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Mindful Collaboration, the subtle art of letting your ego at the door.

Alexandre Gallois

Working on collaborative projects undeniably leads you to being confronted with other people’s opinions, which is a good thing considering that an essential part of the creative process relies on sharing ideas and information. But the situation can get pretty irritating sometimes. This usually happens when your pride starts getting in the way of your diplomatic abilities, turning you into a spoiled brat. Even more so, when other people in the room are also being carried away by their ego.

Through this article I will try to dig into these tense dynamics and find a solution, a state of mind or a mantra that can guide us through a collaborative project in a mindful way. It goes without saying that such a state of mind will lead to the realisation of the best projects you will ever be a part of, not because of what you have achieved but because of how you did it.

A designer’s point of view

As a designer I am often confronted with three different categories of people: other Designers, Developers and unsurprisingly, Clients. Although we are different in many ways, one thing we all have in common is, at one point or another, having divergent opinions.

Logically, as we come from different worlds, we approach discussions from different angles and that is what brews the best ideas. Unfortunately, what that can lead to though, is to fall into the ego trap in which we reject our collaborator’s ideas and opinions, just by principle, which on the long run is damaging for innovation, productivity and most importantly the work atmosphere.

In the following sections I’ll analyse the dynamics that I, as a designer, go through with my various categories of peers and finally, as stated before, try to find the best way to deal with them.

Are you ready to embark on this little journey? Let’s go!

Designer & Clients - Humility

Clients are our shelter providers, in exchange for our knowledge and services, they help us expand and grow as a company, hence the delicate, but nonetheless very exciting, work dynamic. On one hand we must guide them and provide them with services that go beyond their expectations. On the other hand they have needs and constraints we have to take into account. Finding a balance between offer and demand can be an arduous task. Difficulties may reside in a lack of trust in external resources from the client side and an excessive amount of confidence from the designer’s side. We, as designers, are in a position in which we feel empowered, as we are solicited to bring answers to the problems our clients need to solve. The risk there is to become overconfident as well as stubborn, because from our position we often believe that we know better. 

From the client side, they know the ins and outs of their industry, hence their unwillingness to let go of their beliefs regarding what are the best interests for their customers. 

The key here, for a better work dynamic, is humility. Collaboration is horizontal and becomes fruitful when each part becomes conscious of its own limitations and acknowledges the fact that every opinion has value, no matter the years of experience nor the field someone works in. 

To contextualize it with the designer and client example, a designer should set aside his own beliefs and immerse himself in the client’s industry, through his guidance, in order to understand the specificities of the problems he will be addressing. On the other hand, the client should trust the designer’s ability to find solutions to the problems he needs to solve.

Cooperation is not about imposing its own beliefs to serve one’s ego but means to share knowledge in order to achieve a common goal.

Designer & Developers - Empathy

Designer’s and Developer’s work are incredibly tied together but still somehow, during the workflow, we seem to forget about it. Designers, generally speaking, tend to focus on delivering pixel perfect user interfaces while developers tend to focus on implementing them in the most efficient way. In both cases, there are times when one of the two completely ignores the other leading to an approximative result and a decent amount of frustration. Designers want to see their design being matched perfectly, while developers want to implement it using the shortest amount of code. It’s an entitled stalemate. 

The key here is empathy. We, as Designers, should put ourselves in the developers shoes in order to understand what will be the most efficient way to implement our designs. We must anticipate and address issues in order to prevent developers from stumbling upon them. Developers, on the other hand, should put themselves in the designer’s position and provide them with the constraints and the minimum information they need in order to fulfill their mission. 

Collaboration is an imbrication of work pieces that have to match with one another. Acknowledging and considering each other’s work instead of focusing solely on our due tasks is what makes this match possible.

Designer & Designer - Sympathy

Working with someone that has the same role as yours is always stimulating in a rather challenging way. As we share the same position, our work path crosses multiple times in a day. 

But we are all different. We all come from different backgrounds, we have different interests, different ways of approaching work, of thinking, of processing and organising information, etc. 

From a practical standpoint, there are designers which feel more comfortable when fine tuning designs, others when prioritising and organising workflows, others when structuring design systems or others when art directing for example. These differences in abilities and interests can sometimes lead to feelings of impatience and intolerance if not recognised and used in the best possible way. As an example, if a designer is proficient and passionate in the simplification of design procedures but not so at art directing, and is put in a position in which he has to do the latter, this can trigger feelings of frustration and impatience from the collaborators that receive his directions and the designer himself.

We have to be honest with ourselves and accept the fact that we cannot possess all the qualities. We’re just humans disguised as designers. We may not feel personally stimulated by every aspect of the design process and therefore recognise our own strengths and limitations. 

The key here is sympathy. Empower and support each other by elevating our peers’ as well as our own personal abilities and interests to achieve the common goals. Collaboration is an act of sharing. Abilities, knowledge and support are elements that when shared empower and unleash the full potential of every collaborator.

Using all keys to access mindful collaboration

Overall, we can state that in a way or another everyone wants to bring something unique out there, and be recognised for their achievements. Truth is, in collaborative projects, merits as well as failures belong to all participants and, surprise, failure has more chances to happen when collaboration is disrupted because of personal interests. 

This is the reason why it is important to leave your ego at the door and work on developing your empathy, sympathy and humility as well as promoting it amongst your collaborators. This is to me the only true way you will feel fulfilled at work and in your life in general. So, little recap-slash-advice: be kind, be selfless, be supportive and surround yourself with people that will share your attitude and willingness to grow. Let’s collaborate and create the best thing we have ever achieved.