A few weeks ago, I attended a pair design ‘TalkShop’ (talk + workshop) at Pandora facilitated by Suzy Thompson (Cooper), Chris Noessel (Cooper), Karl Dotter (pairdesign.co) and Kate Rutter (Tradecraft). Pair designing is much like pair programming — two designers work together on a single problem and collaborate to come up with a design solution. Design agencies and startups alike are implementing pair design as a method to push creativity, expedite learning, and improve workflow. Having recently been matched on a new client project with another designer, I was intrigued by pair design and wanted to learn how it could improve my process.
Working Together as One
Suzy and Chris kicked off the event by discussing their experiences pair designing together at Cooper.
“Pair Design is taking two designers… that work together as one.”
They reflected on how it’s important to utilize the experience and perspective of both designers within a pair but crucial that the pair works together, not merely side-by-side, developing independent solutions. Working as a pair helps to establish mutual ownership over the design process and avoids competing designs that lead designers to defend their own ideas over their partner’s. Designing together can also avoid mixing and matching aspects of two separate workflows therefore leading to a more coherent design narrative and cohesive solution.
Design Pairing has been effective for Suzy and Chris, and through their experiences, they have developed six ground rules to help guide their process.
1. Have only one marker in the room
Designing with a single marker allows for engagement and deeper listening. Often, one member of a pair will draw or design with a marker while the other observes and facilitates. At Cooper, they have defined these roles as generator and synthesizer.
2. Use the 15 minute rule
When having reached a design disagreement, time-box it. Allow for discussion and bring in a third party to provide a less biased perspective and try to help resolve the issue. It’s okay to have disagreements but don’t dwell on them.
3. Build don’t block
Cutting down others’ ideas can halt momentum and hurt a partnership. Build on your partner’s idea by adding to it, asking good questions, and seeing the solution through before jumping to criticism. Building can also help guide further ideation that wouldn’t have occurred if an initial idea was blocked and can build trust within a pair when sharing ideas.
4. Respect your Spidey sense
Throughout the process, listen to your design intuition. If you think that a design is not working or doesn’t feel right, say something — your feelings are always valid*. (*later, be sure to return and make a valid argument to justify your feelings.)
5. Show don’t tell
Showing gives your design partner material to work with, respond to, and develop upon. Telling keeps your ideas abstract or “in the air,” and subjective. Showing leads to more objective design conversations and greater understanding and collaboration.
6. Embrace Egoless-ness
“Leave your ego at the door.”
The success of the pair design process is dependent on your ability to check your ego. When designing, it’s tempting to drive your own ideas while ignoring others. Being able to champion other’s ideas allows for better design and happier designers.
15-minute Pair Design
Next, Karl and Kate took the stage to facilitate a 15-minute pair design activity. Our goal was to take an existing mobile app and do a 15-minute pair re-design.
The format looked like this: