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Plays Well With Others

What is collaboration in creative work? Seems like a naive question, maybe, but how does it work, or not work, in actual practice? What are some good ways of collaborating? If you’re a designer, is it better to work with another designer, or anyone but another designer? Is a division of labor necessary, or is it better to start with no restrictions and cast about for a while? Do any firms require collaboration among designers?

And this, from Bruce Mau’s (in)famous manifesto (no need to link to it; you’ve all read it):

16. Collaborate. The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.

True only in theory? Is the strife worth the exhilaration?

I confess I am no good at it. It always seemed a little like the old problem of seeing the same colors as other people—how can I really be sure that my ideas are really in tune with my collaborators’? It seems like heresy to say these days, but there it is.

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PUBLISHED ON May.05.2003 BY Sam
Damien’s comment is:

In case you haven't read Dean Allen's comments on Mau's manifesto - do check it out: maunifesto

When I was at frog design, there was a strong sell of a 'convergent' process where on interactive projects you would often find you were working with product designers, former architects and strategists.

Personally I find there is a time and place for collaboration. It can help take things further along and crystalize chaos and mess. On the other hand - it can also make things messier. However - I greatly appreciate the value in working with other people. Even if I am getting my ass kicked.

There are different parts of a project where collaboration is good. Mau believed that you had to make a lot of noise before getting to the actual design stage of a project. So in that 'noisey' period it is often beneficial to get people or collaborators involved. But there will be a time when people want to go off and work on their own.

On May.05.2003 at 12:14 PM
Steven Lyons’s comment is:

I think great collaboration for promotional design comes from 2 good designers, a savvy marketing manager and a business person who really knows their own audience and business.

Great and useful collaboration has to come from both sides of the issue. Discussion between a few designers can only take a project so far. Intellegent opinions on the client/consumer side make for successful endeavors.

Unfortunately for me and many others, the above is a dream world. Currently I would love to have another credible designer to bounce ideas off of as well as intellegent marketing personnel and clients.

I think collaboration is an important step in the process. If I were to shun collaboration with other designers or other personnel, I would feel like my ego is getting in the way of a very successful project. Just because you solicit opinions and help, doesn't mean that those ideas have to be used in the final project. Sometimes bad ideas lead to good ideas, or just what not to do.

On May.05.2003 at 12:15 PM
plain*clothes’s comment is:

as someone who has been recently forced into working solo on the majority of my projects, let me just say that this is not nearly as productive.

On May.05.2003 at 12:22 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

T.E.A.M. -- Together Everyone Acheives More?

For me, sometimes the above cheesy statement (which, yes, truly is our department head's mantra for our group) does hold some truth but in other cases it only cases more headaches without the promised better results.

On May.05.2003 at 12:25 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

Err.. that was supposed to be "causes" and not an extra "cases". I suppose I should start using the "preview" button, or perhaps collaborating on my posts with someone else? ;)

On May.05.2003 at 12:27 PM
Ian’s comment is:

Most of the time I'm all for collaboration, but sometimes I feel like I'm George Costanza and just coined the term Jerkstore. Nobody gets it, everybody has their suggestions on what to change it to, and ends up homogenized.

On May.05.2003 at 12:40 PM
griff’s comment is:

Collaboration rarely works for me. It usually results in a watered down product that lacks a decisive direction. I agree with Ian that a designer needs to have confidence in a concept and might need to develop it quite far before it can be properly communicated and they can see your brilliance!

On the other hand, I find critiques with other designers to be extrememly valuable. They seemed so painfull in school but now I actually crave them. Much like tobassco sauce.

On May.05.2003 at 01:12 PM
KM’s comment is:


16. Collaborate. The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife and often ends in animosity.

Collaboration with artists of different disciplines seems to be more productive...

On May.05.2003 at 01:44 PM
armin’s comment is:

When it comes to designing I don't play nice with others. Sure I can work in a team environment, but give me the choice and I'll choose to work alone 9.75 out of 10 times. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy critiques, in fact, I love critiques, it only makes my work stronger. But when the time comes to choose colors, typefaces, paper or what not and laying out whatever it is I'm doing I'm most comfortable working alone. I like things done my way. I can also take advice and suggestions but after that I'll see how to implement those suggestions.

>T.E.A.M. -- Together Everyone Acheives More?

And yes Joy, that is very cheesy. I imagine Chris Farley in this bit saying that.

On May.05.2003 at 02:55 PM
Bob’s comment is:

I've had a few occasions to work with others on projects, however as a general rule, I've only ever worked by myself, either for myself or for others. Thus I find collaborators, even inter-disciplinary pairings, tend to get in my way.

Could that have been any more awkward?

