As an agency with a multitude of client projects running simultaneously, our design team is always looking for ways to facilitate collaboration among designers who are working on different projects. One way we do this at Postlight is through our take on pair design.
Pair design is about more than putting two people in a room to solve a problem. It’s a way to make collaboration your practice. On the surface, it’s a simple concept — zen even. Put two minds together on a regular cadence with some lose structure and practice, practice, practice.
Pair design is a sort of escape room two people agree to enter and problem-solve their way out. For 30 minutes, they leave their project-tunnel-vision for a breath of fresh air and exchange ideas along the way. Practicing pair design in this way has become an important part of our design process. It’s healthy, and it gets results. For anyone looking for new ways to collaborate through pair design — here’s how we do it.
What is pair design?
In its simplest form, pair design is when two designers get together (virtually these days) to pick a single problem to focus on and work out a solution together, in real time. Inspired by pair programming and used by design teams around the world, pair design is a proven technique for generating more ideas in a shorter amount of time — and increasing the quality of the work.
“Pair programming is an agile software development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. One, the driver, writes code while the other, the observer or navigator, reviews each line of code as it is typed in. The two programmers switch roles frequently.”
Whether you want to sketch ideas for a new feature, validate your current approach, check your blindspots, or refine your designs prior to handoff, few things are more effective than the immediate feedback loop created by two designers sprinting toward a common goal.
The logistics are simple
At Postlight, pair design is scheduled regularly to facilitate frequent interaction between designers and make collaboration a habit. Each week, two designers are paired together and determine the problem to solve. It’s a flexible space where we can foster frequent collaboration between designers in a protected and dynamic environment. Here are the steps to make it happen:
- A calendar with a rolling list of pairs for the upcoming four weeks is shared with the design team. These pairs are rotated each week so every designer is eventually paired with every other designer at Postlight.
- Designers are then responsible for keeping up with the list and scheduling their pair design session for the week.
- Each designer in the session is assigned a role. The Driver sets the agenda and does the actual designing, and the Navigator provides feedback, thinks about the user, asks Socratic questions, and researches so that the Driver can focus on actions.
- Sessions are capped at 30 minutes — enough time to cover a topic, but with the right amount and pressure, and not too demanding of anyone’s calendar. It should be quick and fun, a brief foray into a new way of thinking about a problem.
The benefits are endless
We’ve been practicing pair design in this way on the design team for over a year and have seen so much growth in the way our team works together. Here are some of the most impactful benefits we’ve experienced:
- Get feedback on your work from an outside perspective. When you’re stuck on a tricky problem, or want to see how someone responds to a solution, a fresh pair of eyes is invaluable.
- Learn how how other designers approach and think through problems. This inevitably leads to new ideas on how to evolve your process and grow as a designer.
- Become familiar with your fellow team member’s strengths. Being aware of everyone’s skills and experiences means you know who to tap if you need help in the future.
- Gain experience giving feedback and critiquing work. Effective feedback is a great way to improve the quality of any design, but it requires practice. Pair design lets you stretch that muscle.
- Strengthen team culture. Regular pair designing with your teammates, even ones you don’t work with directly, contributes to a stronger, more trusting team culture.
Two heads are better than one
“Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.”C.S. Lewis
“Two heads are better than one” — did we first hear it from a parent? A teacher? Probably a good teacher that we loved to eye-roll but also respected deeply. Collaboration is incredibly valuable, and pair design is a great way to make it happen on your team.
As with any collaboration method, there are many ways to incorporate pair design into your process. It’s an effective way to solve problems and bring people together on any team.
Paul Berg is Senior Product Designer at Postlight. Interested in working on your product? Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.