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To Collaborate, or Not to Collaborate

I was recently talking to a designer about different experiences and scenarios regarding working environments, and specifically about the notion of collaboration between designers, creative directors and the work itself. Being a control freak – or, more realistically, lacking the patience and/or tolerance to deal with anyone that does things differently than me – I related that my best experience so far had been at Pentagram with Michael Bierut, where the burden of each project, from concept to completion, was solely on me as the lead designer, with the flexibility of pulling in an intern or asking one of the other designers to pitch in with ideas or certain executions — something I rarely did, again, see above. But besides my “issues” I found this independence and responsibility to be far more efficient and rewarding, specially compared to past experiences where too many designers were working on the same project at the same time.

As a junior designer at marchFIRST, I remember the typical dynamic of getting a project, along with three or four other designers, from the creative director and each of us going to work on our own design directions, to come back a few days later and discuss. This was fine, except when it got competitive. Some would not hesitate to poopoo another’s design and create an environment where everyone had to be on the defensive; in other cases, designers would hide their work from view in the days we all worked on our designs. The cycle would continue so that whomever’s design was chosen would stay as the lead designer while the others did production work, creating a weird sense of subordination and hurt feelings. In future experiences this dynamic played out in different ways, with different results. Another aspect of collaboration is two designers working together on producing a large document like, say, an annual report. I work fast and I work in a specific way and it drove me crazy when someone would not do the same. To be clear, I don’t write this to say that I think I’m better than others, just a way of sharing why it’s hard for me to think of collaboration between designers as a good thing: I am stubborn, thick-headed, and arrogant to a certain degree.

Working in collaboration with illustrators, photographers, programmers and others is no problem, it’s the designer-and-designer relationship that I struggle with. Luckily, no more, as I am now my own creative director, senior designer, junior designer and intern, so I can work and muck at my own discretion and decision. Working with Bryony is a different relationship than those expressed above, as we work separately but together, if that makes any sense. We bounce things off each other all the time, and don’t send out anything out the door that has not been approved by each other, but we typically retreat to our ends of the desk to work our own way. And, man, do we work differently, but with the same goal, ambitions and work ethic in mind. So it might be that my experiences have not been the most representative of collaboration, but I do wonder how others feel.

Do you work better alone or in teams? If you are a junior designer, do you enjoy heavy-handed creative direction, and working with other designers? If you are a senior designer, ditto? And if you are a creative director, how much do you rely on the collaboration between designers? Have I missed out on a great experience?

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.05.2008 BY Armin
erica frye’s comment is:

Definitely alone.

After working solo for years, it has become clear I need more collaboration than I have now. However, with my working style I know I have to work more or less autonomously. I just need access to a larger creative team to challenge me and back me up about 15% of the time.

Ownership of a project is exceedingly important to me -- I really enjoy building something, knowing that I will be able to shepherd it through. While the competition model probably helps some people perform at the top of their game, it makes me less invested and more focused on politics and emotions than on the creative process.

Last year I interviewed with a woman who told me she used a competitive/"whoever's free picks up the ball" model and informed me that she did not believe in creative ownership by any team member, as the only ownership could be for the company. I declined to pursue the position.

There are rare occasions when the right team can improve a project through intense collaboration. For me this usually happens in the concept stage, where team brainstorming helps to further and develop an idea. But once it's on paper, only incremental improvements tend to happen. ("Have you thought about moving this here", that kind of thing.) Great collaboration is rare, and if you've been playing your team members off against each other I think it's a lot less likely to happen.

On Feb.05.2008 at 01:05 PM
David Airey’s comment is:

Hi Armin,

I certainly work more efficiently when I have more responsibility on the final decisions. Not that my decisions are better than those others I've worked alongside, but that in my fledgling experience, 'design by committee' never works. Too many different influences can dilute what was a good idea.

That said, I've been working alone now for almost three years, so it's been a while since that collaboration between designers has been called upon.

