Creativity and Ideation through Collaboration / by Gavin Lau

How many UX-designers does it take to create a UI?

Key elements that affects your design are your understanding of the problem you are solving, previous experiences, area of expertise, and biases. Each of these elements can affect your design in both negative and positive manners, working with a co-acting team can help prevent some of the negative effects. Let us look at each of these key elements and see how we can use collaboration to mitigate some of the worst affects they can have on design.

Both understanding the problem you are solving and the ability to empathise with the user are key elements to doing good design work.

Your understanding of the problem can fall short of what you believe you know without you ever noticing it before any shortcoming surfaces. This is especially true if you are working with a larger and more complex problem.

Working as a team can help you fully appreciate the complexity at hand, each member contributes to the shared understanding and brings their unique perspective. The team becomes stronger by pooling knowledge. Just talking to other professionals will help you explore the problem, because when it comes to understanding many heads are better than one.

Explore together and tell stories to bridge any gaps you might have in understanding.

Is the fact that you have done something successfully in the past a good indication that you should do the same thing again this time around?

Previous experiences can be paramount to the success of whatever you are striving to achieve, but can also hinder you by creating false assumptions.

Working as a team lets you draw from the pooled knowledge and previous experiences of the entire team. A co-acting team can support each other by both challenging assumptions and sharing previous experiences.

Talking with your teammates will help you work out if something you have done in the past can be applied to what you are doing now, and perhaps more importantly if it should.

Reinventing the wheel is never a good thing to do, but do you really need a wheel this time?

Each profession brings its own unique perspectives and understandings.

As a UX-designer you have your area of expertise. Every other team member will have theirs. Designing and solving problems together with developers, product managers, content strategists, content editors, and every other profession that is a part of your team will help you not only gain a greater understanding of what you are aiming to achieve, but will also help you make better and more informed decisions about which solutions to explore further and later on implement.

If you are working on an existing product or service never forget asking the people in customer support about their view on what works or not, the input they can give you about what really irks your customers will be invaluable. Better still, make sure to include them in your team to really capitalise on their knowledge about your customers.

Biases are easy to spot in others, but almost impossible to see in oneself.

Being aware of common biases is the first step to challenge them. But even if you are aware of their effect on your design and the decisions you make, seeing your own biases can be nigh impossible. Working as a team lets safeguard against some of the most common pitfalls related to biases since you run less risk of having them unchallenged.

How many times have you fallen in love with your first design or solution to a problem?

Falling in love with your first design or solution is a common fallacy for many UX-designers. For me this has happened quite a few times. When we create something we infuse some of the essence of ourselves in it and we form an emotional attachment to our creation. Letting go can be hard, really hard.

Working as a team helps you let go in the most non-unobtrusive manner possible, if your ideas does not work your teammates will hopefully not only tell you so but also why.

You will have to motivate and explain your thoughts and choices in order to convince your teammates not only that your ideas are great but also that the reasoning behind those ideas is sound.

Not being successful in arguing for your ideas will result in the team going with another solution.

Successfully arguing for your idea will result in the team incorporating the best parts of your idea along with other great ideas into an entirely new solution, or it might result in the team incorporating the best parts of the other ideas into your solution.

This works best when there is mutual respect between all team members because giving and receiving critique takes trust, not only will we have to be comfortable with others critiquing our ideas but also with ourselves critiquing others work.


The science behind collaboration

There are many ways to incorporate collaboration into creativity, from collaborative ideation to co-designing with users and clients.

In a review study performed by American psychologist Gayle W. Hill in 1982 teams were found to perform better than individuals in ideation and creative problem solving.

Science says collaborating is good for ideation and creative problem solving.

Hill showed that while there are negative effects of collaboration on team problem solving, especially when using brainstorming techniques, these can be mitigated by removing bottlenecks associated with brainstorming: the need to communicate ideas verbally, groupthink, social loafing, and production blocks.


Structured ideation

One way of addressing these downsides of creative collaboration while still retaining the positive effects on ideation and creative height is to use structured ideation sessions that switches between individual brainstorming and collaborative discussion.

Using structured ideation sessions helps you not only to capitalize on the effectiveness of individual brainstorming at one end of the spectrum and collaborative problem solving on the other but also captures the benefits of pooling knowledge and experience.

A structured ideation session starts by having each team member individually brainstorming ideas, followed by collaborative problem solving where ideas are discussed, critiqued and reviewed. To fully gain the benefit of collaboration you should iterate through individual brainstorming and collaborative problem solving a few times, using each iteration to both test new ideas and learn from the discussions that follow.

To borrow terms from improvisational theatre we should offer our own ideas to the group, endow others’ ideas, and always trying to respond with an affirmative “Yes, and” to build further on what has been shared avoiding blocking of ideas or missing opportunities.

Collaborate, share, and tell stories together. You will not be disappointed if you are looking for ways to boost your creativity and ideation capacity.

So how many UX-designers does it actually take to create a UI?

So to go back to the opening question, how many UX-designers does it really take to create a UI? For a workable UI it only takes one. If you aim for creating an exceptional User Experience it will take an integrated cross competence team consisting of several professionals collaborating together.