Design Collaboration & Communication: a student's perspective

As a first time student at Cooper U, I was wowed by Cooper's Design Collaboration & Communication workshop. I was able to dive back into the product development process and carefully examine how the way teams communicate directly informs what kind of experience is created. Here are highlights of what I'll be using for my projects going forward.

Lesson 1: Meetings Don't Have to Suck

I have been through the grinder with teams of very capable, intelligent people. Sometimes, we ended up feeling confused, shot down, angry, and stuck even though all the elements of productivity seem to be right in front of us. So, what went wrong? In Cooper U's Design Collaboration and Communication session, we learned that these issues usually are not solved just by changing the meeting stakeholders or the design. The challenges are often in making ideas heard and effectively receiving information from others - the fundamentals of communication. Our teachers, Kendra Shimmell and Stefan Klocek taught us how to deal with conflict, stop communication gaps, and eliminate misunderstandings in tangible, useful ways.

Lesson 2: Never Ask "So, What Do You Think?"

Feedback can easily become a haphazard free-for-all about every aspect of the work. Here are a few strategies out of this tangential abyss:

• Keep feedback on user flow and visual language separate. Asking people to think about both at the same time is cognitively difficult and reduces the overall quality of their feedback.

• Make sure your team knows the questions you would like answered from the start. Sounds simple, but that's often not often specifically clarified.

• Keep user/interaction flows conceptual and sketch-like to focus stakeholders on these elements and minimize the distraction of visually-rich examples.

• When visual elements are in review, start with parts and pieces like the buttons, color palette, and icons, as individual elements focus stakeholders attention on details like color, mood, and shape.

Lesson 3: Taking a Step Back Helps You Leap Forward

As I found out the hard way in one session activity, it is so easy to assume each team member has the same vision. After all, we were briefed together, right? After 20 minutes of getting nowhere with a design solution, our group realized everyone had a different interpretation of what we were trying to accomplish. How could we possibly come up with one solution with so many different interpretations? It was such a simple reflection, and yet so easily overlooked. Spending a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting to restate previous agreements or intentions can help eliminate assumptions and create the same starting point. When a meeting ends, each member should have a clear idea about their responsibilities for the next step. In Kendra's words, each meeting should begin with a quick recap of the "previous episode" and end with a "coming attraction".

Lesson 4: "Empathy; It's Not Just for Users"

Mary Kuris, a fellow Cooper U participant, nailed it when she stated "Empathy: It's not just for users!" While a developer, business executive, and designer might have different objectives, they are all trying to get to the same goal. But on a multi-disciplinary team, we cannot simply live behind our own set of lenses. Developers should learn what designers are observing in research, and designers should watch the developer's problem-solving process. The earlier everyone shares their focus, the easier it is to establish a shared vision. Establish a common ground where all parties are able to weave separate ideas together into a tangible solution.

As a graduate student and freelancer, this session gave me useful, clear, and distinct solutions to communication challenges in a broad range of environments. I now have better tools to recognize crucial gaps, identify what needs to change, and understand how I can change it. I have already applied the tactics in my current group projects, and I look forward to taking Cooper U's Interaction Design course this summer.

Cooper U's Next Design Communication & Collaboration Workshop: July 25-26

Registration is open for the July 25-26 workshop. And if those dates don't work for you, but you'd like to be notified of future workshops, just send a note to