highlighted in this post.

Iron Sharpens Iron

One final parting thought before I conclude – if you are the kind of person who seeks opportunities to grow your understanding of design within a broader business context, then collaborating with others is that opportunity before you. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Get connected with others, collaborate and don’t carry the design burden alone.

In the interest of practicing what is being preached, I’d love to hear what advice you would offer the lone designer who needs to embrace a more collaborative process? What strategies do you employ to facilitate better collaboration? What’s worked well (or not so well) for you? I’m all ears.

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