On May.05.2003 at 03:26 PM
felix’s comment is:

Collaboration is a neccessity, but in these times its a luxury most cant afford.

On May.05.2003 at 03:54 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Collaboration is a paradox that all designers must suffer -- we're celebrated for our originality and individualism, but for most of us, our career is spent working in teams.

I love working in teams because I'm very competitive, and I find it takes a challenge from others to drive the best out of me. I like working together with designers that feel the same. It can get quite confrontational in our office, but we do it all in good spirit -- and for the benefit of the design.

I also love to be challenged on my bullshit. Working in a team grounds me so that I don't get complacent. Brainstorming is also better in groups.

In our office, we use the team analogy that five fingers makes a fist. Guess which finger I am.

Ok, now I can't resist. Sorry Joy...

T.E.A.M. -- Treat Employees As Meat

On May.05.2003 at 04:17 PM
Christopher May’s comment is:

I've collaborated for both the better and worse of a project. I find when collaborating there are a few simple things to consider that can stomp out many fires/tempers before they start.

1. have a tight creative brief to refer to before you start the project. This can clarify soooo many things.

2. people are people - personalities are always part of the equation. If a person is a lone ranger, don't work with them — it is not productive - things will be compromised more times with attitudes and stubbornness than dilution of the actual concept.

3. What goes into the concept filter is not necessarily reflective of what comes out of it. what is important is to put as much stuff into the ideation phase without censorship. The more ideas/minds/stuff going into the filter - the more potential there is to spawn new ideas bigger and better.

4. Execution is a system of semantics. Subjectivity plays a major factor. Decisions can be made that you may not necessarily agree with, but before you lose sleep over it, ask yourself if it ultimately affects the overall concept.

5. Try not to sound too bossy like this list. No one likes to work with a Know-it-all ;)

On May.05.2003 at 04:21 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, ok... just a couple more to get it out of my system...

T.E.A.M. -- Turkey Empanadas Are Marvelous

T.E.A.M. -- Trivial Elements Allow Mediocrity

..that's it, I promise. Gotta deadline to make so no more playing.

On May.05.2003 at 04:37 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Mmmm, turkey empanadas are marvelous!


T.E.A.M.: Thus Ends Annihilate Means

On May.05.2003 at 04:41 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

On May.05.2003 at 05:14 PM
Damien’s comment is:

In our office, we use the team analogy that five fingers makes a fist. Guess which finger I am.

Really, can we?

On May.05.2003 at 05:41 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Joy. Get out while you still can.

> Damien: Really, can we?

Hint: it's the one that Felix stuck out at me.

Alright, last one for today, boys and girls:

T.E.A.M. -- Terrible Embolism Arises on Mondays

On May.05.2003 at 07:16 PM
armin’s comment is:

>Hint: it's the one that Felix stuck out at me.

oh... you two...

On May.05.2003 at 08:27 PM
Michael S’s comment is:

One type of collaboration that I'd like to do but haven't found the right opportunity to work with is a social scientist. Whether that's with a sociologist, psychologist, or someone else interested in human behaviour. If you're designing something on a grand scale, it would be interesting to see what a social scientist could bring to the initial plans.

On May.06.2003 at 08:02 AM
TOM’s comment is:

Just jumpin' here..

Has anyone mentioned the value of competition that 2 or more designers can bring to a project? I know I am a better designer today because of the comp verses "teammates" to be the one the focus groups loved!!

It helps if people on the team no their positions and allow others to play theirs. Ofcourse it helps to have a good coach.

On May.06.2003 at 09:41 AM
rebecca’s comment is:

I've never collaborated with another designer on anything; sounds like a minefield. But, 1) everything I do is a collaboration with authors, editors, my employer, etc., and I get a lot of satisfaction out of working constructively with the people involved; and 2) I do love working with other designers on separate projects: the informal critiques and shared resources raise the level of everyone's work. Maybe it would work like that collaboratively among designers? One can only hope.

On May.06.2003 at 10:51 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Unless you are stranded on a deserted island, you collaborate with people in almost every aspect of daily life.

Driving to work is a collaboration of people who've all agreed to obey a common set of laws in order to get from point a to point b. You collaborate with people while standing in line at Starbucks. Etc.

You collaborate with everyone you work with, whether you realize it or not. A designer's environment is affected by everything that is communicative -- business correspondence, newspapers and magazines, water cooler gossip, phone calls, etc. I believe that how you design at any given moment is very dependent on your interaction with others at or before that very moment.

Design is communication. Communication requires conversation and interaction between at least 2 parties. So design is conversational -- which means it is inherently collaborative in nature.

Designers only differ in their degree of interaction and collaboration with others.

I will now collaborate and drive home....see ya.

On May.06.2003 at 08:26 PM