Pair Designing


How many times in life have you kept your head down, got on with your work and not questioned what you’re doing? And how many times has someone stepped in and suggested a new way of thinking and it has changed your way of working forever? It is often such a simple change that you can’t believe that you hadn’t thought of it yourself, but the change that it has on your work is immeasurable. That is what happened to us when we started Pair Designing. With over 8 years of experience in the industry, we thought that we had our process pretty nailed, but now we look back and wonder why we never thought of it earlier.

Those well versed in the school of Agile will have heard of Pair Programming, where skills are shared, code is continually reviewed and seemingly outputs are too a much higher standard. But pair designing feels much more uncomfortable. Does one designer draw whilst the over one tells them which direction to draw the line? Does one artwork in photoshop whilst the other directs each element? This seems like a recipe for ego fights and stroppy designers, but somehow we have come to make it work. More than come to make it work, we have found it the most powerful asset that we can offer.

Pair designing is not a concept that we meticulously planned and purposely invented, it was just something that we fell into. At the inception stages of an idea we found ourselves asking each others opinion more and more often and one day, without thinking, found ourselves sat at a table sketching out our ideas, designing in parallel, reviewing, questioning, answering problems, offering visual solutions, challenging each other and producing a high quality solution that, we both would agree, had been thoroughly thought out and sense checked.

How on earth do you do it?

Pair designing predominantly has to happen on paper, where you can sit next to each other either drawing out the same elements and taking what you like from each, or sketching out different parts of the product whilst reviewing and checking as you go along. It works best at this early stage, whilst your ideas are still broad and free. Don’t be afraid to cross out, screw up and start again. And even more important, be humble enough to know when you’ve been out designed by your co worker!

Sketching is all well and good, but what about the visuals?

This is where it gets tricky, and where it took us some time to take what was working so well when we were sat around a table with our pens and paper onto a computer screen. Again, it’s about working closely and sharing all of your ideas as they trickle through your mind. It’s good to research together, get a clear idea of style and colours before you even open photoshop. We often pick our colour palette, a bank of fonts to try and then start designing. Starting off designing the same thing, we play around with layout and styling separately; both working from the sketches that we had made together. After hours of working separately we would then print out where we had got to and get back around the table again. Armed with post-its and pens you need to be honest with each other, talk about what’s working, talk about what’s not — take ideas from each others designs and create one even better result.

But who is in charge?

Moving on from designing, whether you’re then getting your output printed or coded up by a developer, you then both have joint ownership of what you are making. You are both as invested as each other and both know the product inside and out. Not one person has to lead the design, it’s not a single vision — it’s a shared one.

Now I know that working in teams is nothing new, and you’re perhaps wondering what on earth we are blabbering on about. Sure, we have all sat in meeting armed with post-its and pens and fleshed out ideas, but then you would often go away alone and squirrel away on some beautiful designs and perhaps ask your buddy for their advice when you have the finished article. Perhaps just try asking that buddy into your process a little earlier on. Show them your sketches, talk through your ideas, ask for their ideas and just see what happens…

You might, like us find that you produce a design that is far more rounded, that appeals to more people and that you are much more excited about launching in the real world.