Design Pairs: Working together to make better work

What is a design pair? So glad you asked! It’s basically just a name made up to describe an approach to UX resourcing.

As you may have guessed, the idea is simply to have two UX designers paired throughout the life of a project.

It’s a straightforward concept, and if you’re involved in software development, it may sound familiar. But unlike pair programming, where engineers work together in roles of ‘driver’ and ‘navigator’, the dynamic between a Design Pair is less about working in tandem and more about leveraging complementary skills to produce more robust design solutions through collaboration.

There are a stack of advantages to working this way, but for the purpose of this blog post, let’s just take a close-up look at the benefits to a project.

Unique perspectives

The old adage, two heads are better than one holds true with each designer being able to offer unique perspectives that can lead to more solutions that may not have been considered when working solo. Together the pair can generate more ideas, overcome road blocks quicker and sketch out solutions in ad hoc collaborative design sessions that can keep momentum moving forward. We all know, the urge to procrastinate is high when you’re alone.

Bringing together complementary skills

UX is a multidisciplinary field, encompassing a broad array of specialist skills ranging through research, strategy, interaction design and visual design. Practitioners who can successfully run the full gamut of UX are rare. They are called unicorns because, like the mythical horned horse, are impossible to find. In reality, a typical practitioner will have strong skills in one or two areas of UX and a broader but less in-depth competency across other areas.

And even if someone has the know how, they will find themselves doing the busy work of their true love (be it research or design) which leads me to my next point….

Together a design pair has a stronger, deeper, combined skill set to draw on.

Divide and conquer

Another benefit of working in pairs is the ability to divide and conquer the workload.

UXers are constantly in a state of flux, shifting between priorities of research, design and validation. A design pair is able to split tasks and ensure activities and effort is balanced. For example, while one designer is focused on aspects of the visual output, the priority for the other may be to arrange recruitment and testing activities. It’s not just that many hands make light work, it’s that many hands work together to make better work.

Shared understanding

In instances where resources are limited to a single designer, the situation may arise where a designer needs to be subbed off a project so another with different skills may take on the mantel. Commonly this switch may happen between a research designer and visual designer who have specialist skills at polar ends of the UX design spectrum.

The risk of these types of handovers is lost knowledge. Valuable insights gained through early research may be lost to the new designer who has to make sense of (in what is generally a short timeframe) a brain dump of information.

When you have a design pair, the knowledge is retained in the team. Both designers are present from the beginning and each can keep the other in check when considering design solutions. It’s important that designers know, understand and consider their users, from the start to the very end of the design journey.

Pushing each other to new heights

And lastly, there is a sense of camaraderie that comes with working closely with another. An effective design pair will push each other to new heights with a healthy sense of solidarity and not wanting to let the project team down. The synergies between designers will also support diverse design thinking which in turn leads to better outcomes for the project. All these positives can also translate to an improved economic outcome for the customer. Things can get delivered more quickly, the project team can move more rapidly, and there is less wasteful handover.

Try implementing these strategies on your next project. I’d love to hear how others approach Design Pairs on their projects.

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