A user experience that is designed by a group should be as seamless and coherent as though it was designed by an individual. When experiences are created by a team of designers inconsistencies are often introduced, making the end product awkward and, in some cases, introducing usability errors. In my own experience, I have found that there are three ingredients to ensuring effective design by a team.
Designate a Design Lead
It is tempting to think that a flat organizational structure in the design team will breed creativity and collaboration, and it may, in deed, do so. However, I have never been on a design team that will police itself perfectly when everyone is left to their devices. The reality is that there are time pressures, demanding clients, and imperfect information, which ultimately inhibit the team’s ability to self-police its designs. It is rare for one designer to shift through everyone else’s designs and make sure that design patterns align and inconsistencies are fixed. Instead, designers often do their best with the time and information that they have. For this reason, it is important to designate a design lead, whose main function is to review everyone’s output and ensure consistency and accuracy.
It is expected that the design lead will dedicate the majority of her time to overseeing work. She will both keep an eye on process to make sure that the team members are not deviating too wildly from each other as well as on the deliverables. In looking at the design artifacts, the lead is tasked with ensuring that designers are following established design patterns. Not only that, the lead must make sure that all the pieces will fit perfectly together and that the design is extensible. It is difficult for each team member to have both a detailed view of their part as well as a global one. Finally, the lead must manage deviations from standards or gaps in the overall user experience. When the lead does her job effectively, she acts as a conductor, making sure that the entire orchestra is in tune.
Vet and Document Patters
Because each designer is focused on their part of the project, it is difficult to keep track of all the design patterns that are employed in the design as a whole. At the same time, adhering to patterns is necessary in ensuring consistency and thus reducing confusion and improving learnability. Not only that, as new designers are brought onto the team, having a central repository of patterns greatly diminishes on-boarding time. Patterns should be identified by the entire team to give everyone an opportunity vet and challenge them. When new patterns are identified, they should be cataloged. When designs deviate from patterns, the team should ensure that they are warranted and possibly if patterns should be updated. Documenting such patterns varied by group and is driven by available technology, skill sets, and organizational constraints. There is not ideal, and it is important to rember that any patterns document is better than none.
Frequent Team Reviews
In order to achieve harmonious user experience, the entire team must collaborate and have a voice in the design. The key is to have consistent, frequent meetings where all members present their work and garner feedback from their colleagues. These review meetings are important for a variety of reasons. First, no one will be able to provide you with feedback than your team members, who are working on the same product and are intimately familiar with it on a number of dimensions. Second, each designer is super familiar with their part and the patterns that they use. Thus, they will quickly be able to identify when a design is not adhering to standards or is inconsistent in other ways. Finally, each designer will be able to immediately see how another members’ will work or not work with their own. This also allows them to plan for extensibility. Although the design lead is responsible for reviewing everyone’s work, a design review that involves the entire team is second to none.
I stress “frequent” and “consistent” because that I have found that if such reviews are scheduled ad hoc they often do not get scheduled at all. It my mind, I find it better to have weekly, even bi-weekly review meetings.
A Finely-Tuned Machine
When a team is not working in unison on a user experience design, the end product becomes confusing, inconsistent, and awkward. That is why it is critical for the team to work together. At the heart of every successful collaboration is communication and transparency. In my experience, I have found that the above practices go the furthest toward reaching that ideal.