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Apr 2017

Create a culture of collaboration through the power of design thinking

Blog posts

Matthew Mella

Matthew Mella

Lead Learning Designer at Kineo

As a learning designer, when you're sending that early mock-up or first draft, be honest with yourself: is what you're actually looking for sign-off rather than collaboration? Perhaps up to that point, you've already put a good chunk of work in and it might even mess your schedules up if the other person asks you to rip it up and start again. Collaboration requires an open mind and a step into the unpredictable, but the results can be content that’s higher quality and more innovative.

Don’t mistake iteration for collaboration

Think about your average creative relationships. Are you more likely to say 'I need to get that checked by the art director' rather than 'We need to get some ideas from an art director'? If you're in the chronic habit of checking things, you're not truly collaborating.

This transactional way of working is an easy rut to fall into. To get from transacting to collaborating, you need to make some leaps that can be surprisingly scary. A lot of modern ideas on collaboration hinge on design thinking, a creative philosophy that has a few different variations. Kineo's personal take on design thinking embraces collaboration enthusiastically. We kick off projects with a brainstorm and believe that the creative process should be a shared journey, not just a conversation mediated through amended documents. Collaboration has shaped how we innovate a Kineo, including how we worked with other organisations and individuals to open source the Adapt framework.

Unlock innovation with design thinking

A core tenet of design thinking is putting the end user first, taking a good long walk in their shoes and thinking like they do. This leads you to a better solution because you start to understand the real problems your audience is facing. Even your subject matter experts might not have sight of everything in the way people doing the job do.  The more relevant people you involve, the more powerful the collaboration because it enables businesses to truly understand the challenges they face. By harnessing the collective mind, more experiences can be brought into the mix, and through that diversity, you can often find ways of approaching problems you’d never think of from your limited perspective.

So where do you begin? Here are six tips for supercharging your creative collaboration.

  1. You need to make time for it

    This will usually mean more time at the start of your project and less time at the end. This is about the same amount of time you usually need for the rework and the scope changes.
  2. You need to roll your sleeves up

    Longer meetings. More standing up. More pens. More focus groups. Collaboration is about spending time together and being productive. Be open-minded about what you’ll discover but set out with a purpose and have clear expectations of what you want as the output of every meeting. Of course, it doesn't mean you'll get there, but in these cases make the most of the unexpected opportunities and necessary workflows that collaboration can throw up. Sometimes, plan B can be more productive than your plan A.
  3. Stop hoarding your ideas. They're the easy bit

    We 'creatives' can sometimes sit on top of our perceived creativity like it's a precious pile of gold. The fact is that anyone can have a good idea - it's just not everyone can think that idea through to a finished piece. Gather and share all the ideas you can and go with the one that's got the legs. We do this at Kineo with regular brainstorming sessions, where anyone in the company is invited to share ideas.
  4. You need to know 'the audience' by name

    They have names, you know. Sarah. Bob. Al. Clara. Sally from upstairs. They have ways of talking and interacting with each other. They have ways of working and learning. They're the real experts in what they do and they are the people you're really trying to please. You're creating tools to help them step up to the demands of their job. Stop and think: is it worth a chat and worth listening to their perspectives? It's not like we learning designers never do this – we do – but this valuable step is often skipped and we talk to (sometimes indirect) management instead.
  5. You aren't the cleverest person in the room (and you never were)

    No matter how great any designer is, we rely on our clients to give us the insight into their businesses, people and subject matter. With every client, you enter a new world so leave your assumptions at the door and learn from the people around you. And never get complacent with repeat clients, either. You might think you know an organisation, but workplaces and industry demands change all the time so start every project with an open mind.

  6. Your first idea might fail, but that's okay

    Remember that design, or that brilliant course that never was? The one that was compromised because the scope crept and all that extra stuff got put in and then there was no budget to do that really flashy bit? Consider why you feel the sense of compromise. Perhaps, somewhere down the line, there wasn't the necessary amount or type of collaboration. Maybe certain stakeholders weren’t involved at the right stages.

Collaboration doesn't mean you'll have amazing eureka ideas and everyone will love them. It means you'll need to explore and sometimes prototype ideas quickly and early to find out which will fly. That means some ideas are born to fail. But that's fine, because collaboration isn't taking your best guess and selling it but rather working together to find a shape and direction of things that's right for learners.

Matthew Mella

Matthew Mella

Lead Learning Designer at Kineo

Matthew has worked in all manner of elearning and media for over a decade. He loves to combine attention grabbing ideas, storytelling and good UX with solid learning practice. With one eye on the future, Matthew’s passionate about new technologies and platforms for developing skills and knowledge.