For how long were you at Pentagram? (Sorry if that's already been covered.)

On Feb.05.2008 at 01:31 PM
Prescott Perez-Fox’s comment is:

Like Erica, I prefer to work on a project largely by myself with input from peers. Having ownership (or at least stewardship) of a project not only helps to squash logistical problems (file names, etc.) but adds to the overall morale of a designer. Worried about consistency? That's what Creative Directors are for, no?

I personally am very organised and persnickety about projects. I like to keep everything in a folder, binder clipped and dated. Having other folks working in parallel is an invitation for chaos because generally people are less organised than myself. At least they may have a different system that works for them. If everyone brings with him a new system, pretty soon you have a whole lot of nothing.

Need another reason to take ownership of a project? Just think of the last time you opened someone else's Photoshop file to realise that they have 50 layers, not grouped or linked, all named "Layer 4 copy 2".

But at the conceptual level, collaboration is great. I love having the ability to brainstorm with others and collectively sketch some ideas.

Regarding creative direction, I want it to be either all or nothing at all. It's that in between waffling that drives me nuts. I don't mind carrying out someone's mandate, and certainly don't mind taking things in the direction I feel is best for the project. But you can't have it both ways — giving a designer supposed carte blanche and then killing concept after concept is the worst way to direct.

On Feb.05.2008 at 01:45 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

What's most important is to know when a team will be best, and when working alone is best.

On Feb.05.2008 at 02:52 PM
Justin Kropp’s comment is:

Armin - I can relate to many of these experiences, as I've suffered through them all. I'd like to say that I work much like you in that I have a process and tend to work quickly and intuitively. This is not to say that my process doesn't allow me to change it depending on the project. The end goal is what ultimately determines how I set out working.

I've had too many experiences where, while working collaboratively, my decisions were second guessed and written off by other designers on my team simply on a subjective whim.

Don't get me wrong, I value feedback from peers and take it to heart, but that feedback is often more than just feedback. For the record, I prefer working on projects large and small from start to finish without others' "direction". If you are going to direct me, then do it. If not, then please step aside and let me do my job.

On Feb.05.2008 at 02:52 PM
Matthew Brett’s comment is:

"I am stubborn, thick-headed, and arrogant to a certain degree."

With those words, you just described every good designer I have ever met.

Working as designer, than Art Director at Organic, I found the collaboration process simultaneously rewarding and infuriating. It was very difficult to reconcile my own pace and ideas with those of others. As you said, not better or worse, just different.

Having worked for myself the past three years, I find the independence liberating and far more conducive to stronger work.

No disrespect to the many talented designers who are far better at collaboration than me, but I would sooner dig ditches than work in an agency environment again.

On Feb.05.2008 at 04:35 PM
Matthew Brett’s comment is:

"I am stubborn, thick-headed, and arrogant to a certain degree."

With those words, you just described every good designer I have ever met.

Working as designer, than Art Director at Organic, I found the collaboration process simultaneously rewarding and infuriating. It was very difficult to reconcile my own pace and ideas with those of others. As you said, not better or worse, just different.

Having worked for myself the past three years, I find the independence liberating and far more conducive to stronger work.

No disrespect to the many talented designers who are far better at collaboration than me, but I would sooner dig ditches than work in an agency environment again.

On Feb.05.2008 at 04:36 PM
adam’s comment is:

i have been working for four years out of school in an in-house creative services department (before you write that off — know that we were previously using one of this city's larger, more well-known agencies for creative until they added me (the third designer) and we were able to bring more creative in-house and now have dropped the agency from creative completely)

but i like having other the designers to brainstorm with, then bounce ideas off as i branch off and work on my own. i do not see the whole ultra-competetive, hiding your concepts before a presentation-type mindset here. we tend to share and help each other. you still need to be defensive of your work, but not because of negativity.

right now in my career, as i am planning my next venture, i do not really want to work on my own. i still think i can learn a lot from working with other designers. not to mention i think that having others' thoughts and experiences weigh in on my own ideas are what can "bring it to the next level" (to be cliché).

i love the critique process. i love to hear what doesnt work, what does work, and how someone else is perceiving my intended message.

maybe once i move to an actual design studio (hopefully!) i will be soured and bittered by the process, but right now my bright eyed naivety has me looking forward to the studio/agency process of working with other designers. that and wearing jeans to work instead of slacks...

