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Why You Should Pursue Collaborative Design to Build Products

  • By  Dheeraj Khindri    |    87D32530-FD6E-468E-BB24-045278513D21 Created with sketchtool. 8 MIN READ    |    6BCC25D0-42B3-420B-8C28-C5D7EF3F6856 Created with sketchtool. Updated: February 15, 2021

User experience design should not be left to designers alone. Instead, it should be a collaborative approach where everyone on the product development team should be involved apart from considering the user feedback. This is the very idea behind the collaborative design concept.

Design is now too important to be left to designers. — Tim Brown

An architect will think of the software architecture, a designer will have an idea of how to make the product usable, the developer will know whether the proposed design is feasible, and the stakeholders will have opinions around the product design to make it invest worthy. In all, the experience design process is a collaborative initiative undertaken by a product development company, and not a one-man or one team job.

What is Collaborative Design?

Collaborative design, also known as participatory design, is a design strategy that helps foster effective collaboration among different teams of the product development team. i.e., the developers, designers, architects, and testers.

Collaborative design is the process of involving people with distinct profiles in the design process to achieve non-linear solutions for various kinds of problems. — Gustavo Pimenta, Managing Partners at SensesLab

The idea behind collaborative design approach

Role of Collaborative Design in Product Development

The purpose of collaborative design is to integrate design and collaboration in the software development process.

The different stages of product development where collaborative design plays a role include:

1. Development of PoC (Proof of Concept)

Proof of concept is a process that is applicable to New Product Development to test the feasibility of innovative (untried) ideas.

Here the product development team including the designers, developers, architects work together to check the practicality of the idea presented with respect to development efforts and corresponding design requirements.

2. Development of Prototype

A prototype focuses on user experience design and is created to validate the look and feel of the product. In simpler terms, a prototype helps in visualizing how the product will look with respect to UX design and also helps attract seed funding.

The designers, architects, and developers work together for building a prototype. The product owner conveys the product requirements to the team, and then the team brainstorms around the features and the look of the product.

The designer’s team helps design the prototype while considering the recommendations from — developers, product owners, testers, and design architects. Hence, a collaborative design effort.

3. Building the MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

Minimum Viable Product is a basic launchable product version that is ready for shipping. The MVP is built with minimal must-have features and once it passes all stages of the software development process, it is launched in the market. The further refinements and feature additions are based on user feedback.

When building an MVP, following collaborative design practices ensure shared ownership among the development team.

The stages of MVP development where collaborative design plays its part include:

a. Design Process

Where the designers work on the finalized design and tweak the design with respect to changing requirements and opinions. Daily standups are conducted to check the team’s progress and collaborative work towards improving the design and development efforts.

b. Development Process

Developer and designers work in time-boxed sprint cycles where they simultaneously develop and design the features and the UX flow around it.

c. Design QA

Once the design is complete, the design QA team ensures that no “design debt” exists, i.e., no inconsistencies exist in the designed product and the idealized design.

It is a part of promoting collaboration in design for your product as the developers and designers work together at this level to ensure design consistencies.

  • Designers review the UI code for the developed user story
  • Work with the developers to make changes to the UI code if required

Agile Activities that Help Promote Collaborative Design

The common collaborative design approaches in the product development process include:

agile best practices for promoting collaborative design approach

1. Retrospectives

A retrospective is a practice where the software development team including designers, developers, and testers revisit old product development projects to understand past best practices (what worked) and mistakes (what didn’t work).

With respect to collaborative design, retrospectives can be conducted to validate the success of past product designs based on user feedback.

In case the design is falling short on any parameters such as usability, findability, or discoverability — the entire team should brainstorm around the new design that helps address the existing design issues.

2. Mob Programming

Mob programming is a practice where the entire product development team works on the same thing, at the same time, and on the same system to solve a particular problem or complete a task.

With respect to collaborative design, mob programming can help in fixing a design error or creating a new design that everyone agrees with.

3. Swarming

Swarming is an activity where professionals with the same skill set work together to complete a task that a particular team member is having trouble with.

With respect to collaborative design, swarming is referred to as an activity where the entire design team works to complete a design job that a particular designer is having trouble with.

Best Collaborative Design Strategies

The four common collaborative design techniques include — Whiteboard Sketching, Crazy Eights, Affinity Diagrams, and Design Sprints.

Here’s an overview of each of them:

1. Whiteboard Sketching

Whiteboard sketching is a type of informal session in which multiple team members contribute to one design on a whiteboard.

It works rather well for smaller groups or cross-functional teams that are aiming at comparing design ideas using visualization.

Whiteboards are best suitable for solving complex design problems or come up with innovative ideas together.

2. Crazy Eights

The technique called the “Crazy Eights” is a sketching activity comprising three rounds, which include:

a. 5 Minutes, 8 Ideas

Each participant needs to fold a sheet of paper thrice into equal halves, thus creating 8 rectangles in turn. Next, they unfold the paper. Now, the team members need to take no more than 5 minutes to sketch 8 ideas into each rectangle.

b. 5 Minutes, 1 Big Idea Now

Each participant works towards sketching one big idea on a separate piece of paper. This needs to be done in no more than 5 minutes. The plan is to either build one of the 8 ideas or combine various elements from any of those 8 ideas created in Round one.

c. 5 Minutes, 1 Storyboard/Wire Flow

Now that each participant has built a sketch around one big idea from Round 2, they must build a storyboard on a new piece of paper, along with the UX design flow with respect to the idea generated.

