As a Creative Director, you need designers to fly by the seat of their pants, take life by the horns and do whatever they need to do to get stuff done. Or, in other words, you need them to indulge their creativity, take abstract ideas and craft them into something relatable, tangible and personable — relative to a brand, of course.
But here’s the thing.
All too often, designers and other creatives wind up with an acute case of what you might call Lone-Wolf-Tunnel-Vision-No-Don’t-Touch-My-Precious. Or non-creative folks attempt to create collateral, resulting in some seriously rogue content and off-brand hullabaloo. You’ve seen it before. And maybe you’ve experienced it yourself, too. Folks get so wrapped up in a project that it becomes difficult to remove themselves, both personally and professionally, from the execution, critique and more.
And while either approach to design can be effective in some circumstances, it works only up till a certain point, when it can hinder your brand image.
Alternatively, steering creatives toward collaboration in design, especially when the project calls for it, can have a positive impact in a myriad of ways.
What is design collaboration?
Simply put: design collaboration involves the collaboration between colleagues — design, dev, content and etc., — in order to bring an idea to life.
As the name suggests, design collaboration is an immersive, collaborative experience. It relies on an innate variety of thinking, experience and more that multiple key stakeholders contribute when they, so to speak, put their heads together to problem solve and create powerful customer experiences. Ultimately, design collaboration entails a unique process in which creative teams transform an idea or a concept into a fully-fleshed out campaign or finished product. And in turn, you build a stronger team and empower them to work faster — together.
Why is design collaboration important?
Collaboration in design offers your team two critical benefits:
Your brand stands to gain the benefit of collaboration between creatives.
Your brand stands to gain the benefit of cross-functional team collaboration.
As far as creatives are concerned, collaboration in design helps empower creatives to take their blinders off and work together (as a team) to create powerful, magnetic content experiences.
New and unique perspectives — Each and every person brings a fresh set of eyes and a unique life experience to the table. It’s that diversity in thought and experience that allows designers and creatives to really lean into creating content that represents and resonates with customers. Furthermore, a new perspective empowers creatives to see beyond the realm of their experience and what they bring to the table, which can incite imagination and inspiration.
Peer-to-peer learning opportunities — There’s no better people to learn from than your very own peers. Feedback, critique and suggestions are not to be feared. They’re powerful tools that invite an individual contributor to create a more inspired, authentic content experience. Peer-to-peer learning opportunities present creatives with space to iterate and make changes as they see fit, based on feedback….Which leads to our next point.
Safe space to try new things — Safe spaces for everyone can do a world of good. But sometimes the world isn’t too friendly to creatives. Oftentimes, the brand experience is a numbers game, which makes it easy to dismiss perhaps outlandish or risky ideas. So there’s something to be said about creating stuff in a safe space environment, especially as a team. Think of it as “I got your back.” Plus, there’s a lot of emotional and mental time and energy that goes into creating something. Giving creatives a safe space to explore, draft and more can not only build trust as a team, but it can empower them to find design solutions that create stronger customer experiences.
As for cross-functional teams are concerned, collaboration in design allows individual contributors and teams at-large to work faster, work stronger and work together more effectively. Keep in mind, the key to a successful collaboration design process lay within managing the project itself.
Work efficiently and effectively — Collaboration design requires collateral to be created in sync with other important aspects of the project. For example, your UX designer can’t create a wireframe without copy. And a copywriter can’t create a UX experience without knowing what it will be laid out like. Creating partnerships and harmonious working relationships between integrated tasks allows teams to move faster and work together more effectively.
Start projects strong — High-visibility projects, like the launch of a new product or revamping your homepage, require input and direction from key stakeholders out the gate. A collaborative design process empowers teams to start projects strong and incorporate stakeholder feedback at the start and along the way, rather than teams getting to the finish line and then feeling bottlenecked by feedback. From there, everyone gets a say where it’s most important instead of attempting to corral feedback in a democractic, timely manner.
