Remote working became a necessity for a lot of us in 2020. The need for social distancing means many of the ways we used to work and collaborate together are no longer possible, and businesses have had to adapt to this new normal. Few fields rely on in-person collaboration for innovation as much as design. The ability for designers to exchange ideas and encourage each other to imagine new innovations is a core foundation of the field. How then can designers mitigate this loss of face-to-face interaction?
In 2020 NTT DATA launched Tangity, a new design brand encompassing a global network of design studios. Our foundational aim is to foster collaboration between our network of designers and clients, in order to create products and services that can have a positive societal impact. With the launch occurring in less-than-ideal circumstances, we had to adapt to ensure this emphasis on collaboration remained at the heart of everything we do.
Why collaboration is vital for design
It’s crucial to understand just how important collaboration is in the design process. It naturally encourages a culture of scrutiny and improvement, allowing designers to consistently place their work in the context of wider applications.
This view not only applies to collaboration between designers, but also with other fields of expertise. A good example of this in action is the process of designing an AI solution. By collaborating at each stage, designers can ensure that the development of the technology always has the needs of the end-user in mind. Likewise, having an expert voice on AI present during the design process helps guard against implementation issues that might arise later down the line.
The centres of excellence established by NTT DATA help us achieve this outcome. By clustering the expertise of people in AI, design, blockchain and more, we have a global network within which we can correlate the experiences of innovators from a variety of different cultures and approaches.
Having access to this sort of collaboration network can be invaluable to businesses looking to scale up internationally. Launching a design project in different regions can prove tricky, and it’s important to consider the expectations of local consumers to ensure the product fits with the location’s unique cultural context. A global design network is invaluable for navigating this, and other potential pitfalls.
Collaboration in 2020
There’s no doubting the challenge that designers face in successfully carrying over this culture of collaboration into a virtual world. Despite this, we are better placed than ever to manage this transition thanks to the plethora of technologies available to us. It’s important to note that there is no one size fits all approach here. In order to foster a collaborative environment whilst working remotely, designers need to make use of different toolkits at each stage of the design process.
Here are some examples of how we managed this at Tangity:
- The Idea- When conceiving a concept, designers need to be able to exchange ideas and recommendations in real-time. At Tangity, we made use of the online visual collaboration tool Miro. It provided a natural workshop arena where we could follow ideas through to their full potential.
- The Prototype – This phase called for a different approach. Tools such as Sketch and InVision were more appropriate and allowed prototyping to be as efficient and streamlined as possible. On occasion we decided to go even further and make use of Axure.
- Testing- This stage provides its own unique requirements. When testing, it is vital to be able to observe the subtleties of how users are interacting with a product. It allows designers to pick up on small physical hints that help provide a detailed picture on the products reception. In order to achieve this remotely, a combination of tools was required. At Tangity we found that Teams, UserZoom and WebEx covered all the bases and allowed us to replicate the physical testing experience as best as possible.
Design in the future
Remote working is here to stay. Even when the effects of the pandemic eventually begin to subside, it is likely a hybrid of office-based and remote work will become the norm for many. In order to succeed in these circumstances, designers need to be incentivised to streamline their collaboration process, and align through a social contract. This is a very important step in preventing ‘remote overload’ and fatigue. It also helps create consistency, in terms of what software is used, when it is implemented and how often it is needed.
The challenge of designing in a remote world can be equally viewed as an opportunity. By embracing new technologies, inefficiencies in the design process can be brought to light and dealt with. It is often through adversity that innovation is at its most fruitful. By utilising the right methods at the right time, and adopting the right attitude, the design process has the potential to be more collaborative and efficient than ever before.