One vs Two vs Many Designers

Working in a big company can make me feel like I am a lone designer. That isn’t to say that I am the only designer or that I have no design support. Rather, I get put into the situation a lot where, because I am embedded on my sprint teams, I have a specific set of work I need to get done in a given period of time. When paired with everyone else around me doing the same thing, the office becomes a place for heads-down work, rather than active collaboration, short feedback loops, and design learning. And while my domain team, design team, and project teams all have reviews to help my design meet our standards and push the concepts forward, it still feels like each designer is working independently. This idea of being a lone designer does not have a ton of benefits to it. Honestly, the only perk I can think of is rapid growth in accountability. Essentially, it is not ideal for designers to work alone.

On the opposite side of the spectrum would be a group of three or more designers working on the same project. I’ve done this before too. It’s hard because there are lots of perspectives trying to accomplish the same thing, which increases the amount of concise communication necessary and generally leads to one or two people taking a leading role while the others play support. Basically, things generally take longer because what matters to one person may be meaningless to another. On the other hand, larger design groups tend to be more goal oriented, which keeps designs very focused. Having more people provides greater perspective and more physical man hours, whether they be utilized or not. Designing with a group can be fun and is collaborative, but it is still not ideal; with too many hands in the pot no one gets to pull anything out.

Then there was two, which is more of a generalization for two or three people. Having a small group works on many levels. It is small enough to move quickly, but more than a single designer, so there are different perspectives to shape an excellent product. Ideas can be bounced off of each other, and there is a greater likelihood of everyone feeling like they have a stake in the end product. Small groups challenge one another to do their best work and participate in the full design process, supporting faster feedback loops and greater iterations. The group can delegate, without having to worry about communication gaps. And the list of positive reasons to work in small teams goes on. The only draw back that I see is needing more resources to have paired designing. Therefore, designers will have to work in a studio model, consulting for many different teams, never gaining a specialty, which may not even be a problem because greater exposure usually produces greater designers.

So, whether you are consulting for a design firm or working internally for a company, you should advocate for a paired design framework, creating a faster and more collaborative environment.