Hi, we're Emily and Colin, an Interaction Designer and Content Designer working for BPDTS. We work on the Get your State Pension service. We're over a year into working together on this fast-paced, often stressful project, and have managed to deliver some brilliant stuff without killing each other in the process, which is nice.
We know from our own previous experiences and from conversations with colleagues that Interaction Designers and Content Designers don't always find it easy working together. There's a lot of cross-over in the roles, and you can often find yourselves stepping on each other's toes. And, it got us thinking about how we've managed to sidestep the common pitfalls and avoid battling with each other every step of the way?
6 tips for working well together
We know that some people can just naturally click or will inevitably clash. But we think the reasons we work well together will be the same for the majority of people. So we thought we'd share our personal experience in the hope that it might be of some use to someone out there, especially if you're just starting in one of these roles.
#1 Get each other involved from the very beginning
That means the whole design process, from the initial thoughts, the paper sketching, right through to prototyping and presenting back to stakeholders. You're both user-centred designers, and both have an equal stake in all aspects of the user journey.
It's never just a case of 'one does the screens, the other does the words' – we hear this so much from other people who don't fully understand the roles, and it can be quite frustrating. For us, Emily critiquing content and Colin using the prototype kit is standard.
#2 Learn from each other
Get to know about each other's job roles; don't just assume you know what each other does or should do from prior experience. Talk about what ways of working have proven most effective for you in the past and come up with your new plan.
Talk about what each of you finds most testing about your role, and there'll definitely be some common ground – and undoubtedly something you can work at together.
The biggest challenge we found we had in common was around dealing with requirements from multiple stakeholders and how to push back when needed. It's something we've supported each other on, and we're now somewhat pros at this compared to a year ago.
#3 Feel comfortable challenging each other
We know this can often be hard at first, especially when you don't know each other's personalities. Be open and honest from the start. Tell each other how you feel you work best, what motivates you and likewise, what can derail you.
It was tricky for us at the start, but over time we've found that the back and forth conversations and questioning of each other's decisions are how we've designed our best stuff.
#4 Don't take things personally, or too seriously
I suppose this goes for all walks of life, but again we know from experience that in our job roles, having our work questioned and critiqued is par for the course. So it can sometimes be hard not to take it personally when someone suggests what you've spent a lot of time doing isn't quite right. But this is where getting each other involved from the start and having that good working relationship comes in useful.
Over time, we've got to a point where critiquing is part of every conversation we have – whether it be about ideas, journeys, content or just what to label a button. As we say, challenging each other has become second nature, and we've learned that it's never personal.
#5 Present a united front
You won't always agree – you're human. Accept that though and make sure that you have those conversations early on. Deal with them, come to an agreement or compromise and move on.
For us, we make sure we don't disagree with each other in front of stakeholders - if there is something that comes up, we will take it outside of any meetings.
#6 Pick each other up when you've had a bad day
Investing time in getting to know each other pays off. You'll see when the other designer is having a bad time – whether it's been a tough research session where the design didn't test well or just a meeting where you've had to defend your decisions to challenging colleagues.
It can sometimes just be a 5-minute time-out, where you both escape the office for a rant and a coffee. Other times it may be offering to hold the fort so the other can get away and find some headspace. We've avoided a few meltdowns by taking 5 minutes for a 'walking de-brief' after a stressful meeting.
How things have changed since working from home
We were lucky to have had a chance to work together face to face for a spell before we all started working in isolation. However, we've pretty much stuck to these 6 principles, just adapting where necessary – such as using virtual design spaces like Sketch instead of our physical walls to run through design ideas and keep track of priorities. We've also set up a shared calendar so we can plan in design time, monitor meetings and most importantly, maintain a healthy work-life balance.
But this is just us
We know there's nothing ground-breaking here, but we understand how important it is for Interaction and Content Designers to see eye to eye when on a project together, so we wanted to share our experiences.
We also know there'll be others out there working in harmony every day and they probably have their top tips for not killing each other. But this is just what works for us.