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How to Collaborate With Non-Designers

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Read Time: 3 min

As the modern day workplace gradually becomes a more distributed and global environment, collaboration across time zones and cultures becomes more commonplace than ever before.

A designer’s role is to create a product’s value to a user, and use design as a tool to communicate both through visuals and experience. So how do you go about bridging the gap in your workflow between your coworkers, especially those who don’t share a design background or even a physical office space?

Communication is keyCommunication is keyCommunication is key
Communication is key

I’ve found cross-team collaboration a challenge, but also an opportunity to learn outside the traditional role of a designer and advocate for design to those that are unfamiliar with it. Here are five tips to ease the process of cross team collaboration. 

1. Speak the Language

I don’t mean language in the literal sense, but rather that it’s good to speak the jargon and terminology of those in other fields.

For example, an engineer or PM (Project Manager) will likely use terms that are unfamiliar to you as a designer (and vice versa). By asking for explanation or seeking to understand, the entire team moves toward clarity and mutual understanding.

On your part, don’t assume that non-designers understand terms that you are comfortable with. Things like “white space”, “accessibility” and best practices for font size or sentence length should be explained to avoid miscommunication. You should expect to give solid reasoning behind your design decisions in plain language, without superfluous design lingo.

2. Know your Industry 

Aside from finding common ground in the language you use to describe design decisions, one thing that will help you is understanding the landscape for which you are designing. Whether your product is in the realm of social media, I.T., finance, or so on, immerse yourself in your relevant industry, understand market needs and that state of your competition so you can refer to those points throughout the design process.

3. Organization is Key

Specify deliverables and deadline early on; structured either through a common tool such as a board or daily stand-up meetings. Use this as a way to check-in via smaller milestones along what is often a long process with changing goals and priorities.

4. Advocate for Design

Lastly, it is important to provide data-backed reasoning for why something is important (and addressing underlying problems) when discussing design among non-designers. A hidden but important role of a designer in any organization is to advocate for the importance and value of design. Rather than speak to the subjective nature of an issue (which color a person likes best, how they feel it should be), digging deeper into the actual issue (user needs, usability scores, design principles, guidelines) will allow for a fair conversation when discussing what needs to be changed.

Tools to Help you Collaborate

  • Invision - in browser design collaboration and workflow platform
  • Slack - team collaboration tool with app integrations to several popular design tools 
  • Mural - brainstorming and collaboration tool for remote teams 

Up Next..

In the next article we’ll look at more communication tips, this time focusing on communication amongst your own team. See you there!

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