On Feb.05.2008 at 06:02 PM
diane zerr’s comment is:

"If you are going to direct me, then do it. If not, then please step aside and let me do my job.",/em>


I have been employed by a small design studio for the past two years and I prefer to work alone. The people who I'm expected to collaborate with haven't taught me a single thing and they have learned a lot more from me.

I'm pretty sure I should go out on my own but I don't have the guts or the finances to do that yet. But by reading this post I feel like I would definitely be better off on my own and use my pool of resources when necessary. Thank God for freelance!

I always feel an adjustment in my attitude, or maybe even a reaffirmation when I read an article and the comments on Speak Up. It's so good to know that I am not the only one who feels and acts this way. Thanks for the article Armin!

On Feb.05.2008 at 07:22 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> For how long were you at Pentagram? (Sorry if that's already been covered.)

Two and a half years, ending last October.


One thing I forgot to mention that I really enjoyed at Pentagram, where we each worked on our own projects -- and just for the record, this was my experience on Team Bierut, every team is different -- was the regular off the cuff "hey what do you think of this?" with the other designers, and just getting a straight answer. I found that the best answers were a shrug of the brow, or a "really? like that?"... This usually meant I needed to do more work.

On Feb.05.2008 at 09:15 PM
Tim L’s comment is:

Wow. I'm surprised by the narrow and stubborn streak I read in the above posts. Confidence is one thing, but thinking you are sufficient enough "alone"--I feel like that borders on arrogance.

I've found that the work I do is always better with the feedback of other (great) designers. These aren't just people telling me what to do, but those who encourage me to push on in directions I would have disregarded, or avenues I've missed. I don't personally know any designers who are *so* good that they can't be helped by having someone else as a sounding board, that person to bat ideas back and forth.

I often seek out that "other voice" in the opinions and perspectives of a couple trusted designer friends.

Could the issue for some of you be that you don't have anyone you trust enough to be an excellent collaborator?

On Feb.05.2008 at 11:39 PM
Jana’s comment is:

I spent six years or so working in small studios, six years or so at an ad agency, and the last twelve years working solo, self-employed. I am an introvert, I love solitude, and often find it frustrating to deal w/ people who don't get my vision. However, I very much miss the energy, challenge and inspiration I received surrounded by other [more?] talented creatives.

Whether it was kicking around concepts w/ a writer -- either of us free to contribute word or image ideas -- showing my work in progress to another art director for input, or just being impressed by all the creative talent around me, that environment did nothing but improve the quality of my work and the enjoyment of my work day.

I don't miss the management-level politics, and I am seriously attached to the freedom to set my own schedule, but I do miss the creative synergy.

I suggest, Armin, that what you experienced at marchFIRST was not, in any respect, collaboration. And I don't blame you for eschewing it.

On Feb.06.2008 at 01:22 AM
julien’s comment is:

First, I want to apologyse for my really poor English :-)
I'm an art director and, last year, I used to work on all the projects we had. The young designer I work with didn't do great job, and was unhappy.
I decided to change the way we do, and now, when she works on a project, she does it alone. I just give her advices from time to time, and it works. She has done great progress and her jobs are much better.
We have to trust the people we work with, and let them work alone, no doubt :-)

On Feb.06.2008 at 04:43 AM
Pagan’s comment is:

When asked about the experiences of working with other people, Andrew Blauvelt answered, “I hope that it is the fact that you can collaborate with other designers and create work that is better than if it were created in isolation” (read the interview here). So do I. We all know it’s easier said, than done.

