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One team, one dream: The best collaborations are messy.

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013 in Design philosophy, Process

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When we started working with the TED team on the redesign of TED.com, we knew that — in order to pull off something of this magnitude — we were going to have to quickly feel like one team. Great products come from teams that can violently disagree one minute and solve problems together the next. Great products come from trust and honesty — which is hard to build when you just met each other … and some of your team is working remotely.

So what did we do? We started the project by spending a lot of time together. The TED team was in our Brooklyn office almost every day for the first month of our collaboration. We brainstormed together, sketched together, ate together and drank a lot of coffee together. (Seriously, Thaniya doesn’t get started till she has her fuel — don’t even try!) When members of the TED team couldn’t be there in person, they would join via Skype — and we would hold up the laptop so they could see sketching that was going on in real time.

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We also weren’t shy — on either side — about sharing work-in-progress with the whole team. We would get a rough prototype together and show it to the TED team, then they would iterate on it and share it back. Sometimes those exchanges were fruitless — and other times, they led to the core part of the final experience. Sometimes, everyone in the room would start to get behind a direction and then a remote voice (very frequently Joe via Skype) would bring up one example that tore that idea to shreds. Luckily, the dissenting voice would often replace the original direction with a better idea.

Actually one of our best breakthroughs came during a particularly messy meeting. We had a bunch of different directions and ideas for the talk page, and were discussing the merits and risks of each direction. We started to cobble together some elements in a sketch. Then Mark jumped up, took down some of the pages, cut out the elements and started to tape together into a franken-page. It wasn’t the final design — but it was a giant leap that took the team forward and changed our orientation. That franken-page still hangs in my office to remind me how valuable (and fun!) it can be to get informal and scrappy when you’re designing.

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Michal Pasternak_Partner, UX_cc

Michal Pasternak is Chief Experience Officer at Huge. She can graph theories of romance as well as she charts the course of design collaboration. 

(How did TED and Huge find each other? Read how the search for design love narrowed down from 50 potential creative agencies to one.)