Yesterday I went to a talkshop hosted at Pandora about establishing a pair-based design process.
Chris Noessel and Suzy Thompson, Design Directors from Cooper, talked about their experience working together as a designer pair. It was really interesting to learn that pair design is all about designing together as one person with the benefits of two brilliant minds complementing each other by playing different roles. Cooper calls them Generators and Synthesizers. The relationship is based on trust and mutual respect for each other as designers with an understanding that when critiqued, it's the design that is being critiqued, not the designer.
It's not about two designers splitting up work and cooperating merely by merging the best of the two designs at the end. If you were to split up the work instead of working side by side, you would run the risk of getting too attached to your own designs and then having to defend or sell your own design. If you were to pick a little bit from each, you would risk not ending up with a cohesive design or a design without a clear opinion.
When you are pair designing you are working side by side throughout the entire process and you need to follow certain ground rules and set up a work space optimized for pair designing. For instance, there should only be one marker in the room, no arguments can last longer than 15 minutes, you can only build not block, leave your ego at the door etc.
You can read more about Pair Designing and how to get started in this Medium post by Karl Dotter, the founder of PairDesign.co.
15 Minutes Pair Design Activity
At the end of the event Karl Dotter and Kate Rutter lead a very quick, but super insightful workshop to let us get a sense of what pair designing feels like.
For this activity we were asked to pair up with someone we didn't already know, so I paired up with Kartik Agarwal, a UX designer at RideCell. Below you can read my experience and takeaways from the exercise, Kartik might have experienced it completely differently.
The exercise went like this.
1. You choose who will play the role of the Driver and who will be the Navigator. The Driver holds the pen, the Navigator will give directions.
A round of Rock-Paper-Scissors decided that Kartik would be the driver and I would be the Navigator.
2. You choose an app or a product you want to work on and set a goal to make it better through design.
We pulled out my phone and looked at my apps. Then we chose Hipmunk (for no particular reason other than being an app we both knew and really like) and took a screenshot of the flight search page.
3. You have 5 minutes to set a goal and generate ideas together.
The goal of trying to make it better was already set so we jumped into idea generation. At first we were stuck. None of us said anything. We stared at the screen probably close to 3 minutes trying to find something wrong with it, but couldn't find anything we really wanted to change.
"Hmm.. we should have picked a worse app" I said. Kartic agreed. Then something interesting happened. "Maybe the search button doesn't need to be there until you've made some choices?" Kartic said. "Oh, maybe it could have assumed I would be likely to fly out of SFO?" I fired away immediately after. Kartic was tapping away in the app and then I noticed how small the tap areas were. Then what about auto-suggesting nearby airports? And why would you want to see dates in the past? We're not likely to be time-traveling are we!?
In just two minutes we had generated lots of new ideas for things to improve on by building on each other's comments.
4. Now it's time to start designing in the roles of the Driver and Navigator. You have 5 minutes.
This was the hard part. Just taking directions was not easy, especially right after coming up with so many ideas I wanted to explore further. But it was also somewhat relieving not having to be the one pulling, just listening and trying to interpret what was being communicated.
5. Time to switch roles! You have 5 more minutes to revise the design.
We both were excited about one idea for a new calendar view, so we did switch roles, but instead of revising we jumped on to re-designing a new screen.
It was interesting to to notice how different it felt giving directions and not holding the pen. I noticed how easy it was to communicate an idea effectively when describing the problem rather than giving directions for what the layout or boxes should look like.
I thought the activity was really fun and it definitely sparked my interest in pair designing. Even though we did't fully follow the rules, I felt the benefits of designing as a pair.