Matt and I have worked together as a design pair for the last four years. We started doing it in our own side projects, and when we experienced the benefits of working this way, we decided to offer this approach to clients.
Both of us have what it’s called “T-shape” UX profiles. While Matt’s strengths and experience are more focused on UX strategy, IA, interaction and interface design; my strengths and expertise are related to UX research, testing, insights and storytelling. We don’t share one working station as developers do when code paring, but we do share a common space with two laptops, a whiteboard, sketchpads and post-its where the two of us design as one. This is how we do it:
We learn together
Matt and I participate in discovery research together. Though I’m responsible of putting together the research plan, curating methods and conducting activities, Matt is always directly or indirectly involved in them. I lead interviewing and moderating sessions with users and stakeholders, he participates taking notes and suggesting follow-up questions.
After the data is collected, we spend time together to make sense of what we’ve learned and formalise our shared understanding. This means we’ve got two observers, two sets of ears, two perspectives on what was learned. Our understanding is richer, fuller and more complex than any single designer could bring.
At this point I focus on documenting research learnings to share with the rest of the product team. I create user proxies (such as personas and empathy maps) to help empathising with different user types’ mindsets, needs, goals and pain points. I create experience maps to visualise and communicate the interactions that these different user types go through in the overall journey. If the client has an existing product, I map the customer journey and its touch points between customers and their business.
Meanwhile, Matt doesn’t need to wait for research deliverables to move forward. Research knowledge has already been transferred to him. This makes research way more valuable for businesses and product teams, as insights are always utilised and transformed into actions.
So while I’m documenting research insights, Matt moves forward with confidence and starts writing initial scenarios to encapsulate what users need to do to accomplish their goals. He analyses the different tasks both users and the business perform, and which pain points they currently encounter. He reflects on what we’ve learned from the stakeholders interviews, particularly around business needs and internal capabilities, so he can effectively design with a purpose but also within restrictions. Realistic scenarios based on evidence from research help us designing the right thing, way before we consider how we’ll design it. We run the scenarios together to see if we have any experience gaps or if we’ve missed covering key needs and goals.
For each scenario, Matt sketches storyboards that illustrate how the future solution will help users achieving their goals in meaningful ways. He encapsulates the key interactions that will happen between the user and the intended solution in the context of use. This helps communicating the product vision to the team, at a high level, before starting to think about interface specifics.
We help defining the solution together
We work together with the client to envision and define the product, based on UX requirements, business needs and capabilities identified by the research. We collaborate closely with the product team to line up user and business requirements. We help them defining their product unique value proposition, their target audience, the experience requirements and the priorities for the roadmap.
Matt is responsible to shape and define the creative direction and the foundations of the interface’s design system. He defines how the visual style will look and sets the style guide that will be used later on. Meanwhile, I set up a WIP research plan so we can include frequent user feedback loops on Matt’s concepts and designs later on. Together we provide recommendations for content strategy and tone of voice based on what we’ve learned from the user research.
We generate and evolve concepts together
We both conceptualise ideas and propose solutions for the problem we’re trying to solve. Design pairing increases our critical thinking and introduces continuous, fast feedback loops. Working like this minimises our blind spots, as we work through flows together, continuously iterating on concepts, asking questions, raising concerns, connecting dots, challenging project givens, and helping to solve problems that come up.
A diverse design pair like ours (in which partners have different gender, race, age, social background…) enables for better, more inclusive solutions. While designing, Matt and I expose each other’s biases and assumptions constantly, we approach problem solving with different optics and sensibilities, increasing our chances to design inclusively.
This way, we go wider, exploring more quickly than a single designer could. Bad ideas are killed sooner. We develop clarity faster. We’re more confident of our decisions and more articulated about our reasons because they already went through the critique of each other.
Matt executes designs, I provide quality control & user feedback loops
Matt doesn’t produce concepts and designs in a vacuum. He validates, discards and improves solutions with frequent feedback from me, from users and from the product team. We push our designs though increasingly detailed scenarios evolving it constantly at a fast pace. As the devil is in the details, having two pair of eyes constantly evaluating the work becomes priceless. Pairing enables us to be more objective and more detail-orientated.
When it comes to facilitating user feedback loops, Matt doesn’t have to waste time curating research activities, creating discussion guidelines and recruiting and managing participants. He can focus on designing iterations while I facilitate the feedback that is needed. I conduct the research, Matt participates gathering first-hand user insights to improve his designs. With a pair of designers in the room, we capture user feedback more accurately. We also have two perspectives on each test. We are less prone to fall into our own bias because we’ve got someone to check us.
When it comes to workflow, working with a pair forces you to be more organised and tidy, particularly when applying name conventions to files, layers and symbols. It also creates a healthy routine around version control. This results in a more efficient process.
I think that design pairing gets the most of Matt and I as UX professionals. Working together we deliver more and better design and we speed up our workflow. It maximises design quality and reduces need of rework. Working as one enables design improvement in the production cycle without slowing things down.
You can read more on the benefits of pair design in our blog post Why you should hire a design pair