by Melissa Sherman on June 22, 2009
It was a short period of time. So short that we had to remind ourselves how short a period of time it really was: 4 weeks. Just 4 weeks to complete conceptual designs for 8 features – and not just a single version but at least 3 versions of each design.
And then there was size of the team: 3 designers. Give 3 designers 4 weeks to create multiple conceptual designs for 8 features and what do you get? If they are team of innovative designers you might get the designs and a new process. If they are a team of committed designers you might get the designs and an improved collaboration. We were lucky. We got all three.
Here’s how it worked:
Each designer owned a feature. The lead designer led the team through the problem, the priority areas, the research findings, and the proposed solution. Then every designer began sketching designs for the features on paper. With one remote team member this meant scanning the sketches to share, but that wasn’t a terrible price to pay for the freedom a pen and paper can provide in the initial design stage.
Once the first version was complete, the team walked through the ideas. The group had regular afternoon meetings where each design was presented and evaluated. Working quickly, in less than a week, the feature would take shape, evolving from the joint expertise of a 3 person team.
And it didn’t end with the 3 person design team. Software development engineers were there too, answering questions, reviewing sketches, offering perspective and different ideas. As the conversations continued, the relationship between the designers and developers changed; a sense of shared responsibility became apparent in team meetings and in hallway conversations.
Next, the team took the sketches on the road. They tightened the designs up, created posters for each feature, and held a focus group to collect feedback from a group of users. Talking together in an open forum gave the designers a chance to learn more about their end users while the end users offered suggestions for how to improve the concepts.
The biggest reward? Seeing how effective collaboration is, but also how enabling collaboration – something we long to do for our end users – can be pretty inexpensive. Just by talking every day, quickly sharing ideas, being willing to put pen to paper and try something different, a group of people successfully integrated collaboration into their problem solving and design generation-validation processes.
And they also have a new appreciation for good speaker phones, 50% black markers, and good old-fashioned paper.