In my experience, the dynamics that come with collaboration can make working as a team paralyzing. I’ve become cautious about working in teams or with another designer because if I’m the only one engaged, my motivation crumbles, along with the work. Currently, I can count on my fingers, the other designers that I could have a true collaborative relationship with. I’m thankful for each of them. I do enjoy working as part of a team when the chemistry is right.

On Feb.06.2008 at 09:30 AM
tricia’s comment is:

no one size fits all. contrary to popular myth, there is no one type of designer. different people need different things.

after 10 years working solo in an environment of writers, i find my new situation in a small design studio with 4 other designers a refreshing challenge. we work very collaboratively for better and worse. there are times when someone else's hand on my concept doesn't turn out as envisioned (and vice versa). then there are times when group sketching sessions turn out a greater number of strong ideas than working alone would have. i'm learning there are times when collaboration brings me greater support and challenges. i'm also learning there are times when it's best to say, back off, i've got it from here.

On Feb.06.2008 at 09:39 AM
Jayna’s comment is:

As a member of a large corporate in-house design department it seems like collaboration is a way of life - with project managers, developers, I/U designers and product owners. But then again, when it comes time to go off and truly *design* something, we're each given our own space and trusted to come up with the best solution we can. In a recent project all the designers were given the chance to come up a page layout design, which we presented together and discussed and then voted on what worked and what didn't. Looking back I suppose that could've been viewed as being competitive, but no one was particularly sneaky in hiding their work till the meeting.

I've been in both situations - working as the sole designer for a small agency, and now as part of a team that's 40-members strong. I'd definitely vote for the latter. Having others to bounce ideas off of, to get inspiration from and be motivated by is a necessity. When I was by myself I only had my own opinion to rely on, and we all know what it's like when you've been staring at the screen for too long. Nothing looks good.

I don't think anyone has mentioned it, but I remember in college being forced to work *collaboratively* in a group with four or five other students at least once every quarter. They told us "that's how it is in the real world." Thing was though, that as students we all had different schedules and motivations (most of the time you'd end up with those who weren't motivated at all), as well as different skill-sets - which weren't matched up based on the team you were on. In the "real world" you're put on a team based on your role in the company, past projects you've worked on, etc. It's great to be able to have a group to knock around your ideas, but in that situation a collaborative team is more of a hinderance to get the project done.

On Feb.06.2008 at 09:55 AM
Jayna’s comment is:

Meant U/I designers...

On Feb.06.2008 at 10:29 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

I find concepts used in software development like agile development and extreme programming work equally well for graphic design.

I've worked in both scenarios. The one where the project is tossed to a handful of individuals who go back to their cubicles to work in isolation for a few days and then pop out to have the client 'pick one' as well as the one where you are just part of a group tossing ideas constantly back and forth and ending up with a hybrid solution.

When the team is truly a team (as opposed to a committee ;o) then I find the latter to be much more productive, rewarding, and producing better results for all involved. Of course, a bit part of the success is, indeed, the team member's relationships with each other. A key element (again, talking design or development) is the ability for team members to objectively and bluntly offer critiques and be able to absorb said critiques.

On Feb.06.2008 at 10:37 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

"a bit part of the success is"

Er... a BIG part...

On Feb.06.2008 at 10:40 AM
C-Lo’s comment is:

Good questions and input. I haven't been in the design field for long ( 6 years ) but I have been 99% on my own in all situations. I do enjoy having complete control because I can organize how I need to. I am VERY picky as to separations ( I work in the clothing field ), work flow, etc. I have dealt with some artists below me who were so incompetent ( not to mention no sense of design in my eyes ) that it would drive anyone batty. I have also had interns who were great. Awesome head on their shoulders, good design sense, and diligent. I let them work period. All I give them is the art request, and if I want a digital output, positives, or what have you.

I will say that I do wish sometimes that I had a group to work with. Esp. on large projects. Be it my intermediate experience, a longing to just chat it up on something I am passionate about (design), or just an extra set of eyes to help me proof.

All in all I think a group can work real well, but it has to be handled right. Almost as if every artist was the individual. We all have different styles and tastes for design. If in a group someone contributes a part, then the group is together and happy with the final product then we all win. If you send everyone in separate ways to come up with the overall design, yeah people are going to get stepped on because they want to see their work up (honestly I don't mind. I can always create more), and that's no fun. A conceptual idea should be set in the beginning so everyone is on the same page, and work from there for the greater good. And if you can't handle that, then we got to be the lone wolves that we are. Besides it's interesting to see one designers creation from start to finish.

On Feb.06.2008 at 10:49 AM
C-Lo’s comment is:

P.S. I am torn as to which I want more alone or in a group. I like my control and being under the deadline, but I am too social a creature and love to cultivate ideas.

On Feb.06.2008 at 10:50 AM
David Airey’s comment is:

Thanks for answering my question on your time at Pentagram. No doubt invaluable experience, working in Team Bierut.

On Feb.06.2008 at 10:59 AM
Jeff’s comment is:

I currently collaborate with one friend. I find that it helps most in the brainstorming process where concepts I normally wouldn't have considered are brought to light. It also helps throughout the proofing period. When I work alone, the client and I are the only judges of the design. Often, when I review my work some time later, I realize there are things that should have been edited--had there been a proofing period.

On Feb.06.2008 at 11:27 AM
ThWCox’s comment is:

I knew you weren't listening to me!!!

On Feb.06.2008 at 12:19 PM
arrogant to a certain degree?!’s comment is:

"I am stubborn, thick-headed, and arrogant to a certain degree."

These are traits I’d never want on a design team to begin with because they are totally counter productive in a creative space. It’s foolish to rationalize reasons why designers “prefer” to not work together. This reasoning sounds alot like “working in a vacuum” and eventually it show’s up in the work. I really don't see how you can call yourself your own creative director, senior designer, junior designer and intern and then not be able to collaborate with people in the same environment because of your own ego and then oddly celebrate that fact. The best work I’ve seen is when 2 or more designers actually work together and forget about such problems like "who works faster"...your experience sounds pretty insulated. In short, you’ve definitely missed out.

On Feb.06.2008 at 12:35 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Nancy Mazzei! Awesome. I so missed you.

On Feb.06.2008 at 01:55 PM
diane zerr’s comment is:

"Could the issue for some of you be that you don't have anyone you trust enough to be an excellent collaborator?"

Tim, I think this is the issue I have. When you can't trust the advice from others around you, why would you want their feedback or go to them when help is needed?

If I'm looking to collaborate with someone (beyond the brainstorming portion) it should be someone I trust or that I feel I can trust. I also think that they need to be a good listener, as well as I. It's a give and take and when it's unbalanced, it does not work out well.

I really like to collaborate, I think great things can come of it. Unfortunately I haven't had many good experiences with it yet. But I am still hopeful!

On Feb.06.2008 at 02:11 PM
Tom M.’s comment is:

In theory, I'm a fan of collaboration during the brainstorming process because it allows the project to be examined from many angles/perspectives. If the resource is there, why close yourself off from varying, even contrary ideas? You might learn something.

Doesn't always work out that smoothly, but in theory it's nice. What makes it more difficult is how brainstorming and sketching get marginalized in favor of the design team jumping right into Adobe CS and cranking out sparkly "comps" right off the bat.

On Feb.06.2008 at 02:32 PM
Patrick Sesko’s comment is:

I work solo as a full time freelance designer trying to build and run a small design business. Prior to working solo I was in several working environments that ran the gamut from the competition model to the "do whatever the hell I tell you to do"model. And while some of those experiences were rewarding, they were for the most part not great experiences.

