Design
Strategy

Great Design Requires Great Communication

By Lindsay Schwartz

April 18, 2017

I recently had an enlightening chat with my co-worker, Bobby.
He’s a developer, and I’m a designer. We represent disciplines that sometimes bump heads throughout the course of digital projects.

We debriefed following the successful conclusion of a web-design project. We reviewed what went well and where there were hang-ups. We noted moments when we could have connected better on one thing or another.

He presented his perspectives on how components of the site came together well, or with difficulty. I shared my observations on how design could have been actualized differently. Despite misalignments in the project, however, I left the conversation feeling grateful for the honest discourse.

When the pressures of individual roles and pride can easily get in the way of progress, unfettered communication is central to teamwork. In fact, it’s one of several best practices for integrating design with other disciplines—either internally, or with external client teams.

Maintaining an Open Dialogue

It’s important to remember designers and developers (and other team members) ultimately want the same goals. We all want the projects into which we invest weeks and months—sometimes even years—to function best for their intents. We want products or services to function with ease. We want users to understand and enjoy their experiences.

To achieve this, however, a lot of individuals need to interact well​.

At Azul Seven, we encourage the sharing of inspiration, insight, and concerns internally, and with clients. One way in which we do this is to set up inclusive Slack channels. These channels allow us to comment on progressive or even questionable dialogues happening in the field, user interfaces, user flows, and designs. These are baseline conversations around how things do (and don’t) work, and they result in shared exposure to numerous perspectives.

We also invite clients to gather face-to-face with us as often as possible. We’re currently working on a product that required several pitched visual concepts upon kickoff. We invited our client’s in-house design team over to walk them through our design team’s inspiration before we got too far into the work.

Ultimately, open communication can save everyone time by allowing us to empathize with and address needs quickly and often.

Driving Collaboration Forward

Motivation is another valuable byproduct of regular, open communication.

When everyone on a project team is kept up-to-date, they become more invested in the project’s outcome. Communal involvement boosts morale and focus.

One way we make sure this happens internally at Azul Seven is by holding a morning scrum to kickoff every workday. The full team hears updates on everything from new business to project deadlines, and team members are encouraged to contribute, regardless of their project roles. Regular meetings help create accountability and allow team members to ask for support, when needed.

We also try to build a give-and-take culture with clients.​ For instance, we love to lead new clients through design-thinking workshops at the start of engagements. This inevitably leads to stronger, more empathetic relationships within the project teams, as we’re quickly able to learn how colleagues think and build patterns of trust and communication.

Clients don’t always have the budget for initial workshops, yet they’re fascinated with our process of working or want to better understand it. So when we move into the research phase of a project, we often invite client leadership back to our studio to unpack research. In this way, even if they’ve never participated in a design-thinking workshop, they can get a glimpse into how we uncover and share data.

Working Towards Clarity, Always

When workloads get heavy, unclear messaging amplifies stress and tension amongst team members. This is yet another reason why clear and concise communication is so important.

At Azul Seven, we don’t shy away from client interaction.

If the scope of work is unclear at any point in the design process, we get on the phone or schedule a meeting. Close, regular contact keeps entire project teams engaged and prepared for even the most shocking revelations.

For example, we recently conducted research that uncovered large systematic problems our client had not anticipated. Our findings forecasted big changes in their budget and team down the road.

We invited the client’s leadership to preview our research results before we presented them to a broader team, so as not to shock them with the scope of work or the way we recommended they tackle it. This approach successfully eased our client’s concerns and reinforced the trust and clarity of intention established in our ongoing relationship.

Good Design Requires Good Feedback

By its nature, design is iterative work that relies on critiques and revisions.

Without good feedback from users and clients, designers risk developing styles and features that may not be right for the desired product. It’s crucial that all the team’s stakeholder voices are present in the appropriate stages of the creative process to push and pull concepts apart and test their strength.

It’s also crucial that egos don’t get involved—that feedback is recognized as impersonal and for the sake of reaching better solutions.

At Azul Seven, it’s a prerequisite that our designers have thick skin for handling critiques. We recognize that every idea is open to debate, and nothing is permanent as we iterate for design improvements.

We scope every proposal with time and space for internal and external rounds of review. This is to make sure there’s time to gather all the needed feedback and allow users and clients to gut check the solutions we come up with. In this way, we verify our work against business requirements, leadership, and ideas we might have missed.

Capitalizing on Our Hunger to Learn

Lastly, it’s important to note that design teams must work to stay on the leading edge of ideas and techniques for integrating innovation with developers, project managers, marketing and other organizational disciplines.

This requires a steady flow of learning resources—books, articles, tools, dialogue—and an unceasing desire to streamline processes and grow capabilities.

At Azul Seven, we welcome new doors to work stronger in team settings.

We regularly test, explore, and adopt new support tools and tech, sharing information to kick off dialogue around the pros and cons of new systems.

In a recent example, we spent a loose month beta testing how best to export artboards for wireframes. After thoroughly analyzing the options, we chose to shift our tool choices, creating learning opportunities for the team, an opportunity to hone our processes, and to avoid stagnation.

If you want to learn more about how to integrate design with your team, contact us at Azul Seven.

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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