Collaborative design is highly sought after as a way to bring in more experts and skills into design, as well as bring in fresh perspectives and to perhaps increase the efficiency and speed of design. However, this concept has a lot of problems, just like any collective and parallel business or technical process can.
Ever heard of the old adage “too many cooks ruin the stew”? Well, this kind of problem is rampant in collaborative design, and it’s seemingly inevitable that this will rise up, if we don’t plan ahead of time to abate this inevitable tangle and overrunning.
So, what can you do to make collaborative situations work more smoothly, and to prevent all of these cooks from ruining the stew? Well, there’s only so much you can do to abate this problem, but there are measures that you can take to make it more effective and productive at any rate.
This isn’t going to give you any revolutionary insight, though, so don’t come into this expecting grand enlightenment. This is still a fairly new concept, and to be honest, it’s probably best to not mess with this idea just yet, unless you’re left with little choice. Hey, at least I’m honest.
#1 – Choose your Framework
Ok, if you want to do collaborative design, your first instinct is going to be to set up folders with version-based sorting, over a local network, and give everyone appropriate read and write permissions to update and modify files containing interaction designs, mockups and of course code.
Well, don’t do that. In stead, find a collaborative document and file management system (such as Google Drive), which allows easily-balanced permissions, real time multi-user editing and easy access from multiple device types from anywhere internet is available.
Don’t use an SVN system or a Git system for your code repository, either. Those are just horrible to use. Just horrible!
#2 – Assign Permissions Wisely
Along with choosing a solid framework, be sure permissions are assigned properly. Just letting everyone change and overwrite everything is going to cause the right hand to not know what the left hand is doing.
Be sure that, within the scope of the collaborative project, that those working on certain aspects are only permitted to access and change the things pertinent to their departments.
Sabotage is unlikely, but those who think of themselves as capable outside their purview (which is very common due to human ego) could easily break things or hinder progress of other departments or involved teams. Be careful!
#3 – Communication
Be sure that, every week, all the department heads come together and discuss their issues and current concerns, as well as progress and ideas. Lack of communication like this could result in everyone going in incongruent directions no matter how much they have their ducks in all in a row.
This means that departments should also have powwows as well, daily, before work begins, so that the individuals working collaboratively within a division are also in parallel and working together, harmoniously.
Collaborative design is risky, and I honestly think it’s too soon for it. But sometimes you have to use it, and when you do, the advice above is going to keep this from backfiring on you majorly.