I tend to enjoy having ownership in each project which was why I decided to go at it alone. But recently, I have been collaborting on some larger projects with another designer doing the same thing as me and the experience has been just amazing. Since we both have equal stakes in the project, we are more emotionally invested and that allows us to be subjective and honest, which in turn brings out a great product.

So in summary, collaboration can be great but it has to be beneficial to both parties and the circumstances have to be right.

On Feb.06.2008 at 03:02 PM
Rob’s comment is:

It's clear that are benefits to both scenarios. From my too many years (currently working solo) of leading and being a member of teams, i've learned there is much to be gained from a cooperative environment. As long as that environment does not become laden with egos and competitiveness. One must have shared goals and somewhat a shared vision for a team to work well together.

And now, alone as I am, I still call on design friends for feedback for I know that I am my own worst editor, visually as well as copy.

On Feb.06.2008 at 04:10 PM
Robert’s comment is:

Since I left college, I have worked for a variety of companies; always as an in-house designer, and always as the sole designer. I feel that this has limited my development.

Mostly my first solution gets approved, but I am not happy with the rigor of my process. As I move on in my career I find that I desire a mentor, or at least a talented team around me to give me feedback and push me toward better solutions.

On Feb.06.2008 at 05:20 PM
Kristi ’s comment is:

I am quite young in my design career. I've been working for 2 years in a corporate environment as the only print designer, and I am struggling. Just today I took my work to some other local designers just to get feedback, and found that my work is suffering because I DON'T have other artistic eyes critiquing me. I do not have a creative director, so I have to interpret what the CEO, Sales, and Marketing Director tell me is the focus of the company...which is all different

However, I am sure if I got to a certain point in my career, or had worked for a firm before this, I'd do much better.

All in all, I think as a designer still learning to develop their own style, it's imperative to at least be around other designers in the process.

On Feb.06.2008 at 05:51 PM
erica frye’s comment is:

A semi-OT note to Robert and Kristi:

If you're frustrated and not growing, get out as soon as you can. The jobs you describe may be necessary stepping stones, but the longer you stay the harder it will be to get out. Soon you will have too much experience but too weak a portfolio.

I say this from personal experience. I never really left the solo/tiny team bubble, and throughout my career I've been the most senior/talented in the room, which wasn't ideal for creative development. Sure, I've done some good work, but I don't think I have a portfolio that other designers respect. (My clients have loved me, but the bar is pretty low in general.) I wish I'd had the courage to leave the praise behind and seek out a team where I was on the bottom rung and was critiqued harder by more talented designers. Heck, I'd be happy to do that now, more than a dozen years into my career, if I could find that team. The good news is I'm great at business and strategy, so I will probably just get out of hands-on visual implementation.

Of course, "get a different job" is easier said than done. I've been there, and I wish you luck.

On Feb.06.2008 at 08:17 PM
Matt Kelm’s comment is:

Some people, for a number of reasons, are just not cut out to collaborate effectively, and that certainly doesn't make them poor designers. There are no statues of committees.

That said, there is a lot to be gained from working with others if done properly. The key is to know what activities can and should be done collaboratively, and which should be done on your own. Brainstorming ideas, concepts, key words, directions, etc early in the design process is pretty much always more fruitful in a group. But when it comes to making decisions regarding what the typographic palette should be or what the time line for a project is, the task might be better suited to one or two people.

One of the greatest dangers of working alone and with little critical feedback, as Robert mentioned above, is that your process and rigor pretty much goes to crap. This is a generalization and doesn't hold true for all designers, but it definitely is true for me. As relaxing as it might be to see your first iteration of something praised and out the door, it's almost certainly crap. Too many times I've finished a first draft of some proposal or design, sent it on its way, and had it shot back to me unceremoniously for refining or more. And inevitably when the project is almost complete, I'll look back at that first iteration and see it for the lame piece of work it is.

But that's just me, and I'm just a student.

On Feb.06.2008 at 08:46 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

I've found that teams of 2-3, which each person having a distinct role & responsibility works really well for me.