3. Affinity Diagrams

An affinity diagram is a tool that helps gather opinions and ideas and organize them into common groups based on natural relationships among them.

Affinity diagrams are a prevalent collaborative design practice that is best suited for a team strength of 5-6 people.

The five steps involved in affinity diagrams involve:

a. Idea Generation

The collaborative design project team writes the design ideas on post-its based on experience and creativity.

b. Idea Representation

Arrange all the post-its on a wall or a table in a random manner so that grouping can be done next.

c. Implement Grouping

The product development team manually arranges all the ideas into common groups. This arrangement is done based on natural grouping and shared understanding among the team members.

d. Create Header Cards

At this stage, you need to look for a common idea that links all the ideas together within a particular group. This idea can be a phrase or a sentence on a post-it and should be easily understandable.

You can also establish a relationship of a group with several other groups and categorize it under that common group (called as superheader)

e. Draw a Complete Affinity Diagram

At this stage of collaborative design practice, you need to:

  • Write the problem that the product is trying to solve
  • Place headers and superheaders in place for a proper grouping of design ideas
  • Review and validate the groupings with the entire development team
  • Document the affinity diagram

4. Design Sprints

A design sprint is a time-boxed process for working around design thinking, which, in turn, helps in reducing technical debt. This is a similar sprint cycle as that of any Agile project, but, this one works around addressing design needs.

It is a collaborative design project process where developers, design architects, and testers are involved in the design process for validating, testing, revalidating, recommending, and approving ideas.

If Monday to Friday schedule is taken into consideration, the design sprint will include:

Monday to Friday design sprint schedule

  • Monday: Set goals, create maps with respect to design priorities, seek expert validation, gather suggestions, reset goals if necessary.
  • Tuesday: Draft or sketch a rough design so that the design team has an idea of how to go about the actual design process.
  • Wednesday: Create storyboards so that all the design elements connect together to weave a complete and holistic story.
  • Thursday: Convert storyboards into a prototype so that an early sample can be created. This helps test and validate design ideas when it imitates a near reality.
  • Friday: Test the design with your target customers. Iterative through the design sprints to improve the design based on user feedback.

Best Tools for Collaborative Design

Some of the good collaboration tools for designers and developers include:

Collaborative Design Tool
Purpose
1. Figma (Our Personal Favorite) A web-based vector graphics editor and prototyping tool.
2. InVision A prototyping tool for designers that can be shared across the product development team for reviews and suggestions.
3. RedPen A tool for creating design prototypes. Different members of the development team can then post feedback in the form of annotations.
4. Mural It is an intuitive collaborative design thinking tool for creating prototypes, building frameworks, images, gifs, etc. The team can then comment, chat, or even arrange a quick call for suggesting changes and presenting opinions.
5. Zeplin A cloud-based tool for the UI team to collaborate — for creating shareable design prototypes.

Benefits of Collaborative Design

Collaboration is the most challenging part of the design process. But the payoffs are innumerable for those who are willing to take on the challenge.

So here is why collaborative design is important in design:

1. Breaks Siloes among the Teams

The collaborative design breaks the siloes existing in the product development teams by nurturing inclusion. When everyone on the team works together for problem-solving or brainstorming ideas, irrespective of their roles — productivity is the result.

The collaborative design promotes the idea “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

2. Helps Create Powerful, Fool-Proof Designs

The designers, the developers, the design architects, and the testers — everyone is involved in the design process, which means everyone’s perspective and opinion is considered before finalizing the product design.

As an upshot of it — innovation happens and powerful designs are created that have a low probability of falling short on parameters such as — usability, intuitiveness, findability, discoverability, etc.

3. Gives Way to Shared Ownership

As different team members are involved in the collaborative design process, everyone feels invested and has a stake in the outcome. This creates a sense of shared ownership in the success of the project.

4. Faster Time to Market

If the final design is a visual representation that takes care of the suggestions from the entire product development team (designers, product owner, developers, testers) — there are fewer changes and to-and-fro changes in the design.

This, in turn, ensures faster time to market and work satisfaction among the team members.

When to Use Collaborative Design?

Here are some of the use cases where collaborative design can be usefully applied:

  • Defining the vision of a product or service
  • Gaining context on a distinct problem
  • Generating and discussing ideas in an effective yet fun way
  • Solving a specific design problem
  • Designing the life cycle of a product or service

Conclusion

The collaborative design aims to bridge the gaps between the design and the rest of the product development team. By following this approach, everyone contributes towards designing the product whether it is about — brainstorming ideas, giving feedback and suggestions, or validating and approving design ideas.

The collaborative design should be a standard practice when creating products that solve user problems. This is a newer and better way of making your product teams satisfied while ensuring the satisfaction of the end-users too. Thus, a win-win!

In this write-up, we discussed the basics of collaborative design, its benefits, use cases, best practices, and the preferable tools for collaborative design.

In all, design mistakes are expensive and these mistakes can be avoided when you work together!

Contact Net Solutions for building collaborative design powered software products

Dheeraj Khindri

About the Author

Dheeraj Khindri is a Senior UX Analyst at Net Solutions. Having started as a Business Analyst, Dheeraj moved onto User Experience (UX) Design owing to his inclination towards interactive prototyping. In addition to design, Dheeraj also enjoys poetry, writing for social causes, and exploring the worlds of politics and literature.

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