Iterate, ideate and create — Again, collaboration often lends fresh perspectives and new ideas. Collaborating cross-functionally allows teams to gain access to unique experiences and thoughts, in turn nurturing a stronger content experience for your customers and for your brand.
How to create a culture of collaboration
Creating a successful collaboration design culture is kind of like following a recipe. There are certain ingredients, so to speak, that you need in order to foster and nurture collaboration across individuals and departments.
So, what do you need?
The six C’s!
Common ground — Think of this as a team’s (cross-functional or not) shared values. What unites you as a group of collaborators?
HOT TIP: Remind everyone to keep an open mind when it comes to perhaps overzealous ideas. Sometimes the most impactful experiences aren’t the most straightforward. And part of the collaborative process entails leaning into a problem-solving mentality.
Context — Think of this as your goals. Why are you all here? What are you doing?
HOT TIP: Creative briefs are excellent contextual pieces of evidence. A creative brief doesn’t have to be super heavy-handed or in-depth, but it needs to offer the guidance, context and identification of key stakeholders for the project at hand.
Clarity — Think of this as the “how” you’ll get this project done. Clarity is critical when working in a group of multifaceted people.
HOT TIP: You need to consider project management processes, tools, roles, deadlines and so forth. The more clear you can get about who-owns-what and when-something-is-due, the stronger your project is likely to be.
Critique — This is probably pretty self-evident. Successful collaboration requires critique and feedback. Do not shy away from it.
HOT TIP: Facilitate peer-to-peer feedback sessions. It’s easy for anyone and everyone to get tunnel-vision when working on a project. Or, alternatively, create a big group brainstorm that encourages everyone to feel “bought-in” to an idea or concept, that way each person feels as though they contributed to the brainstorming process.
Communication — You and all of those on the collaboration team need to have a universal language regarding the project specifics. Even if a sales agent doesn't quite understand the ins and outs of a UX designer’s job, doesn’t mean you can’t establish a common ground of communication.
HOT TIP: Encourage cross-functional collaboration and communication on a regular basis. Weekly or biweekly meetings are a great way to achieve this.
Connectivity — Think of this as the “what” that connects you back to your customers. What do you know to be true, or rather, what assumptions are you making about this project and consequential experience or initiative.
HOT TIP: Create a customer roadmap of feedback or reviews. Get an inside look as to what you know is true, and perhaps where you’re being steered wrong.
Top 4 tools that foster collaboration
Collaboration design projects usually have quite a few moving parts — along with quite a few people involved. So, to keep you on track, we typically recommend using a few tools that promote and foster collaboration, and keep you organized and on-task.
Figma — On Figma’s core landing page, you’ll see the text “where teams design together,” which should give you a pretty strong idea of what the product offers. Figma is a proper prototyping tool for designers, devs and content writers to collaborate and bring a large-scale vision to life.. The platform is primarily web-based (with some features available offline) so you can access it anytime, anywhere.
Quip — Quip offers seamless Salesforce integration for businesses looking to scale, transform their sales process or make sense of trying times. Within Quip, businesses can easily create and collaborate on Salesforce-related documents.
Lucidpress — Lucidpress is a content creation platform that empowers anyone (yes, anyone) to create on-brand content. Lucidpress is entirely web-based and can easily accommodate multiple collaborators in a document at any given time. Choose from any of the professionally-designed templates to get started, or import existing ones from InDesign. Plus, Lucidpress’s locking feature allows designers to lock down specific aspects of the collateral, so you can forget about experiencing rogue brand content.
Slack — Slack is a team communication platform. Think of it like AOL Instant Messenger or Texting for businesses. Slack empowers individuals and teams alike to get answers quickly, or collaborate on a large project by creating project-specific channels. Slack also integrates with any variety of tech platforms, such as Lucidpress and Google Calendar. So you can stay on task quickly and easily.
You have arrived at Collaboration Design Station
It’s worth noting that not all projects require collaboration design. Some projects are better suited as partnership endeavors, whereas others, like a high-visibility ad campaign, should probably be created using a collaborative design process.