On Feb.07.2008 at 12:56 AM
Ryan McCullah’s comment is:

Thank you for finally saying what I've been thinking for years. Collaboration is the new magic word with amazing powers. Just say you have a collaborative approach and your in, just say collaboration a few times in your review and POOF - you're on your way up. Don't get me wrong - Collaboration is great - "None of Us is As Smart As All of Us" right?(jeeesh I sound like Michael Scott). This may work for CPA's planning an office birthday party, but design is different. Collaboration at a conceptual stage can be beneficial but when it comes down to actual execution, collaboration needs to take a back seat to individual inspiration and freedom. Design is art (persuasive art) - and try to imagine what Van Gogh or Matisse would have painted if forced to "collaborate" other artist. There would be no Van Gogh or Matisse. The first step is respecting design as art!
I've worked in studios where collaboration was used by principals to ensure that no one designer could ever take full credit for any project once they left. Or as a way to more easily manage and control a team. I'm not saying all motives behind collaboration are sinister, but I am saying we should examine the real reasons we are being forced to collaborate. Let's examine why this is so insanely important to the powers that be!
Compounding this problem is the pervasive unwritten policy of politeness. Being polite and "professional" is coming at the expense of real constructive honesty and effective work. Honesty means hurt feelings and how dare we have any hurt feelings!!!(what would Dr. Phil think?). The end result- DESIGN IS SUFFERING. We've are starving the process of the essential nutrients it needs to survive and grow.

Managers of the world Please let your designers design in the way they choose and encourage full on, brutal honesty (stop being so superficially polite!!!). The work will benefit, the energy will improve and you'll like this one - you'll make more money!

On Feb.07.2008 at 08:50 AM
g-sppud’s comment is:

It seems that a major part of the discussion that is missing here is that we are in business to provide a service. Granted it is an artistic service, but I would not put it in a fine art category such as painting or other such media. The business world of design is removed from the "art" world, and I believe the designer has to personally stay back a bit from the work.

This is not at all to say that one does not develop their own style, take great pride in their work, and invest themselves 100%. It is more to say that there's always an understanding that the work you are doing is for someone else. Art, in its methodology, is incredibly personal, subjective, and often selfish (not in a bad way, mind you). Successful design is not usually afforded those personal luxuries, unless it is design to design, which then moves back into the fine art arena. In what we do to make a living, it is our job to meet other people's goals and solve whatever visual communication issue they need solving. Ego's aside, try working with someone that truly dumps their emotional being into every logo - good times right? I guess I just think that design needs to be respected as design. Design as art is a whole different world.

There are definitely pros and cons to both ways of operations. Collaboration, speaking in the form of critique, is very beneficial in keeping a designer on track, and there are always avenues that a fresh pair of eyes can point out. Often it is a soloution that is right in front of our face, we've just subconsciously blinded ourselves. Just because someone gives you their opinion, and you might take their advice, doesn't mean that it doesn't remain your work. My opinion is that too much work in the bubble often leads to the designer designing for the designer - not the client.

On Feb.07.2008 at 10:10 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

"Design is art (persuasive art) - and try to imagine what Van Gogh or Matisse would have painted if forced to "collaborate" other artist."

Design isn't art. It's design. But that's a WHOLE OTHER can of worms. ;o)

Anyone remember the car Homer Simpson designed on his own?


On Feb.07.2008 at 10:52 AM
brian’s comment is:

Design as Art vs. Design as Business has been a struggle of mine since college. The dichotomy both kills and drives me on a daily basis. Agreeing with both g-sppud & ryan in their comments above; art is very personal, selfish, lonely, rewarding and at the end of the day there is a pride of ownership that cannot be rivaled. Collaboration can be just as lonely, but with more people around.

