“Two heads are better than one” they say. But then they also say that “too many cooks spoil the broth”.
I’m sure that whoever ‘they’ is would have something to say about paired design. Is it a good thing? Or is it simply a recipe for a dog’s dinner?
In this article, we’ll be examining exactly what is meant by paired design, analyze the benefits and drawbacks, and help you make a decision about whether hiring two heads brings you an advantage (and we’re not just talking about hiring Zaphod Beeblebrox*)
*If you don’t know who Zaphod Beeblebrox is, then right after finishing reading this article, make sure you read The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s almost as useful.)
What is Pair Design?
The chances are probably quite high that when you have a design task that needs doing, you hire a designer. Seems pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?
But one of the words in that sentence is key. It’s the word ‘a’.
Quite a little word, but it draws a distinction between what you’ve probably always done and what you may be considering as an alternative — pair design.
So what do we mean by this? Elementary, dear reader. Just like the pairing of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, this strategy aims to put two designers to come up with crafty designs.
Except, in this case, both can wear deerstalkers or any other type of headwear they prefer. The aim is to complement each other’s solutions so that one can whisper “Norbury” to the other from time to time.
Have you ever presented a product or website design to your team and found out that they had a slightly different perspective from yours? Imagine thinking that you had a fantastic design but later realizing that you looked over some key elements.
If you had someone with you to give you feedback on your original idea, you wouldn’t have to go back to the drawing board. Getting their suggestions from the get-go may have helped improve the product design and saved precious time.
Paired design tries to prevent such situations by assigning two designers to the same task. It may seem a bit confusing at first, especially since it’s not the most efficient approach in terms of resource allocation, but it definitely has its benefits.
How Pair Design Works
Pairing designers seems easy enough. Here’s how it benefits all stakeholders.
Creating a Feedback-Focused Relationship
A common misconception among many readers is that pair design aims to put one person to work while the other just points out mistakes or suggests improvements.
That can get really annoying, really fast. You don’t want someone looking over your shoulder and pointing out suggestions without actually doing something to help.
Don’t worry, that’s not what this is. Instead, think of it as more of an open platform where you can just bounce ideas off each other, dissect those ideas, and then find common ground to work with.
This strategy requires each person to play one of two roles: either a generator or a synthesizer. The generator is someone who comes up with ideas. These need not be perfect — just good enough to initiate a discussion.
The synthesizer is someone who takes that initial idea, works with the generator to identify areas of improvement, and then identifies whether it actually solves the problem and satisfies the requirements of the project.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of back-and-forth in this kind of relationship, with the two individuals discussing the pros and cons of each design decision.
In most work environments, these roles are often interchangeable. A generator can take over as a synthesizer if they have run out of ideas, for instance. Or, if they are just tired of spewing out ideas, they can simply switch roles.
Similarly, if the synthesizer has an interesting idea, they can swap positions and have the generator suggest improvements instead, effectively reversing their roles.
The Many Benefits of Pair Design
Here are just some of the many benefits that pair design offers:
1. Reduce Cost of Change
As development progresses and the product life cycle continues to advance, it becomes more and more difficult to make changes to different specifications.
In many cases, the relationship is inverse — the cost goes up as the ease of change eventually declines throughout the product life cycle. It’s easier to make changes during the early stages as compared to at the time of delivery.
This strategy helps reduce the cost of change as it incorporates feedback from others from the start. With two designers working on the same task, they can both validate each other’s inputs and ensure that every stakeholder is satisfied.
It’s a common thing in dynamic agencies — some may love the design, while others are quick to highlight its rough edges and areas of improvement.
Pair design makes it easy for teams to take everyone’s input into account before they get to work, thus reducing the overall number of changes with time.
2. Sharing Knowledge
Designers from various backgrounds and with different inspirations can be paired together. This allows for more seamless knowledge sharing. For instance, a junior designer can be paired with an experienced one, which automatically creates an instructive relationship of sorts.
Designers in a pair can play to each other’s strengths and learn from each other’s experience. Something as simple as just watching the other person work can improve the transfer of information and doesn’t just help the project but the entire product team.
Pairing designers with diverse backgrounds is a great way to improve the quality of results, as each individual has the option to showcase their creativity without sacrificing the original vision of the project.
3. Improve Collaboration and Reduce Rework
A major benefit of using this strategy is that it improves teamwork and collaboration. Plus, with twice the brain power working on a single solution, the results are almost always better!
This has a direct impact on morale and productivity, as employees are able to validate their decisions much faster. Simultaneously, it helps reduce rework, as employees don’t have to worry about making significant edits after all the work is done.
Instead of working in silos, working in pairs helps bring colleagues together and gives them an open platform to discuss ideas and challenges.
This also has another positive effect: managers can freely move designers from one project to another, knowing that there’s still one designer who knows the product and can guide a new team member.
4. Comprehensive Documentation
Pair design makes it easy for teams to prepare more comprehensive documentation outlining their process. Once both individuals make a design decision, they can divide roles and start preparing documentation.
Since the roles are split, it takes half the time for a team to prepare and deliver documentation.
5. Leads to Better Overall Design
Pairing leads to continuous iteration, as there’s always someone who’s critiquing a design and looking for ways to improve it. The ultimate benefit of this is that it significantly improves the final product design.
All perspectives are taken into consideration, and ideas are tested heavily, which ensures that foundational problems are resolved early on instead of being exposed later by another member.
The value of bringing two perspectives together to focus on one problem may seem hard to quantify, but it leads to design decisions that are well thought out and thoroughly tested.
How to Effectively Use Pair Design
Here’s how you can use this technique more effectively.
Pair Cross-Functional Team Members Together
It’s not always necessary to pair two designers together. Instead, it could be beneficial to pair cross-functional team members, such as a UX designer, with a product manager.
This primarily depends on the type of design challenge you’re trying to solve, but encouraging team members from different disciplines to work together is a great way to improve collaboration.
It takes time to build synergy. When you pair two members together, you need to encourage them to actually communicate. And, as processes start to develop, make sure to document them!
This helps identify what works and what doesn’t. Over time, these processes can be replicated, reducing friction and making the process easier to systemize.
Understand the Design Challenge
Before you start working in a pair, it’s important that both members understand the design challenge. This ensures that efforts aren’t wasted and that both parties work towards a common purpose to achieve the objective.
Implementing a new practice in general workflows takes time. There will be hiccups along the way, which is why it’s important to encourage patience from both members.
It’s important to learn along the way, identify elements that work, and identify what doesn’t. This is an iterative practice, so it doesn’t just improve the quality of design output but also helps streamline internal processes.
For instance, if something works for two designers consistently, they can share their processes with other teams, and if it’s good enough, these processes can be replicated throughout the department!
Pair Design Can Improve Teamwork and Productivity
Pair design is a great way to improve teamwork, build synergy, and help team members learn from each other’s experiences. All of this translates into better productivity for design teams while also cutting down on cost inefficiencies.
You can try Atarim free today to see for yourself how simple and effective it is to be able to collaborate on web design projects in a visual way, allowing designers to work together on a pair design even when working in different locations.
If you want to learn more about teamwork, Peter Gwynne’s Group Intelligence, Teamwork, and Productivity is an excellent read.