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Design as Collaborative Art

Friday, January 21st, 2011

I came across a very interesting article on A List Apart last week about graphic design and the collaborative process. It’s called Design Criticism and the Creative Process and it’s worth a read if you have the time. If not, here’s a quick summary and my 2c.

Essentially, you have to view design and design critique as a collaborative process regardless of whether you’re the designer or the client.

For the design team that means coming to grips with the fact that, yes, you are the design / visual communications professionals, but that your client knows her business better than you do, and might have an insight or two. (In other words, getting over yourself.)

For the client, that means coming to grips with the fact that you hired the design team for a reason, and it ain’t just because your stick figures look they might have rickets, scurvy and scoliosis. You can’t make the design process about personal preference. Just because you don’t like blue doesn’t mean it’s not the best color choice for the project. (If it doesn’t fit the corporate branding guidelines, that’s another story, but usually when a client overly hung up on color selection it’s an ego thing  …)

Most importantly, though, is the idea of working collaboratively. This isn’t the dreaded (and mediocrity-guaranteeing) “design by committee.” It’s

  • eliminating ego
  • investing key players in the project from the outset
  • eliciting as wide a range of perspectives as possible
  • encouraging useful feedback

It’s the useful feedback that brings everything together. If you can avoid vague, defensive or personal critiques and don’t address the needs of the project’s audience, you can develop effective, exciting design work that hands-on clients, client executives, and design teams are all enthusiastic about.

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