I feel like I work fine on my own and I achieve that pride of ownership by doing so. Yet, I know I'm not King Midas and that being so intimate with a project can be dangerous. I need to have someone say "well what if..." and point out some oversight of mine, therefore pushing the piece/project forward and opening up new avenues of thought and discussion. Making the work stronger. What kills me, as stated above, is that once other's ideas start mingling with my own and a piece is pushed... my pride is diminished and I have to submit that I am not the all supreme designer that I may see myself as in my own colorful mind.

Maybe I work better alone. Conversely, my work is better with others. I side with collaboration and where it pushes me, though I may wish I got there on my own.

On Feb.07.2008 at 10:58 AM
Mike Duesenberg’s comment is:

"I am stubborn, thick-headed, and arrogant to a certain degree."

It's comforting to hear others say this. And I would like to emphasize "...to a certain degree."

I am an in-house designer, so collaboration is important on every project, but overall I enjoy working independently. I don't see anything wrong with either way though.

On Feb.07.2008 at 05:08 PM
tzSolo’s comment is:

As a self-taught designer, I've had to fly solo to learn my trade. I do get some art direction, after there's something I like, from either the client or marketing dept. In the end I learn from that, but I don't always like the new direction.

Now trying to create a site for myself I could really use some feedback, the sky's the limit, and it just seems like I can't quite reach the creative level I like. It's strange I like all my work I've ever done for clients.

So I've just created a www.basecamphq.com account and invited some designer friends for ideas and inspiration. It's a great place to keep yourself focused, normally used for clients I suppose.

On Feb.08.2008 at 06:19 AM
Prescott Perez-Fox’s comment is:

For neck-up work, collaboration rocks. Two heads are often better than one. For wrist-down work, leave me the heck alone. And don't touch my screen.

On Feb.08.2008 at 10:52 AM
Andy Bosselman’s comment is:

I'm a copywriter and love collaboration even though sometimes it's hard.

On Feb.08.2008 at 11:27 AM
Duane King’s comment is:

I love collaboration - with qualified individuals. To me, it adds so much to the process it's hard to even put into words. Don't get me wrong, every project needs a leader and a single-minded vision, but in the end, more brains on a task means better work. You do, however, have to put egos aside in order to gain the most of the process.

On Feb.08.2008 at 12:23 PM
Will’s comment is:

Our collaboration style within our studio is a great way for all involved to feel just that. It also eliminates the painful "dead ends" that occur when keeping your eyes on something too long. Sharing documents between designers also lets the senior designer find bad habits in a junior designer's file and workflow. If someone with less experience is doing something consistently incorrect with document setup, it's a great way to catch the problem and avoid tedious fixes for all projects in the future. Like I've heard so many times before, if you don't know, how can you ask? Collaborating and sharing is a great exchange of knowledge and learning.

On Feb.08.2008 at 02:38 PM
David S.’s comment is:

I now work as an art director (manager of designers) but have fond memories of being a designer and chafing at the idea of having other designers chipping away at my designs. However, that feeling got beaten out of me when I realized that I wasn't rigorous at self-critique. Since then, I've formulated a self-critique process and checklist that I always tick off in my head to make sure the work is as tight as possible before it goes to the client. It also comes in handy when my designers are pushing their work forward, opening up areas of consideration without drilling too far into the particulars.

On Feb.10.2008 at 12:01 PM
Peter McRae’s comment is:

The biggest problem I've come across with "collaboration" is that it means different things to different people. I've worked with several other designers who had similar comments after the project was complete. What I thought was collaborating, occurred to them as me trying to direct them. I thought we were going to have open exchanges of ideas. Seems I'm more controlling than I know.

On Feb.14.2008 at 02:26 PM
NIki’s comment is:

So...I'm about to go from a situation in which I've always been a sole designer to now having to collaborate with someone because the workload justifies it. I'm petrified and feel threatened. Any tips?

On Feb.26.2008 at 12:39 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

@NIki - as long as you keep an open mind you should be ok, ideas are hard to trade mark so don't worry about who's “right” as much as what's “best” for said work.

On Feb.27.2008 at 01:34 AM